Friday, May 6, 2016

Parashat Acharei-Mot II

Shabbat Shalom! This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Acharei-Mot. In Leviticus 18, God command us not to do that which the Egyptians or Canaanites do, and rather to follow that which God tells us to do. These days, it is hard to hear the commands of God. Not all of the laws in the Torah make sense to us anymore, and some are not even possible for us to follow. So how do we know what it is God wants of us and what are the rules of other people that we aren't supposed to follow?

One of our earliest rabbis, Hillel, would say, “That which is hateful to you, do not do unto others. That is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary, go and learn.” The Divine Spark in each of us drives us. We have our conscience and our innate passions and quirks. I believe these inner voices are the commands of God now. And so, being true to ourselves, being honest about our needs and giving freely of ourselves, is how we can live out that which God wants of us.

We don't live among oppressive Egyptians and Canaanites anymore. Instead, we live in a beautifully diverse nation where sharing cultural differences is a positive. In the Torah, it's likely God is talking about separating from the people around the Israelites and condemning those who don't follow the same God. But today, the lesson from this Parasha instead, may be for us to be sure to follow our conscience and do that which we know in our hearts is right, even if it's not what those around us are doing.

Often in our lives we face peer pressure to do something we know we shouldn't or to ignore something that we know we really should do. Contrary to most public service announcements, this peer pressure is rarely explicit. It's more often a subtle process of socialization. It's seeing everyone around you doing something and assuming you should do it too. It's people slowly and subtly ostracizing those that are different, all the while with a polite smile on their faces. I think this quiet form of peer pressure is actually worse than the harsh demands the PSAs depict. When someone puts an ultimatum to you: “Do drugs or you can't be my friend”, you know they aren't really your friend. It's not actually that hard to walk away from that. When they're nice and encouraging about something and make it seem normal and innocuous, it can be harder to even realize when you're making the wrong choices or that you're choosing certain styles for the wrong reasons.

That is why it is so important to take the time to listen to your heart. To follow your conscience. To do that which God drives you to do and ignore that which those around you are doing. May we all find ourselves, our Divine Spark. May we find the courage to be true to ourselves and follow through on that which the Holy One expects of us. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.

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