Monday, April 19, 2010

Aharei Mot and Kedoshim

Big Ideas:

  • Parts of the Torah are universal, while others are particular to the Jewish people
  • Not all the Torah can be understood logically and rationally
Essential Questions:
  • Who gets to decide which portions of Torah to pay attention to and which to ignore?
  • Why do you think Leviticus 19 is called the "holiness code"?
  • Which statement or passage in these two parashot is the most comfortable for you?  Why?
  • Which statement or passage in these two parashot is the most uncomfortable for you?  Why?
  • If you are teaching parshat hashavua there is a whole lot to choose from this week.  What would you choose and why?

Many of you know that I read the comics in both the daily and Sunday newspapers.  I do that for two reasons - first, I like to laugh (and I read that laughing is good for your health, both physical and mental.  Don't ask me where I read that - I can't remember!) and second, because I hope to find a connection to Jewish  values and ideas.  I usually get at least one laugh, and often find a useful strip to illustrate a point or trigger a discussion.
A third reason I read the comics is to find a relationship to the week's parasha.  Sometimes I'm lucky, sometimes not.  But this week was particularly interesting.  I read all the comics in Sunday's newspaper, and in almost all of them saw a connection to either Aharei Mot or Kedoshim, this week's double parasha.
Why were there so many obvious connections (at least obvious to me)?
I suspect it wasn't so much the comics that were relevant - it was rather the contents of the parashot.  After so many weeks of descriptions of sacrifices, sacrifices and more sacrifices, seemingly archaic and useless in our lives today, we come to a section of Vayikra (Leviticus) that speaks to all of us in a powerful way.
Aharei Mot contains a detailed description of Yom HaKippurim as it was observed in the time of the Temple in Jerusalem.  It expands on the laws of forbidden foods, and articulates forbidden sexual relationships.  All the rules set forth are to be followed because God commands them, and because they will differentiate the people of Israel from their contemporaries in the world around them.  It's all very particular to the Jewish people.
Kedoshim is a different story - most of the rules here are rules that seem to lead to the kind of society anyone would want to live in, a society that takes care of the less fortunate, that treats others fairly, that doesn't take advantage of the weak or disabled.  Of course there are a few rules that separate Jews from other people - not mixing wool and linen in clothing seems a particularly confusing law - one many modern Jews choose to ignore probably because it seems so unimportant in the scheme of things.

Some interesting commentaries here:
  • The Law of the Farm explains why complicated problems cannot have simply solutions.
  • Threat and Promise of Conformity challenges us to differentiate between the positive and negative aspects of assimilation
  • Constructive Criticism builds a case for how we are to express disapproval in a way that is helpful rather than hurtful.  Those classical sources certainly understood the way people think.
  • Which of the ideas in this week's parashot do you relate to in your own life?

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