01 May 2015

Ahare Mot-Kedoshim 5775: In the Driver’s Seat


Ahare Mot-Kedoshim 5775: In the Driver’s Seat

 “…you will find—invisible, unrecorded, and unrecordable—both beauty and love. And where do they come from? From the same place as the soul, a place totally outside the mechanism.

 — Mark Helprin

 “Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to,

because we may then at least have the chance to upset their designs,

something that no other species has ever aspired to.

 — Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene

Recently, my children and I sat to watch BBC’s “Frozen Planet”[1]. At first, I thought I would have a great deal of convincing to do in order get them to sit and watch, but after only a few minutes, they were all enthralled and could not wait to see the next episode. From the amazingly stealth, hunting polar bears to the formidable penguins, life on this planet, even at its icecaps, flourishes in astonishing diversity and symbiosis. Both this BBC special and its prequel, “Planet Earth”[2] showcase our fragile planet teaming with life. But what is prominently shown is that life is a struggle. Those species that ‘find’ the fittest way of adapting to the environmental challenges — many of them terribly harsh — survive and push on, while those that don’t, die out.

Richard Dawkins argued that the engine that drives the battle for survival in living organisms is the gene. It is the gene that has driven our evolutionary development and the gene that has designed various systems and machines in order to ensure its continual reproduction. From this perspective, all of the organisms on earth are elaborate gene survival-machines, programmed to act in ways that ensure genetic viability. From the polar bear quietly hunting sea lions, to the penguins huddling around hundreds of his friends during the dark and bleak arctic winter to keep warm, all of these acts, are genetically driven. There is one species, however, in which the gene’s powerful control has been compromised. With the emergence of consciousness, homo sapiens were catapulted away from the relentless, daily hunt for energy sources. We became emancipated from being driven by our drives, and we became the drivers.

Not only are brains in charge of the day-to-day running of survival-machine affairs, they also acquired the ability to predict the future and act accordingly. They even have the power to rebel against the dictates of the genes.[3]

Yet, while we have pulled ourselves out of the competitive environment, the drive to survive genetically, has not waned. The drives that have been honed and developed over tens of thousands of years have not suddenly vanished because we have arranged to easily acquire our prey in neatly wrapped packages at the local butcher shop. All of our genetic drives are still alive and well inside us, and while they work wonderfully for genetic triumph, they pose considerable obstacles before our personal triumph. For example, whereas a gene would benefit from a human having as many offspring as possible with as many viable mates, a human being who wishes to build a meaningful life might choose to find a single spouse and build a home and family with one person, in direct contradiction to his instinctual desires.

We, therefore, find ourselves in a constant battle. The genes drive our jealousy, vengeance, and competitive aggression, which are all elements that are necessary in a ‘gene-machine’[4] in order to ensure the survival of its genes over other, competing ones[5]. Our saving grace is our consciousness. The Torah would call it our soul.

And [G-d] blew into his nostrils a breath of life and the human became a living soul… (Gen., 2:7)

It is that consciousness, that sacred soul, to which the Torah speaks. In this week’s parashot — especially Kedoshim (lit. ‘Holy Ones’) — it seems that the aim is to address that part of us, and to steer it away from the fear-induced, protective behaviours that may better our odds at genetic reproduction, but devastate our ability to build virtuous, moral lives of integrity. We are cautioned against stinginess, deceit, theft, lies, belittlement, cursing of our fellows, obstructing justice, bribery, slander, gossip, hatred, revenge, bearing a grudge, and superstition. We are commanded to give charity, guide our fellows towards success, to love, and to be faithful in business. When the aforementioned mitsvot are carefully and uncompromisingly kept, we risk our footing in the alfa spot of the evolutionary chain, but we secure our footing among the humans of this world who have chosen sacred, individual integrity over biological success knowing that in doing so, we connect to G-d and a life of a higher order.

For many centuries the Torah has charged us to care for our souls and to invest in nurturing them rather than the genetic codes that are no more than their handmaidens. For generations we have struggled to accept its call and rise to the challenge. And while the greatest tactic to achieve this is to know one’s soul well and to care for it deeply, it is the struggle itself, the insistence on building the soul over the genetic machine that truly leads one to Life.

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00mfl7n

[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006mywy

[3] Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, pg. 59

[4] Coined by Dawkins to refer to a constituent of a species as a particular manifestation of a genetic code.

[5] [The gene] ‘leaps from body to body down the generations, manipulating body after body in its own way and for its own ends, abandoning a succession of mortal bodies before they sink into senility and death…it is the replicator and we are the survival machines. When we have served our purpose we are cast aside…’ Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, pg. 34-35



About the Prayers

Zemirot III

Ashre Yoshebei Betekha 

“All who say ‘Tehila LeDavid’ every day are sure to be part of Olam HaBa (World to Come)…

— Talmud Berakhot, 4b

‘Tehila LeDavid’ or Psalm 145, is properly said 3 times every day. Once during zemirot, once after the Amida of Shahrit (the morning prayers), and once at Minha (the afternoon prayer). This is done both on weekdays and Shabbat.

