Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Acharei Mot – K’doshim

I love my Tuesday morning group. In looking at this week’s Torah portion, in a variety of ways, several wanted to know the difference between religious, faith, and holy. Of course, I loved the question because I often say that I am not sure how religious I am, but I am a man of devout faith.

Here are my best attempts to define these words on a practical level:
Religious – the ritual adherence to the tenets and traditions of a specific culture. One’s motivation may root in faith, obedience, acquiescence, or admiration or emulation of a teacher.
Holy – a transcendent state of spirit and morality.
Faith – the tool that helps one to transcend the routine and every day (however extraordinary it may still be) to reach for something more whole – for everyone. Faith is not tied to one religion or even to religion at all. Faith is the intangible and indefinable heartfelt belief that someone/something matters to the depths of your soul. This love and respect can be irrational, natural, or supernatural. It can tie us to other beings or to something/someone purely transcendent.

According to my tradition, we reserve “holy” to describe 36 people (lamed-vavniks) holy people. Upon their righteousness, the whole world stands. We don’t know who they are. They don’t know who they are. What we do know is that no matter how “holy” one behaves, the moment one thinks he/she may be one of them, he/she is assuredly not.

That said, being faithful, one stands compelled to grow in a way that affirms the dignity of everything that lives. Sometimes, a faithful practice involves finding one’s self tied to religious ritual, and occasionally one performs the ritual without regard for its impact on one’s spirit. Not everyone who is devoutly religious is faithful, and not everyone who is devoutly faithful subscribes to religion.

Our sages have always taught that, however, “practicing” one is ritually, one cannot use loopholes to get around the ethical behaviors also mandated in religious tradition. For this reason, even Torah differentiates between the rules of ritual and the standards of moral decency. Rabbinic tradition prohibits us from taking advantage of others. Our sages teach that if one practices devout ritual but cheats in the market place, that one’s behavior is immoral and violates the Torah. Whatever one’s ritual practice, one’s heart must turn to love and respect, for there is no way to honor the source of blessing when we deny others a full share in that blessing.

This week, Torah teaches us, “kedoshim ti-h’yu ki kadosh Ani – You shall be holy, for I, God, am holy.” Torah cannot expect us to be more than human – each of us with human frailties, but we can strive to be better than we are. Where we commit ourselves to learn past our horizons, to growing understanding and appreciation for others and other’s ways of living, we work towards holiness. Shabbat Shalom.