We often talk about how human beings were created in God’s image. We’re usually referring to positive things like our capacity for holiness, our free will, or possibly our compassion or creative nature. But what about the negative qualities? We know from the Torah that once in a while God acts out in destructive anger and jealousy. Is this part of the image of God we’re supposed to reflect too?
This week we read parshat Kedoshim, famous for containing in chapter 19 the “holiness code.” This is the list of mitzvot, commandments, tied to the notion that God shares with us in verse 2: “Y’all shall be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” Holiness comes from our very nature and creation and is described here as a must, an imperative. God tells the people that they should be holy because in order to match up with the God we believe in we need to be like God. The text goes on to list a number of obligations we have to maintain this holiness: leave the corners of our fields, don’t insult the deaf or place a stumbling block before the blind, don’t stand by the blood of our neighbor or defraud them. These are all mitzvot that seem relatively reasonable to uphold; so far God’s actions and attitudes are in alignment with what God asks of us.
But when we arrive at chapter 19, verse 18, we receive the mitzvah telling us not to hold a grudge, which comes in conjunction with loving our neighbors as ourselves. The text implies that holding a grudge is unholy and un-God-like. On the surface it seems obvious that we shouldn’t hold a grudge, but when you think about it, just a few weeks earlier when God gave us the 10 commandments, we found out that God has the potential to hold the ultimate grudge. In Shemotchapter 20, verse 5 the text states “you shall not bow down to them [idols] nor serve them because I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of those who hate me to the third and fourth generations and showing mercy to the thousandth generation of those who love me.”
You don’t have to analyze the text too much to figure out that God does indeed bear a grudge. Is this a contradiction or worse, is God being hypocritical? The text teaches us that even God is not quick to forgive, and if we are like God, it is acceptable to struggle with forgiveness as long as we don’t hold our grudges so long that they destroy our love for humanity and our community. God’s grudge has an end point, and eventually we too must be able to “let it go.” It is never healthy nor holy to hold onto something negative for too long.
Parshat Kedoshim reminds us that while anger or hurt feelings may lead to a grudge, we are commanded to love one another, whether it is easy or hard. We learn to forgive and forget, or at least forgive even if we can’t forget. We are holy, not just because the God we believe in is holy, but we are holy because we strive towards that which is good, we strive towards love.
Family Discussion Questions:
- Mitzvot are connected to achrayut (responsibility). What is the responsibility in being slow to anger?
- What’s the difference between holding onto a memory and holding a grudge? If I simply remember something you did that hurt me, does that mean I’m still holding a grudge? If I’ve forgiven you, is it no longer a grudge? And if I never told you that it hurt me, could I even call it a grudge in the first place?