Sunday, April 20, 2014

Holiness and Headlines: Parshat/Torah Portion Kedoshim in the World

Kedoshim


            Kedoshim means, “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Lev. 19:2). This parsha/Torah reading lists some of the mitzvote/commandments which are most crucial to the proper functioning of society, not only for us Jews, but the world in general. Despite our great scientific and technological advancements, we have, in view of this Torah portion, “been weighed in the balance and found wanting” (Daniel 5:27). I am taking the liberty of contrasting these eternal truths with some of today’s headlines. Judaism is not an ivory-tower faith; it was meant to change the world. Moses struck down an evil taskmaster; Elijah and Elisha berated wicked kings.
            “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I the Lord am your God” (Lev. 19:9-10).
                “Palestinians reported that more than 100 olive trees were uprooted in the Krayot village, south of Nablus in the West Bank. Ghassan Daghlas, who monitors [Israeli] settler activities in this area of the West Bank on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, blamed settlers from the settlement Ali. The Palestinian Authority said that settler aggression and vandalism, specifically the destruction of olive trees and groves, has increased in recent weeks, as the harvest season started” (Haaretz.com, 10/19/2013).
            “You shall not defraud your fellow. You shall not commit robbery. The wages of a laborer shall not remain with you until morning” (Lev. 19:13).
            “The two biggest welfare queens in America today are Wal-Mart and McDonald's.
This issue has become more known as we learn just how far some companies have gone in putting their employees on public assistance. According to one study, American fast food workers receive more than $7 billion dollars in public assistance. As it turns out, McDonald's has a “McResource” line that helps employees and their families enroll in various state and local assistance programs. It exploded into the public when a recording of the McResource line advocated that full-time employees sign up for food stamps and welfare. Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private sector employer, is also the biggest consumer of taxpayer-supported aid. According to Florida Congressman Alan Grayson, in many states, Wal-Mart employees are the largest group of Medicaid recipients. They are also the single biggest group of food stamp recipients. Wal-mart’s ‘associates’ are paid so little, according to Grayson, that they receive $1,000 on average in public assistance. These amount to massive taxpayer subsidies for private companies” (Barry Ritholtz, “How McDonald’s and Wal-Mart Became Welfare Queens,” Bloomberg.com, 11/13/2013).
“You shall not render an unfair decision; do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich; judge your kinsman fairly. …I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:15-16).
            “The Supreme Court continued its abolition of limits on election spending, striking down a decades-old cap on the total amount any individual can contribute to federal candidates in a two-year election cycle. The ruling, issued near the start of a campaign season, will very likely increase the role money plays in American politics” (The New York Times, 4/2/2014).
            “You shall not hate your brother in your heart. …Love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:17-18).
            “Israel is fulfilling its moral imperative by providing humanitarian aid in its territory to Syrians, most of whom have been injured during the cruel civil war in their own country, with more than 130,000 killed and at least two million displaced.  Over 700 Syrians have been received by Israel, and they have undergone medical treatment within Israel itself. The Syrians, among them adults, children, and fighters, are receiving that treatment in Israeli hospitals in Safed, Nahariya, Tiberias, and Haifa, as well as in the military field hospital on the Israeli-Syrian border in the Golan Heights.  It is particularly ironic that the 230 Syrians currently being treated in Safed are receiving medical care in the Rebecca Sieff Hospital, named after the great feminist and Zionist leader who was the co-founder and president of the Women's International Zionist Organization (WIZO).  Another irony is the fact that the hospital now helping them was hit in 2006 by Katyusha rocket fire from Hezbollah forces, presently strong allies of President Bashar Assad.  That attack damaged the infrastructure of the hospital and injured a number of people.” (Michael Curtis, “On Israeli Humanitarian Aid to Syrians,” americanthinker.com, 2/11/2014).
            “I, the Lord, am your God who freed you from the Land of Egypt. You shall faithfully observe all My laws and all My rules: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:36-37).
            Having read the above list of God’s commandments, most of which remain unfulfilled, it would be easy to grow cynical and depressed over the follies of humanity, rather than resolve to work for tikkun—rectification of our ills. What should inspire us?
            Many of our most popular tefillote/prayers are alphabetically-based, among them, the Vidui, or Confession of Sins, which we recite on Yom Kippur (Ashamnu, Bagadnu, Gazalnu, etc.—“We abuse, we betray, we are cruel,” etc.) Why? According to Reb Itzikl, the Chasidic Rebbe of Vorke (1779-1848), it is “So we can choose at which letter to stop—to cry and moan endlessly is wrong; it is not the way that leads to God. Joy and gratitude are also important parts of life—we are all God’s children, and to forget this is the worst of sins!” (quoted in Elie Wiesel, Somewhere a Master: Further Hasidic Portraits & Legends, NY: Summit Books, 1981, p. 193)
            As we conclude Pesach and continue our Omer-road trek towards Sinai to receive the Holy Torah, let us resolve to learn Torah—not only to study, but also to practice it, to correct the ills of our country and our World.