Another double portion. But first – Next week, May 7, is Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day of counting the omer (the letters lamed ל and gimel ג are assigned the values 30 and 3, respectively). A minor holiday, it is linked to 2nd century C.E. Roman persecution and revolt, a break in a plague among the students of Rabbi Akiba, and the death of Akiba’s student, Shimon Bar Yochai. Lag B’Omer provides a break in the semi-mourning period from Passover to Shavuot, allowing celebrations like weddings to take place. Traditionally celebrated as a students’ holiday with picnics and archery, it is now particularly celebrated with BBQ and bonfires.
Back to the Torah portion, Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, which includes the first part of what is known as the “Holiness Code,” chapters 17–26. Acharei Mot means “after the death” i.e., after the death of Aaron’s two sons “who died when they drew too close to the presence of the Lord” (16:1). Appropriately, the bulk of the portion concerns atonement rituals performed by Aaron, the establishment of an annual day of atonement (Yom Kippur), and a list of forbidden sexual relationships, mainly incestuous ones.
Kedoshim (“holy,” plural) begins with Leviticus Chapter 19 and contains a lot of “good behavior” commands, like, don’t lie, cheat, or steal; don’t take advantage of others’ vulnerabilities (stumbling block in front of the blind, orally insulting the deaf); don’t gossip; respect the elderly; just fairly; love your neighbor as yourself; take care of the needy; and the like. There are puzzling laws, as in 19:19, against certain mixtures: cross-breeding of cattle, sowing 2 types of seed in a field, and wearing clothing made with a mixture of wool and linen (shatnez). And there are additional laws concerning sexual relationships, this time including the punishments. [By the way, a transcript of the April 28 Supreme Court oral arguments on gay marriage can be found here. You can also get audio as well as a transcript.]
We’ve seen similar, even the same, laws before. But there is an added intensity this time because of the motivation in 19:2, “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” The commands are punctuated throughout with “I am the Lord” or “I am the Lord your God.” As Marc Gary (Exec. Vice Chancellor of JTS) remarks, “Modern society has little patience for the concept of kedushah because holiness insists on the importance of distinctions and separateness… (T)he notion of kedushah appears countercultural in today’s society, elevating distinctiveness over universalism.” I finally got hold of Purity and Danger by Mary T. Douglas. In Chapter 3, “The Abominations of Leviticus,” especially pp. 54-55, she neatly defines “holiness” and how it is exemplified in the text:
“(H)oliness is exemplified by completeness. Holiness requires that individuals shall conform to the class to which they belong. And holiness requires that different classes of things shall not be confused. …Holiness means keeping distinct the categories of creation. It therefore involves correct definition, discrimination and order. Under this head all the rules of sexual morality exemplify the holy. Incest and adultery (Lev. XVIII, 6–20) are against holiness, in the simple sense of right order. …Then follows in chapter XIX another list of actions which are contrary to holiness. Developing the idea of holiness as order, not confusion, this list upholds rectitude and straight-dealing as holy, and contradiction and double-dealing as against holiness. …To be holy is to be whole, to be one; holiness is unity, integrity, perfection of the individual and of the kind. The dietary rules merely develop the metaphor of holiness on the same lines.”
We’ll return to Douglas (assuming I remember) when we take another look at the dietary laws in Deuteronomy.
Food for the Fast (sent out in 2010)
Rabbi to parishioner: “Yes I understand that McDonalds calls it “fast food”…but you STILL can’t eat it on Yom Kippur!”
The Strong Arm Of The Law
A pickpocket has finally been caught and has been found guilty in court of a long list of crimes. The judge says to the pickpocket “give me one good reason why I should not look you up.”
To which the pickpocket replies “Well, it wasn’t me! You see my right arm stole the watch. I should not be held responsible for something my right arm did!”
The judge figures that this particular criminal is a smart alec and so decides to play him at his own game.
“Very well! I sentence your right arm to ten years hard labour.”
At which point the pickpocket removes his artificial arm, lays it on the judge’s bench, and walks free!
You Might Be A Redneck If
You’ve been married three times and still have the same in-laws.
Your state’s got a new law that says when a couple get divorced, they are still legally brother and sister.
Your sister is the third generation of women in your family to conceive a baby as a result of an alien abduction.
You think there’s nothing wrong with incest as long as you keep it in the family.
Your family tree has no forks.
Lord Help me
Dear Heavenly Father,
So far, today, I’ve done all right. I haven’t gossiped or lost my temper. I haven’t been greedy, grumpy, nasty, or self-centered. I’m really happy about that so far. But in a few minutes I’m going to be getting out of bed and then I’m going to need a lot of help. Thank you! Amen
As the coals from our barbecue burned down, our hosts passed out marshmallows and long roasting forks.
Just then, two fire trucks roared by, sirens blaring, lights flashing. They stopped at a house right down the block.
All twelve of us raced out of the back yard, down the street, where we found the owners of the blazing house standing by helplessly.
They glared at us with looks of disgust.
Suddenly, we realized why………we were all still holding our roasting forks with marshmallows on them…