Don’t Be Mean – Parshat Kedoshim 5784

Have you seen the new Mean Girls? The 2024 movie is based on the stage musical version of the story, which is based on the 2004 movie of the same name. I love Mean Girls. I love it because of the social commentary about how we’ve trained ourselves to judge people (particularly women and girls) and objectify their bodies.

To clarify, I don’t love that “mean girls” exist. The constant picking apart of superficial traits is at best unhelpful and at worst destructive. But I do love the conversation starter this movie can become. In a classic scene, the “mean girls” are looking in the mirror and each one is talking about what they hate the most about their bodies. The character played by Linsday Lohan is new to this kind of behavior and just sort of looks at the other girls wondering why they would pick themselves apart.

To me, the inherent question is if this is what negative body talk looks like, what would positive body talk look like? What does it look like to examine yourself in the mirror and appreciate what you see? What does it look like to love yourself? This question is central to our Torah portion this week. Parshat Kedoshim is referred to as the “holiness code” because of the rules included within it. The laws in this section of text are centrally focused on the ways in which we are to treat one another. Don’t charge undue interest, don’t put a stumbling block before the blind. Generally speaking, these laws are all about creating a community built on recognizing the holiness in each and every human being.

The most well-known of these laws is “love your fellow as you love yourself.” I struggle with this mitzvah, not because I don’t love other people, but because of what it really means to love ourselves. What if you don’t love yourself as much as you should? If you’re hardest on yourself, does this mean that you should be hard on your neighbors? Furthermore, does loving your neighbor as yourself mean that love overrules the rebuke that might come if the neighbor were to make you uncomfortable?

If you occasionally struggle to love yourself, you might find comfort in another verse, which begins, “Do not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen.” Perhaps we can infer that if you should love your neighbors (countrymen) as you love yourself, then likewise you should not bear a grudge against yourself either. In other words, if love is challenging (when is it not), you can at least start from a place that’s free from vengeance and grudges. We can’t be expected to go from being mean girls straight to being caring and accepting. There’s a process, a transformation. And sometimes the path to love of others and ourselves includes a critical middle step: don’t be mean.

– Rabbi Eve Posen

Source: Don’t Be Mean – Parshat Kedoshim 5784