Yom Sheini, 15 Iyyar 5775
Monday, 4 May 2015
Thought for the Week PDF Print E-mail

Read an inspired commentary on this week’s Torah portion by one of our free-thinking Liberal Rabbis.

You can read the Thought for the Week archive by clicking here.

Parashat Kedoshim
1st May 2015 - Rabbi Janet Darley


K’doshim  begins with the instruction to speak to the people of Israel and tell them “You shall be holy, for I the Eternal One your God am holy.” It was not the case they automatically became a holy people—a mistake Korach makes in a few weeks in Deuteronomy. Rather, what we have in K’doshim is more of an aspirational statement and a list of instructions to the Israelites on how to become a Holy People. In contrast to much of Leviticus which deals with ritual purity and often seems aimed at the hereditary priesthood, this parasha is aimed at all the people. The rules it contains touch among virtually every aspect of life of the people—how they act in the privacy of the home, how they conduct their business, how they think and how they worship.  Distinctions between civil, criminal and religious law are not made here.

Like other sections of Torah, parts of K’doshim illustrate the sometimes painfully slow process of weaning the people away from old patterns of worship.  Though the constant fear of falling into old practices is shown by the large chunks of Torah devoted to injunctions to avoid practices of those around them who worshipped a variety of idols and other gods, this is not so relevant for us. Our neighbours are, by and large, monotheists like us—Christianity and Islam are certainly sibling beliefs to Judaism and do not practice idolatry as Torah understands it.

But K’doshim does much more  than forbid the practices of idolatry. It forbids gathering all our produce so as to ensure that there is some left for those who must glean and contains rules for being scrupulous in our business dealings such as forbidding making our workers wait unduly for their pay. In fact chapter 19 resembles the 10 commandments in some ways as it forbids theft, idol worship etc, but goes further. It tells us we must be impartial in our judgements of our neighbours, we may not take advantage of the disabilities of others, we must show honour and respect for the aged, we are not allowed to take vengeance or harbour grudges, we must not go about as talebearers among the people and we are to love our neighbours as ourselves.  It also contains one of the many reminders in Torah of how we should treat the strangers in our midst; how we should act as we remember our days as a stranger in Egypt.  “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (33-34)

Though we may not find it as difficult to resist the temptation to send our children to fiery deaths in worship of strange deities as did the ancient Israelites, I am sure we find many of these other pronouncements as difficult as our ancestors did.

One of the values of weekly service attendance is that we hear these read and discussed and perhaps they creep into our consciences.  Every time I read this section about not withholding the wages of your workers, I am reminded of Bernie Rose, the man for whom my mother worked in the late 1940s after the war. Having left a job because her pay check was often late, she never ceased to marvel that he always paid her on time. Her version was that every Friday he came in to work with two things—her pay and a piece of cardboard.  The second of these he cut and placed inside his shoes, whose soles were worn out.  So one day she asked him—why did he always pay her and even raise her pay when he could not afford to get his shoes resoled.  He responded with surprise. “What else could I do—I am a Jew and this is what Torah says is the way I should treat my employees.”  He had heard this read out so often that it had become an ingrained part of his world view.  I often hope that I develop such an ingrained response to ethical questions.

We, like our ancestors, should aspire to become a holy people by seeing the unity between our religious and civil lives, in such a way that both are enriched.

Perhaps it is useful to think, as Zalman Schachter- Shalomi  z”l suggested, of Jew as a verb not a noun. To really be a holy people we must Jew. We must study and do. We must engage with these injunctions in this chapter.  We must live them out on a daily basis, when they are convenient and when they are not.  For us passivity is not an option. For example, ours must be the voices speaking out for the stranger, even when the tide of popular sentiment seems to be flowing the other way.

We spend a great deal of time doing, we must make sure that some of that time is devoted to Jewing.

 

 

Read last week's contribution here

You can find the Thought for the Week Archive here