Rachael’s Thoughts on Parshat Bechukotai

This week’s parsha, Bechukotai, is one of those sections of Torah we’d prefer to skim.  It paints two extreme pictures of a future.  If we live by the rules of Covenant, we will flourish, but if we do not…. The list of curses to befall the nation are bone chilling.

The obvious question remains one of theology.  Is God bullying Israel into accepting Covenant?  Who, in their right mind, would choose to live within the portrait of defeat and suffering that a non-Covenantal life would bring?  Is God threatening Israel?  If so, do I really have free will?

With the holiday of Shavuot around the corner, we are reminded that the Torah was placed into our hands, and we are commanded to interpret it.  One of the tasks of interpretation is to align the morality Torah teaches us with the laws we are commanded to observe.  We have examples throughout Jewish history where the Rabbis of their time interpreted laws away from their literal meanings to reconcile them with the morality of their time.  Restricting capital punishment is only one of the more well-known of these examples.

But we do not need to interpret the curses in our parsha this week because they are not law, they are outcomes.  The onus of responsibility sits on us to align fulfilling the commandments with the ethics of Torah.  The tool for this is Talmudic: discourse, support for various interpretations, vote, majority rules.  The parsha lays out for us what it would look like if we rejected the laws and the morality they are to embody.  The bone chilling portrait laid out is the one we create by ignoring both the rule of law, and the morality at its core.

The free will God gifted to all humanity involves informed free will.  I don’t like reading the dystopian portrayal of a cursed future that plays out in this parsha, I prefer to skim those verses.  At the same time, I realize that being informed means I must be told of the utopia I could create as well as the dystopia I could bring about.  This parsha is not a picture of God dictating our future, it is a picture of God following our lead.

I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.

   Shabbat shalom,

   Rachael

Rachael’s Thoughts on Parshat Shemini

This week’s Torah reading, parshat Shemini, begins by telling us about “the eighth day” of consecrating the Kohanim.  Amidst the routine of offering sacrifices, a horrific tragedy occurs within Aaron’s family on this day.  The problem is, there is no ‘eighth day’.

Genesis clearly outlines a seven-day cycle.  Everything that was created fits within the structure of seven days.  We learn to feel secure in the number seven —the number that represents completeness, stability, and consistency.  

So what do we do with the ‘eighth day’?

The other time the Torah focuses us onto the eighth day is the commandment of Brit Milah.  God commands that a parent circumcise their baby boy on the eighth day of his life.  It’s a ritual that is both challenging and mysterious.  Each person present at a Brit ceremony cringes and celebrates at the same time.  We experience conflicting emotions that overlap within seconds of each other.  

In this week’s parshah, Shemini, which means ‘The Eighth’, we read of Aaron losing two of his sons in a shocking and inexplicable way.  Inappropriate ritual leads to their deaths.  We do not understand what happened, as we rarely understand it when death comes from nowhere and changes things forever.  

We cannot unlock the mystery of the eighth day.  It is where we find the hidden, underlying fabric of God manifesting in the universe.  When we find ourselves in the eighth day, where the unknowns of life can take over, we appreciate the seventh day, Shabbat, even more.

I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.

Shabbat shalom,

Rachael

Rachael’s Thoughts on Parshat Tzav

As we continue to read of biblical sacrifices, we sit today and ask how these commandments can be relevant in our current lives.  Parshat Tzav, this week’s Torah reading, outlines the sacrifices and all their details.  Eventually, Jewish history will bring the sacrificial system to a halt with the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.  From then on, Judaism forbids the bringing of any sacrifices.

Yet, we continue to read of them, and we continue to mention them in our prayers.  If we are forbidden to bring sacrifices, why do we keep their details so alive?

In fact, Jewish tradition emphasizes sacrifices even more by stating that children should begin their study of Torah with the book of Leviticus, the laws of sacrifices.  One of our oldest texts explains that children begin with studying sacrifices because the goal of the sacrifices was to bring us back to a place of purity, and our children always exist in a state of purity, so “let the pure connect with the pure” and strengthen us.  

