Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah -Acharei Mot – K’doshim
“Kedoshim t’hiyu ki kadosh Ani Adonai. Be holy for I God am holy.”
I have been reading these words in a Rabbinic capacity for 31 years. Some years, I find the words instructive. Some years, they touch me spiritually. Of course, if I am fully transparent, there are some years, I read them and think, “Oh, that’s nice, God is holy.”
This year, though, I read them and can’t help but be a little frustrated. I know the history of the Biblical compilation and its designed purpose to provoke conversation and growth. I also know that there are many folks out there screaming that it is God’s literal word. True, the Torah has no vowels and no structures built into it. True, most people read other people’s interpretations (translations) of what they think it says. True, also, that in making it static and finite, they have made God static and finite. Horribly true, they then take their myopic views of god and impose them on everyone else, judging their values as humans by what they think the Bible says.
Over the last few years, we have endured “Religious Leaders” from across the country, imputing that “god” is a misogynist, a racist, a gay basher, and a hate monger. Pointing to political and religious leaders who espouse these behaviors, they claim that God chooses these people, God’s self – they are … holy. People actually believe the bumper sticker that reads, “God wrote the King James Bible. Don’t be fooled by the Hebrew or Greek translations.” Of course, they left off the Latin and Aramaic ones, but my guess is that they don’t know about such things to be able to reject them.
Holiness is Godliness. Holy isn’t something that we do, and I cannot say that it is something that we are. We throw the word around describing people and things, and I fear, without a grasp on what “Godliness” calls on us to do/be/believe. I don’t think one is holy for getting the words of liturgy right. I hate to think that holiness is tied to repetitive ritual movements or traditions that too many clergy members can perform in their sleep.
We have a teaching about 36 righteous – holy people whose holiness keeps the world afloat. We call them “lamed vavniks.” Lamed is the Hebrew letter whose numerical equivalent is 30. Vav equals 6. Together, it is upon their merit that we don’ fall apart. The key is that: a. no one knows who they are; b. If you think you might be one, you most assuredly are not.
For the rest of us, I believe the best we can do at this point in human development is to experience a touch with/glimpse of holiness and holy encounters. However, I believe that the same test for the lamed vavnik applies to us – the moment we start thinking that we are purveyors of holiness, we need to rethink our motivation and impact. I have experienced incredible blessings in my life that led me to know that I have so much more to learn and grow. These experiences cause me to want to share with and learn from others. Holiness happens organically; I don’t think one can manufacture it, and certainly don’t believe that what passes for religious fervor in the form of sectarianist hierarchies in any way represents God. The voices that espouse this craziness drive people from wanting a relationship with God; for that, I am frustrated. One cannot lovingly pray to a “god” of unbridled absolute inerrant love who hates people who celebrate life (and God) differently.
The number of stories filling the news with beyond intolerant people violating laws, dismissing people’s dignities, mocking the very people they rely on to provide the services they need, and communal support that they demand are beyond frustrating. The attack on the Capitol, the refusal to mask and denial of COVID, ugly racism, anti-gay bashing, and misogyny; these behaviors cannot be in concert with the holiness the perpetrators espouse. I may not really understand holiness, but I know that that is not it.
My prayer is that someday, I will comprehend holiness and experience its impact that helps me see past the limitations of my failings, opening me to experience and better appreciate the blessings available to us. I want more than a glimpse of holiness. I don’t want to talk about or berated with someone’s sense of holiness. If our goal is to heal the world, I suspect that we all have a lot to learn. Let’s do this – together.