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

“You shall be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy, and I have set you apart from other people’s to be mine.” (Leviticus 20:25)

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) is the central part of Leviticus’ Holiness Code (known as such because of all the times the word holy is used).  It begins with a list of instructions:  be holy, revere your parents, observe Shabbat, and stay away from idols.  (Lev. 19:2-4) In each case, the specific injunction is followed by the words, “I am your God.”  Since the Torah doesn’t waste words, finding meaning in the repetition of this phrase is classic commentator’s sport.

The Magen Avraham (~1635 –1682; Rabbi Avraham Gumbiner, a leading religious authority in 17th century Poland) reads the repetition of the phrase as a testimony to God’s steadfastness.  To those who live a completely holy life (in the Magen Avraham’s time this meant observing commandments), God says, “I am your God.”  To those who observe only basic principles (honoring your parents, or keeping Shabbat), God says, “I am your God.”  And to those who don’t observe rituals, but maintain a basic belief, (stays away from idols), God says, “I am your God.”

Many people assume you must be ritually observant to speak authoritatively about God.  The Magen Avraham reminds us a relationship with God is a birthright of every Jewish person, one that God never ignores.  It is the experience of that individual relationship and not the level of ritual observance that gives every Jew the authority to speak to, and about, God.

Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom,


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