Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Weekly Parsha Blogging
This week’s parsha was another double: Achre Mot and Kidoshim. I am sure in today’s environment, everyone is addressing Achre Mot, the controversial part of which I have already addressed ad naseum (a phrase I am using ad naseum today it seems – I hope this doesn’t indicate I am coming down with an intestinal illness). So I’ll address Kidoshim and the Haftorah from Amos.
Kidoshim begins with the commandment of Imitateo Dei: “You all must be holy for I the Lord your God am Holy”. This is a very odd commandment when you consider the meaning of the Hebrew “kiddush”, translated as “holy” but implying separateness. What does it mean that everyone should be “separate”? Is this one of those silly imperatives like “whosoever should be a man, should be a non-conformist” (what if I don’t want to conform to the ideal of non-conformity?) that caused us in high school to consider all the Transcendentalist works foisted upon us by our teachers to be nothing more than philosophical Onanism and for us to find every single reference (and there are plenty to be found when you’re a teenager) to masturbation in the works of Emerson, Thoreau, et al.? Is God, OTOH, saying we should live apart from society?
The rest of the portion shows that neither is the case: holiness requires neither a withdrawal from society nor paradox-inducing philosophical refusal to give back to society as a man ought to try to produce an heir for his levirate wife. How do you be holy? The Torah follows the command to be holy with a slew of commands about dealing fairly with others and being an exemplary member of society. You be holy by doing holy. You become set apart by always doing things in a more fair and exemplary way than everyone else. Of course, this can lead, as we all have seen, to what is known in the Jewish community as “the frum Olympics”, but the actions prescribed here by Leviticus are not matters of ritual but of practice. Moreover, the notion of holiness implies difference – you cannot become holy by spiritual and moral keeping up with the Jones’; you have to really adopt an attitude of justice in your mind and actions.
The idea that holiness is a matter of behavior rather than mere being is reinforced by the reading from Amos. Amos declares: “yes Israel are God’s chosen people” but so are other nations. Israel is set apart, i.e. made holy, only by the degree to which we set ourselves apart by behaving more justly than others. If we Jews, or any group, wants to be God’s chosen people, we have to act in a manner befitting such a state of being. Those who want this country to be a force for good in this world must maybe do a bit better of a job deciding where and how we are using our force. Just because we have convinced ourselves we are good doesn’t make every action of ours good: we must be sure to do good things if we want to be considered good.