This double portion of Torah that we confront this week is filled with issues, challenges and contemporary applications. We meet the concept of the scare-goat in Leviticus 16 and issues related to rules and regulations concerning blood in 17. A litany of laws regarding sexual prohibitions meet us in 18, including the often quoted text prohibiting homosexual activities, a text that has been politicized a great deal as all of know. As we discussed in a recent Torah class, be careful of people quoting texts without allowing for an undertstanding of how and where and in what context the text emerged. This is one of the reasons why much, if not all, of the non Orthodox community accepts GLBTQ equal rights, access and unions.
It is Leviticus 19, however, that stand apart from many of the other chapters in Torah. It is a 1 chapter summary of social, religious, family, economic and ethical laws. In essence, a “reader’s digest” of Jewish life. The chapter is so powerful that is appears again on Yom KIppur. In this chapter is one of the most famous passages, verse 18 , the end of which states that: “v’ahavta l’reiacha camocha”: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Yes, what we know as the “golden rule” begins in this passage and is replicated in a variety of ways from post Biblical Judaism (Hillel…Babylonian Talmud 31a) to Christianity.(Mathew 22:37-40) What may it say to us?
We spent some time on the last word of this text, the “camocha” in a recent Torah discussion at a JCC class. “As yourself” meant a variety of things to people, all of whom were over 50. WHat did emerge was a sense that “knowing oneself” was not easy and that it often found its space as we get older and we come to accept and, we hope, celebrate our “self”. Do we arrive at a time in life when we define who we are, instead of having our “self” defined by others: a job, a family, friends, some idealized goal? Is this knowledge a real maturation of the soul? Is this when our ego comes to understand that we are part of a greater whole and that meaning and “success” come to mean something very different that they did when we were younger? Does this “camocha” mean that we come to a place in our life that gives us permission to live our dreams and hopes and that, in these moments, we come to be more accepting and understanding of others and their choices? After all, the first part of this verse (19:18) says “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the members of your people”. Do we reach a point in life when we “let go” of previous hurts, hopes, anger and fears? And of course, the “why” of this is also contained in the verse as it ends with the often repeated line “I am Adoni”, as of to say that in acting this way to reference and model what is holy.
Rabbi Richard F Address