The month of Iyar is energized by
the letter Vav, which literally means hook and is most often used gramatically
to mean and when it is a prefix. It is a custom among scribes to write Torah
scrolls so that the first letter of every column is a Vav. This emphasizes that
no individual section of the Torah can be taken on its own, but is connected
to the column before it and the column after it. As we discussed last year during
the month of Iyar, the primary spiritual activity of this month is the counting
of the Omer which hooks one day to the next for 49 consecutive days. Iyar itself
Vav, a hook, to connect Pesach in Nissan with Shavuot in Sivan.
Insights into Connection - Parshat Kedoshim
Parshat Kedoshim, the Torah portion
to be read on
the first Shabbat of the month of Iyar, provides us with insights into the
spiritual concept of connection when we look at the presence as well as the
absence of Vavs in certain words and phrases.
Kedoshim tihyu ki kadosh ani.
You shall be holy for I (G-d) am holy (Vayikra 19:2) is one of the fundamental
concepts of Judaism and the primary focus of Parshat Kedoshim. G-ds holiness
and the command that we imitate G-d and strive to be holy is the basis for all
of the commandments. In the Hebrew, we notice a difference in the way G-ds holiness
is spelled compared with the holiness that we are urged to achieve.
G-ds holiness is spelled in its complete form -- Kadosh (Kuf-Dalet-Vav-Shin).
Kedoshim, the holiness that we are charged with achieving, is considered an
incomplete spelling because there is no Vav (Kuf- Dalet- Shin-Yud-Mem).
What does this missing Vav tell us?
There are many interpretations, but perhaps it tells us that our search for
holiness is to be found by seeking the Vav --
seeking the connections that unify and create a oneness that resembles G-ds
Oneness. But what connections lead us to holiness? If we explore this weeks
parsha we come across one of the most well-known sayings and commandments: Love your neighbor as yourself (Vayikra 19:18). Again, the Hebrew shows us something that the translation does not -- the command to love begins with a Vav and reads Vahavta lrayecha kamocha.
Perhaps this Vav of V'Ahavta is the missing Vav that we seek in our quest for holiness and points us in the right direction. Our holiness is dependent on our being able to love others and make connections with them.
The entire parsha is filled with specific commandments that forbid us from doing things that destroy connections and relationships, e.g. gossipping, cheating, robbing, withholding workers wages, perverting justice, bearing a grudge, showing favoritism, etc. The quest for holiness is achieved in the every-day world of human interaction.
There is a paradox, however. There
is also the commandment to reprove your fellow, to correct someone when they
do something wrong (Vayikra 19:17). Sometimes this seems to be antithetical
to loving someone and making a connection with them. Yet, it is in the very
next verse that we are told not to take revenge or hold a grudge and that we
are to love our fellow. Even the reproof must be in the context of loving the
and must be free of an agenda that can often conceal a personal judgment, revenge or a grudge.
The challenge of making Vav, connections,
a reality in our
lives is our tendency to focus on what separates us rather than on what unites
us and to judge a person or people who disagree with us, or who are doing
something that does not meet with our approval. The judgment acts as a barrier
to the love that should flow between us and blocks the love we have for others.
It is far easier to be correct than it is to be holy. The story of Pinchas
related in Parshat Pinchas (Bamidbar 25:12) describes Pinchas who zealously
kills two people whose immoral actions had caused a plague to kill 24,000
people. G-d rewards Pinchas for his devotion with a covenant of Shalom, peace.
However, the Vav in the word Shalom is the only letter written on purpose with
the imperfection of being broken in half. There are a number of interepretations
of this broken Vav, including the commentary of Oznaim L' Torah that the
covenant of peace is crippled because it was brought about by killing. The
connection was incomplete. Even though bloodshed was necessary at that moment to
stop the devastation of the plague, G-d still considers the Vav broken. The
broken Vav warns us to be careful of seemingly righteous actions that also serve
to destroy connections and relationships.
We can ask ourselves how we interact
in our lives. Do we create and nurture connections that are based on loving
other people or do we isolate the commandment to reprove our fellow without
regard for the love that is supposed to be the foundation and the expression
of our criticism? If we really appreciated that our true holiness depends on
finding the missing and repairing the broken Vavs in our life, what changes
would we make in our life? During this month we have the opportunity to take
the connections we are making between each day of the Omer into our daily life
seeking to make connections and establishing relationships that will bring true
holiness into our life.
Perhaps there is also a message
in our knowing that
during this time of the counting of the Omer we are in a state of mourning over
the death of the students of Rabbi Akiva (again 24,000) who died because "they
did not show respect for each other." The Vav of peace among the Torah zealots
was incomplete because there was not a measure of love commensurate with their
measure of knowledge. A question we will return to later this month is a
longstanding dilemma: How do you accept others without judgment and how do you
reprove with love?