For better or worse, there is a certain amount of social (and personal) pressure to better ourselves in these Corona Days, to use the unexpected time to make ourselves better.
For some of us, this means learning to play the piano. For others, it means spending quality time with our family. Some of us seek to get in shape, or finally get to those photo albums, or rekindle old friendships.
There are many ways to better ourselves, and certainly, the time seems to be conspicuously present, like an unopened gift, waiting for us.
One of the ways that we can better ourselves is to make ourselves ethically and morally, even spiritually…more. It is harder to qualify this, but it is possible.
The second half of this week’s double Torah portion, Kiddushim, begins with the words: “God spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I am holy, YHVH your God.”(Lev 19:1-2)
The Torah portion then goes on giving us a (seemingly) disparate range of laws to follow, most of which have to do with how we are supposed to interact with other people, business dealings, and even how we are to treat animals.
Taken individually, these rules seem to have little in common but viewed as a whole, there is an obvious pattern to them. How can we be ‘holy’? How can we progress ourselves morally, ethically, and spiritually? The answer appears to be this: There are going to be times in your life when you have power over other people, through family, or business, or societal privilege. You will have opportunities to abuse your power, to take advantage of others, and to get away with it without any repercussion. Don’t. If you can abstain from taking advantage of others, even when you can get away with it, then you are on your way to becoming …holy.
In a vacuum this is easy, but in real life it is hard. The challenge is not just for us as individuals, but for us as a Jewish society…a Jewish civilization. God’s challenge serves us as an aspiration. For in doing this, we bring about a different type of society; one that is motivated not by power or avarice, but by justice and compassion. This is how we do our part of taking the world from where it is, to where we want it to be.
These lessons from the Torah are not meant to be kept in an ivory tower. They are not beyond our reach or across an ocean. They are as near to us as the next decision that we might make, the next conversation we might have, the next bill we might pay.
So…as you are thinking about how to better yourself with this unexpected time, aspire to think beyond any particular skill-set or backyard project. Think about this week’s Torah portion, and God’s challenge to us to become…holy.