The Hebrew word for sacrifice in the Torah is the word korban.  It means ‘drawing near’.  In the ancient world we are taught to draw near to God through physical sacrifices.  Later, the Sages teach us that we can also draw near to God through studying Torah and speaking of the details of sacrifice.  The Midrash tells us that when our children learn of their Judaism, and their priceless legacy of Torah, they draw all of us closer to God.

Physical sacrifices no longer speak to our Jewish reality, but we keep them present in our religious view and our prayers.  We understand that the goal is to create a personal closeness with God and to use the power of that relationship to change the world.  

There are infinite ways to get there –watching our children learn of their ancient unbroken Jewish chain is one of those ways.

I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.

Shabbat shalom,

Rachael

Rachael’s Thoughts on Parshat Yitro

It started with a knock on the synagogue door.  The rabbi answered, saw the man looked cold, and offered him a cup of warm tea.  That is how the terrorist entered the synagogue in Texas, last Shabbat.  Our Jewish values opened the door of that shul, as a man, filled with hate, passed the Mezuzah on his way in.

We are grateful of the outcome, as we hear that no one was killed –but someone indeed was killed –the man with the gun never left the shul.  We are commanded not to rejoice at the death of an enemy because it means we failed to fight the hatred, we ended up fighting the person.  We’re grateful that no innocent lives were lost, but we know that what fueled this man continues to exist.

In this Shabbat’s Torah portion, Yitro, we read the Ten Commandments.  Within these commandments lie the core values of Judaism, not just the laws.  We hear that searching for God is an ongoing journey –we are searching for something singular and unique.  We are told that relationships of family, and community, are the cornerstones of all societies.  We learn that understanding the parameters of ‘what we do’, and ‘what we don’t do’, define things for us.  But the Torah also tells us that the commandments fit within our Judaism, they are not the totality of it.  We are also the children of our ancestors, the ones who taught us to invite in anyone who is in need.

The terrorist was invited to enter because he knocked on the door, and he looked cold.  He stayed for part of the service.  Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker told him he is free to remain, or if he was only seeking a moment of warmth, he is free to leave, no one will be offended.  That’s when he revealed his gun.

We are commanded to offer shelter, food, and protection, to anyone in need.  Fear and hatred will not redefine who we are.  Sadly, we know to lock our synagogue doors, but when Rabbi Charlie was asked if he would again offer warm tea to a cold stranger at his door, he confidently said ‘yes’. 

I am grateful that no innocent lives were lost; I am sad that the hatred at the core could not be addressed; I am proud that as children of Abraham and Sarah, we know to always hear a request for help.  May we one day live in a world where the doors of all our shuls can be confidently left unlocked.

I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.

Shabbat shalom,

Rachael

Rachael’s Thoughts on Parshat Vayigash

This week’s Torah reading, Vayigash, shows us Joseph’s climactic reunion with his brothers.  As a leader in Egypt, Joseph is unrecognizable to his brothers, and on hearing of Jacob, his aging father, Joseph breaks down and reveals his identity to his brothers.  

The brothers stand dumbfounded as Joseph peppers them with questions about his father.   Never once does he ask why no one came to look for him or if his father found out the truth about what happened.  Joseph inquires after his father’s health and then demands that the brothers bring Jacob to Egypt.  

When we look at Joseph’s instructions to his brothers, we find an interesting comment that seems out of place.  Joseph tells his brothers to bring Jacob to Egypt, and then says they should tell him of all the honours Egypt has given Joseph, his high station, and the grandeur they have witnessed.  We’re suddenly aware of the human moment that speaks to us all: Joseph is trying to impress Jacob.

With all of Joseph’s accomplishments, it is most important to him that his father be made aware.  Every child wants to bring a moment of pride to their parent, to hear the praise of accomplishment, to know they have taken a step forward.  Joseph has sustained hundreds of thousands through a famine, but still feels the need to know that his father, Jacob, is proud of him.

