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Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 04_17_2013
04/18/2013 07:00 AM Posted by:

From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
April 19, 2013

 

After this week’s Boston tragedy, I struggled to find the words. Then my daughter at UT wrote me a text message, “I hope one day, when I tell my kids about all of these tragedies and bomb threats, they’ll think I’m crazy because all that they will have ever known is peace.” I replied, “Amen to that.”

                When I opened the Torah portion this week, I read Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, a double portion. Acharei Mot means “after the death” of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu. Kedoshim means “holiness” and it contains the Holiness Code, including “Love your neighbor”. After tragic days, be they ancient or modern, we need a Holiness Code. We need a way to rise above the fray and retain our humanity in the face of inhumanity. We need to know that personal power can overcome the effects of bombs and bullets.

                In Leviticus 19, we read, “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” It would appear that to be holy like God might require awesome power, but it doesn’t. Our rabbis taught that the goal is to be humanly holy. I think they tried to say that we didn’t have to possess Godly power to be holy; rather, we need only to live above the fray. To live above the fray can be spiritually enriching. It can lift us out of helplessness and set us on a path of hopefulness. And, by living above it, they meant the brand of humanity described in Torah.

                Our covenant with God is predicated on our participation in a set of rules that elevates us beyond even our own expectations. That’s why Leviticus 19 begins, “You shall be holy for I, the Lord, your God am holy” instead of, “You shall not be holy, for only I, the Lord your God, am holy.” The covenant demands that we become more with Torah, rather than less without it.

                For example, Leviticus 19:9 describes a human ethic that separates us from our baser instincts by aiming our efforts towards a higher good. “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest…you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger.” Most of us understand the meaning of this ethical teaching, but its meaning can escape the brightest and most powerful among us. As urbanites, we don’t know much about farming, but we do know about reaping benefits and harvesting returns. We should also know something about donating a portion of our earnings for the poor and the stranger.

                Aiming for higher human expectations can give purpose to everything. Food is a basic necessity of life. When we live above the fray we see it as nutritious fuel and not as a triumph. “All you can eat” is a perfect example of feeding our baser instincts. Perhaps “All you need” is a better way of approaching the buffet. Sex is also a God-given urge. We shouldn’t deny it or exploit it. Living above the fray can mean a loving relationship with expectations for satisfying that urge in mutually respectful ways.

                In Leviticus 19:18, we read, “Love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord, your God.” This appears to be the high point along the way. Here we have aimed high so that human holiness is reflected in what we’ve made of ourselves and given to others. Mutual respect and love is the apex of holiness.

                In a world where bombs and bullets have become our offense and defense, I believe that we can still rise above the fray and aim for peace that begins with a moral code. It links us to each other, and makes us beholden to God, who more than we, is truly Holy.

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

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