Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Kedoshim 76 – Holiness = A Unified and Caring Community

The Mesech Chochmah- Shemot 14:29   makes an interesting observation regarding the protective quality of community unity – a unity that is based on caring interpersonal relationships. God has more patience, forgoes his honor and is more forgiving of the sins between man and God such as idolatry, sexual immorality, the desecration of the Sabbath. These sins are  capital offences for individuals. But  when the whole community engages in idolatry, as long as we have a unified and caring community, God is willing to be patient and supportive . If the community is plagued by mass corruption, theft and violence etc., the community, is destroyed. If things are not so bad, but the unity of the collective is violated by the friction, the community no longer protects its members and each person is judged as a separate individual who would be punished by death for idolatry etc.

The generation of King A'chav were idol worshippers, yet they were consistently victorious in wars, without suffering death due to their collective unity. However, the generation of King David was considered pious in the domain of man- God commandments, but lost soldiers in wars because there was internal strife, slanderers and informants- dilturim. The first temple was destroyed mainly because of man- God transgressions – idolatry and sexual immorality, yet it was rebuilt after 70 years. The second temple was destroyed because of sin'at chinam – baseless hatred, interpersonal transgressions on a communal level and still is not yet rebuilt. The sin of the golden calf – idolatry, was forgiven by God but the sin of the spies which was characterized by slander and lack of gratitude and undermined the unity of the nation was not forgiven and that generation  died out in the desert. The generation of the flood transgressed all the commandments including idolatry and sexual immorality but their sentence for destruction and annihilation was only sealed due to large scale theft. In the Egypt, the Israelites were a united and caring community, but  there was mass idolatry among them.  At the Red sea, their unity was temporarily undermined by different factions arguing a different response to the pursuing Egyptian army. Once they lost their unity Satan argued that they must be judged as individuals – and as individuals they merit the death penalty for idolatry. Individuals are punished by Kareth= early death or extinction of the souls for certain major transgressions – but not if they belong a caring and united community.

God's presence – the shechinah remains in the tabernacle with His children despite their spiritual contamination through sins like idolatry or sexual immorality but when the community is not united ,violent and abusive, God's presence leaves his people and they face destruction.

The question is - why is God willing to tolerate man –God transgressions such as idolatry, sexual immorality and Sabbath desecration, forgoe his honor  and provide protection in war to a caring and unified community and society. ? The answer lies in our parasha – parashat Kedoshim.  Kedoshim is unique in that Moses gave over its laws to the whole community of Israel – men, women and children and that many of the commandments end with ' I am Hashem, Your God or you shall fear and revere your God- I am Hashem.  This was to impress on people that the many man-man   commandments in the parasha-portion  are central to the Torah and it is forbidden to lessen their importance in comparison with  Man-God commandments. People also tend to justify inappropriate behaviors and responses in their interpersonal relationships and sometimes the justification is in the name of self-righteousness, so God reminds us that he is aware of our crooked thinking. 

The centrality of the man-man commandments and the importance of a united and caring community  also finds expression in the commandment - Be holy - קדושים תהיו.  The mitzvah of Being Holy, means 'perushim'- being separate. The Midrash compares God's holiness to man's holiness and says that man can never attain God's holiness. The Ramban goes further than Rashi who explains that 'perushim' – as separating oneself from sexual immorality to include being indulgent or engaging in an excessive way in activities that are permitted , so that a  person  acts like a vile and despicable person with the permission of the Torah – נבל ברשות התורה. Rabbi Shimon Skop says that this definition of 'perushim ' - being separate from excessive and indulgent behavior is not relevant to a discussion on God and the Midrash. He defines God's Holiness of constantly doing good  not only to individuals but to the community and the world as a whole without any personal  benefit – Hashem by definition is perfect and does not need anything.  Man can be altruistic, but he also needs to care for himself. Being holy and identifying with God's holiness is a concern not only with individuals but with the welfare of the community and the collective.  Whatever we do, we should try and benefit others and the community. So even eating and sleeping can be said to be also for the community because it enables us to be pro-social, kind and concerned for the welfare of the community. The fact that the mitzvah of being holy - קדושים תהיו was given over by Moses to the whole community - men, women and children together emphasizes the importance of a united and caring community.  

When people show concern not only for individuals but for the welfare and unity of the community, they give expression to God's holiness and fullfil the mitzvah of קדושים תהיו. God responds by being supportive even in war and showing a lot of patience to communities that transgress the man – God commandments such as idolatry and sexual immorality. A community that observes Man- God commandments but is corrupt in the man-man realm , has no right of existence, because in reality  identifying and trying to emulate how God conducts himself in the world is central to one's relationship with God and man- God commandments.

As parents and educators we need to teach that acts of chesed and loving kindness are not only to be directed towards individuals but the focus must be on the family, classroom, school, community and society as a whole. We all, including kids should be asking what type of community, school etc do us want and what pro-social behavior is needed to meet our goals. An appreciation of God's role and his relationship with us can inspire us to emulate his ways and become better and more holy people.

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