Tuesday, January 27, 2009

April 09

· Two double portions from Leviticus this week and next:Thazria deals with purification after childbirth, laws of leprosyMetzora deals with more on leprosyAcharey Mot deals with Yom Kippur and the laws of sexual behaviorKedoshim deals with the laws of holiness and being am kedoshim, including the admonition to love thy neighbor as oneself
· These portions at first glance seem unrelated and a bit out of sequence with what has gone before in Leviticus.
· When you read them more closely, however, you start to see that they are, in part, metaphorical. Leprosy, for example does not refer to the modern disease. Rather, the teachers say that it was a miraculous disease that was visited on people who speak evil – lashon hara – or gossip. The Talmud says that the Metzora – leper – is isolated because he undermines the peace in society. This type of behavior is not worthy of having anything in common with human society, as a result he is afflicted with a disease that isolates him. The Talmud goes on to say that the sin of lashon hara is not like other sins that can be explained or justified by emotion or impulse – it is a sin that is thought out and committed in cold blood, just as the snake in Gan Eden intentionally defamed G-d and undermined Adam and Eve.The declaration of impurity had to be made by a Kohen, upon the advice of a scholar who was versed in these matters. Why, then, did the scholar not make the declaration, rather than a Kohen who was in this regard, ignorant? Because the Kohen would first come from his love for his fellow human being, including that, after declaring the person impure, he would then see to his purification. If we do not first probe our love for the person we are talking about, or if this love is lacking, or if we are not deeply committed to working with the person to correct the fault that we are pointing out, then to speak ill of another is a reflection of our own faulty character.
· In Acharey Mot, amidst the laws governing Yom Kippur, is the law of the scapegoat. The High Priest, as part of the Yom Kippur observance, would bring out two goats. One he would sacrifice, and he would speak the sins of the people over the head of the other, which was then driven into the wilderness. Here again we have an instance of isolation and banishment being associated with sin. (this of course led to the modern use of the term scapegoat as one to blame things on, an instance of lashon hara).
· Finally, all of this comes together in Kedoshim, which the sages consider the central portion of Leviticus, and therefore of the whole Torah. They said that the essentials of the law are in this chapter, and the Ten Commandments are repeated in this chapter. The essence of Kedoshim is in the very beginning: (read v. 1 & 2 in Hebrew and in English), and it goes on to state clearly the rules to follow to be a holy people. From this, Hillel, said that the basic principle of the Torah is “That which is hateful to you, do not unto another.” Rabbi Akiva said it this way: Love your neighbor as yourself.” A thousand years later Maimonides said “The Torah was given in order to create peace in the world.”
· Bad thoughts against another person lead to bad words, the lashon hara that destroys another person’s image and reputation. The sages tell us that the Temple was destroyed through lashon hara and causeless hatred. Modern teachers say that the Temple will be rebuilt through causeless love. If we can defeat our human tendency to speak ill of others, to gossip and to hate, we will then be am kedoshim, a holy people.

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