|Note: (I have this from Rabbi
Jonathan Ginsburg) there is evidence that the young men and
women used Yom Kippur afternoon to go out into the fields to
mingle, using the Temple service as their singles scene. In
light of this, admonishing them about forbidden relations and,
more generally, reminding them about purity, modesty and
restraint makes the selection of Vayikra 18 rather a sensible
If so, now that our Temple has been taken from us, is this passage one of those that can be put aside, being "Template dependent" or is there a more profound message in it?
If anyone was bent on convincing us
that Torah was old-fashioned, the Yom Kippur
afternoon Parshah would be a good way to prove it. Vayikra,
chapter 18, contains the Torah's Immorality Act. Our moral code, the
forbidden relationships, who may marry whom and who may not, all come
from Yom Kippur's reading.
Every year in every shul around the world someone asks the very same question. "Why on Yom Kippur, Rabbi? Was there no other section of the Torah to choose besides the one about illicit sex? Is this an appropriate choice to read in Shul on the holiest day of the year?"
Fair question. Rabbis explain that this is,
in fact, the ultimate test of our holiness. The most challenging arena of
human conduct, the that one really tests the mettle of our morality, is not
how we behave in the synagogue but how we behave in our bedrooms. To conduct
ourselves appropriately in public is far easier than to be morally
consistent in our intimate lives.
Old-fashioned? You bet. In a world of ever-changing, relative morality where gay marriages and starving people to death have become acceptable, the Torah does indeed seem rather antiquated.
Man-made laws are forever being amended to suit changing times and circumstances. When a new super-highway is built, traffic officials may decide that it is safe to raise the speed limit. Should there be a fuel shortage, these same officials may decide to lower the speed limit in order to conserve the energy supply. Human legislation is constantly adapting to fluctuating realities. But G-d's laws are constant, consistent and eternal. Divine legislation governs moral issues. Values, ethics, right and wrong, these are eternal, never-changing issues. Humankind has confronted these problems since time immemorial. From caveman to Attilla the Hun to nuclear superpowers, the essential issues really have not changed very much. Questions of moral principle, good and evil, have been there from the very beginning. Life choices are made by each of us in every generation. These questions are timeless.
So we read that adultery was forbidden in Moses' day and it still is in ours. So is incest. But it wouldn't shock me at all if the same forces motivating for new sexual freedoms soon began campaigning for incestuous relationships to become legal. And why not? If it's all about "consenting adults", why deny siblings? Given the slippery slope of our moral mountains, nothing is unthinkable any more.
Ultimately, morality cannot be decided by referendum. We desperately need a higher authority to guide us in the often confusing dilemmas of life. In Egypt and Canaan lots of degenerate behavior was acceptable, even popular. In this week's Parshah, G-d tells His people that He expects us to march to a different beat. We are called upon to be a holy nation, distinctively different in this, the most challenging test of our morality. It doesn't matter what is legal or trendy in Egypt, Canaan, Russia or Europe. We have our own moral guide, our own book of books which requires no editing or revised editions for the new age. Because right is right and wrong is wrong and so it will always be.
We mustn't confuse "normal" with "average." Since there are people out there who, tragically, may have lost a leg, this might mean that the "average" person has something like 1.97 legs. But that isn't quite "normal." A normal person has two legs. When Torah teaches us to be holy and distinctive, it is reminding us to be normal, not average. Average can be rather mediocre. Just be normal and retain your Jewish uniqueness. It may not be easy. It may not be politically correct. You probably will not win any popularity contests. But you will be faithful to the eternal truths of life. And in the long run, you will be right
May Hashem bless us all with a prosperous, joyous and sweet new year.