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Parashat Aharei Mot Kedoshim

May 1, 2020

A D’var Torah for Parashat Aharei Mot Kedoshim
By Cantor Sandy Horowitz (’14)

Parashat Kedoshim consists of a series of commandments which God wants Moses to convey to the Israelite people. As is God’s wont, God has a lot to say as the verses in this parashah jump from one topic to another– keep My sabbaths; when you reap your harvest, leave the corners of your field for the poor and stranger; do not curse the deaf; do not cross-breed your cattle; and so on. These are a few of the laws which appear just in the first two aliyot of the Torah reading. Imagine how the Israelites might have listened to this series of commandments while trying to remember it all; it must have felt overwhelming, and perhaps a bit confusing. What harvest? What stranger?

Then we arrive at the beginning of the third aliyah: “When you come into the land and plant any tree for food…” (Lev 19:23).

“When you come into the land”, V’khi tavo’u el ha’aretz – what a promise!

The Israelites would have heard about this promise since before their departure from Egypt (Ex 12:25). But only now does it begin to feel real, as these former slaves might imagine actually planting their own trees for the very first time. The words would resonate in their imaginations like the very breeze that would someday, baruch haShem, blow through the leaves of those trees.

The image of the land and its trees is placed in context within the laws of holiness in these chapters of Leviticus, as the text continues:

When you come into the land and plant any tree for food, you shall regard its fruit as forbidden. Three years it shall be forbidden for you, not to be eaten.

In the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy for giving praise to Adonai;

and in the fifth year may you eat its fruit, that it may yield to you its produce:

I am Adonai your God. (Leviticus 19:23-25)

Contained in the promise is the commandment to wait. When they come to the land and plant their trees, the Israelites are told to practice restraint, waiting until the fifth year before they can partake of their own sweet fruit. What’s more, they must not simply sit idly and wait, for in that fourth year they are commanded to praise God’s holiness with their fruit offering, as a reminder of the Divine source of their produce.

This image of coming into the land, a literal promise for our ancestors, can also serve as a metaphoric promise for us during these uncertain and fearful times.

The Israelites are told that when they come into the land, only in due course will they eat the fruit from the trees they have planted. So too will we need to practice restraint as the threat of Covid-19 subsides. We must wait until it’s safe to sit in restaurants again, likely with tables spaced far apart. Perhaps we will be able to visit with friends only after we’ve all tested negative for the virus. And those of us who are older may have to wait even longer before we can be in the same room with our children and grandchildren. But we will get there. V’khi tavo’u el ha’aretz is our promise, just as it was for our ancient ancestors.

When we come to the land, and in due course, we will eat the fruit from the trees we have planted. When we come to the land of health and safety, and in due course, we will hug our loved ones from whom we’ve been separated. When we come to the land of health and safety, and in due course, we will sit once again in our places of worship, and in our physical workplaces, in our classrooms and in theatres and concert halls. And when we can finally do all these things, even as we learn to accept new restraints which may well be in place, may we praise God’s holiness with our offerings of gratitude for a promise fulfilled.

Postscript. This has been written with an acute awareness of those who will not make it to the promised land of health and safety. On April 3, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I may not get there with you. But I want you to know, tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.” As we hold on to the promise of a time post-coronavirus, we remember those who have suffered and died, the victims and fighters of this pandemic.
Cantor Sandy Horowitz (AJR ’14) is an independent cantor and tutor who has served as AJR faculty.