It’s these human moments that speak so strongly to us —we have all stood where Joseph stands.  As adults, we learn to measure our own accomplishments, to find the moments to feel proud of ourselves. As children, we’ve all watched our parents watching us, and learned to recognize that feeling when we see pride in their eyes.  It is the touchstone we all need to build self-confidence –we then learn how to feel proud of ourselves.  

Part of us will always indulge the child within who watches our parent for that moment.  It is timeless, as we connect with the memories of our parents for that same moment, even long after they’ve gone.

      I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.

Shabbat shalom,

Rachael

Rachael’s Thoughts on Parshat Toldot

This Shabbat we read parshat Toldot, and the story of Jacob and his twin brother, Esau.  It is also the Shabbat before Remembrance Day, November 11, as we remember our Canadian soldiers and veterans.  It’s interesting that these two things speak to each other with relevance for today.

The story of Jacob and Esau resonates as the story of two brothers in conflict. Jacob trades the stew he has made for Esau’s blessing as the eldest son. Esau feels betrayed when he later realizes he will not receive that blessing.  Jacob flees from his brother, Esau, who has pledged to kill him.  

       From Jacob’s point of view, the blessing was obtained fairly and legally.  From Esau’s point of view, it was a fleeting momentary decision, and doesn’t speak to the emotional reality of losing his father’s blessing.  Jacob sees the covenant while Esau sees his father’s love.  Both brothers sit in a single event with conflicting perspectives that cannot be reconciled.  It is the story of every human conflict —it is headed for war.

As we cross time from the ancient world to today, we often sit in this reality.  We struggle with warfare, aiming for peace which is often elusive.  Remembrance Day is a time for us to honour those people who risk everything to bring peace.  The Torah teaches us that peace is not a natural state, it is something to be solicited, pursued, negotiated, and fought for.  On Remembrance Day we remember the values for which someone would risk everything.  We honour the people as well as their vision.

       Jacob will eventually solicit Esau for peace.  In doing so, he will offer back the riches he has obtained, and Esau will refuse them.  The brothers are able to close the pain of the past and consider the hope of a future.

      On Remembrance Day, we remember our soldiers, veterans, and heroes.  We remember the pain of their loss, as we affirm knowing that everything they did, and everything they risk, is to consider a hope for our future.

       I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.

Shabbat shalom,

Rachael

Rachael’s Thoughts on Parshat Chayei Sarah

This week, in parshat Chayei Sarah, the Torah tells us of Sarah’s passing.  Yet, when it speaks of the life of Sarah, our first matriarch, it begins with a strange phrase: “These were the lives of Sarah”.  We are struck by the plural forms. In fact, the name of the parshah, Chayei Sarah, translates as ‘the lives of Sarah’.

       Many of our commentaries offer beautiful insights into the choice of the plural.  One midrash offers the idea that all lives are connected through time, and therefore, every life is, in fact, a plural life.  It explains that when the book of Ecclesiastes said: “The sun rises and the sun sets”, the sun is understood as representing the brightness and warmth each of us brings to the world.  We’re told that before the sun sets – before we lose someone, it first rises -a new person has entered the world. The midrash points out that the Torah already told us that Rebecca, our next matriarch, was born, before it told us of the loss of Sarah.

            Rebecca is not the replacement of Sarah since people are not replaceable one with another.  The insight is for us to know that the world of relationships we build is limitless, as our relationships with others never end but build on each other.  Our lives connect with others, and when someone is lost to us, we may consider that, in time, some of the values they embodied may be found to shine in other people.  

        One opinion states that we all live many lives in our lifetime –that is why we find the plural noun here.  Sarah lived one lifetime but led many lives within that time.  During those lives, she influenced others and left an impression that stays with them.  Sarah continues to live her many lives even today.

        The eternal flow of sunrises and sunsets, as seen in the lives we live and the lives we touch, lets us know that the uniqueness of each person extends beyond anything we could contain in the singular –we need the plural.

        I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.

