Sermons

Friday – May 6, 2022

Kedoshim. It means holiness, but when applied to humans, not it does not mean individual holiness. It’s a plural word. In this week’s Torah portion, God tells Moses, “Say to the entire Jewish people, You, all of you, shall be holy, because I your God am holy.”

On the surface this sounds lovely. But it is an astounding declaration, at the beginning of a section that is so central to Judaism that it is called the Holiness Code. And the statement doesn’t make sense. Because God is holy, we should be holy? What does that even mean?

Wouldn’t it be easier if God had just made us holy in the first place? The Torah doesn’t tell us that we are holy, but that we “shall be” holy.

Torah never clarifies this. Nor does it define what our pursuit of holiness has to do with God’s holiness. But it is extremely specific about how we should strive to be holy.

Feel free to read chapter 19 of Leviticus for the details. Here’s the Cliff Notes version: Treat everyone, everyone, with respect. Be fair. Be considerate. In essence, be a mensch.

That’s how to be holy. It too sounds simple. But in truth, it’s incredibly hard to do, especially if your goal is to be holy consistently throughout a lifetime.

Trying to do it alone is even harder. Humans are social animals. We rely on each other for love, for encouragement, for support and assistance. We aren’t designed for solitary endeavors.

But my friends, we are designed to scale mountains, to rise above our limitations, and to achieve the impossible.

Take one look at Ukraine today and see the human spirit at work. No one had an inkling that the Ukrainians would pull together and fight so fiercely for their independence.

President Zelenskyy said this week to the Ukrainian people: “We must maintain maximum unity. Because our success depends on unity. Not only political success, but also the defense of the state, the strength of our people, our society.”

Zelenskyy understands that the key to fighting an unprovoked enemy, is to put differences aside — race, religion, age, gender, politics— and embrace a shared mission with a shared identity: Brave Ukrainians.

Here at home we are facing a confluence of attacks, not as egregious as Russia’s physical attack, but still, serious attempts to infringe on our individual freedoms.

Books are being banned, but only those books that open new ways of seeing the world to young minds. Limitations are being placed on speech in our schools, but only if that speech promotes coexistence. Both of these attempts to limit the minds of our children and young people are intolerable.

Now we are facing an affront on women that in truth has nothing to do with reproduction, and everything to do with controlling women’s bodies, minds, and freedoms.

Our tradition makes it clear that a woman’s life takes precedence over that of an incipient life within her. Not until the head begins to emerge does the life within her achieve equal status as a human.

Like me, I’m sure you have seen many sayings and memes about the possibility of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. As a person who cares deeply about gun control, as well as women’s reproductive rights, the one that took my breath away is this: “Pro-Life would be 20 Sandy Hook students starting High School.”

Judaism is a religion, and a way of life, that stresses our responsibility to the community, not individualism. And yet, these affronts on our individual liberties are ones that strike at the heart of Jewish belief.

We are the People of the Book. We have chosen to leave upsetting and offensive language and episodes in our Bible. We don’t edit them out. Instead, we grapple with them, try to understand them, interpret them for our own times, and understand that sometimes, they are a product of a particular time and place, and that today we do not agree or approve.

What do American Jews need to do about these attacks on our very core beliefs? The Talmud provides a straightforward answer:

“Anyone who had the capability to effectively protest the sinful conduct of the members of the people of his town, and he fails to do so, he is apprehended [ie punished] for the sins of the people of his town. If he is in a position to protest the sinful conduct of the whole world, and he fails to do so, he is apprehended for the sins of the whole world.” Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 54b:20.

In other words, we are required to speak out. To put aside any differences we may have, and together become Brave Supporters of Intellectual and Reproductive Freedoms.

Shabbat shalom.

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