We Go Together – Parshat Acharei Mot Kedoshim 5778

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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.

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With God as My Accountant – Parshat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5777

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As the daughter of a CPA, my childhood years were always divided into “tax season” and “not tax season.” From January 1 through April 15, it was known in my house that my mom was going to be focused on work. We would still have dinner as a family, and then she’d sit down at the dining room table, which was her makeshift tax season home office, and start clicking away on the adding machine. Her fingers moved at what I thought was lightening speed on the number pad, adding, subtracting, looking for advantages here, deductions there.

Since tax returns were due not long ago, our household earnings and expenditures are still fresh on my mind. It is a bit sobering to look at budget line items and realize what we actually spend on luxuries like dining out, coffee (because . . . Portland), and entertainment, compared to what we give to charitable causes. Of course we donate annually to various worthy organizations, but in looking back at the previous year, did these align with what we spent on our own extravagances? In other words, did I give as much as I enjoyed?

There is a balance to strike between my desire to help the world through financial contributions and my desire to enjoy myself and the fruits of my labor. This week we read a double Torah portion, Acharei Mot and Kedoshim. Acharei Mot picks up the narrative after Aaron’s son’s are killed for offering “strange fire” to God. The laws in this section of text deal mainly with Yom Kippur and the proper relationships we are to have in our lives. Parshat Kedoshim features the laws called the “Holiness Code,” marked with the ways in which we should respectfully treat one another in our community.

In Acharei Mot we begin with the offerings made on Yom Kippur, overseen by the high priest. We read that two goats are to be offered; one is designated for the Lord and the other for “Azazel,” which is sometimes translated as one that is “sent away,” other times as a “scapegoat.” A Hasidic commentary suggests this split teaches us that we should spend as much time, money, and energy on God’s purposes as we do on earthly pleasures. Literally, it means that these two goats are equal. In a broader sense, when we go to tally up our year, we should see a balanced ledger, especially in terms of giving to ourselves and giving to our community. Acharei Mot literally means “after death,” and Kedoshim means “holiness.” Taken together, we can ensure our holiness endures beyond this lifetime if we hold ourselves accountable to improving our world.

Daddy’s Girl – Parshat Acharei Mot Kedoshim 5775

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I was most certainly a daddy’s girl. One of my favorite pictures is me at five years old with my parents. Of course it was meant to be a standard family portrait, but during one of our poses the photographer captured me staring up with my sweet little girl eyes directly at my daddy. If there was ever any question that I was a daddy’s girl, this photo says it all. And what am I doing now? Apparently I’m also raising a daddy’s girl. While Shiri certainly loves me, especially when she’s hungry, nothing compares to the smile that lights up her face when her daddy walks into the room. It is clear that she associates Daddy with rough-and-tumble silly time and mommy with eating, nose wiping, and diaper changing. To be clear, in our house we do engage in these activities equally, but Shiri knows who to go to when she wants to be goofy, and Daddy has me beat in that category.

It is certainly natural for children to identify with one parent or the other for different reasons. My father and I were alike in our love of Judaism and our passion for teaching, and my mom and my sister still have their own unique bond. Throughout history we also have assigned societal roles and responsibilities either to a mother or father, and these have evolved over the centuries. Many people grew up in a time when it was expected that fathers would be disciplinarians and mothers would be nurturers. Interestingly, this perhaps was never the view – or at least the only view – of Judaism.

This week we read a double parshah, Acharei Mot-Kedoshim. 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” that helps us to understand how we can walk in God’s ways and create a community of relationship and understanding.

It is in this section where the Torah teaches, “You shall each revere his mother and his father, and keep my Shabbat, I the Lord am your God.” This mitzvah is similar to the commandment in the 10 Commandments, “You shall honor your father and your mother,” but with one small change. In the 10 Commandments, the mother is mentioned second in regard to honor, and in the Holiness Code, the mother comes first in regard to reverence.

Rashi, the great medieval commentator on text, suggests that our natural instinct is to revere (fear) one’s father and to honor (love) one’s mother. The Torah’s ordering of these would have us regard each of our parents equally with reverence and love and would have each parent represent both discipline and forgiveness in the child’s mind. According to Rashi, the scripture recognizes that there is an innate way in which we approach our parents, and thus we are encouraged to stretch beyond what is unmindful and automatic in order to give true meaning to respecting our parents.

Do you (or did you) feel a particular bond with one parent? A common sense of humor or love of a certain food? Please share.