This week’s Torah portion, K’doshim, meaning “holy ones,” opens with Adonai speaking to Moses saying, “Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I, Adonai your God, am holy.’” I see this parashah as a blueprint for how we should conduct our lives and how we should treat people. But first we need to take stock of ourselves and our relationships to determine if our dealings with others are honest and honorable.
In this parashah we find many commandments which guide our daily lives, both individually and communally. We are commanded to revere our mothers and fathers, those people who are our first and continual teachers and who have a profound impact on our lives, even after they are gone. We are instructed to keep the Sabbath. What does that mean for us as Reform Jews in today’s society where we are all incredibly busy with jobs, family and hopefully, some leisure time? For me, I look forward to the very in-depth Torah study each Saturday morning where we dissect every verse and very often the meaning of just one word. There are many other things I could be doing Saturday mornings, but I have made the choice that studying and understanding the basics of our religion needs to take precedence over sleeping late or going shopping.
A strong basis for much of the social action in the local sisterhood to which I belong, as well as the congregation my husband and I call our spiritual home, can be found in verses 9 and 10, where we are instructed not to reap the harvest all the way to the edges of our field or to pick the vineyards bare but to leave these for the poor and the stranger. We take these commandments personally when we periodically purge ourselves and our houses of all the unused items that are gathering dust or taking up valuable space and which others, possibly less fortunate than we, can use. Regardless of the communities in which we live, we can find the individuals, the groups, and the organizations that accept all of our once treasured, but now unwanted things that will benefit those less fortunate than we are. When preparing for our move from our house of nearly 40 years, my husband and I had many things which were still usable and so we chose to donate a great deal, rather than try to sell them. For me, the most satisfying thing is to be able to donate anonymously to individuals who are in need.
The Torah portion goes on to instruct the Israelites not to steal or deal deceitfully with one another. We are further instructed not to insult the deaf or blind, specifically, but we know that this commandment applies to how we are to treat all people, regardless of their differences from whatever we perceive as the norm. We are given detailed instructions in how we should treat strangers who reside in our communities. Honesty in business transactions is given to us in great detail, with God reminding the people who freed them from the land of Egypt.
There are several pronouncements from God which we as Reform Jews do not subscribe to, especially those which we would characterize as involving people who may belong to the LGBTQ community. We have, fortunately, learned a great deal over many years, to realize that we do not get to choose whom to love.
Throughout this parashah, we find repetition of some of the commandments such as how we are to treat our mothers and fathers, perhaps because respect for them, as well as all our elders cannot be stressed enough and bears repeating.
It is difficult to read this parashah and its many commandments and not make comparisons to our present political situation. Do the people who have been elected locally and/or nationally live up to the high ideals spelled out in these commandments? Should we accept less from these legislators than we would accept from our own families, friends, business associates? Although we have to make some compromises and accept less than we may want, I wonder how much we should be compromising and accepting. Now that there are so many candidates already running for president for the 2020 election, it may be time to re-read this very important and always timely Torah portion and ask ourselves some very hard questions. Or – maybe those questions are not so difficult to answer.
Louise Johanson is a member of Temple Solel Sisterhood in Bowie, Maryland. Louise is a member of the WRJ Chai Society.