Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, May 6, 2022 / 5 Iyyar 5782
Summary: In my first column after sabbatical, I wanted to explore how this week’s Torah portion of Kedoshim is a reminder of how religious experiences and moments of wonder can help us in our daily lives.
Reading Time: Three minutes
I recently received an email from the journalist Bari Weiss that included helpful advice on living, penned by Kevin Kelly in honor of his 70th birthday. Some of the advice was both humorous and true: “Don’t keep making the same mistakes; try to make new mistakes.” In other words, take chances in life and learn from them.
Another witticism is an important reminder of our intentions: “Anything you say before the word ‘but’ does not count.” Isn’t that true? How many times have we heard, or said, “I really appreciate that you _____, but…”
One piece of advice is something my dad taught me as well: “Whenever there is an argument between two sides, find the third side.”
A humbling insight reminds us that everyone is living the exact same life: “Life lessons will be presented to you in the order they are needed. Everything you need to master, the lesson is within you. Once you have truly learned a lesson, you will be presented with the next one. If you are alive, that means you still have lessons to learn.” No matter who we are, we are each being challenged. This is good to remember when we are dealing with difficult people.
For parents with young children, follow this advice at your own risk: “To keep young kids behaving on a car road trip, have a bag of their favorite candy and throw a piece out the window each time they misbehave.” I suspect Kevin Kelly offered this tongue in cheek, but hey, we all raise kids in the manner we think is best. Advice I can wholeheartedly sign on to goes: “For the best results with your children, spend only half the money you think you should, but double the time with them.” Harder than it sounds.
The timing of Kelly’s advice ties in smoothly with this week’s Torah portion of Kedoshim. Things of holiness, or holy ones, contains its own collection of aphorisms on how to live well. “Don’t have false weights or measures.” “The strangers who reside with you shall be like citizens; you shall love each one as yourself.” “Rise before the elderly.” “Judge everyone fairly in a court of law.”
What is striking is that when we think about holiness, there’s a tendency to imagine that it doesn’t deal with day-to-day life. This is understandable, for the Hebrew verb kadesh means to set aside. Holiness is that which is different. There can be a tendency to imagine that holiness refers to ritual acts that don’t seem to impact other people directly, while ethics are concerned with how we treat others.
Judaism has always emphasized that we can’t really separate the ethical and the ritual because they inform each other. I suppose that if we offer the best sacrifice to God that we can when no one else is looking, we are also training ourselves to treat the powerless well when no one is looking. Habits bleed into all areas of life.
Coming back from a sabbatical during which much of my time was spent in beautiful natural settings, I experienced many moments of awe—instances when surprise, wonder, and reverence mixed together. The science of awe has advanced in recent decades, providing evidence of how awe can “give people the sense that they have more available time, increase feelings of connectedness, increase critical thinking and skepticism, increase positive mood, and decrease materialism” (Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley).
It seems we have come full circle. Our ancestors and the Torah understood how awe and transcendence impact our interpersonal relationships as well. Now science has offered support for this ancient insight. Living in such a beautiful state as Oregon, I hope that you make time for such moments of wonder. Holiness is a religious expression of awe that connects us to what is above even as it opens us to improved interpersonal relationships.
Shabbat Table Talk
- What was a recent experience of awe you had?
- How often do you get out of your regular routine and make time for wonder? Is it easy to schedule this?
- Is holiness a quality you want to develop in yourself? Why or why not?
If you’d like to continue this discussion, follow this link to CNS’s Facebook page to share your own perspectives on the topics raised in this week’s Oasis Songs. Comments will be moderated as necessary.