This week: sex and holiness.
But first, a note on Lag B’Omer, which occurs next Thursday. “Lag” is 33 using the Hebrew alphabet: lamed=30 plus gimel=3. Lag B’Omer is the 33rd day of “counting the omer” (a barley measure, now just a recitation) that ends with the holiday of Shavuot. Passover to Shavuot is traditionally a semi-mourning period (no weddings or other celebrations, no haircuts, etc.) except for Lag B’Omer on which a plague among the students of Rabbi Akiba lifted. It is thus in particular a students’ holiday, and it is customary to have picnics and bonfires. It is also the anniversary of the death of Shimon bar Yochai, a disciple of Akiba who is associated by some with the Zohar. Traditions include picnics, bonfires, and archery (the students were armed for the revolt against Rome). See more at https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/lag-baomer/ .
OK, back to sex and holiness.
Acharei Mot (Lev. 16:1-18:30) is the first part of this double portion and means “after the death of,” referring to Aaron’s two oldest sons who after “they drew too close to the presence of the Lord” (16:1).” Consequently, this section describes how the High Priest can enter and leave the Holy of Holies safely on Yom Kippur. It also deals with that day’s ritual purification, sacrifices, sprinkling of blood, and driving a scapegoat into the wilderness. It also lists forbidden sexual relationships, mainly incest. Most of Acharei Mot is read at morning and afternoon services on Yom Kippur.
Acharei Mot-Kedoshim contains the first part of what is known as the “Holiness Code,” Leviticus Chapters 17–26, Chapter 19 being its core. Where Acharei Mot describes atonement for past misdeeds, Kedoshim (Lev. 19:1-20:27) prescribes how to behave from now on and why (19:1): “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” There follow many pages of prescriptions and proscriptions, some expected, like, take care of the needy, use honest weights and measures in business, pay your workers promptly, don’t gossip, don’t lie, don’t take advantage of people, love the stranger, love your neighbor, etc. – basically, be kind and fair. Then there are others that seem like tribal customs with no or unclear reason, like not cross breeding, not rounding the corners of one’s beard, and not eating a tree’s fruit for its first three years.
What is meant here by “holiness” and why is it so linked to sexual relationships? Rituals clearly make us distinct, but why so much emphasis on sexual restraint? Is it because it is particularly difficult to adhere to?
“Holiness” implies distinctness and boundaries. Judaism is rife with such delineations, e.g., between order and chaos, light and darkness, sacred and every day, life and death, Jewish and not. Holiness “involves correct definition, discrimination and order. Under this head all the rules of sexual morality exemplify the holy… rectitude and straight-dealing (are) holy, and contradiction and double-dealing as against holiness“ ( Purity and Danger by Mary T. Douglas, pp. 54-55).
Concerning the necessity for rules of sexual morality, Maimonides, in the first section of Seder Kedoshim in Mishneh Torah cites 37 laws on forbidden sexual relationships and goes into minute detail: specific practices and anatomical descriptions, situations, voluntary versus involuntary actions, what punishments follow what practices – all in a dry, very clinical manner. What about emotion? Trust? Love?
Among Biblical scholars, I am told (thanks, Stanley), that love is an action, not an emotion, encompassing fidelity and faithful obedience. For Maimonides, according to Nechama Leibowitz (Studies in Devarim, pp. 66-67), such love comes from intellectual conviction, but the soul is “ever enraptured by it.”
But, according to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, love is not enough. Remember all those laws in Chapter 19? Seemingly disparate, they have in common that they
“are all about order, limits, and boundaries. They are telling us that reality has a certain underlying structure whose integrity must be honoured…
When that order is violated, eventually there is chaos. When that order is observed and preserved, we become co-creators of the sacred harmony and integrated diversity that the Torah calls ’holy.’ Why then is it specifically in this chapter that the two great commands – love of the neighbour and the stranger – appear? The answer is profound and very far from obvious. Because this is where love belongs – in an ordered universe…(Chapter 19’s) combination of moral, political, economic and environmental laws is a supreme statement of a universe of (Divinely created) order of which we are the custodians. But the chapter is not just about order. It is about humanising that order through love – the love of neighbour and stranger.”
