Kedoshim - weekly Torah portion
“You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measurement of weight, or capacity. 36 You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin; I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt.” It is straightforward to understand these laws, it requires to be honest in every way possible, in the law and in commerce. Being fair in commerce, conducing commerce decently, is necessary because of the impact it has not on us but on others. When we do bad to others we spoil the delicate balances of society. It is therefore that with anything that has to do regarding the interactions between people that we are expected to conduct ourselves appropriately. There may be disagreements and for that an honest judicial system can guarantee that it shall “not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great”.
Youth from the Reform Movement and from Bnei Akiva lead the Ceremony for Holocaust Remembrance Day at Tzur Hadasa Israel
What is actually less understood is the final clause, why is it necessary to declare, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt.”? Well, it seems that on this special Shabbat that falls between the Holocaust and Bravery Reemergence Day to the Memorial Day and the Independence Day of Israel, which has been declared to be known by the Reform Movement in Israel as Shabbat Tekumah (Resurgence), there is a place to ponder upon this issue. It certainly may same somewhat out of context. A few sentences earlier we read about the stranger, “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; I am the Lord your God.” Here the connection is clear and immediate. We were strangers in that foreign land of Egypt, and were abused, misused, oppressed and faced a threat of extermination. It is therefore that we are required to love the stranger, not just protect them, as an integral part of us.
However in this instance it is not the memory of us being strangers in a land which was not ours, nothing about being a stranger is relevant to the requirement about weights and judgement. It is simple – we must keep them because God led us out of Egypt. Some may simply think that a simple feeling of gratitude would suffice for being relieved from a terrible fate. I do not think this is the case. This is mentioned to make it clear that when leaving Egypt we went from being slaves to become free people, free from being slaves of others and to others. Complete freedom. Some may think that this freedom allows us to do as we please with no boundaries and no restrictions. This is not the case. The laws come to remind us that though we do enjoy personal freedom from others, it does not mean that we may abuse this freedom we have. It was not given to us so that we can enslave others, abuse them or find dishonest ways to handle our relationships with them. This freedom is not an entitlement but rather something we receive on condition that we are able to conduct a fair and just society.
On this particular Shabbat between when we remember the terrible and despicable crime of the Holocaust, and the change that became a reality so shortly thereafter in the form of the State of Israel, we must recite over and over again that the opportunity to rebuild a homeland for the Jewish People in the Land of Israel, comes with a significant moral obligation. We should never fail in the execution of this moral burden. Sometimes because of the difficulties of the time there are those who try to lower the required moral standards. This is wrong, improper and contemptable. It is wrong because twice in the past we had learned a bitter lesson of what happens to a nation when it loses its moral core – there is eventually loss of freedom, personal as well as national. It is improper because it does not meet even any of the minimal standards that Judaism places for us, as we learn from this week’s portion of the Torah as well as many others. It is contemptable because the exploitation of temporary might to oppress the weakest of members of society reflects only how rotten the moral core is and how much the depth of corruption of values.
There are those who will claim that there are many who are much worse than we are, and by God they are right for sure. Maybe there is not even doubt that we are among the best. However this is not good enough to be a light upon nations. To be that we need to be significantly ahead of them. To be that good we also need to demonstrate this within our society, amongst others through demonstrating our attitudes towards the strangers who live with us and around us. I have no illusions; we do not live in the land of Eden. Quite a big jungle extends to significant distances beyond our borders. Still we need to understand that our ability to protect ourselves effectively, is not only in ways that could not have been envisioned a generation or two ago. This ability comes with a significant moral responsibility so that we shall be able to proudly state that we are “holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”
Shabbat Shalom, Chodesh Tov and a Happy Independence Day.
Reuven Marko, 3 May 2019, 29 Nissan, 5779