Thursday, May 12, 2016

Emor 76- Kiddush Hashem , Walls and Values by Allan Katz

The parasha introduces us to the principles of Kiddush ha-Shem and Chilul ha-Shem in the verses –Lev. 22:32-33 Do not desecrate /profane my holy Name , rather that I should be sanctified among the children of Israel , I am Hashem , who sanctifies you. Who took you out of the land of Egypt to be a God unto you, I am Hashem.

לב וְלֹא תְחַלְּלוּ, אֶת-שֵׁם קָדְשִׁי, וְנִקְדַּשְׁתִּי, בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל: אֲנִי יְהוָה, מְקַדִּשְׁכֶם. לג הַמּוֹצִיא אֶתְכֶם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, לִהְיוֹת לָכֶם לֵאלֹהִים: אֲנִי, יְהוָה

The demands of Kiddush ha-Shem - go beyond those of morality. It is not only a question of a behavior, being moral or not, but how the behavior reflects on and impacts on the reputation of a person , his family, school, community, nation and even God himself. By associating Himself with the children of Israel, firstly through Abraham who voluntarily began teaching and being an example of God's ways and then with the nation as whole by taking them out of the land of Egypt and making a covenant with them at Mount Sinai, the children of Israel became God's ambassadors and witnesses to the world. So God's standing in eyes of the world now depends on how God's ' chosen' people behave.

Many people in the community are disturbed by community leaders failing in this role, but also with religious people who don't act with integrity, decency, humility and compassion. It is sometimes out of a self-righteousness that they show contempt for people or are totally immersed in their own world of prayer and study to notice a person in need. The question is why are people failing in the role as ambassadors and being witnesses for God?

The verses in The Torah that speak about sanctifying or profaning the Name of God are proceeded by laws concerning offerings – waiting 7 days before bring an animal as an offering, not slaughtering the mother and child on the same day, and bringing the offering must be only to become closer to God and benefit from the atonement and good that the offering brings to the world.
כז שׁוֹר אוֹ-כֶשֶׂב אוֹ-עֵז כִּי יִוָּלֵד, וְהָיָה שִׁבְעַת יָמִים תַּחַת אִמּוֹ; וּמִיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי, וָהָלְאָה, יֵרָצֶה, לְקָרְבַּן אִשֶּׁה לַיהוָה. כח וְשׁוֹר, אוֹ-ֶׂה--אֹתוֹ וְאֶת-בְּנוֹ, לֹא תִשְׁחֲטוּ בְּיוֹם אֶחָד. כט וְכִי-תִזְבְּחוּ זֶבַח-תּוֹדָה, לַיהוָה--לִרְצֹנְכֶם, תִּזְבָּחוּ

The Mesech Chochmah asks – what is the connection of these verses with the commandments to sanctify and not to desecrate God's name. He explains that in contrast to idolatry which is full of cruelty, harshness and retribution to the human soul – for eg human sacrifices and cutting, the Torah is full of compassion, clemency , kindness and sustains the world –וחסד ,מהוה ומחיה העולמים ... חמלה וחנינה . The Torah teaches how to be supportive and compassionate to people and also treat animals with compassion. If we eat meat or offer sacrifices -which is the ultimate destiny of an animal by becoming part of a refined human being - we should do so with as much compassion as possible ( although we cannot escape the pain of death ) and follow the laws mentioned above. If God cares about the soul of the animal surely He cares about us. We must bring sacrifices whole-heartedly, knowing that God has no benefit and only wants from us to do kindness and give expression to God's ways. But if we are forced to desecrate God's commandments and denigrate God's honor, we cannot live with this contradiction and need to give up our lives and sanctify God's Name . We must be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, and choose the eternal life close to God.

The role of God's ambassador is having a ' compassionate mindset ' , so what gets in the way of people? In a world where values of materialism, hedonism, sexual promiscuity and competition etc threaten a spiritual life of modesty , spirituality and community, it is quite understandable that communities build walls and fences to protect people from outside influences. However, there are many challenges and dangers to be faced. The problem (a) is that wall or fence creates limits and boundaries and not values. It is values underlying how one should interact with other people and society at large – with sensitivity and compassion and yet being faithful and authentic to one's Torah values that should create limits, boundaries and walls. (b) When we create a wall or a fence to exclude others we may end up treating people as if they don't count , not one of us , and then we objectify them. When we objectify people , being careful to avoid a chilul Hashem – a desecration of God's name and instead focus on being a kidddush Hashem, sanctifying God's name has no relevancy and then not on our agenda. This impacts negatively on peoples' personalities and character and leads to arrogance , self-righteousness and acting out of self-interest. Teachers, parents , rabbis etc fail to the lesson of the first book of Moses – Genesis which has little law in it and mostly stories of how the – forefathers interacted with people and society at large. The Netziv in his introduction to the Book of Genesis says that the Avot-forefathers were called ' ye'sharim= straight people ,honorable and decent people in their dealings with people who were even idolators, yet had a loving relationship with them and cared about their welfare
אבות היו ישרים בהליכות עולמים ....שהתנהגו עם אומות העולם, אפילו עובדי אלילים מכוערים; מכל מקום היו עִמם באהבה, וחשו לטובתם, באשר היא קיום הבריאה ...וחפץ בקיומם

. It was for this reason that the children of Heth said to Abraham – You are a prince of God in our midst – נשיא אלוקים אתה בתוכנו
(c )' Not counting people ' also impacts on informal learning and acquiring of wisdom which depends on being able to learn from all people and situations. איזה חכם הלומד מכל אדם This attitude cheapens the value of wisdom, chochmah and secular or general knowledge.

As parents and educators ' walls' protecting children from negative influences are important, but what guides behavior and interaction with people must be values and especially the example of the Avot- forefathers and we being role models that sanctify the name of God with a compassionate mindset and yet not compromising on the other Torah values.

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