D’var Torah: Parshat Re’eh – Striving for a life of holiness
This is the D’var Torah I plan to share with Nivonim on their last Shabbat:
One of the most treasured traditions for me at Camp Ramah is that I get to give the D’var Torah to Nivonim on the last Shabbat of the summer. Okay, to be honest, I started the tradition twelve years ago. You have been a great Nivonim. You have grown so much through the years. I feel that you have truly become leaders of our camp. This week’s parsha, Re’eh, has often been the parsha for the last Shabbat. While studying the text, I was looking for something that I thought would speak to you and to our times. The parsha, as usual, did not disappoint. While describing the Kashrut laws we need to follow, the Torah gives a rationale: “for you are a people consecrated to the Lord your God.” Kadosh means consecrated, holy or to be set apart. One of Judaism’s greatest and really revolutionary gifts is that it takes things that are often ruled by animal instinct and requires us to raise them to a spiritual level. This is true for what we eat, how we love, and our responsibility to each individual.
Eating is a basic animal instinct. We get hungry and we need food. Some of us, including me, get “hangry” when we haven’t eaten. Judaism is a religion of moderation. We don’t generally require people to afflict themselves by withholding food. Many centuries ago, the Torah went out of its way to say that eating meat is permitted. However, the Torah, and then our rabbis, put limits on this to help us turn a basic animal instinct into something holy. The Torah teaches that you can’t just rip a limb off an animal and eat it. Not only that, but there are animals you can and can’t eat. Not only that, but we have to slaughter animals humanely. Not only that, but we have to say a prayer of gratitude before eating. Not only that, but we also say a prayer of thanks after we have eaten. Additionally, some of the best Jewish rituals happen around the family table where both the food and conversation raise the impact of the experience. By making eating a holy experience, we take an instinct that can be negative and make it positive.
The marriage ceremony in Judaism is called Kiddushin. Again, the root word kadosh plays a prominent role. When two people are married, they are committing to an exclusive relationship. This, of course, includes sexual monogamy. In the world in which early Judaism evolved, women had few, if any, rights. Many of the pagan religious rituals involved temple prostitutes. Winning armies raped and pillaged. Judaism developed laws and rituals to help raise physical sexual acts and foster loving relationships. By always remembering that every person is created in God’s image and each of us is precious, we can remember to treat each other appropriately and make our relationships holy.
Towards the end of the parsha, the Torah teaches that we must help the needy among us. In a world where might and money often seem to make right, the Torah teaches the responsibility that we have to our fellow human beings. Judaism has no problem with people making money or pursuing financial success. Judaism demands that we act ethically to pursue these ends. Judaism reminds us that although our talents have a role in our success, we are also fortunate in what God has provided. Using a portion of our material wealth to help others is how we raise the pursuit of material gain to a holy endeavor.
So Nivonim, Judaism is about taking our daily pursuits and our passions and raising them to a higher level. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that “Ramah” means high place. As you go forward in life, my blessing to you is that you take these lessons to heart: wherever you go and whatever you do, strive to live a life of kadosh (holiness) and inspire and lead others to do the same. I believe in you and can’t wait to see all that you will achieve. Shabbat Shalom.