י״ב באייר ה׳תשע״ה (May 1, 2015)
Israel is around five years old now, and hopefully growing into a happy young child.
The Israel I am referring to, of course, is the baby delivered at an IDF field hospital in Haiti, after the earthquake back in 2010. At the time the IDF treated over 1100 patients and delivered sixteen babies. One of the mothers was so very grateful that she named her miracle child Israel.
Now tragedy has struck again, this time in Nepal, causing death and devastation on an enormous scale. The scenes of grief and loss are heart-breaking to watch, and the depth of suffering unimaginable. As a mother once told her young son at the scene of a tragedy, “Son, always look for the helpers. In every bad situation there are always the good, kind and altruistic who will step forward to be of assistance.” Here too, amidst the devastation, there are rays of light; international delegations of search and rescue and medical teams, working through the nights to save, heal and repair what they can.
And once again the IDF has hit the ground running, with a huge team of 260 staff, equipped with search and rescue dogs and technology, alongside the latest medical equipment, X-rays, operating rooms and laboratories, able to treat two hundred patients a day. Just yesterday the IsraAID team headed up a rescue mission alongside teams from France, Nepal and Norway to rescue a young woman called Krishna Devi Khadka, who had been trapped under rubble for five days.
This week in shul we will hear a double Torah reading, Parshat Acharei Mot and Parshat Kedoshim; Acharei Mot means “after the death” (of Aaron’s two sons), and Kedoshim means (Be) “Holy.” There is a standing joke that plays on the juxtaposition of these two names; that Acharei Mot – after we die, Kedoshim – however bad we were, everyone says we were holy!
Maybe there is another play on words we can make… that Acharei Mot – wherever there is death and destruction, Kedoshim – there are always those who are “holy,” who put themselves aside to give to others, to help and nourish. After all, isn’t that what makes us truly holy?
From time immemorial, Man has searched for better ways to become holy, to become less mortal and closer to the Divine. Some have adopted isolation or solitude; some have taken vows of celibacy or silence, abstinence from food or alcohol, money or comfort. Judaism views these things differently; that they too can be used as tools in our path to holiness. Marriage is seen as a source of blessing and Divine immanence; speech is used to spread joy and kindness, & words of Torah wisdom; food is used to fuel our performance of mitzvot, and wine is used to enhance the observance of Shabbat and Yomtov; comfort is necessary in the performance of mitzvot, so that we do them as best as we are able.
So what does make us holy? The Torah portion this week defines exactly that, as G-d tells the nation: You should be Holy, because I, your G-d, am holy and then gives a long list of behaviours which make us holy.
This long list includes: Honouring parents, observing the Shabbat, avoiding idol worship, feeding the poor, caring for the convert, avoiding theft and falsehood, not stealing or even withholding wages, not cursing the deaf or tripping the blind, being honest in judgement, avoiding gossip, not turning a blind eye to someone else in danger, not hating, not bearing a grudge or taking revenge, loving your fellow as you love yourself, avoiding cross-breeding of livestock or crops, not self-harming, not getting tattoos, rising for the elderly, being honest in business, eating kosher, and leading a moral lifestyle including avoiding forbidden relationships.
The nation is enjoined never to imitate local immoral behaviour, but to always remain holy, for that is the true source of Divine blessing.
It is clear that being holy from G-d’s perspective does not mean living as a hermit, in silent meditation, away from mundane reality and a fallible world; just the opposite in fact. Holiness means living in that very mundane, physical world; a world where greed, money, power and desire reign supreme – and in that very world to make a small holy space – a space for G-d to dwell. To use everything we have around us for something positive, to help us and others become more kind, more giving, and through that to become more Divine.
In a recent prank video, a young man in LA pretended to be homeless, but instead of taking money, he was offering people money. He told them that he had all he needed and he wanted to give to others. Only a couple of the passers-by were impressed with what he was doing. Most of them, wrapped up in their own visions of status and society, were insulted by his offer of money, and many of them were so insulted they felt the need to abuse him verbally. One man, after being offered ten dollars by the “homeless” man, took great pains to point out repeatedly that he had just parked a gorgeous $50,000 car. This apparently gave him the right to be rude to a poor homeless man trying to be generous.
As we read the parsha this week, and we think of those in need in Nepal, and those who are working day and night to help the less fortunate, maybe we can rediscover what is really means to be holy! Shabbat Shalom.
Rabbi Zalman Lent
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