Friday, May 5, 2017

Parashat Acharei-Mot/Kedoshim

Shabbat Shalom! Before talking Torah, it is also time to count the Omer.
ברוך אתה יי אלוקינו מלך/רוח  העולם אשר קידשנו במצוותיו וציונו על ספירת העומר
Baruch ata adonai, eloheinu melech/ruach  ha’olam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al s’firat ha’omer.
Blessed are you, adonai, our G-od, ruler/spirit of the universe, who sanctifies us with commandments, and commanded us regarding the counting of the omer.
היום  חמישה  ועשרים יום שהם שלושה שבועות וארבעה ימים  בעומר.
Hayom chamisha  v’esrim  yom, she’heim shlosha shavuot v’arba’ah yamim  b’omer.
Today is 25 days, that is three weeks and four days of the omer.
The mystical realm of this day of the Omer is Netzach she’b’Netzach, that is Endurance within endurance. On this day in this journey from redemption to revelation, may we find a way to let our values show through, no matter the obstacles.
In Rabbi Jill Hammer’s Omer Calendar of Biblical Women, the emblem of this day of the Omer, of Endurance within Endurance, is Noah’s wife. In a modern midrash by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, Noah’s wife, who is never named in the Torah but given the name “Na’amah” (meaning pleasant) by the rabbis, collects every seed and bulb of all the plants on earth that she can find, so that after the flood, she can regrow all that has washed away. The Darren Aronofsky imagining of the Noah story depicts her as an earth mother, caring for all, tending to her gardens, and making medicines and ointments from her plants. Together, she and Noah become the new Adam and Eve, doing the physical labor to bring God’s vision of creation and humanity to fruition.
It’s not hard to imagine how Na’amah would feel about reading this week’s parasha. She would be full of compassion and empathy for the plight of the Israelites. They’ve already been in the desert for some time now, lost sight of the Mountain from which revelation came, but have not yet glimpse on the horizon the land they are walking toward. Are they lost? Did they do the right thing in leaving Egypt? Will they ever have a land of their own, a place to settle and enact these laws that Moses just keeps bringing to them? And with this compassion for their fear, Na’amah would encourage them to endure, assure them that just as she survived the uncertainty and fear on the ark, they too would endure this. Just as she made it off the ark onto dry land, they too would make it out of the wilderness and into the Promised Land. And just as she replanted her gardens and made life anew, helped to build the world God had wanted all along, so too would they create a new society in this Holy Land, one of unprecedented freedoms and justice, just as God commands.
With this fear, with this knowing of the uncertainty of life, we are commanded to remember how it felt, and pledge to always do better to others. We were strangers and slaves in Egypt, forced to live without dignity. In the new land, there will be freedom and dignity for all, even the poorest among us. The poor of the land will be able to walk into the corners of the fields, into the community food pantries, and take what they need without asking, without risking embarrassment. They will not be subject to humiliating interrogations to determine their human worth or the cost/benefit of helping them. You know better. As the Egyptians stole away the freedom and dignity, the property and humanity of our people, we make sure our first Ten Commandments and our reiterated Holiness Code specifies, You Shall Not Steal, Lie, or Defraud. You shall not withhold due wages, or treat your workers poorly. You shall not treat your day laborers like the slaves we once were. You know better. Just as the Egyptians kicked us when we were already down, beating us and murdering our children after already imposing impossible labor upon us, you shall not make life harder for those for whom it is already difficult by placing stumbling blocks before the blind or by cursing the deaf. You know better. As the Egyptians used prejudice against us, fearing our differences and our numbers in the midst, you shall do away with preconceived notions in matters of justice, and judge each person on their own merit. Do not show undue deference to the powerful, nor act in pity toward the vulnerable. You know better. While the Egyptians preached a hate and prejudicial fear, even the common people who may have had no opinions about slavery stood by and looked on as we were beaten, our babies murdered, our lives destroyed. You may not behave in such a way. You shall not hate your brother in your heart, you shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbors. You know better. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. You must love your neighbor as yourself.
This is not a request, this is not a suggestion. This is not a “mitzvah” in the colloquial sense of “good deed”. This is a true Mitzvah, a commandment. To honor the world God created for us, the humanity that Na’amah and Noah rebuilt for us, we must do these things. For any person to call themselves a devout member of any faith, especially any faith that traces its lineage to Noah and Na’amah, for any person to invoke the name of God in their professional life, for anyone who would claim to represent religious liberties, to allow for a world in which some people are valued more than others, to enact policies that create better access to food, medical care, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to some over others, to foster a nation that does not look out for one another, that makes life more difficult for the already vulnerable, is a farce. These are words of God, and any person who does not act in accordance with these commandments should just admit that they do not follow this Bible, they have no claim to any part of Leviticus.
When our great sage Hillel was asked to describe the whole Torah while standing on one foot, he said, “That which is hateful to you, do not do unto others,” and the later great sage, Torah commentator Rashi, said this summarization specifically comes from this week’s parasha. From the Holiness Code, from Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” When Jesus and his disciples, who were Jews and also were basing their ethics on this code, adapted Jewish life and law and allowed room for his followers to accept the ethical teachings of Judaism while disregarding things like Kashrut and circumcision, they taught, “Treat others as you would like to be treated.” This is not an ambiguous message.
In this time of endurance in endurance, as we spiritually make our way from redemption to revelation, as we read these words of holiness and deep, hard-learned empathy, let us commit ourselves to live our values. Help others in need, on a personal level and on a political level. Giving tzedakah is good. Creating opportunities for people to be self-sufficient is better. Driving someone to the doctor is nice. Ensuring that everyone has equal access to healthcare is imperative. Care about the freedom and dignity of every person in this country and help ensure it. Do not stand idly by while your neighbor bleeds to death because she couldn’t afford the hospital visit to stop the bleeding, and all her local sliding scale clinics were shut down for providing reproductive health options. Do not place obstacles before the blind and deaf, even if the condition of their blindness and deafness were “pre-existing.” Love your neighbor as yourself. All your neighbors. The ones who live in the nice houses on your street, and the ones who sleep behind your mall. The ones who look like you and the ones who don’t. The ones who have the same reproductive organs as you and the ones that don’t. The ones that want to keep those reproductive organs and the ones who need to change or remove them. All of your neighbors. And may we honor Na’amah’s endurance and tenderness, growing new generations of nurturers and empaths, recreating humanity again into the world God wanted for us all along, a world of wholeness and peace. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.