Acherei Mot and Kedoshim - weekly Torah portion

Once again we find ourselves reading two portions of the Torah on the same Shabbat, this time we are reading from “Acherei Mot” and from “Kedoshim”. Reading them immediately after Memorial Day and Independence Day highlights the content of these readings, maybe shedding new light onto them. The portion of Kedoshim begins with the commandment, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” This holiness has also defined criteria. Some of it has to do with the relationship between us and our God but most of them deal with person-to-person issues. We are therefore required “not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger.” And there is more to it, “You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another. You shall not swear falsely by My name…You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning. You shall not curse a deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind… You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly.” And there is even more, “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” Admittedly it is not always easy to reach these ideals but striving to achieve them is necessary as this is the basis upon which we can, with some modern updates and modifications, build an exemplary society in the State of Israel.

Ilan and Asaf Ramon z'l

There is no doubt in my mind that Israel is not yet as perfect as we would wish it would be. We see that on a daily basis. Nevertheless, as critical as we may wish to be, and with all of our desire for continued and speedy improvement, it is also imperative to recognize what does work well here, appreciate what has been already achieved, and which is in a fair amount of times better than can be found anywhere else. Rona Ramon, the widow of the first Israeli astronaut, Ilan Ramon Zl, shared on Facebook words that her son, Assaf Ramon Zl, wrote in his diary about a month before losing his young life in an aircraft accident as a pilot of the Israel Air Force. He wrote, “Why am I here? Why am I an Israeli? It is clear to me, I can’t explain, it’s just an integral part of me, cannot live differently, or in another place. I am in love with it – Israel, Israeliness, the people, the culture, the music, the sea, the nature, the silence, the noise, the food, the scents. There’s just no place like it.” My mother, was born in England to a father born in Poland and a mother born in Denmark, she was educated in England, made Aliyah to Israel where she married and had a family. She summarized Israel in different words. Every time before leaving Israel on a trip she took some soil of Israel and put it into a small adornment which also contained a tiny note. I once took a peek at what was written on it, it said, “Jerusalem is my world, and the entire world is Babylon to me.” Certainly less words than what Assaf Ramon wrote but not less consuming the Zionist and Israeli experience, whether you may choose to live here in Israel or not.

Rona Ramon, a gentle and noble lady, added her own thoughts, “Our connection derives from the differences between us, those contrasts that connects us to a thriving society that has to deal with extreme rifts of fear and survival. Our connection is based on culture, religion and state, intertwined definitions that create a sense of belonging, pride, frustration and personal, Israeli kind of empathy. Our connection flows from the desire for a state and a society which is enlightened and more humane… Our connection is the unconditional love to this Land, because we do not have another one. Our connection comes from our national duty to service in the military… Our connection are those collective memories which are unique to our society living through wars and campaigns… Our connection is the hope, the profound believe that there will come a day when we shall live in peace and love.”

It really does not matter which words you connect to the most, those of Assaf, Rona or my mum, all come from the foundation of holiness, being holly because it is the right thing to do. Being holly, because it happens here and now. It becomes real on this tough-tough land, in the clean air of the Jerusalem hills, and with the humid and thick air of the seashore of Tel Aviv. It is a memory seventy years old, eighty years old, two thousand years old, many millennia. It is a commitment to a future that is connected to its past. A connection that are not shackles of slavery but rather a starting point for a better future. Moving from a place where the values are well entrenched, still echoing in our ears today, “You shall be holy”, “You shall be holy”.

All of us have memories related to the seventy years of Israel’s independence` deep sorrow for those who fell, sadness for those who are not with us to witness what the poet Nathan Alterman has termed “the unique miracle”. We got lucky, we got the opportunity to live through this miracle times and we have the responsibility to make this miracle a startling success. The job is not complete, we must continue, we must become better, improve, fix, build and rebuild so that we may fully fulfill the continuous call to be holly.

Shabbat Shalom and wishes for a Happy Independence Day.

Reuven Marko, 19 April 2018, 4 Iyar, 5778

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