Friday, May 4, 2012

A Thought on the Parsha

Feel free to download and print this week's Parsha Sheet and share it with your friends and family: 
Acharei Mot - Kedoshim: Two Types of Kedusha

Parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim represents the transition from the first half of Vayikra to the second.   The first half of Vayikra focuses solely on the Temple, its holiness, and the sacrifices.  Last weeks' double parsha, Tazria-Metzorah, continued this theme, detailing the various ritual impurities - tumot - that would demand that a person be sent out of the camp, and prevent his or her access to the Temple and its sacrifices.  And now, in  Acharei Mot, the Torah limits the access not to the Temple itself, but to the Holy of Holies.  

"Speak to Aharon your brother, that he may not enter at all times into the Holy...Only with this may Aharon enter into the Holy" (Vayikra 16:2-3).  Only Aharon - normalkohanim can never enter.  And even Aharon, even the Kohen Gadol, can only enter on Yom Kippur, only on the holiest day of the year, and only after completing the exacting sacrificial rites.

Clearly, it is not a trivial matter to gain access to the Temple, the place of God's presence.  With the Temple so inaccessible - at times both geographically and ritually - it would stand to reason that a person may want to reach out to God and bring a sacrifice without the Temple.  This option is denied as well, and the Torah - in the middle of Acharei Mot - prohibits the bringing sacrifices outside the Temple.   The first half of Vayikra, ends with this prohibition, ends by underscoring just how difficult it is to connect to God in the Temple through the bringing of sacrifices.

Kedoshim begins the second half of Vayikra and presents a radically different approach to holiness and to connecting with God.  "Speak to the entire congregation of Israel and say to them: Be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy." (Vayikra 19:2).   To access the holy is not to enter the Temple; to access the holy is to strive to become holy.  To connect to God is not to enter into the Holy of Holies; to connect to God is to strive to be like God.  It is through such striving that we actualize the holiness, the divine, the Tzelem E-lohim, that is in each and every one of us.

There are, then, two types of kedusha, of holiness.  There is the kedusha of Acharei Mot, and then there is the kedusha of Kedoshim Ti'hiyu.  There is a kedusha that conceives of God as residing in a place, and then there is a kedusha that perceives of God residing in each and every person. 

The first represents the attempt to draw close to God, to enter into God's abode.  It is thus a kedusha that is highly exclusionary, for what human being can leave this world enter into the place where God dwells?   

And then there is the kedusha of Kedoshim Tihiyu.  This is holiness not about leaving this world to be close to God, this is holiness that is about actualizing the divine within us, about bringing God and Godliness into this world.  It is thus a kedusha that is accessible by all.

Kedoshim opens not with daber el Aharon achikha, "Speak to Aharon your brother," but rather daber el kol adat benei Yisrael, speak to the entire congregation of Israel.  All of you, man, woman, child, ritually pure and ritually impure, each one of you can become holy, can become like God.  This is a holiness that includes rituals and rites, to be sure, but it is also a holiness of morality, a holiness that touches on every act, every religious act, every interpersonal act, every detail of how we live our lives.

How does one live such a life of holiness?  One strives for Godliness in all of one's actions.  One does not only connect to God during ritual or "religious" activity, but also brings an awareness of God into his or her interpersonal interactions.   It is a holiness that first and foremost demands ethical behavior in all spheres. 

It is thus we find that Kedoshim opens with two mitzvot: the mitzvah to have awe and respect of one's parents, and the mitzvah to keep Shabbat.  An ethical commandment and a religious one.   The foundation of our interpersonal behavior in life is laid in the home, and starts with and is shaped by how children interact with their parents.   And the foundation of holiness is not the Temple with its difficult and limited access.  It is Shabbat, a staple of our week, a holiness that all can experience, a welcoming of the Divine Presence into our homes.

The rest of the Kedoshim presents a dense and varied listing of mitzvot, with almost every other verse ending with the refrain Ani Hashem E-loheikhem, "I am the Lord your God," echoing the opening verse, Be holy, for holy am I the Lord your God," ani Hashem E-loheikheim.   The message is clear: this is what it means to be holy, to be like God, to connect to God.  If we are to live a life of this type of holiness, then we must bring God into our harvesting of grain, in our buying and selling, into our hiring and paying of workers, into our dealing with the disadvantaged, into our speaking of others, into our feelings towards others.  To have access to God everywhere also means that we cannot compartmentalize our religious life from our "normal" life.  God can be found in every activity, thus we must strive to find God in all parts of our lives.

Ramban, in his introduction to Vayikra, notes that the construction of the Mishkan was to recreate Har Sinai in the Israelite camp.  Just as God's presence came down to the top of Har Sinai, so did God's presence fill the Mishkan.  Just as boundaries were set around the mountain to prevent the people from "bursting through," so were the impure people kept outside the Temple environs.  And, one might add, just as only Moshe and Aharon alone were allowed to go up to the top of the mountain, so too, now, only Aharon alone is allowed to enter into the Holy of Holies.

So ends Ramban's parallel.  But one thing is missing.  For after God descends on Har Sinai something important happens - the Torah is given.  The purpose of the descent was not to draw close to God's presence, the purpose of the descent was so that God may command us in the mitzvot of the Torah.  

Now, there is a parallel to the Giving of the Torah in Vayikra.  The parallel is parshat Kedoshim.  First of all, many commentators have noted that the mitzvot at the beginning of Kedoshim parallel the Ten Commandments.  But more significantly, it serves as the culmination and translation of all that preceded.   What is the purpose of God descending Har Sinai?  Not for us to go up to the mountain, but for us to receive the Torah.  What is the purpose of having a Mishkan?  Not primarily to enter it, but so that God's presence, God's dwelling in our midst, results in our living a life of holiness, a life of mitzvot.  The kedusha of the Mishkan is to translate into thekedusha of striving to be holy, striving to be like God.  The kedusha of Acharei Motis to bring about the kedusha of Kedoshim.

Let us never forget that even in our religious strivings, even as we might try to come close to God, the ultimate kedusha is a life of mitzvot, it is a life of actualizing the divine within us.  It is a life where God is accessible to every person;  it is a life where God is present in all of our actions.

Shabbat Shalom!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.