Kedoshim (Leviticus 19ff): The Critical Self?

Kedoshim brings us to one of the most famous and meaningful and powerful portions in all Torah.  Levitucus 19, the so-called “Holiness Code”, is a 1 chapter digest of Jewish ethics, values and practice, all tied to the basic formu;a of the reason that you follow these laws is that ani adoni.

Indeed, the challenge of the portion is to try and live a life of holiness. “You shall be holy” is not a statement of fact, rather a statement of hope. There are many famous passages in this portion, from ritual law (Shabbat) to family (respecting mother and father), to medical ethics (not standing by blood of kinsman) to disability issues (no stumbling block) to economics  (equal weights for equal measures) and pay equity (give the laborer their money when job is done) to social ethics (respect the elderly and treat your neighbor as you would like to be treated). This week, however, let me suggest a look at a passage that seems to be getting a lot of attention lately.

Leviticus 19: 17 reads “You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart. Reprove your kinsman but incuur no guilt because of him” There are many commentaries on this verse on how one must act as one gives criticism or corrction to another person. The issue of dignity is in play, in that we must not every reprove/correct/criticise another in a way that reduces their humanity, their sense of self, their dignity. It is another way of saying that words have consequences and how we use those words does make a difference. However, let me also suggest that this verse can have high value in another way, especially as we get older.

How do we “reprove” our own self? Seriously, have you ever thought about how we “correct” or criticise our own actions? How many of us are so driven that we are so hard on ourselves that we actually make ourselves ill. How many of us, as we age and reflect on life, understand that we need not  be so hard on our own self, that the test is to learn from what we have done, correct that which went wrong or did not meet our expectations and, learning from the past, move on. Have we come to undertsnad that life is too short to constantly “reprove” our pasts? Let me suggest that as we look at this verse in this portion that we also turn the text on our self and soul. Again, it may be time to “let go” of beliefs, deeds, or actions that enslave us. Life is too short to focus on those pasts that speak only to the negative.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Richard F Address

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