What we increasingly have today, in my view, is too much separation into emotionally charged camps. That is a dangerous sort of order, with and way too little humanizing of that that order through love.
http://www.bangitout.com/articles/viewarticle.php?a=1875 (dead link – was sent out in 2013)
Top Ten Reasons Lag B’Omer & Cinco de Mayo Belong Together (OK, this year Lag B’Omer is May 2-3. Close enough.)
by Seth. Posted: 05-02-2007(Viewed 1938 times)
10. Both holidays are creatively named by…the date.
9. Bow & arrow excellent way to shoot down piñatas
8. All those tacos, fajitas, quesadillas and enchiladas are salsa hot! Like a bonfire!
7. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai definitely grew a handlebar mexi-mustache in his pueblo cave
6. Fiesta bonfire BBQ features salsa cholent
5. Mariachi band can sure add some rhythm to the tune “Bar Yochai”
4. Our Mexican brethren whom are follicly endowed could use a good Upsherin (haircut)
3. Both celebrate the cessation of death….with L’chaims of Cerveza.
2. The Zohar sounds like a good Mexican Wine
1.Tequila Sunrise at Meron
An independent woman started her own business. She was shrewd and diligent, so business kept coming in. Pretty soon she realized she needed an in-house counsel, and so she began interviewing young lawyers.
“As I’m sure you can understand,” she started off with one of the first applicants, “in a business like this, our personal integrity must be beyond question.” She leaned forward. “Mr. Peterson, are you an ‘honest’ lawyer?”
“Honest?” replied the job prospect. “Let me tell you something about honest. Why, I’m so honest that my dad lent me fifteen thousand dollars for my education and I paid back every penny the minute I tried my very first case.”
“Impressive. And what sort of case was that?”
He squirmed in his seat and admitted, “My dad sued me for the money.”
Quotes about Boundaries
The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins? Edgar Allan Poe
Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others. Brene Brown
Self-image sets the boundaries of individual accomplishment. Maxwell Maltz
And this is one of the major questions of our lives: how we keep boundaries, what permission we have to cross boundaries, and how we do so. A. B. Yehoshua
Loving God, Loving Your Neighbor (abridged)
Following the death of their long-time pastor, the pastoral committee called a new pastor to try out for their pulpit. He preached a marvelous sermon about “Loving God, Loving Your Neighbor”. The congregation all enjoyed the sermon and issued the call for him to come and fill their pulpit.
He moved his family into the parsonage, and his first Sunday, he preached a marvelous sermon about “Loving God, Loving Your Neighbor.” Some elders thought it odd that he would dish up a rerun so soon, but they figured he’d just moved to town and didn’t have time to prepare a new sermon.
In the coming week, the new minister visited some more members of his new flock, learning about their needs, their families, their concerns, and so forth…. basically, getting “the scoop” on his congregation, in many different versions!
The second Sunday in his new pastorate, he got up in the pulpit and preached a marvelous sermon about “Loving God, Loving Your Neighbor”. The pastoral committee was beginning to get uncomfortable but they decided to wait.
Another week passes, and every day, the new minister is out there visiting his congregation, as well as some of the other nearby townfolk.
On his third Sunday, he got up in the pulpit and preached a marvelous sermon about “Loving God, Loving Your Neighbor.”
The pastorate committee caught him at the back door after church and said, “Pastor, you’ve preached the same sermon for your try-out, and every Sunday since you got here. This is getting ridiculous. Don’t you have any other sermons??”
The new pastor smiled at them. He said, “Gentlemen, I would love to preach a new sermon, but it seems you haven’t done anything about the first one yet.”