A Habit of Holiness: Shabbat
This week we read the Torah portion of Emor, which includes passages that celebrate the festivals of the Jewish year. Last week’s portion of Kedoshim focused on the holiness of truly ethical conduct, while in Emor we move to the ways that rituals create holiness in our lives by setting aside times and seasons for sacredness and dedicating these to God.
In a Conservative or Orthodox congregation Emor is one of the most frequently read Torah portions, chanted both when it falls in the normal reading cycle and again on each of the festivals in turn. That is, we read Emor this week, but also on each of the holy days it describes, from Sukkot in the fall to Passover in the spring to Shavuot in early summer. In Reform tradition, we read it this Shabbat, but traditionally it is re-read regularly.
In most aspects of our lives the things that happen rarely are considered more important: graduations, weddings, milestone birthdays, and vacations, for example. Paradoxically, in Jewish tradition, those rituals which are observed more frequently are considered superior in holiness to those which occur less frequently. The more you do something the holier it is.
That is, the meaningful things you do most frequently are considered to be the most important—or should be. Your actions should reflect your values. Which means that the process of remembering and celebrating the festivals, particularly the most frequent festival of all, the Sabbath, is especially important.
It is a habit of holiness, a way to raise the ordinary to the extraordinary.
And you can do that each week, on Shabbat, every Friday and Saturday, by lighting candles, singing Kiddush, enjoying a Sabbath dinner with your family or friends. And by attending Sabbath services at Temple.
This Friday, for example, we have three different services, Shabbat Rocks! at 6:30 PM or our Chapel Service at 7:30 PM at Temple Emanu-El, and Downtown Shabbat at 9:30 PM at the Jewish History Museum on Stone Avenue. Saturday morning our services are at 10 AM at Temple.
On this week of parshat Emor, may you find a way to create this habit of holiness, the Sabbath, in your own life.
Not Coercion, But Concern; Not Compulsion, But Care: Loving Your Neighbor as Yourself
This Shabbat we read the great Torah portion of Kedoshim, which includes the Holiness Code, the ethical injunctions that lie at the heart of Jewish practice. Kedoshim includes mitzvot that require us to assist the poor, treat strangers, widows, and orphans with generosity and kindness, obligates sensitivity to those with physical and other impairments, and insists on fair business practices. It directs us to live moral lives, tells us how to do so, and builds thematically to its most powerful message.
That message is ve’ahavta lerei’acha kamocha, love your neighbor as you love yourself. It is one of the most powerful of all moral instructions, and it lies at the heart of the religious spirit in life. Love your neighbor as you love yourself.
This remarkable section comes in the precise center of the middle book of the Torah, Vayikra, Leviticus. Kedoshim, the Holiness Code, is in the middle of the middle of the Torah. It forms the heart of the heart of our most sacred text. And at the heart of the heart of the heart, if you will, is the ethical injunction to love your neighbor as you love yourself.
This concept is an amazing, utopian ideal—love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.
But what does that truly mean? How do you show another person that you love her or him as much as you love yourself? Is it even possible?
Read more: Rabbi Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Kedoshim 5776