Each time we say it, we introduce it with two lines from other chapters. The first from psalm 84 and the second from psalm 144, both of which begin with the word ‘Ashre’. For this reason, the prayer is usually referred to as ‘Ashre’.

We end the prayer with a line from psalm 115: ‘And we will bless G-d from now unto eternity, Haleluya.’

Psalm 145 is an alphabetical acrostic.  The letter נ, however, is missing.

The chapters that follow Tehilla LeDavid in Psalms, that complete the book,  (146-150) are read after ‘Ashre’ during the zemirot.



VI Acharei-Mot

33        The Yom Kippur service  (16:1-34)

Aharon must wear linen, not gold, garments and bring two goats (one as a Chatat and one for Azazel) as well as a ram for an Olah (16:1-10);

Full account of how this service, which brings atonement, is carried out by Aharon (16:11-28);

Institution for the future: Date, laws, purpose and Kohen of generation (16:29-34).

34        Ban on outside korbanot and blood  (17:1-16)

Any ox, lamb or goat killed for food must first be offered as a shelamim (17:1-9);

Prohibition of consuming blood. Impurity through eating ‘treifa’ animals (17:10-16).

35a      Introduction to laws of wrongful unions  (18:1-5)

35b      Union is forbidden with relations (18:6). Specifically:

35c      You and either parent  (18:7)

35d      You and your stepmother  (18:8)

35e      You and your half-sister  (18:9)

35f       You and your grand-daughter  (18:10)

35g      You and your half-sister [different father] (18:11)

35h      You and your father’s sister  (18:12)

35i       You and your mother’s sister  (18:13)

35j       You and the wife of your father’s brother  (18:14)

35k      You and your daughter-in-law  (18:15)

35l       You and your brother’s wife  (18:16)

35m     Other forbidden unions (18:17-30) :- You with woman and her daughter or grand-daughter (18:17);

You with woman and her sister while  former is still alive 8:18);

You with your wife when she is ‘nidda’’(18:19);

You with your neighbour’s wife (18:20);

Prohibition of Molech worship – child sacrifice (18:21);

You with another man (18:22);

Bestiality is forbidden for men and women (18:23);

Staying in Land means not doing above (18:24-30).

VII  Kedoshim

36       Moral manual  (19:1-22)

Be holy (19:2);

Fear parents, keep Shabbat (19:3);

Don’t worship or make idols (19:4);

How to offer a Shelamim (19:5-8);

Harvest – leave corners and gleaning (19:9);

Vineyard – Leave gleaning and fallen fruit (19:10);

Don’t steal, swindle or lie (19:11);

Don’t swear falsely or profane God’s name (19:12);

Do not take advantage or hold back wages (19:13);

Do not curse deaf or cause blind to stumble and fear God      (19:14);

Judge fairly (19:15);

Don’t tell tales; do not stand idly when someone is in danger (19:16);

Don’t feel hatred, rebuke your friend (19:17);

Don’t take vengance or bear a grudge, love your neighbour as yourself (19:18);

Don’t cross breed animals or plants, no sha’atnez (19:19);

Don’t sleep with betrothed maidservant (19:20);

Atonement through Asham and Chatat (19:21-22).

37a      Land laws, don’t act as Canaanites (19:23-32)

Growing trees (19:23-25);

Don’t eat blood or divine (19:26);

Don’t cut head or beard corners (19:27);

Don’t cut or write in flesh for dead (19:28);

Don’t prostitute your daughter (19:29);

Keep Shabbat, revere God’s sanctuary (19:30);

Do not seek ghosts or spirits (19:31);

Respect the elderly and fear God (19:32).

37b      Stranger in Israel  (19:33-37)

Care for stranger (33-34);

Just balances/weights (35-37)

38        Penalties for unlawful unions and more… (20:1-27)

Penalty for Molech worship (20:1-5)

Ghosts or spirits → karet (20:6)

Be holy, keep God’s law and be made holy (20:7-8)

Curse parents → death (20:9)

Man who commits adultery with another man’s wife → death of both (20:10)

Man who lies with his stepmother → death of both (20:11)

Man who lies with his daughter-in-law → death of both (20:12)

Man who lies with another man → death of both (20:13)

Man who lies with a woman and her mother → death of all three (20:14)

Man who lies with beast → death, kill animal (20:15)

Woman with an animal → death, kill animal (20:16)

Man who lies with his sister or half-sister → karet for all  (20:17)

Man who lies with his wife when she is niddakaret (20:18)

You and your aunt → bear sin (20:19)

Man who lies with his uncle’s wife → bear sin, die childless (20:20)

Man who lies with brother’s wife → childless (20:21)

Don’t follow surrounding nation on entering the Land (20:22-26)

         “And you will be holy to Me for I God am holy…” (20:26)

Forewarned but still publicaly involved in ghosts or childless spirits → death (20:27)