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

Every year, as I approach this week’s Torah portion, I find myself embedded in an internal struggle. We call this portion the “holiness code” because it speaks to the ground rules for being holy. “Kedoshim ti’h’yu, ki kadosh Ani.” God says, “You shall be holy because I am holy.” I always thought I understood the purpose of this text was to elevate us – make us think more deeply about how we approach the world. This year, I sense that the more deeply part is presumptuous. We live in an age where we are so distracted that I think we cannot take “thinking” for granted.

More people read the Bible than ever before, and yet, this universal document of human sociology seems to have us increasingly divided and “chasmatic.” As I see it, the problem revolves around the misuse of the term “holy.” By definition, the word means “exalted or worthy of complete devotion.” or “devoted entirely to the deity or the work of the deity.” I do not see anywhere in this definition an affirmation that reading a book or talking at a deity elevates someone from mundane to holy. Devotion is an engagement. One cannot love something without engaging it. One cannot devote one’s self to a God by merely telling that God what one wants that God to do.

Scripture’s purpose is to create engagement: a conversation between people of faith. Simply reading the book, only to close it without reflection is, in my tradition, blasphemy. I stay shocked at the number of people who quote pieces of it as gospel while ignoring other portions of it as worthless. One cannot say that the Bible is infallible on one matter and irrelevant on another. If one takes issue with homosexuality but eats pork and violates the Sabbath – one is not faithful – only hypocritical. The purpose of scripture is not to give absolute answers, but ONLY to prompt the conversation. In the ensuing discussion is where one finds a holy engagement. Determining, in each generation and each situation, how text can lead us to an answer that helps build respect and dignity, we use scripture to elevate our opinions of and engagement with each other. One who uses scripture to somehow lord himself/herself over another has misused the text and splits us further and further apart.

There exists no need for us to agree on a final answer as to what text prompts. We can disagree on its application, but the divergence of our responses narrows outcomes to exclude those that dismiss humanity. Once we first decide that scripture’s purpose is to exalt humanity (having been created by God – the same God – whatever one thinks that God looks like, how God speaks, or how God gets reached); we cannot resolve to do anything harmful to those in need. If we begin with the Bible’s commitment to the well being of the stranger, then whether we welcome immigrants or not is not the issue. The issue to resolve is how to dignify them, make them more secure and more whole, whether here or elsewhere. A faithful person cannot simply ignore, reject, or at worse vilify them. That “religious” people can only revile other human beings flies in the face of everything we teach about faith – and they don’t get it.

This year, my struggle cannot be self-centered. I cannot spend this week trying to grow and expand my horizons. This year, I have to go back to the basics. Pursuing holiness, we have to spend this year healing the breach between people. We need to find ways to engage each other and leave the divisive rhetoric behind. We will see, in conversations about family, about love, and about a host of personal appreciations that we are far more alike than we are different. How one reads the texts about ritual “do’s” and “do not’s”) cannot matter as much as how we respect and dignify each person wrestling with the text.

As a prisoner of hope, I know that we have the capacity to create miracles for each other and I beg to make this reach for holiness our goal. Shabbat Shalom.