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  • October 4, 2014

    Yom Kippur

    Deuteronomy 29:9–14, 30:11–20 (Morning) and Leviticus 19:1-4, 9-18, 32-37 (Afternoon)

    D'var Torah By: Rabbi Stephen Karol for

    Surely, this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. - Deuteronomy 30:11

    I was a student in my father's ninth grade religious-school class. What I remember the most all these years later is learning Torah from him and, most important, the practical ethical lessons we can apply to our lives from our most sacred text. In particular, studying the Holiness Code (Leviticus 17-26), which includes the Torah reading for Yom Kippur afternoon (Leviticus 19:1-4, 9-18, 32-37), has had a lifelong influence on me.

    The Holiness Code is a great selection for that day because it tells us that when many people are so focused on the ritual of coming to pray on one day to the exclusion of others, it is their behavior that truly makes them holy. This includes our praying and attending services, but it also includes our ethics. It applies to everyone-not just rabbis and cantors and "regular" service attendees.

    The eleventh-century commentator Rashi wrote on Leviticus 19:2: ". . . this section was proclaimed in full assembly ('all the congregation of the children of Israel') because most of the fundamental teachings of the Torah are dependent on it" (see Sifra; Vayikra Rabbah 24:5). And Rabbi Levi points out "because the Ten Commandments are included in this section (therefore, it was proclaimed to the full assembly)" (Vayikra Rabbah 24:5). Rabbi Levi specifically mentions the repetition of commandments regarding recognizing the Eternal as our God, not worshiping other gods, not swearing falsely, observing Shabbat, respecting parents, not taking the life of another or standing idly by, not committing adultery, not stealing, and not being a talebearer (similar to "false witness'"). Finally, he matches up not coveting with loving "your neighbor as you love yourself." In The Torah: A Women's Commentary,1 Tamara Cohn Eskenazi stated: "Connections . . . define the holy community: the connection to parents whom one must honor, to the poor and the disadvantaged whom one must protect, to the neighbor and stranger whom one must love, and of course to God" (p. 716).

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