Shabbat shalom,

Rachael

Parshat Bo: Thanks But I’d Rather Be Second

Parshat Bo: Thanks But I’d Rather Be Second

Over the years, I have explained to parents and grandparents what happens when the first baby a woman has is a boy.  Everyone is familiar with the ‘bris’, the celebration Jewish people do that surrounds circumcising the baby boy.  It’s usually done early in the morning.  We can thank Abraham, the Patriarch, for that timing because he was the first Jew to be circumcised, and he always preferred doing God’s bidding early in the morning —that’s why the Sages told us that the Shacharit service (morning prayer service) is to symbolize Abraham.  So, like Abraham, we get up at the crack of dawn and rush to the ‘bris’.  The ceremony itself is not very long (thank goodness because everyone there is uncomfortable thinking about it).  After the ‘bris’ there is a breakfast served.  That’s because we are commanded to surround rituals with a meal, to emphasize that while we are engaged in spiritual expressions with God, we must never forget to ensure everyone has the basics of food – some form of bagels…and lox, of course..  Jewish spirituality must balance with the realities of this world.  

Ceremonies for naming baby girls are still open for development.  We have some very beautiful traditions in both the Sephardic and Ashkenazi world that can help parents create meaningful ritual for their daughters.  Whatever the ceremony looks like, it will be followed by a meal, and no surprise, probably bagels and lox at that one too.  I’ve often heard the baby girl’s naming ceremony referred to as the ‘bris-ket’).

When my husband was planning the ‘bris’ for one of our sons, it happened that the only mohel in town was sick.  He told us to call 1-800-BABY-BOY, which we did, and a mohel flew in from New York and performed the bris.  Globally, Jews take that eighth day bris commandment very seriously.

But, if the baby boy is the mother’s first born, the thirty day birthday will trigger another Jewish commanded event: ‘Pidyon haBen’ —‘Redemption of the Child’.  It is a lesser known ritual, but it is equally commanded in the Torah.  We buy our child out of a lifetime of service to God.

‘Pidyon haBen’ is the result of the final plague in Egypt —death of the first born.  In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Bo, we finish reading about the plagues, God’s explanation of that final plague, and its ramifications moving forward.  We usually understand that last plague as God passing through Egypt and taking the lives of all the Egyptian first born.  Except, the Torah didn’t exactly say that.  The Torah states that God will pass through Egypt and take the lives of every eldest child born in Egypt.  Worded that way, it now includes all the Jewish first born as well.  The fact that the Israelite first born shelter in homes that have blood painted on the doorposts means they are protected, it does not mean they are exempted. 

Even these days, the ‘Fast of the First Born’ that occurs right before Passover commemorates the unique positioning of these people within the Passover experience.  

Because Jewish eldest children were not exempted, they now owe every breath they take to God.  They are to live out their lives in the service of God, who owns their futures.  The Torah says we can redeem them out of this predicament.  The ceremony is called ‘Pidyon haBen’, the ‘Redemption of the Child’.

But, wouldn’t we want our child to live in the service of God?  Isn’t that an entrance to holiness?  Shouldn’t we be honoured?

We’re honoured with the concept but we’d rather our children choose their own destinies.  Starting in the ancient world, the Sages look for ways to minimize who would be obligated for a ‘Pidyon’.  It must be the child that is the mother’s ‘first opening of her womb’, so a previous miscarriage or abortion would now nullify the obligation of any subsequent birth.  The Sages rule that it must be the womb opening on its own, therefore any C-section delivery would nullify the need for a Pidyon.  If either parent is the child of a Cohen or a Levi, they don’t have a Pidyon.  That’s because Cohens and Levites were the ones serving God (when we had a Temple), —they’re the ones we redeem our children from.  But the Sages are making these laws when there is no Temple.  They are clearly trying to minimize the scope of the law when it involves limiting our childrens’ life choices.

Judaism always teaches us to temper our spiritual expressions with an understanding of the real world.  Life is always a challenge, how much more so if one is forced into a life of spiritual service when they do not prefer it.  Holiness is to be sought and found each in our own way, but we do not seek a life of only holiness or a life that sits exclusively in this world, we are commanded to seek them both.

