Rabbi Ben Naim's Shabbat Message - April 28, 2023
|This week gives us a double dose of Torah portions as we read Acharei-Mot and Kedoshim. If we read the titles in a certain way it poses a probing question. Acharei-Mot? Kedoshim? “After death? Are we holy?” or “How can we know that when our lives are over, that holiness remains where we are after death?”
As we read a little further, the Torah’s answer becomes clear.
Literally translated, Kedoshim means holy, distinct, set apart, unique. In this portion we learn, and this verse is so important that it is literally written on the wall of our Irmas chapel:
God spoke to Moses saying, קְדֹשִׁ֣ים תִּהְי֑וּ כִּ֣י קָד֔וֹשׁ אֲנִ֖י יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם.
“Be holy, for I, Adonai your God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2).
The next verse unpacks this commandment and makes it more concrete as it tells us HOW to be holy.
The first step in the “how” of being holy is:
אִ֣ישׁ אִמּ֤וֹ וְאָבִיו֙ תִּירָ֔אוּ וְאֶת־שַׁבְּתֹתַ֖י תִּשְׁמֹ֑רוּ אֲנִ֖י יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם
“Each person should revere their mother and their father AND keep (God’s) sabbaths and holy times.”
In reading this section, we can understand that Torah tells us a way we can become elevated. We can become elevated and have a likelihood that our legacy will endure beyond our own individual lives when we act as if we remember where we came from. The Torah tells us that we should allow the lessons of our ancestors to animate our lives. When we have an awareness of what our ancestors hoped for us, when we understand their inspirations, we are likely to have a better idea of how to strive for our own sense of purpose, our own sense of kedusha, of holiness.
This then is a powerful week to reflect on what our ancestors have taught us. We can ask ourselves the following: What is a specific lesson or value you learned from a parent or grandparent that has given you an anchor? How can you take that value, weave into your life today and use it to inspire others around you? Are you living in a way that will inspire those who come after you?
As I ask and answer these questions, I think of my grandmother and embrace the holiness I continue to encounter almost 40 years after her death.
A love of Israel courses through my veins. It was instilled in me through my parents and my grandmother Fanny. Fanny’s memory continues to be a blessing and is one that continues to give shape and inspiration to my rabbinate. My grandmother worked alongside Golda Meir and David Ben Gurion to raise critical funds for Israel Bonds. I keep a letter to my grandmother written in 1957 from Eleanor Roosevelt next to her picture just beyond her shabbat candlesticks I use every week. And right next to that is another letter from Hubert Humphrey from May of 1969… just 6 months before I was born. I am especially aware of her legacy this shabbat as we just celebrated Israel’s 75th year of independence.
I’m also thinking of her as this weekend I am packing my bags to take 35 students and 6 chaperones to Israel. I am reminded of how and where I inherited my passion for Israel. I allow the determination of my grandmother to animate my commitment and can’t wait to take my 16th group of Brawerman students to Israel so they may encounter our homeland. They obviously will never meet my grandmother- but her essence and her passion are being passed on to them through me.
This is what I think of when I note the connection between these two portions. Will there be holiness when we are gone? When I am gone? When Israel celebrates 150 years (God willing!)... I certainly hope so and work relentlessly towards that future.
Kedoshim t’hiyu- go be holy. Find what animates your uniqueness and how it was gifted to you.