As most of you know, I like walking, and to be honest it’s usually walking alone that I enjoy best. It gives me time to silently take in the sights and sounds of nature and work through issues, thoughts, and ideas in my head. Here’s the problem with walking alone: I don’t always get the best exercise in when it’s just me. I tend to go a little slower and meander. On the other hand, when I have a partner, someone to push the pace or hold me accountable, I tend to do better. Studies show that having someone with you to cheer you on, whether in exercise (like I have found this year at Baby Bootcamp) or at work or even in your personal life, generally leads to a more fulfilling experience and a better end result.
We’re meant to work together, to find partners in all phases of our life so that we can learn from and with them. Our Torah portions this week, Acharei Mot and Kedoshim, support this notion. Parshat Acharei Mot deals with what happens after Aaron’s sons have offered up “strange fire” to God and with certain forbidden relationships between human beings. The structure of this section of text pushes us to look at our relationships with both God and others and see the boundaries and intimacies of each relationship. Parshat Kedoshim deals with what is known as the “Holiness Code,” which helps us to understand how we can walk in God’s ways and create a community of relationship and understanding.
As we get into the text about the offerings of a High Priest for atonement on Yom Kippur, we begin to read that the High Priest is to make an offering for “himself and his household.” This is interpreted to mean that the High Priest must have a partner. The High Priest’s job is to come before God as a representative of the entire community he serves, as a pious individual among the flawed community, all of whom aspire towards holiness. The question then becomes, how could he bear and carry the prayers of others unless he had learned to care for and share the hopes and dreams of at least one other individual?
One of my first rabbinic opportunities was a chaplaincy program during school. There was no hospital pulpit, just one-on-one spiritual care. Having that experience of praying with individuals one-on-one has made me a better rabbi leading large groups in prayer. Learning to work in partnership with someone allows a relationship to develop in an entirely different way. It means we then have the potential to sympathize with and support more people.
I choose to take the Holiness Code literally. To me, walking in “God’s ways” is actually about walking (or sitting or talking or laughing or praying) with others, because the more we understand each other, the more we understand God.