It seems like finding our balance between our spiritual and material worlds shouldn’t be too difficult.  We generally shape our lives to be productive for our work week, spiritual retreat for Shabbat and run all our errands on Sundays.  With particular adjustments, each of us could generally find some form of balance that would work for us, and we would revisit it as needed for minor tweaks.  But these days are not our norm as we encounter the global pandemic that still challenges lives and livelihoods.  Many of us find ourselves becoming stagnant in our current reality.  It is easy to neglect our spiritual expressions as we notice every day resembles every other day.  Someone mentioned to me that every day has now become ‘Blursday’.  But the opposite reality is equally true.  We can easily sit quietly with our thoughts and our spiritual moments while we wait for the world outside our doors to change.  We can retreat from our physical involvement in the world and plan our re-entry when the vaccine is complete and the world goes back to what it was.  We forget that time and experience can only move us forward –we forget that the real world will never go backward to what was, so we favour our spiritual reclusivity. 

The Torah reminds us that even when God tells us to devote someone’s entire life to spirituality, we argue for a balance in our lives —how much more is that balance crucial for our present moment.

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Parshat Ki Tavo: As Is Holiness

Parts of my family got together in my backyard last week for a socially distanced Friday night Shabbat meal.  Things were so different and yet so beautifully the same.  I have a basket filled with kippahs that is available to anyone who would like a kippah but hasn’t brought their own.  The basket has memories of simchas, family moments embossed on the kippah with the names and dates and labels of milestones gone by.  If I dig through that basket, I can find kippahs from friends’ weddings, family bnei mitzvahs –I dare say my own wedding kippah might be buried somewhere deep inside that basket.  When babies are born into the family we put some of their tiny hats into the basket so they can likewise have a ‘head covering’ for singing on Friday nights.  The basket is filled with various colours, textures, sizes and designs.  I learned this from my mother who has a similar kippah bag in her home –huge amount of choices in my mother’s kippah bag!  

But more choice is not necessarily better.

Whenever my extended family would get together at my mother’s for a Shabbat or holiday meal, the kippah bag would get passed around and the ‘shopping’ would begin.  I would watch each person put their hand into the narrow opening of the bag and pull out a kippah they didn’t like.  It might be the colour, the texture or even the embossed message inside that would make that person decide to put the kippah back and choose another.  By the time the bag made its way around (about 40ish people), everyone was getting a bit ‘hangry’ and starting to snip at each other about why it’s taking so long.  Toward the end of the process, people would just give out head coverings to the people around them to speed things up (funny how personal liberties get limited when people get hungry).  In the end, half the room had lovely kippahs on their heads and the other half had quirky caps, children’s hats that didn’t fit or tiny infant kippahs with the laces hanging down on each side.   We eventually had to institute the sage advice we learn in kindergarten: ‘You get what you get and you don’t get upset’ –first kippah you touch is the one you wear and no one’s allowed to judge you.

It’s not that there aren’t good choices in the kippah basket, it’s that we’re tempted to think there are somehow always better choices in there, we just have to exhaust the possibilities.  This can often become our approach to life.

The obvious downside to all of this is that the search will never end.  It is impossible to exhaust every possibility of anything, and we can fall into a life perspective of continuous searching with no arrivals.  This week’s Torah portion is named Ki Tavo, translated as ‘When you arrive’.  It contains all of Moses’ warnings to Israel about their behaviour once he’s gone.  It is filled with a short list of blessings and a really long list of curses (Covid is still with us so no need to dwell on the curses right now).  Interestingly, when discussing building an altar ‘once we arrive’ in Israel, the text forces us to scale down not up.

The altar is to be built by our hands with any tools we may need, excluding any tool made of iron.  Iron is for weaponry, and so it should never be used to create sacred altars which are meant for building peace.  War doesn’t create peace, peace is what happens in the absence of war.

