Acting with Holiness after October 7th

Parshat Kedoshim and Yom HaAtzmaut after October 7th

Our Torah portion this week begins with a unique addition to the standard formal introduction to revelation: Va yi dabar Adonai el Moshe Lamor And Adonai spoke unto Moses saying: Only here in Leviticus 19:1 is the next phrase which is usually Daber el Bnai Yisrael emended to read daber el kal adat Yisrael; Speak to all the congregation of bnai Yisrael. Rashi taught that the addition of the phrase Cal Adat; all of the congregation is meant to convey, that Leviticus 19, was delivered in full assembly of the community. In other words the imperative declarative Statement: Kedoshim Tihiyu! Be Holy! was delivered directly by Moses to a united community of Israel.

What does it mean to be holy? The word itself comes from a semitic root meaning “to separate”. We make people, places, things, and time “holy” by separating them from both the profane and the mundane. That is why we usher in Shabbat and Holy Days with a blessing called Kiddush. Its why the blessings we recite in honor of Bride and groom are called Sheva Berachot of Kiddushin and the prayer we recite in memory of the dead is Kaddish. Through Holy actions we have the ability to use our God given talents and freedom to be God’s Voice and God’s Hand in the world
Leviticus 19: continues with a litany of commandments that guide our relationships with our fellow human beings, Jew and non-Jew alike. Throughout this chapter of Torah, in particular, the reason given for the performance of Mitzvot is because God instructed us to do so. In Verse 19:18, we are implored Vahavta Reacha K mocha Love your neighbor as yourself which Rabbi Akiva proclaimed 1900 years ago is :The Klal Gadol B’Torah The greatest teaching in the Torah. As Jews we don’t treat others justly and compassionately as a an act of charity, rather we are commanded to Love your neighbor as yourself; and are told here in parsha that the reason for doing so: I am Adonai your God!! Jewish Biblical commentators and teachers throughout the ages have understood this as God saying to all of us and each of us: Be Holy because I Adonai say so!! Eli Weisel once wrote: A Jew has every reason to be leery of and to even Hate the strangers and outsiders who have persecuted and slaughtered our People but we are commanded to Love our Neighbor as ourselves and to do so because this is what our God requires of us.

Near the end of Leviticus 19, The implications of living by the principals of verse 2 where we are commanded to be Holy and verse 18 where we are told to Love Your neighbor as yourself and the Divine statement that these are non-negotiable conditions of our responsibilities under our Covenant with God are spelled out.

We read in verse 19:34:

“As for The stranger who dwells with you, he shall be treated as a native and you shall love him as you love yourself; for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt. I am Adonai Your God.”

This year I find the challenge of this central teaching of Torah to be more difficult than ever to fulfill. As the war in Gaza rages on and the hope for the redemption of hostages continues to be beyond our grasp, human nature leads us to harden our hearts. Its exceedingly difficult for any of us and especially for Israelis to feel Love for our Palestinian neighbors. The traditional celebrations of Yom HaAtzmaut just don’t seem to appropriate this year Since October 7th , the Aish Zara, the alien fires of antisemitism have reignited with a force not experienced since the Holocaust. Last week we commemorated Yom Ha Shoah whose mantra has been Never Again!! Yet, not only in Israel but as we all know too well the cancer of Antisemitism has invaded the body of human society around the world. Tomorrow night as the sun sets in Israel, we will mark, what I believe will be the most somber and anguished Yom Ha Zikhron, Memorial Day in Israel’s 76-year history. The fresh graves of the more than 1200 who were slaughtered on October 7th, the new sections created on Mount Herzl for the fallen of this war, now the longest continuing battle in Israel’s history make it so exceedingly difficult to even acknowledge, let alone observe the Mitzvah Love Your Neighbor as Yourself. Yet, Parshat Kedoshim and its commanding voice throughout the ages, reminds me once again this year that to Be Holy to be truly Holy we must confirm and affirm our obligation to be God’s Voice and Hands in the world.

I hope and I pray that on this last Shabbat of Israel’s 75th year of Independence, that in year ahead, that Israel and America and all the other Democracies will work together to in the words of Leviticus 19:14 to remove the stumbling blocks that the forces of evil place in the path of good innocent people. May this be the year in which we will in the words of Yehuda Amichai’s 20th century Midrash on the words of prophets Isaiah and Micah lead all nations of the world to:

Beat their swords into plowshares and go on beating and make them into musical instruments so that whoever wants to make war again will have to turn them into plowshares first!

About the Author
Rabbi Borovitz was elected the Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge in June 2013 after serving the synagogue as rabbi for the previous 25 years. Prior to assuming his position in River Edge in the summer of 1988 Rabbi Borovitz served as Hillel Rabbi and Instructor in Biblical and Religious Studies at the University of Texas in Austin (1975-82), the Executive Director of the Labor Zionist Alliance on the United States, (1982-83) and as the Rabbi of Union Temple in Brooklyn, New York (1983-88). Rabbi Borovitz, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, received his B.A. from Vanderbilt University in 1970, his M.A. from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religious (HUC-JIR) in 1973 and was ordained at HUC-JIR in June 1975. In March of 2000, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity from HUC-JIR. Rabbi Borovitz is an active leader in community affairs. He has been a member of the Bergen County Interfaith Brotherhood Sisterhood committee for 25 years. He is the immediate past chair of Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and has also served on the Jewish Federation Board. He currently serves on the National Board of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; the Rabbinic cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America and on the Foundation Board of Bergen Regional Medical Center, the county hospital in Bergen County NJ. He is past President of the Bergen County Board of Rabbis and the North Jersey Board of Rabbis as well as the founding chairman of the Jewish Learning Project of Bergen County Rabbi Borovitz is a frequent contributor to the Jewish Standard and the Bergen Record and a frequent lecturer on Judaism; The Middle East and Interfaith cooperation.
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