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04/06/2015 07:11:00 AM


Kedoshim: Looking for God in all the Wrong Places
Leviticus 19 - 20
by Rabbi Edward Feinstein

Consider the spiritual journey of one Mrs. Shapiro: She crossed oceans, climbed mountains, and traversed valleys to stand in the presence of the Great One of her generation. Upon arriving at his remote mountain refuge, she climbed 1000 stone steps on her knees, donned a white linen robe, and entered his sacred cave, eyes cast humbly downward. "You may speak only three words to the Master," she was instructed. At last, she entered into the shining presence of the master, who sat mediating upon a lotus leaf. Gathering her courage, she looked up into his eyes, and spoke her three words: "Sheldon, come home!"

Why is it that when Jews seek spiritual wisdom, they'll go almost anywhere except their own traditions? Look into any cult, any radical new therapy, any metaphysical society or meditating community, and you'll find Jews far beyond our proportion in the population. And should they come to Judaism, there is a thirst for the esoteric. "I want to learn your spiritual secrets!" an impassioned searcher urges me.

The truth is that the Jewish tradition does contain spiritual secrets...secrets to happiness, secrets to finding life's meaning. There really is a buried wisdom. And where would something so infinitely precious be found?

No, they're not in hidden exclusively in esoteric works of mystical Kabballah. Nor are they shrouded in obscure gematria -- mathematical puzzles concealed in the Torah. To locate this wisdom, you needn't play your "Fiddler on the Roof" records backwards.

If they're hidden anywhere, the secrets of Jewish spirituality are hidden in plain sight. They are found in the common books of Jewish tradition: in the Siddur, in the Bible, in the Hagaddah. But these books are rarely seen as sources of wisdom, containing the answers to life's deepest questions. For so long we have taught them as "Bible stories" -- charming, entertaining, but devoid of depth and power. We have taught them as decorous, formal ritual, empty of magic and meaning. We offered them as sacred artifacts to sit in splendor on a shelf, far from the struggles and celebrations of real life. It's really no wonder that Jews run elsewhere for enlightenment.

"Kedoshim tihyu -- You will be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy." A remarkable invitation to the world of Jewish spirituality. What follows is not readily recognizable as spiritual instruction. Indeed, it's all about behavior. Holiness, it seems, grows out of holy living. But carefully tracing the word, Kedusha, holiness, in its contexts in Jewish life, reveals a deep spiritual secret:

A family, a community of friends, gather at a Shabbat table, a Passover Seder, in the Sukkah. A goblet of wine is raised, and a prayer called "Kiddush" is recited. Kiddush is a prayer of sanctification. But it is not the wine that is sanctified. Instead, the wine is a symbol of the sanctity, the preciousness, the sweetness of this moment. We are held together by sacred bonds of family, friendship, community and peoplehood. In these concentric circles we share life -- we share our joys, our sorrows, our dreams. These bonds of love, of loyalty, of common purpose, bring holiness and meaning to life. We belong -- to one another, to the generations that have been here before and will follow us.

When two people pledge their lives to one another, in love, trust, support and responsibility, the same word is used. It is called Kiddushin. When we lose someone close, when death tears our lives apart, we hold tightly to one another and to our loved one and recite a prayer called Kaddish. The same word. "Kedusha" means sanctification, holiness. And holiness is found in the bonds that hold us together and bring us close to God. "The extended lines of our relations," taught the philosopher Martin Buber, "meet in the Eternal Thou." Mrs. Shapiro had it right; it's time to come home.

* This document, or any portion thereof, may not be reproduced without the written permission of the author.


Sat, August 15 2020 25 Av 5780