relax! But the reason I ACTUALLY enjoy it so much is because they bring a very fresh, different, and energetic perspective, and the teens often challenge me to look at what we're doing in a new way. This Shabbat, for example, our services are going to have a unique theme: the Academy Awards. I've been impressed with what our USY board has come up with, to not just make it a kitschy theme, but actually a morning of substance, exploration of our prayers, and personal introspection. I was especially fascinated to hear what our USY president, Talia Kaplan, was planning to say in her D'var Torah (I got a sneak-peak. What can I say? It's a perk that comes with the job...). And I'd like to briefly touch on something she said (or is going to say), which inspired me in writing this week's blog post.
I'm hoping you'll be able to join us on Saturday, so I don't want to give away too much. But basically, Talia ties together the Academy Awards theme, the experience of being a teenager, this week's Torah portion, Kedoshim, AND she even gets to Yom Ha-Shoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is coming up on Sunday night. Truly
impressive! Again, not wanting to reveal too much of Talia's topic, I'll just mention that she cleverly spins the name of our parashah, 'Kedoshim,' which we translate as 'holy,' and explains how it can also refer to those who die for Judaism, i.e. the six million victims of the Holocaust. On the surface, the Torah portion focuses on holy behaviors that we engage in to emulate God; treating others fairly, paying workers a decent wage, and rendering just legal decisions. But in the shadow of Yom Ha-Shoah, we cannot help but remember those millions of Jews who were VERY faithful to Judaism, and DID observe God's laws, and yet they died in a most brutal way. In fact, they died BECAUSE of their loyalty to God. How do we reconcile this challenging tension?
There is no easy answer. We cannot explain away the Holocaust with a simple reading of Scripture. Our parashah does indeed lay the groundwork and basis for a life of holiness, but all the while with the knowledge that it cannot protect you from the chaos of the world, and from other people's bad choices and destructive behaviors. It cannot
avert disasters like the shooting in Kansas City, or the looming fears of escalating anti-Semitism in the Ukraine. But living a life without structure, without morality, and without holiness doesn't help us avoid tragedy either. In fact, when tragedy strikes, we are instead left with no support system or way to process what has happened, and that, in turn, leads to more chaos and fear. So the holiness code of our Torah portion does give us SOMETHING to hold onto, and something to connect to.
And though the theme of this week's reading seems obvious, based on the name, Kedoshim, 'holiness,' I would actually argue that a more significant theme is 'Relationship.' More specifically, a relationship with God. The Torah portion is short, only two chapters long, but it still
manages to list a ton of laws and ethical behaviors. And after almost each one, we see one of two phrases. Either we see 'Ani Adonai' (I am Adonai), or 'Ani Adonai Eloheichem' (I am Adonai, your God). Each phrase appears ten times in just two chapters, so TWENTY instances in total. Over and over, the reason given for why we should be holy in our behaviors is because Adonai is our God. It may not seem like much of a reason, but I think it's about relationship. When we act holy, when we make our lives holy and sanctified through our actions, God will be with us. It isn't a promise that no harm will come - and with Yom Ha-Shoah around the corner, we know and remember this all too well - but it IS a powerful reminder that through it all, the good and the bad, God will be there. And knowing that can be an incredibly inspiring force in each and every one of our lives.
Photos in this blog post:
3. Image courtesy of Google