Friday, April 25, 2014

Holy Lives - D'var Torah for Parashat Kedoshim (Leviticus 19) - April 25, 2014

In the Yizkor prayers we recited on Tuesday morning, one meditation remembers the victims of the Holocaust, and people who died in previous centuries due to hatred, prejudice, and discrimination.  Here is the translation of that silent remembrance prayer:   May God remember forever our brothers and sisters who gave their lives for the Sanctification of the Divine Name - AL KIDDUSH HASHEIM.  May they be at one with the One who is life eternal.  May the beauty of their lives shine forevermore, and may my life always bring honor to their memory.

KIDDUSH HASHEIM, the Sanctification of the Divine Name, is often translated as martyrdom.   If someone in ancient times chose to die rather than violate a commandment of Judaism, the Jewish community saw that act as one of holiness.    When Jews continued to be the victims of hatred that led to violence, they also spoke of YISURIN SHEL AHAVAH, "chastisements of love." Speaking of love and holiness at such times of persecution was probably the only way that Jews could redeem the difficulties and challenges of their lives, of being Jews in a world that begrudged their very existence.  

Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, is actually called Yom Hashoah U-g'vurah, a day for remembering the victims of the Holocaust and Heroism at that time. Heroism was embodied during World War II in the many places where Jewish uprisings challenged the Nazis and their collaborators to realize that their control over Europe, physically and ideologically, was not absolute.  Ghetto and partisan fighters, and acts of individuals from many religious and ethnic groups that saved Jews and others from deportation and even death, demonstrated how faith and determination could lead to acts of strength, kindness and even holiness.

Holiness is the theme of this week's Torah reading, KEDOSHIM.   We may not think of ourselves as heroes when we bring food for the Casa de Peregrinos food pantry or El Caldito Soup Kitchen, or when we work to help people leave poverty behind, or when we treat each other with a sense of justice and fairness.   We may not consider ourselves strong when we overcome the impulse to take vengeance or bear a grudge against another human being but, instead, seek a way to relate positively that can lead to reconciliation.   We may not define being considerate of our fellow community members, and any person, as an act that is holy.   The Torah, however, says, YES - when we are generous, giving, considerate, open-minded, fair, and just - we ARE heroic.  We ARE strong.  We ARE enhancing holiness in the world.

And even more - we ARE redeeming the courageous acts of our ancestors when they said NO to someone who sought to force them to say YES in a way that would have left their Jewish heritage in the dust.    Loving our neighbors and the stranger as ourselves - this is the love that is the central essence of leading a holy life.   It may be difficult, at times, to find a way to express and extend that love, but when we do so, we restore the balance upset by humanity's unfortunate acts and examples of hatred. 

So may we continue to be kind, loving, giving, just, and hopeful, even when hard-hearted hatred and prejudice may tempt us to do otherwise.   Then we will be heroes living holy lives that will assure that God and godliness will dwell among us.

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