Kedoshim – A thought for the week by Mike Lewis

We suddenly move from the Sanctuary, Sacrifices and the Priesthood to what is a defining moment. We are, all of us, called to be something special, a holy people.

The Lord said to Moses: “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them, be holy because I the Lord your God am holy.”

We would survive the loss of two temples, the loss of our land and our dispersion but still remain Jews. The holiness code that we read is long and detailed. It contains the moral codes that guide us. We are to be a nation of priests; in Israel and all around the world; in synagogues and around our tables at home. Our traditions may differ from Ashkenazi or Sephardi backgrounds but this core code of moral guidance, positive and negative is in our bones. It is not always easy.

There have been many attempts at defining a moral system. Some based on rationality, some on emotions like sympathy and empathy.  Is it service to the state, moral duty, or the greatest happiness of the greatest number. These are all forms of moral simplicity. Judaism insists on the opposite: moral complexity. The moral life isn’t easy. Sometimes duties or loyalties clash.

On Wednesday we will be celebrating Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut. After the events of the past few days perhaps we should remember the challenges facing the state and facing all of us.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once asked his students which commandments they would remove from the Torah. His own answer was

“You shall love your fellow as yourself.” It is simply impossible to fulfil, and it’s so important, it’s the basis of all civilization”.
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