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Parashat Aharei Mot-Kedoshim

May 3, 2017

by Cantor Sandy Horowitz

Parashat Aharei Mot-Kedoshim: A Look Back

Max: Aaron has asked us to divide into groups and share our reflections about what we heard from Moses today.  So many laws!  I lost track after fifty.

Hannah: “You, who are on the road, must have a code that you can live by….”*

Max: What?

Hannah: I heard that in a dream once.

Shira: How long will this take? Miriam’s doing folk-dancing tonight and I promised her I’d bring my timbrel…

Shmuel: What’s with all those Ani Adonai (“I am Adonai”)s? He kept repeating it.

Max: Perhaps it helps us remember a Higher Purpose whenever we consider these laws.

Shmuel: Or maybe he’s still mad about the golden calf…

Max:  I was struck by hearing the laws regarding land: we’re commanded to leave the corners of our fields for the poor and hungry, fruit-trees grow unpicked for three years and then we sacrifice the first fruits before we can eat them ourselves (Lev. 19:9-10, 23-25). That all seems irrelevant here in the wilderness, unless…maybe that “promised land” rhetoric is actually true and we will get there someday, how about that!

Hannah: There sure is a lot of forbidden sex (Lev. 20:10-21)– adultery, sleeping with relatives, sleeping with animals – – and what’s wrong if a man wants to lie with another man!  I know for a fact that my brother….

Yosef: Hannah! A woman is not supposed to talk about those things!

Hannah – You think I was born yesterday?

Max: Let’s move on…and Hannah remember the law forbidding gossip (Lev. 19:16).

Hannah: Oy. Seriously?

Shira: I like that we were reminded to keep Shabbat (Lev. 19:3, 30). Don’t you wish we’d had Shabbat back in Egypt, a day off can you imagine?  No one should have to work every single day.

Shmuel: Remember how back at Sinai we were told that Shabbat is for everyone, even the stranger; today there were more laws about caring for the stranger (Lev. 19:33-34). We have strangers among us now, what’s the big deal? Naturally we treat them the same as ourselves, why do we need to be reminded?

Shira: Perhaps in that promised land we’ll forget about how we were once strangers in Egypt.  There may come a time when we become so isolated in our same-ness that we will be tempted to treat the “other” as less than ourselves.

Hannah: No way!

Max: Let’s explore this for a minute. Moses kept quoting God as saying we are holy, kedoshim, which is to say separate. Separate from what? What makes us holy?

Shira:  When we were slaves we had to follow the rules of the Egyptian taskmasters; now we have our own set of laws. Today we heard some serious prohibitions against worshipping other people’s gods; our laws distinguish us from Egypt and those other nations. Being free isn’t just being un-slaved; it means we are identified as a separate community, indebted to God and committed to living righteously. Holy.

Yosef: Which makes us more special than anyone else —  Moses explicitly said today that God has distinguished us from other people (Lev. 20:24).

Hannah: I don’t think that’s what he meant. Holy doesn’t mean holier-than-them. We are given these laws so that we can strive to become a community of mensches.

Shmuel: Community of what?

Hannah: I heard that word in a dream once.

Shira:  Being holy or righteous or menschy doesn’t come easily. We shouldn’t have to be told not to cast a stumbling block in front of a blind person or curse the deaf (Lev. 19:14) — who in their right mind would do such a thing? Yet it’s in our nature to sometimes ignore our better impulses, so we need these laws to guide us.

Shmuel: So you’re saying our baser impulses may also tempt us to forget that we too were strangers once; these laws connect us to that Higher Purpose, as we remember that “Ani Adonai” refrain.

Max: Exactly. Imagine if we had a leader who didn’t believe in following these laws or any laws for that matter – what would that look like?  That leader would consider only his own self-interest.  Who then would protect the stranger?

Shira: That’ll never happen!

Yosef:  You never know…

Hannah: Well if it does happen, it would be up to us to set things straight.  Not holier-than-them, holier-for-them.


Shira: Can I go get my timbrel now?

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*Teach Your Chidren by Graham Nash, recorded 1970 by Crosby Stills Nash & Young


Cantor Sandy Horowitz is the cantor of Adas Emuno in Leonia, NJ.