This week we come to the end of the sequence of Sidrot linked together as “After death” (Acharei Mot), “holiness” (Kedoshim) and lastly “Emor,”- speak. It deals with the holiness of the High Priest and insists on severe restrictions and penalties. We are given the details of the festivals and a recitation of the themes of Shabbat, Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and especially Sukkot.
Next week, on 12th May it will be Lag b’Omer, the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer which is the day in this period where rejoicing is promoted. In Israel it is a special family day but this year it is obviously going to be muted because of the current pandemic. Coming together is a core part of our lives, not only because we are social animals but very especially it defines us as Jews.
In the Sedra this week we read:
You shall not desecrate My Holy Name. I shall be sanctified amidst the children of Israel. I am the Lord Who sanctifies you.
This became the foundation for the reasoning that we need a minyan to pray. Without a minyan we do not read from the Torah Scroll, read the Haphtarah, recite the Barchku or recite Kaddish. But this custom is rabbinical. In the same way many of the customs of the festivals are derived from the Talmud and rabbinical interpretation but we still hold to them.
In these very difficult times perhaps we should ask what defines holiness. Is it rigid interpretation of the written Torah? The rules for the High Priest seem very harsh and possibly inappropriate for a fundamental requirement to show compassion and to respect human dignity. In our generation our leaders, our Rabbis, are not dynastic but are those who choose to learn and lead. It is a sense of a calling, to support their communities.
Whatever customs or practices we choose to follow or adapt; it is the positive spirit of healing and understanding that should guide us. We can find ways of inspecting and adapting customs; to seek a way forward. The “virtual” world offers a chance to explore alternatives for those in isolation or distanced from those who need our presence. In these difficult days we need to hold together; to support ourselves, our families and our community.