The altar should be built using stones we find, not stones we fashion.  We are forbidden to hew the stones to fit each other, we need to figure out how to fill the gaps created when the stones don’t fit each other.  In other words, don’t create false conformity, learn to value the distinctiveness of each piece and how to join them effectively without changing them. Holiness is created when each part is allowed to remain its authentic self.

Through the simplest of restrictions, the Torah has shown us that any object lying around us daily can transform when we see its potential.  There is holiness within something when we recognize that its utility is speaking to its beauty which builds into its connection to other objects –when we see their value ‘as is’ (how interesting that the retail phrase ‘as is’ means an object is somehow less than it should be but we accept it and buy it in its diminished form, directly opposite to the Torah’s lesson here).

‘When we arrive’ somewhere is when we can look at what we have around us and recognize that it is simultaneously ‘as is’ and ‘as it could be’.  The journey is the search, the arrival is when my hands build–knowing I have everything I need by just looking around.

With Rosh Hashannah approaching, and many of us finding ourselves creating holy spaces in our homes, unable to go to shul, the powerful message of building an altar speaks with such relevance.  Finding the things around us that suddenly become beautiful in their mundane distinctiveness and the way they fit together to represent who we are.  

We don’t need more objects to choose from to create holiness in our homes, we know how to do this with what we have. We somehow all knew to fill a basket with kippahs of memories, or a drawer, or a bag.  Each of our homes have everything we need to create the holiness we all intuitively understood lies within us and all around.

Parshat Acharei-Mot and Kedoshim: If Only I Could Sing I Could Be Holy

This week I heard government officials talk about getting ready to open our doors again.  Lots of different phases, many different scenarios and possibilities – depends on if we flattened the curve or plateaued the rise or squashed the line.  We’ll open the doors gradually, some of us but not others. Businesses will soon open to anyone whose last name starts with the letter Q…or something like that.  Essentially, it reminded me of bringing a new baby home.

Actually, our doors closed to expectant mothers long before the baby came home.  Not that long ago, women would enter their ‘time of confinement’ once their pregnancies started showing and they were not to leave their homes until they looked ‘normal’ again.  Those doors have certainly opened wide as maternity clothes now sculpt around the baby bump and hug the curves of the baby while it’s still in the womb. But opening the doors of acceptance for mothers-to-be is very different than opening the doors when the baby is born.

In my day, you brought the newborn home and the family cocooned at home as the baby got used to doing things like breathing.  Visitors were kept to immediate family who usually played short games of peekaboo with the baby (in Russian you say ‘coo-coo’ which I learned after trying to explain to my husband what the word peekaboo meant…just so we’re all on the same page…it doesn’t mean anything and can’t be explained in a foreign language)…(to be fair, coo-coo doesn’t mean anything either but we can all see I’ve let that one go…)

But I digress.  Newborn babies did not venture outside for weeks, if not months.  Outside had germs and inconsiderate people who didn’t know not to get too close.  With one of my kids, we took her out at 2 months old when a stranger approached her in her car seat, looked in and ran her fingers up and down the baby’s lips as she made burble noises.  The stranger was the one making the burble noises, I was the one gasping for air as I watched in horror. I quickly moved the baby away, back into the car, back into the house, not to venture out again for another month.

Opening doors for fashion baby bumps is not the same thing as opening doors to a vulnerable human being.  

So, I think about the Torah reading this week and how could it possibly speak to the news I’m hearing and the weeks to come.  Especially since this week there’s a double parshah: Acharei-Mot and Kedoshim. Acharei-Mot describes the continuation of inaugurating a priestly class while parashat Kedoshim contains the Holiness Code.  Most of us aren’t too familiar (or concerned) with how to inaugurate a priestly class, but we are very familiar with aspects of the Holiness Code. Things like who we can and cannot have sexual relations with, as well as the verse: ‘love your neighbour as yourself’.  We seem to have a mix of the ‘why would I care’ information and the ‘this is so relevant’ information. In other words, the dilemma most Jews face.

