Thursday, April 26, 2018

You Might Be Good But Are You Holy, Too?

What is the meaning of holiness?  Is it the same as morality?  If it is not, how is it different?  Read chapter 19, verses 1 and 2 of this week’s double-parshah that includes “you shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy.”  Consider the following:  

The renowned Lutheran theologian Rudolf Otto (Germany 1869 – 1937) rejected any attempt to identify holiness with morality, and sought to define the true, unadulterated nature of holiness free of any ethical element.  While the ethical and the good might be a part of it, “holiness” was its own separate category, separate entity. 
R. Max Kadushin (United States 1895 – 1980) rejected Otto’s approach to the concept of holiness, viewing the ethical component as essential to the Jewish conception of holiness:  “Some have declared it to be an experience entirely separate from any other… that has no relation whatever to normal experience…Our study disproves this contention, so far as rabbinic experience is concerned. The concept of Kedushah… connotes the idea of imitating God in being merciful and gracious; it demands the withdrawal from what is impure and defiling – from idolatry, adultery, and the shedding of blood (Max Kadushin, The Rabbinic Mind, 176).
So, is our holiness and that of God’s the same?  If so, what are we doing when we “imitate God”?  And how does being commanded to be holy relate to the other commandments?  Is it “more” than them?  Is it a state of mind or of being, and if so, is that impinging on our free-will; that we have to be holy on top of just doing the mitzvot?  Come to shul this Shabbat and maybe you’ll find out more!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

I Believe in Miracles - Yom Ha-Atzma'ut

Image result for if you will it it is no dream
"If you will it, it is no dream." - Herzl

Yom Ha-Atzma’ut:  I Believe in Miracles - “Bless you, and increase you, and bless what you and the land produce; that land which was your ancestors’ land, too” (from Deut. 7:13).  It is easy to under-appreciate, to miss the marvelous significance of words like these.  As part of the Jewish community today, it can seem a given that Israel exists or that the Bible talks about Israel a lot.
But when I read those words, which are part of the Torah reading commonly recited for today, Yom Ha-Atzma’ut, Israel Independence Day, I am chilled by the confrontation with what they are saying. 
It is easy, sure, and countless people and groups have done so, over history, declaring that this person today or that thing today is the fulfillment of what the Bible said so many years ago.  We Jews have fallen prey to such false self-fulfilling prophecies, such facetious reading of ourselves back into the text – as I say, that’s easy enough to do. 
But the miracle of modern Israel isn’t like this.  Those words above declare that a people, over two thousand years, countless generations, countless individuals in those years, spread around the world, that enough of them, at all times, kept reading those words as a promise, as a hope, as an instruction, a charge, that it could be so again, and seventy years ago, it did become reality.
That is a miracle.  A miracle that bolsters my faith today that God’s will can still come to pass even in the world in which I live.  And it clarifies as it reaffirms my faith in the miracles we read about in the past.  In their time, they probably looked much like the birth of the State of Israel looked, messy, chaotic, mundane and extraordinary all at once – it’s only after centuries that the ancient miracles have become what we more easily call “miraculous.” 
Let us then, remember how vital each and every member of our Jewish community is, for it was through the collective dedication to a dream that Jews were able to bring about God’s promise in our own times.  That should inspire us that we too can and must contribute to other miracles unfolding, perhaps slowly, even now, through our little efforts at nudging the holy and miraculous into our world.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Shemini, Pig or Camel?

Image result for picture of pig and camel
For an animal to be Kosher it must chew its cud and have split hooves. The camel is deemed non-Kosher because it only chews its cud; likewise, the pig because it only has split hooves.

Rabbi Shimshon Pincus explained the symbolism: people often act in a way that appears righteous to others, they have Kosher signs on the outside, while within they are selfish and dishonest. They can be compared to the pig whose Kosher signs appear only on the outside of its body. Others are often filled with good intentions and righteous beliefs, yet there is little manifestation of that in their actions. They compare to the camel – Kosher only on the inside. Inward and outward refinement is the ideal.

Not having reached the ideal, should we be pigs or camels? The Sages say, "In the future the Almighty will return the pig to us." While this may be a prediction of lab grown bacon, consider also the following.  If one exhibits the signs of the pig, outwardly righteous, yet inwardly self-serving, perhaps their outward actions will eventually refine their inner being. Act as if you love others, and you'll begin to love others – spiritually refined and godly through and through.