Leviticus 19

The Torah portion on the Yom Kippur is Leviticus 19, K’doshim, the call to holiness. It expands on a few of the Ten Commandments, but is largely devoted to relationships among people, rather than with God. It is more of a mundane, moral code than a set of rules about how one should act before God. As the English translation was being read following the chanting of the Hebrew, I was struck by the timeliness of its prohibitions and prescriptions. If one brackets the references to God, this Torah portion offers a set of rules that I would relate to individual and community flourishing, a non-theological word that I can relate to holiness.

While implicit, some of the items call for care and empathy. I would even go so far to say that they promote what I call right-brain oriented acts—acts that reflect connections between people. Others proscribe left-brain acts which tend to be self-directed and are designed to control or manipulate. There is a natural redundancy between those that proscribe and those that prescribe because anything that reduces the dominance of the left raises the role of the right, and vice versa. Some of the items are not relevant today and are not included in the lists, below.

First, the prohibitions (left-brain):

• Do not steal.
• Do not deal deceitfully or falsely (no lies).
• Do not defraud your fellow nor commit robbery.
• Do not keep [overnight] the wages of those who labor for you. (Don’t stiff your employees.)
• Do not profit at the expense of others.

Next, the ones aimed at engaging the right-brain:

• Decide fairly, neither favoring the poor or bowing to the rich. (Fairness always must account for the context of the situation, a right-brain way of attending to the world)
• Do not insult the deaf (or anyone with a disability), nor impede the blind. (Requires empathy)
• Do not hate others in your heart.
• Do not take vengeance nor bear a grudge.
• Take care of the poor and the stranger. (This appears in the text as a directive to leave the gleanings of your crops in the fields, but can be easily brought into our industrial age. Also requires empathy.)

It should be quickly obvious that these rules of holiness apply to the President of the United States as a person, just like me to whom this reading was directed, but, more critically as our highest institutional leader. Yom Kippur offers all Jews an opportunity to clear up instances where we broke any of the first set of rules or failed to abide by the second. The coming election offers all citizens to rid ourselves of a President who shows absolutely no inclination to act according to almost none of these holiness codes that, in this case, serve to express the secular ideals of citizenship in a democracy.

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