Kedoshim: A Path to Follow

A college friend and sailing fan once told me a story about a sailor who was about to win a ’round-the-world-solo race when he tacked away from harbor and, returning to open ocean, headed around again.

On May 20, 2009, I had a kind of fit and decided to launch “Torah: Opening the Book” on this blog. I began the four-posts/portion series with “Bamidbar,” the first portion in the book of Numbers/Bamidbar. At a number of points in the last year [2009-10], I have looked forward to completing the task I so impetuously established for myself. However, I recently looked at a calendar and realized that there are only three more portions — two more weeks in this non-leap-year reading cycle — before we complete the book of Leviticus/Vayikra. So…

…Pull into harbor? Continue around? Sail a different sea?
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Kedoshim: Something to Notice

In the biblical world, there was no separation of ethical and ritual behaviors. Purity, in the physical sense, was inseparable from morality, for both the individual and the group. Holiness presumed a special state of being that included both symbolic purification through ritual and ethical behavior. In addition to its lengthy regulations about purification, Leviticus also presents moral instructions as intrinsic to holiness. Leviticus 19, known as the “holiness code,” charges the community with its ethical responsibilities, including respect for parents, truthfulness, care for the needy, and regard for the disabled. It preaches: “Love your neighbor as yourself. I am God” (Lev. 19:17). Just as there is an order to food, sexuality, and sacrifice that must be preserved, so there is a God-given moral order to the world. In both ethics and rituals, order is created by making distinctions. Blessing follow from respecting order and the commandments that uphold it. Curses follow from ignoring or violating the order (Lev. 26:3ff).
— Jane Rachel Litman, p.144 IN Lifecycles: v.2*

This note is from the book‘s introduction to “Themes of Leviticus/Vayikra RabbahThe Sacred Body of Israel.” Litman also notes:

Women’s lives are collections of little details. We spend our days focused as much on the small items as on the sweeping vistas of human endeavor. Cleaning, cooking, mending clothes, making beds, these traditionally been the concerns of women. The writer Tillie Olsen perfectly captures this feature of female self-understanding in her story, “I Stand Here Ironing,” in which the entire account of a woman’s life is set against the backdrop of this simple repetitive task. Beyond the home as well, women are generally the social workers of culture, tending to the poor, the sick, the aged, and the young.

The “female” attention to minutia is most evident in the Torah in the book of Leviticus….Leviticus is the recipe book, the operating manual, for a complex and finely drawn system of communal holiness…–p.134-135

* Please see Source Materials for full citation and additional information.

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The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.

Kedoshim: Language and Translation

Three versions of Leviticus/Vayikra verse 19:4:

Do not turn [al-tafnu] to the idols [el-ha-elilim] nor make molten gods [elohei masechahfor yourself. I am the LORD your God. (Alter*)

Do not turn-your-faces [al-tafnu] to no-gods [el-ha-elilim],
and molten gods [elohei masechah] you are not to make yourselves,
I am YHVH your God! (Fox*)

Do not turn aside [al-tafnu] to false gods [el-ha-elilim], and do not make yourselves gods out of cast metal [elohei masechah. I am God your Lord. (www.Bible.ort*)

Alter adds: The Hebrew ‘elilim refers not to the carved likenesses of divinities but to the nonentity of the pagan gods. Its most plausible derivation is from ‘al, “not,” and hence would suggest falsity or lack of being, but the term probably also puns on ‘el, “god” using a diminutive and pejorative form that could mean something like “godlet.”

Fox says: Heb. elilim, a popular play on el/elohim (“God”/”gods”) and al, “nothing.” Greenstein personal communication) suggests “little-gods” as another possibility.

(ORT has no comment on this verse)

Plaut* — commenting on the JPS* translation, which differs from Alter’s only in omitting “the” before “idols” — notes: Hebrew elilim. A variety of words are used in the Hebrew Bible to designate idols. This is one of the most contemptuous of them. Perhaps it was chosen just because it sounds like the legitimate words for “God,” El and Elohim. In other connections, the same word is used for “worthlessness” (Zech. 11:17; Job 13:4).

* Please see Source Materials for full citations and additional information.

————————————————————–
The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.

Kedoshim: Great Source(s)

“Be holy, etc.!” Vayikra Rabbah 24,9, considering the words: [ki kadosh ani], “For I am holy,” asks whether it is possible that the Torah demands that we, the Jewish people, are to be as holy as He is? the Midrash’s answer is that, on the contrary the words [ki kadosh ani], indicate that true sanctity is something reserved for the Creator alone….

Recognition of the greatness of G’d inevitably leads to an awareness of the puniness of man when compared to Him. It is the awareness of our own limitations that gradually brings us closer to understanding and emulating the virtue of the [ein sof], ultimate form of humility. The school of Hillel, disciples of Hillel who was world renowned for his personal modesty and humility, followed their mentor when they formulated the concept that a spark of holiness feeds upon itself and makes ripples like a pebble thrown on the surface of the water.

This idea is also reflected in the opening words of our portion [kedoshim tihyu ], “commence the process to become holy, as it is continuous and feeds on itself.” An additional factor helping you to progress along this route is [ki kadosh ani], “for I am holy,” i.e., when you contemplate My holiness this will inspire you to emulate My holiness to the extent that it is humanly possible. In fact, G’d says that His own holiness will increase proportionate to the amount of holiness to be found amongst His people on earth.
–R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev Kedushat Levi,* pp.578-579

Ripple in still water
when there is no pebble tossed
nor wind to blow

Reach out your hand
if your cup be empty
If your cup is full
may it be again
Let it be known
there is a fountain
that was not made
by the hands of men
–from “Ripple,” by Robert Hunter
(music by Jerry Garcia)

* Please see Source Materials for full citation and additional information.

————————————————————–
The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.