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Balu Nivison - Dvar Torah

K’doshim – Holiness

K’doshim comes from Vayikra commonly known as Leviticus.

Vayikra is the 3rd book of the Torah – so it’s the middle book. K’doshim is the middle portion of Vayikra. There are important central themes that sit in the middle of the middle.

What I have found most meaningful to me are these 3 verses

  • “You shall be holy for I your G d am holy” – ki kadosh ani

  • “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not complete your reaping to the corner of your field, and the gleanings of your harvest you shall not take.” Leaving the corners of the field for the poor and what this means to a non-farmer.

  • “Love your neighbor as yourself” – Hebrew – correctly translated is Love your neighbor who is like you.

This interests me particularly as in what is going on in the country with the disturbing xenophobic instances, as well as global issues around racism, down to our personal relationships with people who are different than ourselves.

What also interests me is what I have learnt about our relationship to, and responsibility for the rights of the poor.

What is holiness, and what are the ways in which G d has given us to be holy and to emulate Him/Her and be betzelem elokim (made in His/Her image)? Holiness comes from cultivating relationships between humans – Bein adam lachavero (between man and His/Her friend)– which is based on Bein adam lamakom (between man and his place) – laws between people and G d.

Holiness at the end of the day is “Love”. Love, “ahava”, comes from the root word “hav” – to give. We access and activate love through giving.

“The inner history of humanity is in part the history of the idea of love”. (Rabbi Sacks) - as it states in the first verses of Creation: “It is not good for man to be alone”.

In the African language, there is only one word for ‘love’… no word for ‘like’.

Some of the ways in which G d guides us (like a GPS), giving us direction, are through:

  • The laws of Tzedakah

  • Hachnasat orchim – hospitality to strangers and opening our hearts to strangers

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not complete your reaping to the corner of your field, and the gleanings of your harvest you shall not take. You shall not pick the undeveloped twigs of your vineyard; and the fallen fruit of your vineyard you shall not gather; for the poor and the proselyte shall you leave them” – I am Hashem, your G d. Vayika (Leviticus)/K’doshim chapter 9 vs 9-10.

“God is merciful and charitable, so it stands to reason that He should command His people to display the same sort of kindness by setting aside part of their crops for the poor. An edge of the field must be left unharvested and the poor are to be permitted unhindered access to take the left over produce.” (Sforno)

“A person must discharge his responsibilities to others before he regards his crops as his own.” (R Hirsch)

How do we leave a corner of the field in the 21st century?

One of the ways is acknowledging the uneven distribution of wealth. Whatever system there is in place, however the economic conditions play out, we have a responsibility towards the needy, poor, stranger, orphan, widow and vulnerable. This is our social contract.

Tzedakah does not mean charity as is often believed. It actually means justice, righteousness and fairness.

Tzedakah, is not about being ‘nice’ and the poor relying on your mercy. It is not an uneven relationship where the giver is superior, and the receiver the inferior. It is our contract between people and G d. What goes on when one person gives and another receives is a sacred contract, between person and person (Bein adam lachavero), defined by our contract between person and G d (Bein adam lamakom).

The dignity of the poor, needy, stranger, orphan and widow needs to be protected and respected through the laws of economic justice, and a sacred contract between person and person, which is mirrored by or likened to our contract between person and G d.

“My money or my property” - by separating it and designating it, it is not mine anymore. We have to know that the poor also have dignity and a sense of self and makom (place to be raised up), purpose and existence.

Economic justice is neither mercy nor pity.

G d created the world in balance. G d gives to us so that we can have the joy and privilege of giving what we have to those who are in need. These are what are known as the 'scales of justice.' The person who is taking from you is actually doing you the favour.

What the Torah is saying is that possessions that we are given are on loan. It views gifts that we have as being bestowed on us by G d. We are the share croppers. We are entrusted with this responsibility. G d gives us what we have in order to use it, enjoy it, elevate it and share it.

This is the Torah concept of tithing. 10 to 20 percent of what we earn we should donate to those in need.

The perception of the poor is redefined, when we are constantly reminded that ‘ we were once slaves coming out of our constraints, our mitzrayim, metzar ‘. Love your neighbour who is like you. We are no different, rich or poor, black or white, Muslim, Christian, Jew or Yazidi. We know that place of difficulty and constraint. We were once strangers in Egypt. Cultural diversity, tolerance, openness and unity eliminate this sense of strangeness. Even aside from xenophobia, how integrated are we really? Since 1994, what has changed? Integration is still not a lived reality. We live separately, developed with massive socio-economic discrepancies.

The deep secret in life is to know where you are. This is the meaning of holiness.

Where you are needs to elevate you and raise you up.'

What can I do here!

What is my place here?

What can I elevate?

Where is the exchange?

This is living in the consciousness of where I am and what I am doing every day.

What internal change is it supposed to precipitate within me? To become a giving individual, sensitive to the needs of those around me - to take care of those less fortunate than myself.

“Reaping of the field verse ……..” refers to the story of Ruth.

Ruth embodied the lineage of King David. Ruth, the convert had nothing, she was poor, starving in a strange land. Boaz, owner of the field, noticed her by how she was bending down with grace and dignity at the edge of his field (claiming her portion).

The sages say that “more than Boaz gave to Ruth, Ruth gave to Boaz.' This should be our Sense of Tzedakah.

She gave him longevity - a seed of kingship.

My personal example: I have taken in a woman and child who had nowhere to go, to live with my family. From this experience I am seeing how more than what I am doing for Shudulanga and baby Rachel Tahia, they are doing for me. They have brought immense joy, light and love into our home.

To conclude:

Hachnasat orchim - is hospitality to guests, and opening our hearts to the stranger.

This idea teachers us, in its literal words, that the guest is the person who is carrying the light ‘the Ohr' eiach. Guest - Light. They carry the light of G d within them. We access and elevate ourselves by recognizing the light in others.

This is our responsibility as G ds partners. This is our compassionate righteousness.

I would like on the eve of this Shabbat Chesed to acknowledge the kindness and hospitality of this Temple Israel Community, who have opened their hearts in welcoming all the women and babies from the Mater Domini Home for women in crisis, who benefit enormously from the spiritual upliftment that they receive from our special Shul services.

I bless us all as we go forward on our journey of counting the omer, to refine ourselves, shine our sapphire stones, know our strengths and gifts, and uplift ourselves and our neighbours.

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