VORTIFY YOURSELF


From
Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
e-mail yosilr@juno.com

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PARSHAT KIDOSHIM

Vayikra (Leviticus) 19:1 - 20:27
Haftorah - Ezekial 22:1-16

One of the difficulties that the Jewish people face today is their estrangement from Jewish culture.

After Churban Europa - the European Holocaust - three million dazed Jewish refugees returned to society. Broken lives had to be rebuilt, and, sometimes with urgency, lifestyle decisions were made often at the expense of our Jewish culture. Many felt that they had to put aside traditions, language, rituals, even belief, in order to acquire the success and security that the modern world could offer.

This century has seen Jews move from poverty to affluence and from backward villages to an open society. Yet, recent studies agree that today, the Jewish world is in crisis. The alienation of our people from Jewish values and commitments is obvious to Orthodox, Conservative and Reform alike.

All but the largest Jewish communities are withering. Synagogues everywhere are looking for ways to attract the disenfranchised, Jewish community centers are trying to appeal to the unaffiliated and if it weren't for legalized gambling, many of our service organizations couldn't finance their on-going projects.

But this does not have to remain the trend. Our Torah portion this week provides the solution to the spiritual trauma that we are witnessing. Hashem says to Israel:

"Kidoshim Ti'hiyu Ki Kadosh Ani (you shall be holy for I am Holy)." Some Jews, having lost the ability to communicate in the Hebrew language, perceive Kedushah (holiness) as being god-like. A more accurate translation would be distinctive. If we consider the land of Israel holy, it is because among the nations of the world Israel stands out. If the Jewish people want to be holy, rather than believing that we are better, we must make ourselves unique in the world community.

There is a wonderful story that I read in a National Jewish Outreach Program workbook that illustrates my point.

A flock of eagles was flying high over the land. They were able to see the dense forests, the villages, the rivers and lakes; all of the beauties of the world lay beneath them. As they were flying gently, suddenly one of the eagles felt a sharp pull in his wing as if something had snapped. He began to fly toward the earth so that he could examine himself and discover what had happened.

When he landed, he found himself in the middle of a chicken coop. He wasn't distressed because he knew that he simply had to find out what was wrong and return to the sky. But as he examined himself, he realized that his wing had snapped and that it would take time to recuperate. The eagle began to look around and the more he saw, the more he disliked his surroundings.

These are chickens," he said to himself, "just look at what disgusting birds they are. They call themselves birds and yet they don't even fly. They just flap their wings and hop up and down. And when they need food they actually peck the ground, digging their food out of the dirt." And so the eagle isolated himself in a corner of the chicken coop, knowing that his recuperation period would be short and eventually he would rejoin his proud fellow eagles.

But time passed and the eagle became lonely. Gradually he ventured out of his corner and began to communicate with the chickens in the coop. Slowly. he began to imitate their ways.

A year passed, and again the original flock of eagles was flying over that same area of the land, looking down at the beautiful panorama. Suddenly one of the eagles in the flock noticed one of his fellow eagles down below. He descended, ascertained that, in fact, it was his fellow eagle, flew down and landed next to him.

At first, the eagle didn't even respond. Indeed, the first eagle was flapping his wings, jumping up and down, hopping, pecking the ground for his food. And the second eagle said to the first, "Come, you don't belong here. You're an eagle, not a chicken. You don't belong here in the midst of all these strange birds. Come fly away with me."

The first eagle said, "No, don't be silly. This is where I belong."

The second eagle said, "No, you don't belong here. Don't you understand? You're not a chicken - you're an eagle. You don't have to flap your wings and hop. You can fly and soar to the highest places. You don't have to peck the dirt for your food. Don't you understand?" said the second eagle to the first, "You're an eagle."

Slowly the second eagle persuaded the first eagle that the habits that he had taken on were not his true nature. Eventually the two eagles flew off together, high into the sky where they could see the land, the forests, the lakes and the rivers - all that G-d had created. The eagle had resumed his destiny.

In order to attract the disenfranchised and the unaffiliated, we must reconnect to the culture that produced the great personalities of yesteryear. Our efforts to become "normal" has deprived us of the uniqueness of our holiness. Ask a Christian who the chosen people are and he will tell you right away, "the Jews." Ask a Jew what it means to be the chosen people and he/she will rationalize how we're not so different.

Our eagerness to transform ourselves from ghetto Jews to worldly Jews has taken its toll. Our invisibility has backfired, leaving us to the fate of so many other one-time great civilizations. However, we are a holy people who, like G-d, endure.

The Torah teaches us Kidoshim Ti'hiyu Ki Kadosh Ani - since Hashem is distinctive, so, too, must we be distinctive. Hashem's distinctive feature (as we explained just a few weeks ago at the Passover Seder) is that He personally cares for His people Israel. We cried out for liberation and He heard our prayers and delivered us from bondage. He is a G-d of action, not promises.

Synagogues and community organizations in your area are offering adult education classes that can teach you how to reconnect. Take advantage of the opportunity. Keep up with your children's Jewish education. If they aren't getting a Jewish education, provide one. Ask a Rabbi what it means to be holy, if he can't answer you properly, find one that can.

Finally, make the Sabbath day holy, every single week. Don't make it a Jewish Sunday, keep it distinctive. Dress appropriately, eat distinctively, pray uniquely, bless your children in words and in touch. Delight in the distinctive quality of your holy Jewish family and the brightness of our Jewish light will once again illuminate our national character.

Remember, you're eagles.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig


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