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Parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim (Leviticus 16:1-20:27)

“You shall rise in the presence of an old person and honor the presence of a sage

and you shall revere your God; I am God.” (Lev. 19:32)

We read two parashot (portions) this week because of the way the Jewish calendar is calculated.  Months are determined by the moon’s cycle, but the year is determined by the sun’s.  Therefore, a Jewish year can have from 50 to 55 weeks.  Since the number of parashot doesn’t change, some years require certain parashot to “double up” on a given Shabbat.

Parashat Kedoshim (kedoshim is the plural of kadosh, holy) opens with the injunction, “You will be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” (Lev. 19:2)  These are inspiring words, if a bit vague. Most of the time, the verse is interpreted as a directive:  holiness is a status to achieve, something the Israelites must work toward.  Chazal (an acronym for Chachameinu Zichronam Livracha,  our sages of blessed memory) though, worry it might be interpreted as a benediction:  holiness as an inherent quality conferred by God on the Israelites.  So Chazal takes measures to combat that idea.  They select a haftarah (prophetic reading) for the parasha (portion) that offers a reality check (every Shabbat, the parasha is followed by a haftarah).

The haftarah criticizes the behavior of the Israelites, and lists the ways they fall short of the ideal of kedushah, holiness.   God reminds us, “The eyes of the Lord are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will wipe it off the face of the earth;” (Amos 9:8)  “By the sword will all the sinners of my people die.” (Amos 9:10) It is a harsh reminder that what we do determines our status, not what we think of ourselves.  The minute we might think we’re inherently special, God says, “Not so fast…”  Chazal wants us to know being elected to a special task (to become holy) doesn’t make us holy.  That’s on us.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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