Friday, May 1, 2020 /7 Iyar, 5780
Parashat Acharei Mot – K’doshim Leviticus 16:1-20:27
This week we come to the heart of the Torah. Appearing in the center of our middle book of Torah, Leviticus 19 is often called, “The Holiness Code.” It is so named because of its opening verse which reads קְדֹשִׁים תִּהְיוּ כִּי קָדוֹשׁ, אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם “You shall be holy, for I, the Eternal, your God, am holy.” The verses that follow include a series of ethical commandments such as leaving food for people in need, removing stumbling blocks from before the blind, paying laborers quickly and fairly, and treating all people with honor and respect. Each one of these commandments is worthy of deep study and consideration. Today I will focus on three short words, וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ, often translated as “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18)
The Torah does not say ואהבת רעך כמוך “love your fellow as you love yourself,” because this would be impossible, teaches 13th-century French Rabbi Chizkuni. Instead, it is written וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ, with a lamed (ל) before the word “neighbor.” This lamed means to or belonging to. This verse of Torah, then, teaches us to mentally and emotionally put ourselves in the place of fellow human beings. We consider that just as we love our possessions and value our needs, so too should we value the possessions and needs that others love.
Recently, Pastor Lisa Williams told a story that is illustrative of this teaching. A friend went to the store with her son a few weeks ago. There, they found something miraculous, a few packages of highly coveted wet wipes. Quickly her son took some and placed them in the cart. At check out, he looked around at the others waiting in line for their food and cleaning supplies. It then occurred to him. He didn’t need more than one package of wipes. He turned to his mom and said, “I really don’t need all of these wipes. I think I am going to put one of them back so another person can buy some.” Overhearing this conversation, fellow shoppers began to return toilet paper and paper towels to the shelves. “I really don’t need all of this, either,” they said. I’m sure someone else needs it more.” Through one small act of mindfulness, of caring for fellow human beings, something sacred transpired at check out.
May we, too, call on ourselves to create holiness in the midst of chaos. It can be as simple as putting back a package of wet wipes.
Rabbi Cassi Kail