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Parashat Kedoshim: Be Holy, Or Else! 

05/04/2022 12:29:19 PM

May4

Rabbi Pamela Gottfried

"And you shall observe all my laws and all my judgments and do them, and the land to which I am bringing you to live in it will not vomit you out.” (Leviticus 20:22)

I am struck by the colorful language of this verse, which suggests the holy land itself will reject unholy inhabitants. Apparently, I hadn't noticed it or read it carefully in previous years of studying Torah.

Most of the Book of Leviticus contains instructions for being a holy people, chosen by God to live according to the mitzvot. Our reward for observing these ethical and ritual laws is to live in the land promised to our ancestors, the Land of Israel. 

I suppose this verse can be understood as a motivation for being holy. Who wouldn’t want to avoid being vomited from the land as punishment for not observing the commandments?

Two biblical commentators note the repetition of the phrase “you shall observe my laws and my judgments” from earlier in Leviticus and teach additional lessons about the importance of following the laws. Chizkuni, who lived in 13th century France, explains, “The reason why the Torah has repeated this phrase once again is to remind the people that God’s statutes apply in the Diaspora as well as in the Holy Land.” I appreciate Chizkuni’s interpretation that living Jewishly, according to the mitzvot, is relevant to Jewish people everywhere. 

Or HaChaim, who lived in North Africa and Italy in the early 18th century, teaches the repetition is to urge us to ensure the laws do not become abolished through our failure to observe them: “If one fails to protest non-observance of these laws by others in one’s community, then he will still be subject to the punishments, even if he personally had been meticulous in his observance of law.” 

Both Chizkuni and Or HaChaim echo the saying of the Talmud, “All Israel is responsible for one another.” To be a holy people we all must work together as a community, encouraging each other to be our best selves.

Ancient people regarded natural disasters as God’s punishment for our sins. There are many instances in the Hebrew Bible of God bringing flood, drought, famine and other plagues upon those who are unfaithful. We postmodern Jews generally don’t believe that natural disasters are divine punishment. However, we acknowledge the collective suffering of humanity when we disregard the environment. Scientific data suggest that the effects of climate change—including extreme heat and drought, wildfires, more category 3 and 4 hurricanes, and more frequent and devastating tornadoes—can only be mitigated by human beings taking action to repair the world. 

Two weeks ago when I proposed that we launch a Green Team at B’nai Torah, I was energized by the response, which included offers to fund the effort to reduce our waste and switch to using compostable, recyclable, and reusable materials at the synagogue. I invite us all to renew  our commitment to repair what is broken in our world, to protect current and future generations from natural and human-made disasters.

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If you’re interested in joining B’nai Torah’s Green Team and/or attending the May 19th meeting of the Jewish Climate Action Network of Georgia (JCAN-GA), please contact Rabbi Gottfried through her website, or email her at pjgbooks@gmail.com.

וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֤ם אֶת־כׇּל־חֻקֹּתַי֙ וְאֶת־כׇּל־מִשְׁפָּטַ֔י וַעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֹתָ֑ם וְלֹא־תָקִ֤יא אֶתְכֶם֙ הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֨ר אֲנִ֜י מֵבִ֥יא אֶתְכֶ֛ם שָׁ֖מָּה לָשֶׁ֥בֶת בָּֽהּ׃

Mon, June 27 2022 28 Sivan 5782