Parshas K’doshim

It is always important to reinforce our commitment to the journey of faith. There is no greater act of emunah than living a spiritual, holistic life in an often chaotic, fragmented world. As we read Parshas K’doshim, the words “K’doshim tihyu” (You shall be holy) ring in our ears. This is not a call to be transcendent, angelic beings, lofty and perfect, completely beyond the struggle innate to the human condition. This is not permission to deny our humanity and restrict our sense of self. This is a calling to be human, to be the ultimate human, to bring transcendence and spirituality into this world. We don’t aim to escape this world; we aim to transform it. K’dushah is not transcendence or escapism; it is the meeting between the transcendent and the imminent. This is the journey of faith, where each individual must embark on a quest for internal and objective truth, where we must leave the comfort of the known and travel towards the infinite, towards the future we know we are destined for, towards our own personal and collective purpose. There are five stages in this journey of faith:

Do you ever wonder what people really think about you? Whether they think you’re brilliant, caring, and fun – or lazy, self-centered, and boring? The truth is, you’ll never know; people only talk about you openly when you’re not in the room. In these situations, don’t you think it’s possible that people might put you down, say negative things about you, or even make fun of you behind your back? After all, we have all been in the room when someone else was the subject of gossip. Gossiping is such a common occurrence that it seems to be an almost built-in practice of human nature. We all know people who can find something bad to say about anyone; they criticize anything and everything, anybody and everybody; words of negativity flow easily from their mouths. But even if we are not negative people, we still experience the desire to occasionally put other people down, to share negative stories about them behind their backs. Why do we feel this compulsion to speak negatively about others, to criticize and gossip about them?

As soon as the Passover Sedarim have passed, many are content to not celebrate so much for a while. And yet, there are another six days plus a dozen holidays and commemorations in the space of a month and a half, leading up to the anniversary of receiving the Torah, Shavuos. Any description of the Jewish festive cycle must make mention of these milestones typically left out of the holiday hall of fame. Borscht-belt Comedian Alan King famously summarized all Jewish holidays: “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!” I’m illuminating all of the lesser blips on the radar so we don’t miss out on anything!

What is the “kosher” way of parenting?

Parshas Sh’mini contains the laws of kashrus, including which animals may be eaten and which are forbidden. The Ramban (VaYikra 11:13) suggests that the Torah prohibited the species that are predatory in nature, as their cruel characteristics could be transmitted to a person through consumption. Instead, Hashem wants us to only ingest pure, domesticated animals that promote compassionate qualities. As the saying goes, “You are what you eat.”

Quarantine used to be a lot worse.

The Torah describes a unique consequence for one who speaks lashon ha’ra: tzaraas and a lonely quarantine outside the Jewish camp (with no toilet paper, of course). Rashi (VaYikra 13:46) writes that this is a fitting punishment: He drove people apart with his hurtful words, now let him sit alone, separated from others.

Parshas Sh’mini presents the shocking sin and deaths of Nadav and Avihu. The pasuk describes how, during the Chanukas HaMishkan (Inauguration of the Tabernacle), Nadav and Avihu offered the k’tores (spice offering) and were engulfed by Divine flames (VaYikra 10:1-2). This episode is both striking and perplexing, as the p’sukim do not clarify what their sin was, or why it warranted such a harsh punishment. At face value, one might think that they acted righteously, sacrificing an offering to Hashem in the Mikdash. What, then, was so egregious about their actions? We will go through a range of possible answers to these questions as we ultimately develop a deeper understanding of this topic.

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