The Gift That Bears Responsibility
Haftarah for Acharei Mot-Kedoshim
Rabbi Isaac Roussel, Congregation Zera Avraham, Ann Arbor, MI
Whenever there is a double parasha like this week, usually we read the haftarah associated with the second parasha. With Acharei Mot-Kedoshim (Leviticus 16:1–20:27), however, this is not the case; we read the haftarah from the first parasha, Acharei Mot.
Why this departure from the norm? The reason is that the content of the haftarah of Kedoshim is less than desirable. The reading is from Ezekiel 20, which details the woe that will be visited upon Israel for its sins against God. It is often referred to as Hatishpot from verse 4, which means, “Are you willing to pronounce judgment?” This begins the dark litany of Israel’s sins. Just as we read the Torah portion of the sin of the golden calf in a subdued voice, our Sages desired not to read this haftarah unless it was absolutely necessary. So when the portions were combined, the custom developed to read the selection from the Prophets for Acharei Mot instead of Kedoshim. This haftarah is taken from the ninth chapter of Amos. It, too, contains words of judgment upon Israel but it also offers words of comfort and hope.
Parashat Kedoshim opens with the verse, “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Lev 19:1). This implies that Israel has a unique relationship with God. This is attested in other passages as well, where God says that we are a treasured possession (Deut 7:6), engraved on his palms (Isa 49:16), and the apple of his eye (Zech 2:8).
The opening verse of our haftarah seems to challenge this. “To me, Israelites, you are just like the Ethiopians, declares the Lord. True, I brought you up from Egypt, but also the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir” (Amos 9:7). There are many different views, both positive and negative, on what this verse means. Rashi interprets it as a rebuke. God is telling Israel that he is concerned for all peoples, not just them. Therefore Israel should not assume that she will go unpunished for her sins. Amos points out that chosenness is not just a gift, but a gift that bears responsibility.
Christianity tends to view God’s demand of holiness as primarily ethical in nature. God is holy and good, therefore he demands that his people be as well. While this is true, Judaism has a significantly different understanding. The reason for the demand for holiness is primarily covenantal rather than ethical. God chooses Israel, redeems her, and establishes a relationship that includes responsibilities on both God’s part and Israel’s.
Israel is a partner with God in the redemption of the world. Partners have obligations under the covenant that establishes that partnership.
Kedoshim details over fifty different mitzvot that are part of this covenantal relationship. This fact emphasizes that our pact with God is primarily based on deeds, not faith. If we act in an ill manner, we reflect poorly on Hashem, the Lord. This is called Hillul Hashem in our tradition; Defamation of God’s Name. We have this impact because we are connected to him in a special relationship. Just as an employee represents a company, or a child represents a family, we represent God. Our actions matter.
This difference between Christian and Jewish (and, hence, Messianic Jewish) understanding cannot be overstated. The Church has been grafted into these covenantal responsibilities as well. The Church can learn this perspective from our movement.
We are covenantally obligated to lead a life of Torah and mitzvot. If we do so, we enhance our unique role. If not, we undermine it and merely become like any other nation on earth.
May we live up to our calling of being partners with Hashem.
May we lives of Kiddush Hashem; sanctification of his Name.
And thereby seal ourselves as a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation. A truly treasured possession of God’s.