Rabbi Feingold's D'var Torah

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Torah portions Behar and Bechukotai (Lev. 25- 29), whose contents have little in common, may offer some meaning in being linked together.  Behar has some very lofty visions of a great society.  It is amazing to think that our ancestors, living 2500 years ago or more, came up with the idea of the Sabbatical Year, a rest for the land, and the Jubilee Year, an effort to equalize wealth and property ownership in the ancient Israelite community.  Bechukotai, on the other hand, is a stark warning that those who do not follow God’s ways will be severely punished and those who do follow them, richly rewarded.  One parasha inspires us to live by Jewish values with visions of an ideal society; the other entices us to be good Jews with the “carrot and stick” approach.  Is it possible that we sometimes need both?  In my remarks to our Confirmands this week, I will raise this question.  Our Confirmation students love tough questions and the chance to grapple with the answers.  Please come and listen to what they have to say at our Confirmation Shabbat services, Friday at 7:30pm.

“Today is the 30th day of the Omer.  There are 20 days to Sinai.”  These are the words we recite for the synagogue ritual on this day of the counting of the Omer.  We are anticipating the coming of the holiday of Shavuot on May 30-31, the holiday on which we relive the giving of Torah at Mt. Sinai, so we are counting down the days until we arrive “at Sinai.”  The Omer ritual is described in this week’s Torah portion, Emor. (Lev  23:15-16).  What is not described is a special celebration on the 33rd day of the Omer, which falls this Sunday:  Lag B’Omer.  Although its origins are rather unclear, according to Jewish legend, during the time of Rabbi Akiva (2nd century CE—much later than the text of Leviticus was written), a terrible plague afflicted thousands of Akiva’s students because they were not treating each other with respect.  On the 33rd day of the Omer, this plaque ended, and it became a day of celebration.  According to halacha (Jewish law) no weddings or celebrations of any sort are to occur during any of the other 48 days of the Omer.  This prohibition is not observed in Reform Judaism.

Kedoshim contains one of the central passages of the Torah.  Called the Holiness Code because of its exhortation, “Kedohsim tihyu” (You shall be holy), Leviticus 19 is famous because it contains timeless ethical laws such as caring for the poor, the laborer, the disabled, and the stranger; to love your neighbor, not gossip, and so much more.  But mixed in with all of these ethical laws are ritual laws as well, for example, about sacrifices, dietary laws, Shabbat, and the prohibition against mixing together different kinds of seeds in a field and cloth in a garment.  The juxtaposition of the ritual and the ethical seems strange, and yet, we know that Judaism is not merely a set of values.  Rituals are what make us who we are and set us apart as a unique people.  The intermingling of the two kinds of laws in this passage can remind us to value both as essential to our Jewish lives.

JULY FOOD OF THE MONTH: Canned Tuna  

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