Acharei – Kedoshim

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Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many
for appointment by the corrupt few — George Bernard Shaw

“Daddy,” a little girl asked her father, “do all fairy tales begin with Once upon a time?” “No, sweetheart,” he answered. “Some begin with If I am elected!

 Well it seems that most of the world is busy with elections, some more important than others, some more democratic than others, and some less dishonest than others. In the Unites States billions of dollars is beginning to pour in to oil the great politics machine, for campaign managers, advertising and who knows what else, to help determine who will be living in the White House next year; voters in France will decide this Sunday whether to exchange Sarkozy for Hollande; Israelis have just learned that they will have an election on September 4th, and plans for elections in Egypt are in disarray due to outbreaks of violence, but should happen soon, with Israel keeping a close eye on the results.

Here in Ireland we are not having an election but the closest thing to it … a referendum. The candidates won’t change, and there will be no timely tweets from Sinn Féin or fumbles over brown envelopes, but the lampposts will begin to sprout corrugated plastic signs and plastic ties, all urging us to vote Yes or No to a treaty that few understand.

There are some fascinating election statistics detailing how a large percentage of voters use irrelevant criteria to make their important choices. It is well documented that the candidate with the better hair usually wins the votes. In a close Presidential election in 1960 Richard Nixon lost narrowly to John F. Kennedy. During their campaign they held the first ever televised debate, broadcast simultaneously on radio. Interestingly, the radio listeners generally thought Nixon won the debate, but many of those who watched it on TV said he lost to Kennedy. Why the difference? Because on TV Nixon looked tired and sported a five o’clock shadow whereas Kennedy looked fresh and well-tanned! We pay attention to the wrong things … instead of focusing on the priorities, on the issues that will make a difference, we care about how the candidate walks, talks, dresses and eats. We get to see them shaking hands with little old ladies, cuddling cherubic babies, petting dogs, and posing for photographs. All of this is irrelevant … what really matters is whether they can make a difference to the world we live in — can they make it a better place or not. Our priorities should be finding out if they can help the poor and the helpless, the unemployed and the elderly — those are the things that matter. Our priorities should be finding out if they care about struggling single parents, if they can revive a flagging economy and raise the spirits of the people.

Remembering our priorities in life is not always so simple. Often we are so deeply entrenched in our lifestyle patterns that we do not take time out to think about whether we have our priorities straight. We find ourselves bogged down in the daily grind of working and studying, getting the kids to school and keeping house, cooking, cleaning, paying bills, exercising, dieting and the list goes on. Daily activities which are all important and necessary but which can become so time consuming that they obscure the real priorities in life.

In Parshat Kedoshim this week we are given some priorities as to how we should live our lives. G-d tells the Jewish people that when they enter the Holy Land things will be different. They must as a nation share certain priorities which, if neglected, could have terrible consequences, G-d forbid. And those priorities are spelled out very clearly: Sexual morality; parental respect; Shabbat observance; faith in one G-d; charity; honesty at work, in court and in the home; respect for the infirm and elderly; absence of gossip, revenge and grudge-bearing; acceptance and love of the convert.

If we live our lives according to these G-dly priorities we are guaranteed Divine blessing in our public and private lives, in our homes and offices and in the entire Land of Israel. Get our priorities wrong and G-d adjusts His priorities too, so that no longer is the protection of His people or His land at the top of G-d’s “to-do” list.

As the “Chosen People” we have a heavy responsibility. As politicians sometimes forget, “Chosen” does not mean “Better” – in this case it means we are tasked with showcasing a life of honesty, morality and faith in G-d. If we succeed at that mission we create a Kiddush Hashem – the sanctification of G-d’s name; if we fail, we cause the opposite. Much as a Prime minister or President has a responsibility to represent his country in the best way possible, we have the task of representing G-d’s will in the best way we can.

Let us live according to the words of the parsha, “Kedoshim Tihiyu – Be Holy” and make sure that our day-to-day priorities are in line with those of our Creator, thus ensuring that His priority is to give us the blessings we pray for and need.  Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Zalman Lent

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Rabbi Zalman Lent is a Community Rabbi in Dublin and director of  Chabad of Ireland.

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