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Aiming Higher for a Life of Human Holiness

Today, we hear a lot about power: military power, corporate power, and political power. We don’t hear as much about personal power. But, in this week’s Torah portion, Acharei Mot/K’doshim, a double portion, we learn about the potential for personal power. It follows Acharei Mot (“After the Death” of Aaron’s sons) and instructions about purity. In Acharei Mot, we follow the unfortunate outcome of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, who brought an alien fire into the Tent of Meeting, which was an affront to God and Moses. Personal power isn’t a sin, but the misapplication of it can lead to horrific outcomes. In K’doshim, we open with the Holiness Code and within it a credible means to personal power that also reflects God’s holiness. 

D'var Torah By: 
The Power of the Individual
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Diana Fersko

Individual power. In his commentary, Rabbi Lyon reminds us that Acharei Mot focuses on the immense power that individuals can possess. That emphasis could not be more timely. Day after day, we see teens, galvanized by the horrors of gun violence, raising their voices in rage and protest... While we don’t know their exact age, Nadab and Abihu were also young people. Like the victims of school shootings, their end was shockingly abrupt and profoundly tragic. They led lives cut too short without justification. Commentators have worked hard for centuries to create narratives of meaning around the deaths of these young people.

Finding Unique Blessings in Every One of Us

In the double portion, Tazria/M’tzora, we have the responsibility, even if it isn’t our pleasure, to investigate texts on birth and its aftermath, bodily afflictions and emissions, skin ailments, and leprosy. They were once taboos that raised fears in the community and turned priests of their day into guardians of purity.

D'var Torah By: 
Separation as a Path to Holiness
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Baht Weiss

A country road splits into two roadsRabbi Lyon begins

When a Debtor Does Not Repay

Ki Teitzei has a treasury of Jewish legal and ethical literature, including a discussion of lenders and debtors. When a debt is not repaid, the lender is forbidden from entering the debtor's home without permission to retrieve the security. The rule poses challenges both for lenders and debtors.

D'var Torah By: 
Compassion and Communication
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Kim Ettlinger

Ki Teitzei urges us to consider the legal and ethical responsibilities of both lenders and debtors. Debtors need to take responsibility for their commitments and not borrow beyond their means. Lenders need to show compassion and refrain from shaming debtors. 

What Judaism Says About the Golden Rule

For the last few years, I have been a member of a local hospital’s ethics committee.

D'var Torah By: 
Working Toward a Shared Goal of Holiness
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Aimee Gerace

In these turbulent political times, it may sometimes feel easier to withdraw, to choose to not engage with our community members around difficult topics — particularly those community members who d

The External War and the Internal War

This week's Torah portion is called Ki Teitzei — meaning literally, "When you go out." It is a reference to violence and war. "When you take the field [literally, "When you go out"] against your enemies, and the Eternal your God delivers them into your power and you take some of them captive ... " (Deuteronomy 21:10).

This sentence is but a tiny portion of more than a thousand verses in the Tanach that deal with war. Our Holy Scriptures came into history in a world in which fighting was a normal and often necessary activity. The ancient communities of the Middle East were governed according to tribal custom and law, and each ethnic community was in a combative relationship with its neighbor. There was no United Nations in those days, no European Union designed to administer diverse people according to collective rules and laws. Some tribal federations such as the twelve tribes of Israel pooled their resources, but that was for protection rather than for advancing peaceful relations with the rest of the world. The harsh social-economic and political reality of the ancient world often triggered violent and deadly conflicts between communities and peoples, and it is rare that we read a comment such as is found in Judges 3:11: " ... and the land had peace for forty years."

D'var Torah By: 
Understanding Ourselves as Part of the Ein Sof
Davar Acher By: 
Beni Wajnberg

In deciphering the meaning of our portion's call to violence and war (Deuteronomy 21:10), Rabbi Firestone cites the 19th century Chasidic teacher, the S'fat Emet, who understood the opening sentence of the parashah as referring to the daily struggles we face in life. He quotes the S'fat Emet's contention that, "In everything there is a point of divine life, but it is secret and hidden. Throughout the days of the week we are engaged in a battle and struggle to find that point ... "

The Complex Commandment To Be Holy

The Eternal spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, the Eternal your God, am holy. (Leviticus 19:1-2)

Parashat K'doshim places before us one of the most difficult commandments in the whole Torah. It's not kashrut or Shabbat, or even the rules of sexual conduct, but rather, the admonition and the expectation to "be holy." Throughout the Torah, we are given rules and statues that tell us what to do. Here are we told what to be. A similar statement is found in Exodus 19:6, where we are commanded to be a "kingdom of priests and a holy people." But what does it mean to be holy? The parashah does not define what holiness is, nor does it tell us what it means to be holy. The guidance it gives us is in the specifics: the who, when, why, and how of the injunction.

D'var Torah By: 
The Limits on Our Pursuit of Holiness
Davar Acher By: 
Gregory S. Marx

What is the definition of chutzpah? It is believing that you are better than you really are or expressing a sense of entitlement. Maybe that's not a perfect definition, but we certainly know it when we see it.

We are living, psychologists tell us, in the "age of narcissism."1 More and more people express a sense of entitlement and privilege. In America we hear of so many speaking of their rights as citizens, while fewer and fewer vote2 or serve their country in the military3. In the synagogue community, so many leaders observe a precipitous decline in volunteerism and service. Far too many seek membership in order to receive services. We expect our clergy to bless our children and officiate at various life cycle events, but all too rarely see our belonging as a way to contribute to the greater good.

Blood and Sex: The Messy Stuff of Life

For the life of all flesh — its blood is its life. Therefore I say to the Israelite people: You shall not partake of the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood. Anyone who partakes of it shall be cut off. (Leviticus 17:14)

The Book of Leviticus could be nicknamed "The Journal of Blood and Water." Throughout its chapters we find the words tamei — translated as "impure," and tahor — translated as "pure"  as markers of a system of taboos so strong, the penalty for daring to dismiss them is kareit, or "excommunication." The taboos for certain sexual practices are painstakingly outlined in chapter 18, the section of Acharei Mot that we read on this Shabbat.

D'var Torah By: 
Blood: The Gift of Life
Davar Acher By: 
Andrea Goldstein

A number of years ago my husband came home from work wearing a sticker that read, "I saved a life today." Our children were young and just becoming fascinated with the adventures of comic book superheroes, so when they saw my husband's sticker their minds began racing.

"Did you save someone from a bank robber?" one asked, almost gleefully.

"Nope," my husband shook his head and smiled.

"Did you pull someone out of a car that was going to explode?" another guessed, with eyes hopefully wide.

"No," he said again.

After a few more questions, our youngest couldn't stand the suspense. "What did you do to save somebody's life today?" she demanded.

"I donated blood," my husband said.

Remember: Do Not Forget!

I do a lot of reading in my line of work, and I often cringe when I come upon an oxymoron.

D'var Torah By: 
The Religious Jew
Davar Acher By: 
Adam Grossman

Over seventy laws are outlined in Parashat Ki Teitzei—the greatest number appearing in any Torah portion. Rules and observances have become central to religiosity.

Yom Kippur All Year Long

In the first part of this week's parashah, Acharei Mot/K'doshim, the Torah's fullest description of Yom Kippur appears.

D'var Torah By: 
Repentance and the Wilderness
Davar Acher By: 
Scott Hausman-Weiss

Rabbi Sherman offers us eternal lessons for the long-lasting effects that Yom Kippur can and should have on us throughout the year.

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