2016-05-25 / Religion Column

Become closer to God, and become less cold

Cong. Beth Judah- Ventnor

Parashat Behukotai
Lev. 26:3-27:34

Sefer Vayikra, the book of Leviticus, concludes with a rather harsh section known to many as the Toch’cha—the rebuke. Utilizing a style that frequently offers the opposite of any number of blessings uttered by God throughout the Torah, the Toch’cha states what will happen “if you do not obey Me and do not observe all these commandments, if you reject My laws and spurn my rules…” (Etz Hayim, published by JPS) What are we who live in the 21st Century to make of this text, and how can we find it meaningful for today?

One stark word stands out, as it is not found anywhere else in the Bible except in Leviticus 26:21. We read the following: “And if you remain keri (hostile) to Me…” (Etz Hayim). Rashi connects this word to the word mikreh, meaning “chance,” that one will follow the word of God only when it is convenient. A novel interpretation is offered by Israel Salanter: keri— kuf, resh, yud—is related to kor— kuf, resh—meaning “cold.”

The further you are from a fireplace, the less you can enjoy its warmth. So too with God: The further we pull back from God, the colder we become. We can treat others more coldly, more dispassionately, more disrespectfully. Love of others can be replaced with love of self, and this has a chilling effect upon society. One who feels loved and respected by others will treat others the same; one who feels detached and not respected will do the same. This can and does spread to how humans treat animals. Would it not be wonderful for the ASPCA to close its doors because it is not needed?

Our children and grandchildren learn much from television, which has become to a greater degree one of their major teachers. Whether it is political candidates for any office disparaging one another, feeble attempts in sitcoms to gain a laugh by insulting someone, or supposed witty banter between sportscasters trading barbs, the “hot” thing is to be “cold.” Is it possible that we have become immune to this through continuous exposure; that our brains have adapted so that we are impervious to the assault? Are people so starved for attention that they would rather receive a “cold prickly” in the absence of receiving a “warm fuzzy,” since negative words are better than none?

A simplistic solution would be to follow the old adage many of us heard from our elders: “If you don’t have anything nice to say about someone, say nothing.” Mind you, it does have merit and still carries weight. Perhaps each of us should make the conscious effort to move gradually closer to God, to bask in the warmth, to become less cold. We might defrost a bit, and become less keri, less cold to others. .

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