Loving the Stranger / Loving the Vulnerable Among Us

Acharey Mot – Kedoshim D’var Torah      April 23, 2010

Shabbat shalom. This Shabbat we continue our journey through the third book of the Torah, Vayikra, or Leviticus in English. We actually read from two Torah portions this Sabbath. The first is called Acharey Mot, and the second is called Kedoshim.

Acharei Mot presents an account of the laws of Yom Kippur, as well as a list of laws regarding sexual relationships. Kedoshim offers us a list of laws that define which behaviors are considered holy – kadosh – and which are not. It’s a mixture of ethical and ritual laws.

Perhaps the most famous part of Kedoshim is Chapter 19 of Leviticus. Chapter 19 happens to be right at the mid-point of the Torah, and many commentators have described it as the heart of the Torah. It begins with God telling the Israelites to be holy because God is holy. And then the Torah goes on to present a list of mitzvot – commandments.

farmworkersThe list includes the foundations of a universal human ethics. Honor your parents. Don’t steal or make a false oath. If you’re a farmer, leave the corners of your fields un-harvested so the poor and the needy can anonymously come glean and avoid both starvation and the embarrassment of begging for food.

If you hire a day-laborer, pay him or her promptly for their work, the same day. In other words, don’t take advantage of their desperate economic situation or essentially enslave them by withholding their wages for long stretches so that you can force them to stay under your employ.

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Esau’s Kiss – D’var Torah

D’var Torah – Dorshei Tzedek, West Newton, MA – Dec 6, 2014

Parashat Vayishlach – “Esau’s Kiss”

Rabbi Maurice Harris

We’ve been reading in our recent parashahs the saga of the life of Jacob. I’m sure folks here are pretty familiar with it, but it never hurts to start with a quick plot summary. I hope you won’t mind if I quickly recap what’s happened prior to and including this week’s portion. Abraham and Sarah’s son, Isaac, had married a woman named Rebecca, and Rebecca became pregnant with twin boys who struggled physically with each other in her womb. In fact they struggled so much that Rebecca at one point cried out in anguish and asked what the point of her existence was. Finally, she gave birth to the two brothers. Esau, the first born by just seconds, had reddish features and grew to be a strapping, muscular, and quite hairy hunter. Jacob, who the text tells us emerged from the birth canal grabbing on to Esau’s heel, is of slighter stature and, according to later rabbinic midrash, he is bookish and studious.

The rabbis who gave us midrash would sometimes retroject images of themselves back onto the heroes of the Bible, such as picturing Jacob as a skinny and introverted Torah scholar. In fact, we even have examples of midrash that depict God studying the Torah and weighing the merits of different rabbis’ interpretations of each word! I guess we tend to see what we’re looking for much of the time – let’s hold on to that thought.

Anyway, getting back to the twins, Esau and Jacob. As you may remember, they end up in bitter conflict over issues of inheritance, first-born status, and pride. Families can just be awful, right? We know from the text that it turns out Rebecca and Isaac don’t see their kids in the same way. Rebecca sees Jacob as destined to carry on God’s covenant with Abraham and Isaac, whereas Isaac tends to favor Esau, who is good with a bow and provides delicious meals of venison. The Torah uses sight as an important symbol in this story, hinting that Isaac can’t see the big picture by telling us that he has become blind in his later years.

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