"How is this relevant?" Do you ever find yourself asking this question? Whether in your personal life, your work environment, or your synagogue experiences, you may have said this to yourself or someone else once or twice. I ask myself this question all the time. Not all rabbis (or clergy in general) may agree on this, but I think it's one of the most important questions we must answer for our congregants every single day.
Especially when we're reading the Book of Leviticus, we find that the question of
relevance pops back up over and over again. This week, we're back at it, as we learn about the laws of the ancient priests, including the rights and responsibilities that come with their job description. For instance, they cannot come in contact with a dead body, they cannot marry certain people, and they have various obligations regarding sacrifice, purity, and physical appearance.
Once again we must ask ourselves, how is this relevant? What do these laws mean for life in 2010? One possibility is that these restrictions still apply to those who are Kohanim, descendants of the ancient priests. Some people say that even though they no longer serve in a long-since-destroyed Temple, they still must abide by these laws. In my opinion, it is more of a personal
choice. As a community, we choose to honor the memory of their priestly ancestors by calling the Kohanim up for certain aliyot to the Torah, along with a few other rituals and traditions. At the same time, I think these laws speak to all of us about leadership.
When you are a communal leader, you take on certain rights and responsibilities. In ancientIsrael, the priests offered sacrifices on behalf of everyone else, and they received tithes that afforded them a certain lifestyle. Today, some of our communal leaders also become quite wealthy due to their status; like actors, athletes, and musicians. Other leaders speak on our behalf and govern our society; like politicians, elected officials, and even synagogue board members. But with these rights come responsibilities. All of the above are held to a higher standard, their behavior is scrutinized, and we feel entitled to comment on the life choices they make.
Sadly, some leaders - ancient as well as modern - want the rights without the responsibilities. Football stars want to be judged by their Super Bowl wins, not their behavior in nightclubs. Politicians want people to look at their voting record, not their extramarital affairs. But the Torah teaches us to judge, and be judged, by everything that we do. In many ways, we are all communal leaders, whether nationally, locally, communally, or simply within our own homes. Someone is looking up to you, and someone is learning from your behavior. A lot of people miss this message, because they are too busy dismissing the Biblical laws as antiquated and irrelevant.
In reality, however, they are all too current, and they can teach each and every one of us a thing or two about owning the choices we make and living a life that inspires the people around us. Sometimes I'm not sure if we're ready for just how relevant the Torah can be...