DAY 954: We Live By Our Contact With The World Around Us

February 9, 2015
By bethmordecai
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DAY 954: We Live By Our Contact With The World Around Us

“וחי בהם” ולא שימות בהם

(תלמוד בבלי עבודה זרה כח:ב על ויקרא יח:ה)

“And you shall live by them” and not die by them

(Babylonian Talmud Avodah Zarah 27b interpreting Leviticus 18:5)

Dear Hevreh,

Ever since our people left Egypt we have been a nation of “mixed multitudes” (Exodus 12:38) an assortment of individuals and traditions from different backgrounds. Some come to share their unique backgrounds (see Jethro) and some come to experience the uniqueness of Judaism (see Aramaeans eating the Passover sacrifice). No matter the reason though Judaism has always mixed together with people and traditions from different cultures. It is part of our DNA as a wandering people.

Some would argue that this penchant for mixing will eventually dilute the beauty and meaning of Judaism until there is nothing left. Indeed the command of k’doshim tih’yu (“you shall be holy”) implies that separation is the only path towards holiness; what is kadosh (“holy”) must be separated from what is hol (“regular/mundane”).

But what makes Judaism so fascinating, so lively, and so inspirational is that the process of becoming holy is always done against the backdrop of being a part of the nations of the world. In our songs, our prayers, our customs, our traditions, and our way of being, we carry the rich experiences of our ancestors (and ourselves!) from every environment we’ve encountered. Hardly any civilization has gone without being impacted by the Jewish people, and the Jewish people have certainly been impacted by every civilization we encounter. Amazingly, we achieve holiness through contact, not through separation. We live by this interaction, we don’t die by it.

So as this past Shabbat we welcomed a couple with different religious backgrounds (Jewish and Catholic) into the Jewish community, we celebrate the growth of our people, our faith, and our tradition, through our life-affirming contact with the world around us.

Kol Tuv,

Rabbi Ari Saks

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