Parshat Acharei-Kedoshim (5770)

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Speak to the entire congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them, You shall be holy, for I, the Lord, your G-d, am holy – Leviticus 19:2

Eyjafjallajökull – the name we all recognise but cannot pronounce – the Icelandic glacier cursed by millions of irate travellers over this past week as an underground volcano erupted beneath it, grounding thousands of flights and freezing international air travel. (Apparently it was the last wish of the Icelandic economy that its ashes be spread over Europe.) However, this has been far from a “jökull” for so many who had their plans disrupted as they were left stranded in remote locations around the globe. Those in good health stuck in holiday resorts probably did the least complaining – but there were many who needed urgent medicines flown in, or who missed family weddings and important business conferences for whom this flight ban was a disaster.

More worrying than this however is an active neighbouring volcano called Katla, which is much bigger, much more dangerous and has so far erupted after Eyjafjallajökull for the last three recorded eruptions.

However, apart from the gratifying news this week that there are no longer any atheists in insurance companies – as they all now believe firmly in acts of  G-d – this billowing cloud of ash has also caused many people to think seriously about their priorities in life.

Often we are so deeply entrenched in our lifestyle patterns that we do not take time out to think about whether we are really spending our lives the way we wanted to when we were younger and more idealistic. And so 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.

When we find ourselves stranded and unable to do those activities, after the initial panic we begin to accept that we must adjust, and limit our worrying to just the really big issues – like health and family; how to get urgent medical supplies or how to get to the wedding. And the “smaller” issues like appointments, dinner dates and holidays become less vital. Of course this realigning of perspective happens quicker and is much more sharply defined when a really big crisis occurs – those who (G-d forbid) experience the death or serious illness of a loved one experience this very often, as suddenly the things we always thought were important begin to seem almost petty relative to the real issues of life and health.

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. Chosen does not mean “better” – it means we are tasked with showcasing a life of honesty, morality and faith in G-d.  If we succeed at that mission we cause a kiddush Hashem – the sanctification of G-d’s name; if we fail, we cause the opposite.

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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