Parshat Acharei-Kedoshim

Torah Reading for Week of April 26 – May 2, 2009

“The Torah of Transition and Transformation”

by Rabbi Cheryl Weiner, PhD, ‘07

When we send our children off to school, we often say, “Be a good boy or girl”. When we send them out into the world, we say “Make me proud!” Bumper stickers on our cars exhort us to “Be the change you want to see in the world!” In this week’s Torah portion, G-d’s words encompass these exhortations as a way of helping us find our pathway in the world of embodying the concept of “kedushah“, holiness.

Our weekly portion opens with Acharei Mot and ends with Kedoshim. In Acharei Mot, G-d tells Aaron how to move from the death of his sons back to the journey of life, how to make the transition from death to life, how to create rituals that move us through our periods of transitions from tomei to tahor, from impurity to purity, from sin to repentance. We are also taught how to put boundaries around our sexual behavior and how to develop a sense of balance in our lives by establishing boundaries. As we move into Kedoshim, we are given further direction on how to create holiness in our lives as part of this process.

In Genesis, we were told that we were created in the image of G-d. (Breishit 1:27) Thus, we embody divine attributes. In Exodus, G-d tells us that we will be to G-d as a kingdom of priests. (Shmot 19:6) Thus, we are empowered with the ability to transform ourselves ritually from one state of being to another. In this week’sparashah in Leviticus, G-d exhorts us; “You shall be holy for I your G-d am holy.” (Vayikra 19:1) If we combine these serial messages, the divine attribute that G-d wants us to embody personally and enact ritually is holiness. How are we to define this?

As Rabbi Elyse Goldstein explicates in The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, G-d does not say what holiness is. Rather G-d gives us examples of who is holy, when holiness occurs, and why holiness is our preferred state of being. The definition of holiness is left to us to devise. In our behaviors, we are given examples of G-d’s holiness; we are told to take care of the widow and the orphan as G-d does, those who are marginal in our community. In our ritual lives, we are told how to celebrate Shabbat and bring first fruits to the temple as a ritual symbolizing gratitude for the harvest. Both our actual behaviors and the rituals that make us aware of our behaviors are treated together as a directive for how to live our lives. I am reminded of a story told by Rabbi Eli Schochet, one of our AJR, CA faculty. As a child, he was with a cohort of young children who were about to steal some candy in a store. While he knew this behavior was wrong, it was in touching his kippah, his ritual clothing, that reminded him of how to enact his values.

In these days of great transition in America, we can look to our sacred stories for guidance and sustenance. Transitions and change are part of the consciousness of Torah or we would not have rituals that consummate and mark them. We can look to Kedoshim for ways to enact holiness, to determine for ourselves what we can do to bring holiness into our families, communities and the world at large.

G-d called to all of those who stood collectively at Sinai to be holy. Let that serve as an invocation to each of us, individually, to stand again at Sinai to reassess the values that are inherent in our being good, making our parents proud, and being the change that we want to see in the world. Let us become holy thereby transforming ourselves and the world for generations to come.

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