Rabbi Jeremy Schneider

Parshats Behar-Bechukotai; Leviticus 25:1–26:2, Leviticus 26:3–27:34

Just in case you were looking forward to this, the last portion of Leviticus is a bit of a downer. Actually, make that a major downer. God tells the Israelites what will happen to them if they follow God’s laws. That part is OK. It is the part about what happens if they do not follow the laws — oy!

Speaking of a downer, a great many people when looking at a gravestone note that what is most significant on that marker is not the date of birth nor the date of death, but the dash, the hyphen between them.

That dash, some have observed, is the lifeline; it is along that dash that people lived and experienced life. It is interesting to note that no matter the span in years between one date and the other, the length of that dash is always the same. I think this is to show that there is fullness and meaning in every person’s life. No matter its span, we can find in every dash the moment or moments that defined and shaped that person. It is the point or points along that dash that define a person, that tell the story of their soul.

The Torah teaches that when God created the world, God created human beings b’tzelem Elohim; in God’s own image. Some may read this passage to mean that we all look like God. But Judaism reads it differently; it is not that we look like God, but that we have the many attributes of God as part of our soul. What makes us different is how we use those God-given abilities to affect the world we live in, the people we encounter in life.

The Midrash teaches that on the sixth day, when God began to create human beings in God’s own image, the angels who had been ministering to God through all of the previous creations complained among themselves. They said one to another, “Should mere mortals be so gifted as to be endowed with the Divine image?”

“No,” they said. “This is not right. We should hide the divine image from humans.”

One of the angels suggested hiding it in the sea, reasoning that the sea was so deep, surely humans would never find it there. Still another suggested hiding it at the top of the highest mountain, close to heaven where the angels could keep an eye on it. But the shrewdest angel dismissed their plans. “The human being,” the angel said, “is ambitious, and will search high and low to find such a treasure. Let us hide it within the soul of every human being. It is the last place in the world a human would think to look.”

In order to follow what God expects of us, we must become as a great rabbi in Jewish tradition called “Geologists of the Soul.” There are great treasures in the soul: There’s faith, there’s love, there’s awe, there’s wisdom, all these treasures you can dig — but if you don’t know where to dig, you dig up mud or you dig up stones. But if you want to get to the gold, which is the awe before God, and the silver, which is the love, and the diamonds, which are the faith, then you have to become a geologist of the soul, you have to know where to dig. We can’t just start poking holes in ourselves or other people and hope to find the treasure within; rather we have to dig carefully, deliberately and intelligently to find that divine image within each of us.

That’s how we follow God’s laws. That’s how we “Do Jewish.” And that is not such a downer after all. JN

Rabbi Jeremy Schneider is the spiritual leader of Temple Kol Ami in Scottsdale and the immediate past president of the Greater Phoenix Board of Rabbis.

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