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Not My Job? Yom Kippur Mincha Devar Torah 2009

The words and concepts that we will read this afternoon are engrained in each Jew so deeply that they are the essence of Jewish DNA as it were. Known as the “Holiness Code,” the text is a to-do list of making ourselves holy, meaning to be special, unique, separate.

Taken at face value, it would seem obvious that these are things we should do: revere your mother and father, keep Shabbat, stay away from idols, don’t steal, don’t lie, and don’t be deceitful … to be vulgar, this is a “no-brainer.”

But clearly there is more to be gleaned, more to be learned; and we find our lesson in the first two verses of our parashah.

Moses is speaking to the “whole Israelite community. We are all here – figuratively if not literally (as I look out into the congregation this afternoon) – and we are all included. These words, these chores, these admonishments are not meant for some of us. We are ALL involved: whether we consider our Jewish practice to be observant, secular, ethnic, cultural; whether we pray every day or just on Shabbat or just three days a year; whether we are rabbis, cantors or teachers or students, lawyers, homemakers.

All of us are obliged to be holy – to be unique, separate – as an entire community. We cannot afford to separate ourselves from each other. “Al tifrosh min ha-tzibbur,” Rabbi Hillel teaches in Pirkei Avot: do not separate yourself from your community. And there’s an equally important corollary here: Not supporting our community means that we are not supporting ourselves.

We cannot assume that someone will do ‘it’ for us. We have a responsibility – an obligation – to ourselves and to our community. We have so many opportunities to be holy.

We are holy when we regularly make a minyan on Shabbat morning so that a fellow or sister Jew can celebrate a simcha or say kaddish with his or her spiritual community (not to mention we insure that there will be a community to surround us when we want to celebrate or mourn). We are holy when we reach out to members of our community – even the ones we don’t know personally, when all we know is that they are one of us – with a simple note of healing thoughts or condolence or congratulations. We are holy when we support each other’s children’s Jewish education and when we come in from the cold and learn with each other to support each other’s Jewish growth. We are holy when we feel each others’ presence when we call out the name of a loved on in need of physical, spiritual or emotional healing rather than asking others to recite both a name and the misheberach prayer. We are holy when we personally support the efforts of our Sisterhood, Brotherhood, committees, board of trustees.

These are just a few of the ways we can make our community a kehillah kedoshah – a holy and sacred community worthy of the title. Let us make 5770 the year that we make ourselves a “whole Israelite community.”


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