When I was growing up, I remember learning about holiness by watching all the religious movies and shows on tv.  They were all Christian. Being holy meant being a priest or a nun, and you could only be called by God if you could sing really, really well.  Bing Cosby could croon his way to faith and every nun somehow knew how to harmonize the most beautiful renditions of ‘Glo-oh-oh-oh-rious’ you’ve ever heard.  I actually thought you had to pass a singing test to be good enough for God when I finished watching ‘The Song of Bernadette’. Nuns were the only women I saw who were unfathomably gorgeous with their heads, hair and bodies covered, because if you don’t look like Audrey Hepburn in The Nun’s Story, you don’t get to take your vows.  Lest we also forget that Sally Field was a nun who could fly, if she tilted her habit-hat-wings just so and one of Elvis Presley’s leading ladies really did give up fame and fortune to become a nun (great documentary called “God Is The Bigger Elvis”). This world was only for the select few and the rest of us would just have to be happy with glimpses of their world… holiness was beautiful, sensual and hidden behind the cloistered doors of Hollywood. 

I knew that Jews don’t have nuns and I fully believed Jews didn’t have priests either.  We had Rabbis. They couldn’t moonlight as lounge singers because they didn’t sing, the Cantors did that.  Christian Hollywood had no Cantors. I actually argued with people when they told me that Judaism does have priests, that’s what a Cohen is.  Absurd (I said), Blasphemy (I proclaimed)!! 

Christian holiness was everywhere.  It was special and unattainable. Jewish stuff was in the ‘why would I care’ camp and all my friends spurred each other on with ‘what a drag it is to have to (fill in with anything ritualistic)’.  Deep inside I liked the gentleness of Jewish holy things, but adolescence does not value the gentleness of very much. I quickly learned to cover up my attraction to Jewish holiness and when I learned that Judaism expresses holiness by covering things – my heart burst with joy!

The Holiness Code speaks to us of personal elevation from the mundane to the holy.  We understand that we cover holy things because they are powerful, and we must choose the moments when they are uncovered and expressed into the world.  We cover a Torah until we read from it and we cover it again between aliyahs. We cover our bodies because they are holy. The power is in the uncovering, the revelations, the interactions.  When I love my neighbour as myself, I have elevated another person to the status of my own ego because holiness is always about reaching upward and bringing someone with us.

One of the most unusual aspects of the Holiness Code for the ancient world is that it speaks of how each person can create that holiness for themselves and the things around them.  Usually holiness is reserved for the priestly class. They are the ones that need to know how to make sacrifices, how to facilitate ritual, how to create and elevate from the mundane.  Suddenly, within the ancient world, the Torah speaks of how an entire people could do it – how each individual could do it. It is a revolutionary moment.

Yet, before we delve too deeply into our personal Holiness Codes and our revolutionary endeavours, let’s remember that the first parshah we read this Shabbat is Acharei-Mot, which means ‘After the Death’.  It speaks of inaugurating the priesthood after the death of two of Aaron’s sons.  Aaron must move forward and complete what was started, devastated as he is, broken as he is.  Inaugurating a priesthood in the Jewish world of today is irrelevant to our Jewish reality but how we proceed forward toward holiness after a devastating loss is tremendously relevant.

By reading both portions this Shabbat, the message we need lies within the titles themselves.  After the hit, we move toward a higher expression. As I take social distancing walks these days, I am comforted by simple greetings I exchange with strangers on the street.  A moment of contact and good wishes. The artists and musicians offering their gifts to support others from a balcony or on a front lawn. The voluntary acts of human kindness as strangers find ways to shop for others and people continue paying workers who can no longer show up for work.  

The government has told us that soon our doors will reopen and we will all re-enter the world.  For some, it is the welcome open door of new expressions while for others it might be the gradual open door of caution and responsibility.  But for all of us, it is the open door after the hit.  

Perhaps we can take a moment to remember that the next part of the Torah reading is Kedoshim, the Holiness Code that firmly says ‘aim high’.

Sometimes we don’t want the world we left behind, sometimes we want to continue building the one we’ve been creating.