Kedoshim: Lie in Wait

Hate is like a drug. It makes those who hate feel good because it gives them an escape from their own problems for a little while. You can get high on hate. Hating another person gives you power. You can take back what you thought you’ve lost.

You can own someone because you feel owned.

You can troll so you don’t feel out of control.

It is a drug. You can get high on hate.    

Churches burn. Mosques and synagogues riddled with bullets. Temples violated.

Sometimes it’s faith that is under attack.  Sometimes it is faith that used as a pretext to attack. But either way, it is hate that is having its day.

Why is that?

At the root of all hatred is the idea that we need to be separate from each other. We are not just unique, but totally and irreconcilably different.

We all want to feel unique.  Feeling like you are special is part of the human story because each of you is special.  You have infinite potential and possibility because you were created by the Infinite. The Divine Image is stamped on your soul, just for you. That is what gives you the potential for being unique. For being good. For being holy.

But many of us don’t feel like we have that possibility in life. You ask, “What about me?” “What about my life?”

These are the right questions, but hate is the wrong answer.

Religion sometimes gets the wrong answer to life’s questions too. In the Bible God loves to separate things.  Light from dark. Day from night. Pure from impure. Holy from mundane. God separates the world into categories so that we can make it intelligible. We need a taxonomy of life. We need order. We need plans.

Where religious scholars mess up is when they think this order is the goal of holiness. (SPOILER: It’s not) They say that the purpose of life is to separate yourself from sin.  To be perfect. To be pure. The goal in life is to divide the world between those who are “good” (holy) and those who are bad (unholy).

When separation is the goal, we end up in the zero-sum hatred that is seizing humanity at this very moment. We end up killing each other. Hate answers life’s most important questions by saying that what is keeping me from being good is you. What is keeping me from being my best self is you.

The only way for me to succeed is for you to fail. If I am good, then you are bad. I look at your sin and call you out for your mistakes. I lie in wait for them. I take joy in your failure. Hating you gives me a purpose. By hating you I become holy.

You can get high on hate.

This week’s Torah portion, Kedoshim, shows us a different way. It says, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am Holy.” (Lev. 19:2)  Note the Torah does not say, “You are holy.” It says, “You shall be holy.”  Holiness is not what you are in the separation from each other, but in unlocking the potentiality for something greater than yourself.

The Hasidic master, Netivot Shalom writes, “The commandments are guide posts to live by to become attached to God… for it is in the aspect of making oneself holy that one can attach to God.”

All the commandments are guide posts to get you somewhere. Doing the commandments is not the goal line. It is the starting line. The Torah only outlines where you begin, not where you end.  The greatest tragedy of a human being is not to overcome sin, but to never achieve the life you were meant to live.

The goal of life is not to become neutral or to check off a box, it is to become holy. To be a better, more flourishing self by tapping into the Infinite pulse that permeates all of reality. Not just where you are now, but to become the transcendent amazing person you were created to be.  “You shall become holy.”

How?

At the heart of holiness is the commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  (Lev. 19:18) Described by Rabbi Akiva as the greatest commandment of them all. (Sifra 4:12) The heart-center of holiness is not the difference between categories of being, but the care we take to cross them.

At the center of the Torah is not a God that lies in wait for your sin, but a God that waits for us to love and care for one another.

What if we were to build a world based on that idea.  Your uniqueness is where you start, but your love for the other is where you end?

You cannot be holy by hating. It is not separation that makes you holy, but attachment.   You can only be holy by growing into the most caring version of yourself.

I close with a story:

A young person once came to Menachem Mendel of Kotzk. ‘Rebbe, they said, ‘I can no longer believe in God. The world is so filled with pain, suffering, ugliness and evil. How could there be a God in such a world?!’

‘Why do you care?’ asked the Rebbe.

‘What do you mean, why do I care? How could I not care? Innocent people suffer; the world is ruled by cruel people. Why does God allow it?’

Again, the Rebbe inquired, ‘But why do you care?’

This young person screamed out: ‘Someone has to care! Someone has to see the pain of the world and cry out! If not, all the suffering is meaningless.

The Rebbe smiled and responded, ‘If you care that much, then God exists. God exists in your caring.’

You cannot become holy through hate. You become holy through love. God does not lie in wait for sin. God lies in wait for love.

Shabbat Shalom

One comment

  • Thank you for this uplifting reminder of our humanity and role in the world during times of acrimony and violence.

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