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

A Hebrew School teacher was speaking to his class. “This week, our thoughts turn from the mundane to the sacred. This week’s Torah portion is Kedoshim (Holiness) and, hence, we call this week’s text the “Holiness Code.” It teems with the ethical and moral values that should inform our standard of conduct walking through this world.”

A student blurted out, “WAIT! I thought that the whole Torah was “holy,” and that we were supposed to strive to be holy (and not mundane) every day. What gives?”
The teacher gave a wry smile and replied, “Moshe, you are right. Every day is an appropriate time to pursue holiness, but this week, we learn to do even more. Tied into this week is the greatest of all moral values.”

Moshe’s brow furrowed, “But this week, a large portion of the text talks about weird things like prohibited sex, following idols, and cross-breeding livestock.” Exasperated, he continued, “Yes, there is another set of ten commandments, as well, but there are no lessons here … just a laundry list of dos and don’ts.”

After he finished, the teacher again smiled, “No my dear student. This list does not designate the things to do and not do. This text provides a partial list of the things that people tell people to do and not do. These are all the things that make us decide to like people or dislike people. These do not define holiness. This line defines holiness: ‘When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens. You shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I, Adonai, am your God.’ (Leviticus 19:33-34) The lists you refer to are all the things that make us feel like strangers living amongst each other.”

Ultimately, the most important teaching in Torah is to remember to love the stranger. How might one come to this conclusion? This command appears 46 times in the Torah; that is why. We know the plight of the stranger. We know what it means to be left out. We know what it means to be oppressed.

No, I am not speaking as a Jew, though certainly Anti-Semitism is on the rise. I am speaking as a member of the human race. Dr. Terrence Roberts (one of the Little Rock Nine) reminds us that there is no biological difference between folks of differing colors, except the differing colors. Even within any one of our ethnicities, our appearances are hardly uniform. There is one race … human. For the record, this is my response to every application that asks for race. Somehow, the one thing that really does unify each of us is the source of our greatest dysfunction. If we cannot see ourselves as sharing this commonality of being human, how can we possibly expect to appreciate, as a gift, the diverse opportunities for celebrating life and love that each of us brings to the table?

We have estranged ourselves from each other. People are so afraid of everything we do not understand that, as a society, we feel the need to categorize everyone into divergent splintered groups. Torah commands us to remember that we are all strangers, we have all been oppressed, and we have all been alienated from each other. Someone has to “stop the bleeding,” and this week’s portion reminds us of all the ways in which we have separated from each other. Then, at least twice in this chapter alone, reminds us to love the stranger and to remember that he is as our own: an equally divinely created and endowed human … no different than any of us. The ways in which we see the world do not separate us, only the ways in which we determine the value of each other’s vision. Love the stranger as you are supposed to love yourself. Shabbat Shalom.