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To Be or Not To Be – The Essence of Kedoshim

From the May BZBI Board Meeting

May 19, 2016

This week’s parshah, Kedoshim, is truly my favorite. It tells us how to be; the essence of being human created in the image of God. Be holy. This holiness code in today’s lingo might be called core values and guiding principles – it never gets old.

Kedoshim talks about being loyal and unwavering, about sharing your offering while it’s still fresh, and leaving room in your “vineyard” (I think this means in your life) to meet the needs of others.

It’s about being honest and truthful in all our dealings – with employees, with neighbors, with community. It addresses being fair in allocating resources,  not taking advantage of someone else’s downfall, not harboring grudges, and not mixing things that shouldn’t be mixed. It tells us not to take advantage of privilege, not to sacrifice the future for the demands of the present, not to succumb to popular influence.

It’s tells us how to treat family members and preserve relationships. It’s about being better than our human nature.

I first read the Bible when I was very young, and this parshah – well, I didn’t know it as a parshah then – struck me as being oddly hidden among what felt like a lot of arcane rules. Why? was my first reaction. I got past trying to understand why because the content was just so powerful. Be Holy. This has percolated in me for years. It still does.

My husband and I are very likeminded on making this holiness code a real and living commitment – we’ve always taught our children you don’t have to be rich to share, you don’t have to like someone to treat them decently, and when you dwell on bad feelings, you’re only hurting yourself. Don’t try to be like everybody else – be better than you want to be.

I’ve been a volunteer in the community for a long time. Along with Ernie Kahn, I developed the tuition assistance process we use at Perelman Jewish Day School. A verse in this parshah, “Do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich,” was my opening statement when we presented our model to the Perelman board years ago, and the committee starts each allocation year considering those words.

Here at BZBI, I see my job as a steward of the congregation’s resources, and so many of these holiness principles can guide us at budget time. We learn we must invest in the future; this parshah tells us, “when you plant any tree for food, wait three years before you eat the fruit of it.” To me, this means don’t be tempted by the demands of the present and compromise the tree before it’s had a chance to grow.

It says don’t exaggerate – be honest in your weights and measures. I take this to mean being truthful about assessing what really is and being thoughtful about what we would like to become, about understanding our obstacles and how we work through them or around them.

We are admonished not to try to be like the unholy in our community. We have to BE better. And after some pretty harsh – I’ll call them warnings – this parshah ends with a promise, “I will give a land flowing with milk and honey.”

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