Rabbi Hackenbroch, family and friends – Shabbat Shalom
Today is one of 4 Shabbat each year where there are two sidrot.
I will be talking about the sidra Kedoshim and the sidra Acharei Mot.
Acharei Mot - the first of the two Sidrot today - helps us understand the importance of being sorry for our mistakes and how we have to take personal responsibility to make things better.
It talks about the story of Jonah which is read during Yom Kippur afternoon. Jonah was sent by God to the city of Nineveh to tell them to repent for their wicked ways – or G-d would punish them. Jonah travelled to the city of Nineveh and gave this message to all the people and to the King.
The King proclaimed throughout Nineveh saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. If we do this - who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?
The King and all his citizens did repent and G-d spared the city.
The important message is that every citizen took responsibility for their actions and each knew it was important to repent and not just leave it to others or to The King
During Acharei Mot we read more about the instituition of Yom Kippur - the day of atonement - the holiest day of our calendar. We are told that by doing repentance, praying and giving charity, Tchuvah Tefillah and Tzedakah, we can change our own destiny. We have to take responsibility for our actions and for our mistakes. This is the key message of Acharei Mot and a basic step to holiness and being a good person.
The second sidra is Kedoshim and this deals with one of the most important lessons in the whole Torah.
There is story of a man who visited Rabbi Shamai and asked him if it would be possible for him to learn the whole of the Torah all at once. Rabbi Shamai was angry at this request and sent him away without a response.
The same man then visited Rabbi Hillel – a rival of Rabbi Shamai. He asked him the same question - “Rabbi Hillel, can you teach me the whole Torah all at once?” Rabbi Hillel considered his question for a moment and then replied “yes I can” – the key message of the Torah can be understood if you remember only this “love your neighbour as you love yourself” – the rest of the Torah – said Rabbi Hillel - is merely commentary
Kedoshim states in chapter 19 that “you shall not take revenge or bear a grudge – you shall love your fellow man as yourself”
The famous Rabbi Akiva agreed with this principle “Ve Ahavta le Reacha Kamocha - “you shall love your friend as yourself” – he said that this is a great principle of the Torah”
There are 613 commandments in the Torah – why do so many Rabbi’s consider this one “love your neighbour as yourself” to be the most important?
We are now during the period known as the Counting of the Omer – the 7 week period between Pesach and Shavuot. During Pesach we celebrated the exodus from Egypt - when we escaped from slavery and became free people.
7 weeks later - during Shavuot - we will celebrate the receiving of the 10 commandments on Mount Sinai and how we became a nation committed to serving G-d
Our sages tell us that when the Jewish people left Egypt they were impure but by the time they received the Torah on Mount Sinai they were at the highest level of purity. The question is how did they manage to get to this high level?
One answer is that they used the time between Pesach and Shavuot to refine themselves. Every day and every week they would focus on a different character trait. We can see evidence for this in the Siddur. In the section where we count the Omer - next to each day there are two words. These represent two traits, a weekly one and a daily one.
The lesson is that before we can receive the Torah we must be good people with good character - Derech Eretz Kadma La Torah - “character refinement precedes Torah”
To put this another way – we are being taught that Judaism is not just a relationship with G-d. One must learn first how to relate to fellow man in a good way.
This might explain why Rabbi Akiva taught that “this is a great principle of our relationship with fellow man. G-d demands strong and good character. This helps explain why Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Hillel came to teach us that “love your neighbour as yourself” is one of the most important principles of the Torah –be good and kind to your friends, family and even strangers - if we can’t do this we can’t be good and we cannot then hope to follow G-d’s commandments and live as good and respected members of the Jewish community.
Some people don’t agree with this – the scholar RamBan said it is impossible to love another as you love yourself. However, I agree with what Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Hillel said because I believe that it is important to always treat people as you would like them to treat you and I agree.
The sidra also asks us to have respect for animal life and this is something I feel strongly about.
As I undertake my Bat Mitzvah I know it represents me becoming a Jewish adult. I understand that brings certain responsibilities and I think there are 4 key lessons that I can learn from the two sidrot today
Be good to others and treat them as I would like to be treated myself
Be prepared to admit mistakes and to say sorry
Have a good character and always try to help people
Treat animals with respects
I will always try to be nice to my friends and family and to treat everybody with equal respect. If I make a mistake I will say sorry and I will continue to be kind to animals.
I have been a member of this synagogue since I was very young and have been attending cheder classes since I was 5. I am very proud to have my Bat Mitzvah here in front of all my family, friends and members of the congregation and I wish everyone Shabbat Shalom.