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TJ Annual Meeting, May 17, 2016

Parashat Kedoshim ~ Emor, Inclusivity


            Last week’s Parashat Kedoshim proclaimed the call to holiness and service to God of the entire Israelite people from its ringing opening declaration, “You shall be holy, for I, Adonai your God, am holy” (Lev. 19:2), a verse that we find heartwarming, aspirational, and above all, inclusive. This is what the Torah should be, this is what Jewish life should be… no one is left out of this call; it both tells us what we are to God, and what we can become. We can all be a little better tomorrow than we were yesterday-- secure in the knowledge that God has called us to God’s ways.


            We also heard the beautiful: V’ahavta, l’rei’acha, kamocha –(chanted)

            Maybe the most important verse in our text. – you must love your neighbor as you love yourself. 

            In this passage, the call of the Torah sounds like the phrase is not finished. V’ahavta, l’rei’acha, kamocha Like the end of the sentence is missing, that the upward lilt leaves us with some expectation, that there is a partner phrase that has yet to be heard, and we need to complete the concept of taking care of your neighbor, of your friend, or of your community. This sentence is talking about the holy task we always are engaged in – the work of building an inclusive  community.

            Parashat Emor, that we read this week, on the other hand, is mostly aimed at that small fraction of the Israelites who were chosen to serve in the Mishkan and later the Temple – the Kohanim, the hereditary priesthood from the tribe of Levy – or in other words, the very first Temple Board of Directors.


            As much as v’ahavta l’reicha kamocha seeks inclusion, Parashat Emor does not, when we consider that the Kohanim are told who they may marry, who they may properly mourn, and that they must be as pure and unblemished as the animals they are offering to God.

            Fortunately, that kind of prescription does not exist in our board packet.


            However, it reminds us as leaders and community members, to stand tall and proud, understanding how visible we are, and also to see and hear everyone, the imperative upon all of us to recognize those who come close, as well as those who fall farther from the center.


            When these two parshiot are held up side by side, we recognize our duty to include everyone and that everyone should have a voice in our communities to make them stronger, and more representative of the tzelem Elohim, the image of God which is our belief, our motto, our creed.

            V’ahavta, l’rei’acha, kamocha -- That unfinished phrase I spoke about a moment ago?... this is how it ends:  Ani Adonai – I am God. Here, in this one sentence God expresses the call to love and take care of each other like you would for yourself, and that this is holy work.

            God and holiness is found in relationships and connections, holiness is nurtured in a community that is varied and inclusive and diverse, and that continues to reach inward to whom it already knows, as well as outward to those who have not yet been reached.  Alone we are ordinary, together we are sacred. As we finish one season at Temple Judea and prepare to begin another, may our leadership continue to challenge itself to be inclusive, patient, fair, loving, and guided by God. We used to need God to be perfect. Now we can recognize that God’s image and God’s perfection includes every one of us.

            You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. For there is the sacred work that we all engage in, there is holiness.

            May we continue to go from strength to strength, in friendship, in partnership, and in love for one another.

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