Monday, April 27, 2015

Steal Your Face Right Off Your Head (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia - "He's Gone")

Our daughter turns 13 years old this week. Generally, I do not think about birthdays until the birthday is a few days away. However for the past couple of months, our daughter took it upon herself to remind me of her upcoming birthday and her desire to receive a puppy for her 13 birthday.  Every quiet moment, when there is a lull in the conversation she will tell us about the puppy she wants, she would even put her phone in front of me with a puppy on the phone screen. Ironically, when her grandparents ask her what she wants for her birthday, she grows quiet, shy and unsure of what she wants. Just the other day her grandmother, while speaking to me and my wife commented that she understood that her granddaughter’s hesitancy was a function of not wanting to appear greedy and needy.  How ironic! With her parents, our daughter has no problem telling us what she wants. With her grandparents, our daughter grows quiet and unsure because she is keenly away that she cares doesn’t want her grandparents to think that she is greedy and needy. How her grandparents perceive her genuinely matters.
This week’s Torah portion is Acharei Mot/Kedoshim; a double Parsha like last Shabbat. Yes, there are discussions about sacrifices. After all, we are still in the book of Leviticus. Like everything else in Leviticus, the Torah tells us how to increase holiness in our lives, and how we can atone for that lack of holiness when we fail to live up to this moral standard. Two Shabbatot ago, we learned how to make the physical activity of eating a more spiritual and holy endeavor. Last Shabbat, we learned how to make the physical activity of procreation between a husband and wife a more spiritual and holy act.  In Acharei Mot, we learn that we must not defile ourselves in unholy relationships. In Kedoshim, we are reminded of a series of positive and negative commandments that emphasize our behavior towards God as well as community members.
Parsha Kedoshim begins with a rather peculiar reminder. God tells Moshe to speak to the entire assembly of Israel, remind them that Kedoshim Tiheyu Ki Kadosh Ani Adoshem Elokeichem – “You Shall be holy because holy and I, Hashem, your God. Al Tifnu El Ha’Elilim V’Elohei Maseicha Lo Ta’asu Lachem Ani Adoshem ElokeichemDo not turn to the idols and molten gods you shall not make for yourselves – I am Hashem your God. Why are we reminded of the prohibition of Idolatry and everything associated with Idolatry at this point when the rest of the Kedoshim will focus upon the way B’nai Yisroel must treat the members of the community? What does Idolatry have to do with gifts to the poor, caring for neighbor, weights and measures  and caring for employees, servants, maidservants and children?(Chap 20 and the prohibition of offering children to Molech). If we look at these laws concerning those less fortunate in language Ten Commandment language, then the connection becomes clearer. The first few psukim (verses) talk about acceptance of God, Shabbat, Respecting Parents, Idolatry.  Failure to leave a corner of the field for the poor, not paying an employee in a timely manner, cheating a client in with unfair weights and measures and even offering children to Molech, is the equivalent of Stealing. Those with less power, less money, less statues are easily taken advantage. It is easier to steal from those with less money, less power, less status. The question then becomes why would anyone steal from those with less, especially of the “thief” as more to begin with? One word comes to mind, one modern idol comes to mind, Greed. Sure, it is easy to be in awe of God and ones’ Parents. Observing laws focused upon God, Shabbat, ritual and even parents are easy. We tend to worship those that have more than us: more power, more authority, more respect. However we also are reminded that true holiness means seeing godliness, and holiness in those who have less than us and rather than taking from them because they are easy prey, to give of ourselves like we give of ourselves to Shabbat, to God and to our parents.   

Certainly, our daughter wants a gifts for her birthday. We are all conditioned to desire recognition on our birthday through cards and gifts. We know that on a certain level our daughter’s constant refrain “I want a puppy” is a perfectly safe thing to desire and say since she knows that there is no way her mother would allow a puppy in the house or even near the house. When asked what she needs, she quickly replies that she needs nothing. When asked about what she wants, she comments that there isn’t anything that she really wants either since she is comfortable with what she has. So as our daughter turns 13, and becoming a teenager, I find it comforting that she is not needy. I find it comforting that she is self-aware enough to appreciate what she has and as a result doesn’t want for anything. Her mom and I can only hope that her “wanting for nothing” will continue throughout her teenage years: probably not!

Rav Yitz

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