Remember how your parents set a rule and when you questioned it they responded, “because we say so, that’s why!” Yes, I hated it too. So when my daughter and I have disagreements, I steel myself for the inevitable debate, committed not to using my parents’ fallback position. In this way I hope to teach her a concept from Parshas Acharei Mos:
Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them, I am your G-d. You will not do like the practice of the Land of Egypt . . . (Vayikra/Leviticus 18:2)
This week’s parsha tells about the Yom Kippur service (from which comes the term “scapegoat”), the prohibition against eating blood, forbidden relationships, and the holiness of the Land of Israel.
Temporal Versus Eternal Law
You might think the spiritually lofty Temple service segment of the parsha is the ideal reading for Yom Kippur. Instead, amidst the fasting on this holiest of days, the section on prohibited relationships provides an object lesson in what is moral versus what is legal.
Secular law is a human invention. As such, people can adapt it to changing circumstances. In St. Louis, it is illegal to sit on the curb and drink beer from a bucket. When this law was established, probably in the 19th century, it made sense since a person would take a bucket to the local saloon to buy beer. Allowing people to sit in the street and drink that much beer probably led to public drunkenness. Now, since beer for off-premises consumption is sold in bottles and cans, most of us would probably agree this law could be repealed without creating problems.
But G-d’s law is eternal. It deals with the moral fabric of society. Negation or alteration inevitably leads to a more tumultuous, coarse, even barbaric world.
Confronting Spiritual Disagreements
If you disagree with G-d, you have several choices:
- Seek a deeper understanding of the issue while continuing to obey
- Have faith that G-d knows better and accept that your assessment is inaccurate
- Refuse to comply with the law and seek to improve your relationship with the Almighty through other means
- Use disagreements as the reason to sever your relationship with G-d
Notice anything about these options? They are the same ones you had as a teenager when your parents laid down the law, with one exception. You could have tried to get your parents to change their mind.
The Eternal One’s law is immutable.
Although people attempt to redefine it, such a practice is inherently dishonest.
So on Yom Kippur we read about forbidden relationships. It might seem a more ethereal subject should have been chosen. But on this holy day, G-d seeks to uplift society. The Torah reading reminds us thatG-d’s immortal law governs proper conduct in even the most intimate aspects of our lives.
Meanwhile, I remain willing to debate human rules with my daughter. At the same time, I try to demonstrate my personal obedience to G-d. Hopefully, these show her the supremacy of His everlasting moral guidance while freeing her from the vagary of manmade laws.
What do you suggest for conveying this message?
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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.
Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!
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