Parshat Acharei-Kedoshim: The purpose of the Jewish identity

We seldom reflect on the meaning of certain words that reveal and define our existence and its purpose. Either we take them for granted or simply overlook their reasons and implications, because we tend to understand them according to the circumstances or to our personal convenience.

This becomes evident with the way cultures, philosophies, religions and ideologies approach fundamental concepts or principles such as love, goodness, morality, ethics, relationships, etc. For some, spoiling a child is the way to love him; or hating people different from them is practicing righteousness. This is even more challenging when we strive to assimilate God as a ruling principle.

“Speak unto the children of Israel, and say for them: ‘I am the Lord your God’.” (Leviticus 18:2)

Fortunately for Judaism, God is an ethical Creator whose creation is governed by ethical principles. As Jews we are summoned and commanded to understand and assimilate every concept with an ethical approach, including the principles mentioned above. We can’t escape from doing the right thing for the sake of making goodness prevail, for goodness is the underlying principle and purpose of God’s creation, in opposition to evil as the negative approach to life that undermines and destroys life.

Speaking of meanings, we must reflect on “speaking” and “saying” as the verse goes. In simple semantics, language is the expression of thought and speaking conveys it. This invites us to consider the way of thinking as the way we speak, and in the verse it refers to expressing who we are as the Jewish identity God defines for us in the Torah. Hence the essence of our identity precedes what we are about to “say” as the purpose of who we “are”.

The semantics of the verse becomes more complex when Moses is commanded by God to say, “I am the Lord, Your God”. It is not phrased “(…) and say to them that I am the Lord, their God”. This compels us to reflect again on Moses as the epitome of our highest knowledge of the Creator. In this awareness we realize that God commands the Jewish people to emulate His ways and attributes as the ruling principles of our identity, our “I am”. Thus we understand that “I am the Lord, Your God” is what gives meaning and purpose to our life.

“After the doings of the land of Egypt where you dwelt, you shall not do; and after the doings of the land of Canaan where I bring you, you shall not do; neither shall you walk in their statutes.” (18:3)

Hence we are commanded to live in, for, with and by God’s ways and attributes, which are the opposite of ego’s fantasies and illusions with their negative traits and trends, represented by the peoples of Egypt and Canaan. Thus we assimilate that goodness and loving kindness, righteousness and justice, truth and peace, are ethical expressions of love as our common bond with God’s love. These, opposite to the relative meanings other nations give to them, according to their individual or national interests that reflect an egocentric and self-centered approach to life.

“My ordinances you shall do, and My statutes shall you keep, to walk in them. I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep My statutes and Mine ordinances which if a man do, he shall live in them. I am the Lord.” (18:4-5)

God commands us that His ways and attributes certainly are the ruling principles of our identity in which we do, observe, and conduct ourselves, because He is our God. They are our life, for He is our life and purpose in this world.

About the Author
Ariel Ben Avraham was born in Colombia (1958) from a family with Sephardic ancestry. He studied Cultural Anthropology in Bogota, and lived twenty years in Chicago working as a radio and television producer and writer. He emigrated to Israel in 2004, and for the last fourteen years has been studying the Chassidic mystic tradition, about which he writes and teaches. Based on his studies, he wrote his first book "God's Love" in 2009. He currently lives in Kochav Yaakov.
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