Parashah calls us to lead moral, just lives

This week’s Torah portion, as read in the Diaspora, is Acharei Mot/Kedoshim, and I find it to be one of the most inspiring of Torah portions.
Chapter 19 in the Book of Leviticus begins with a ringing call to action, a Divine inspiration that calls us to live our best lives: “You shall be holy for I the Eternal your God am holy.” We have a purpose in life: to lead lives that are elevated above the common, that are examples of proper behavior in front of the world.
Further, God does not leave us guessing how we are to live lives of holiness. “Be good” is a nice exhortation, but not terribly useful unless you’ve already been told what it means to be good or, in our case, what it means to be holy. More specificity is better, and we get it here in the Levitical holiness code.
Verses 9 and 10 command us not to harvest 100 percent of our fields and vineyards. Rather, we are to leave behind a portion of the crops for the poor and disadvantaged to harvest for themselves. It is a way of sharing the bounty God gives us while allowing the less fortunate to sustain themselves and maintain their own dignity. Today, when we no longer live in an agricultural society, we can still learn to create systems that sustain the poor in a dignified manner.
Verse 13 commands us to deal fairly with those whom we employ. We cannot short them or delay paying them or take advantage in general of the people who depend on us for their living. We may have economic power over those whom we employ, but we are forbidden to use that power unfairly.
I find Verse 14 to be inspiring because we are commanded not to insult the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind. The rabbis expand the meaning significantly beyond the two examples listed to demonstrate that even if we won’t be caught, we are forbidden to wrong others, nor may we lead others astray with temptation. For example, if you know your guest is on a diet, don’t urge them to have dessert. If you know someone is an alcoholic, don’t offer them a drink.
We are commanded to establish a purely just society in Verse 15. We are called upon to create a society that favors neither the rich nor the poor. We might be tempted to favor the rich because of their power or the poor because they are up against deep pockets. Yet the society we create should be strictly, purely just.
Verses 33 and 34 are especially important in today’s society. We are commanded never to wrong the stranger, for once we were strangers in the Land of Egypt. We must have compassion for all human beings, remembering the suffering of our own people throughout history. We might be tempted to treat our own people well but others poorly, but we are commanded to fight against this temptation.
What I find most interesting is Verse 35, in which we are commanded to have strictly honest weights and measures. Honesty in business is a religious obligation and you shouldn’t say, “Oh, but rabbi, I deal in the real world.” No. Honesty is for all times and places.
Being holy isn’t reserved for special people or religious leaders. Acting in a way that is holy is for all of us, through our everyday actions. Through this week’s Torah portion, I feel God’s inspiration to live up to our highest ideals, creating a moral and just society.
Rabbi Benjamin Sternman is the spiritual leader of Adat Chaverim, Plano’s Reform congregation.

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