Tonight and tomorrow until sunset is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.
In Israel, many places of entertainment are closed and throughout the day, memorial services and commemorations are held. The 27th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan was selected as it is the anniversary of the uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto.
Anti-Semitism is rising both around the world and in America. In this week's portion we read about the ancient rituals of Yom Kippur. A goat was chosen by lot to carry the peoples' sins off into the wilderness (this is the source of the term "scapegoat"). Hatred for the "other," people of a different race or religion, is a sickness of the human condition. That sickness often seems to begin with anti-Semitism, but it doesn't stop there. There is a metaphor, comparing the Jewish people not to a goat but to a canary. Miners used to bring canaries into the mine to ensure there was no poison gas. If the canary died, miners knew that there was danger and they had to escape. The canary was in danger, but that was a sign that everyone was in danger; so, too, now. It is a sign pointing to the pervasive sickness in our society.
What is the 'cure' for this illness? Where can we find the healing? I shared some thoughts in this week's Connections about the importance of recognizing our strength and accepting communal responsibility, of increasing our Jewish learning and support for our synagogues. All of us, no matter what our backgrounds, must come to understand that when we confront "the other," those who are different from us, we must recognize their humanity as all are created in the Image of God, creating obligations for us, according to the Jewish existential philosopher Emmanuel Levinas. The best security is when every human being learns to recognize the humanity of every other human being. This is the message Judaism has been giving the world since the beginning of time.
Parashat Acharei Mot gives instruction as to laws of Yom Kippur, and holiness in eating and sexual relations. It's an invitation of sorts to do a mid-year inventory/'taking stock' of our growth between last Yom Kippur and the next. It's a complicated parasha and if we only give it a superficial read, several verses can be construed as outdated and even discriminatory. After all, don't we expect that our sacred texts should be uplifting and inspirational?
A rabbinic midrash teaches that the angels in heaven tried to convince God not to give Torah to human beings because we "lie, cheat, steal...and don't deserve it"! The response is given by Moses who argues that God knows this and gave us Torah intentionally. If we were all 'perfect,' we wouldn't need Torah! The teachings of our sacred texts are meant to meet us 'where we are' and help us find structure, meaning and purpose in an imperfect world. Parashat Acharei Mot goes a step further and seems to be asking us to realize that the world of spirituality and religion is not the opposite of the world of the physical and material. Our work is to learn to integrate them, and in so doing, to elevate life.
Parashat Acharei Mot asks us to learn to use all of our senses, our intellect, our emotions, and our physicality in ways that uplift and heal and bring joy.
A kavannah for candle lighting for Shabbat Acharei Mot
Holy One, please help me to use the many gifts you have given me to uplift myself and others, and to bring healing and joy.