When I was a child, there was nothing worse than someone saying they were “disappointed in me.” At that stage in my life, it was either my parents or someone else I respected, but it’s still painful to hear even now. Why does that simple phrase sting so much? It’s not the simple act of causing disappointment, which can be out of our control sometimes. It’s the feeling that for that brief moment we’ve broken a special bond of trust with someone we love.
Think about it this way: can you recall a time when someone you barely knew told you that you disappointed them? And on the slim chance it did happen, did you feel as crushed as if it came from someone you admired, respected, and had an established relationship with? I’m guessing the answer is no. The sting of a broken bond or promise between two people who’ve built not only a connection, but certain expectations with one another, is deep. This is all the more true with God and the Israelite nation as we read in the Torah.
This week we read Parshat Kedoshim. The structure of this section of text pushes us to look at our relationships with both God and others and see the boundaries and intimacies of each relationship. Parshat Kedoshim deals with what is known as the “Holiness Code” which helps us to understand how we can walk in God’s ways and create a community of understanding.
Parshat Kedoshim is built on the primary understanding that God and the Israelite nation are not merely business partners. They are much more intimately connected than that; the relationship often parallels that of a committed couple, as in a marriage. We see this when the text begins, “You are holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy,” and continues as the reason for each of the boundaries and laws set out moving forward. However, this idea is never more clearly stated than when God is sharing what will happen should God ever be disappointed in the new nation.
Chapter 20, verse 6 specifically delineates the punishments that will come to any person who chooses to worship another god. The Hebrew word used is liznot, translated as “going astray.” But the meaning isn’t quite that simple; it has the connotation of marriage vows. This is because worshiping another god is akin to cheating on God as an intimate partner. Again, the relationship between God and the Israelite nation runs much deeper than a transactional one, where simply following the rules leads to reward.
Is there a pang of hurt when you disappoint someone you love? Yes, and it’s natural. Just like our relationships with each other, our relationship with God is built on mutual love and loyalty, and it’s because of that foundation that we strive to be our best selves in those partnerships.