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AUDIO RECORDING: Please click HERE to listen to this weeks audio recording read by Norman Lebrecht. Norman is a British commentator on music and cultural affairs, a novelist, and the author of the classical music blog Slipped Disc. He is also a member of the S&P Sephardi Community.
Haftara for Ahare Mot-Kedoshim 5777: Fear of Commitment
You always have two choices: your commitment versus your fear’.
— Sammy Davis, Jr.
Ezekiel 20:2-20 (Sephardim)
Yehezkel the prophet speaks of God extending His hand to bond with Israel. He discusses their time in Egypt and the first and second generations of the wilderness. God extends His hand to them in each situation and asks that they leave their idolatrous ways and embrace His Shabbat and His commandments. Instead, in both cases the people hold on to their idols, rejecting the laws and profane the Shabbat. They have taken what is sacred and disregarded it.
God restrains His wrath so that the nations do not perceive that He has become unfaithful to the commitment He so publicly showed His people. He reminds Israel that He has extended His hand in solidarity and care to provide them Life and that He is the Lord their God.
In our lives we desire both change and permanence, and we struggle between them. We seek change because we know that growth requires it, but our fears of the unknown tie us to the status quo. While we find value and meaning in the development and growth of our spiritual selves, we also resist emerging into a more spiritual existence because it requires the relinquishing of our ego-centric hold on the world.
Spiritual growth requires consciously refining ourselves, investing in faithful relationships and letting go of manipulation. When we latch onto control and numb our pains with pleasures, we are held back from cultivating our souls. When we use pleasure to succour life’s irritations, we lower our threshold for discomfort to the point that we can barely stand any at all without immediately, and at times addictively, soothing it. We thus anchor ourselves to our trappings and keep our higher selves out of reach.
Our propensity for commitment and loyalty is also handicapped as a result. A cardinal attribute of spiritual maturity is the ability to dedicate ourselves to someone or something over time and experience and respond to change. In doing so we accept the discomfort we will experience through the passage of time, knowing that the fruits of that dedication and faithfulness will far exceed the discomforts.
Designating something or someone as ‘special’ in our lives brings with it a demand for special care. In marriage this designation is called kiddushin – sanctification. It is sacred.
The emotional and psychological risk required in such commitment is great, for when we acknowledge that someone is that special to us, we at the same time are hoping and expecting that we will be seen as special in their eyes. We expect that the trust and loyalty will be reciprocated. When it is not, it is like a bullet to the heart. But the heart learns through its trauma and it has the potential to be transformed with grace, and become splendidly beautiful.
He heals the broken-hearted…(Psalms, 147:3)
God will not scorn a broken-heart (51:19)
Our second parasha, Kedoshim, (for which our haftara is designated), opens with a straightforward but highly challenging command:
Be holy! For I, the Lord your God, am holy. (Lev., 19:1)
Here we are implored by our Maker to strive towards the highest levels of our own existence. Not just because it is a noble ideal, but because in doing so we will resemble and connect to God. It is the most unique of relationships. We are charged to live a life committed to that goal. It is a life of volatility to be sure, but it is one that thrives in loyalty, faithfulness and dedication, and it yields spiritual growth. The most important aspect of our relationship with God is that we are engaged with the Source of Life.
You are to keep my laws…which when a human does them, he lives by them. (Lev., 18:5)
I gave them my laws…which when a human does them, he lives by them. (20:11)
In the haftara God enumerates His offerings to us that would ensure it:
He offers a fertile and beautiful land that He Himself has vetted; ‘the fairest of all the lands’. He offers us laws and guidelines that promise to promote life (20:11). He presents a sign of sanctity called Shabbat, a day on which we can rest, let the world and ourselves be, and without worry take time to commune with God and our own souls to assess and feel our progress.
Yet, commitment seemed far above our heads. We utterly rejected the unique and sacred and sufficed with the mediocre, unexceptional and profane. We rejected commitment and hid in the chilling shadows of personal power and fetish.
They did not relinquish their detestable things that they were drawn to, nor did they give up the fetishes of Egypt…. (ibid.,7-8)
We resisted and rejected, and we opted for stasis instead of growth. We held to what we knew and could control.
…For they had rejected My rules, disobeyed My laws, and desecrated My sabbaths; their hearts followed after their fixations. (ibid., 16)
The haftara addresses our difficult journey with God in learning to respond to the sacred charge of our parasha. God had ‘raised his Hand’ and extended it to us, committing Himself to this unique and sacred relationship.
On the day that I chose Israel…On that day I raised my hand for them to bring them out of the Land of Egypt to a land that I examined for them, flowing with milk and honey, the fairest of all the lands! (20:5-6)
The people chose personal power and pleasure over commitment. In response, God restrains Himself from ‘pouring forth His anger upon them’, but seemingly only because it would be a public relations disaster.
But I acted for the sake of My name, that it not be desecrated in the eyes of the nations amongst whom they resided…. (20:9)
And He repeats that statement ending it ‘in the eyes of the nations before whom I freed them’ (20:14).
The closing words of those two verses are the key to understanding what exactly God is concerned about regarding public perception. Egypt saw God’s commitment to the Children of Israel, and the neighbouring nations saw the display of His loyalty in freeing us. They would likely see the expression of His anger as a breaking of faith. That, said God, He would not do.
God is not concerned about Himself, but His name; how He is known in the world vis a vis His relationship and covenant with Israel. God will not have the nations of the world perceiving Him as One Who breaks commitments. It is not that the nations shouldn’t see God becoming angry with us, but rather that they shouldn’t see Him as discarding a people to whom He had once committed Himself before the eyes of the world.
To have a special relationship is to hold a sacred bond which is honoured through dedication and consistency, come what may. Our handshakes, gifts, words, and statements of commitment express our ability to treasure the connections with those who are special to us. Thus, they should not be offered lightly. In the end, it is in our committed relationships of all kinds, that we not only find our most precious experiences of life, but also our most sacred and meaningful selves. To commit with loyalty and curb our fears, is to stoke the flames of the sacred soul within us and become holy.
Rabbi Joseph Dweck
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-
You with woman and her sister while former is
still alive (18:18);
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).
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
Don’t feel hatred, rebuke your friend (19:17);
Don’t take vengeance 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
Man who lies with another man → death of both
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
Man who lies with his wife when she is nidda → karet
You and your aunt → bear sin (20:19)
Man who lies with his uncle’s wife → bear sin, die
Man who lies with brother’s wife → childless (20:21)
Don’t follow surrounding nation on entering the Land
“And you will be holy to Me for I God am holy…” (20:26)
Forewarned but still publically involved in ghosts or
childless spirits → death (20:27)
Taken from, ‘Torah for Everyone’ by Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, Dean of LSJS
 Ashkenazim read Amos, 9:7-15.
 Unsurprisingly, it is precisely this point upon which Christianity and Islam build their foundations. See Hebrews, 7:18-19: ‘The earlier commandment is thus abolished, because it was neither effective nor useful, since the Law could not make anyone perfect; but now this commandment is replaced with something better….’; See also Quran 5:65-66…Had the People of the Scripture believed and been righteous, We would have remitted their sins, and admitted them into the Gardens of Bliss. Had they observed the Torah, and the Gospel, and what was revealed to them from their Lord, they would have consumed amply from above them, and from beneath their feet. Among them is a moderate community, but evil is what many of them are doing.