Your Shabbat Guest
In the weeks following Pesach, we have a series of Torah portions that constitute the Holiness Code of the Jewish people. From “micro,” to “macro” peoplehood issues, these portions discuss in detail the ceremonial laws of the Kohanim (priests) and their role as central leaders of worship, laws of permitted and prohibited animals, foul, and fish, a wrong turn taken by the sons of Aaron, isolation from infectious diseases, and the reunification of the cured with the larger community, and finally, the cycle of core holidays, and their celebration.
Over the course of our most recent Shabbat together in Bakersfield, Torah study centered around the Holiness Code in Leviticus, and its impact on our lives today. Why should we care about the clothing or the conduct of the Kohanim? In our times, we routinely isolate (quarantine) those with diseases that we cannot control and do not understand. Why the focus on which animals we can and cannot eat?
We concluded that the Holiness Code of our people, begun in Leviticus – and built upon over the centuries -- begins small – with the Kohanim, and gets larger and larger until it takes us through the cycle of the holidays. The chorus of “Ani Kadosh” (I am Holy) repeats at key junctures. The phrase “Ki Kadosh Ani Eloheichem” (because I the Lord your God am Holy) is a capstone.
Is it easy to be a part of a religious group for which the answer to the question “Why do we need to do all of these things?” is often “because I the Lord your God am Holy.” Clearly is it not. Clearly, ours is a challenging faith. We do this, we do that. We follow this, we follow that, we don’t do this, we don’t do that … Why? Because we are “Kedoshim” – Holy … an “Am Kadosh” – a Holy nation. Our focus as a people is on the one-ness of God, and upon the performance of His Mitzvot (commandments).
Our congregation learns well together. We listen to each other, and reflect upon the array of responses to issues raised during our learning time. As we began to “unpack” the holiness code, and bring it into our own 21st century lives, we came to realize that it is precisely this code – complicated as it might be – that has kept us together as a people. The laws of permitted foods help us to look carefully at what we eat and how we eat it. The rules regarding the return of the healed implore us to respect life and honor those who live through (survive) near-catastrophic illness. The laws and extended rituals of the Priesthood show us that Ritual is not to be taken lightly.
Lastly, the cycle of the Holidays remind us that we must regularly acknowledge God in the form of prayer and celebration. Without marking special occasions with prayer, celebration (and joy), we would be just like all of the other nations of the world – not the Am Kadosh that we are!
Notes from the Road - The Holiness Code and Us