D’var Torah: Acharei Mot – Kedoshim Pausing at the Center

by Cantor David Reinwald

This week, we find ourselves at the center of the Torah.  Some would even describe it as the heart of the Torah.  That iconic story of a non-Jew asking Rabbi Hillel, tongue in cheek, to describe the entire Torah while on one foot (which is to say, “in a nutshell”) arrives at this very portion.  We all know the answer he gave– “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”

Hillel makes reference to the Golden rule, found in Lev. 19:18.  It is amazing that this verse literally is found in the centermost part of the Torah.  It is a universal teaching and it does not even reference God.  It can literally apply to any human being, despite their faith, tradition, or beliefs.

This past week, I had our seventh grade b’nei mitzvah class watch an episode of The Wonder Years (my favorite TV show of all time) that demonstrated the perspective of Kevin, a young non-Jewish 13 year old on Paul, his Jewish friend, who happens to be having his bar mitzvah on Kevin’s birthday.  Kevin has a dramatic and selfish reaction to this news, not recognizing the value of Paul’s bar mitzvah.  Luckily, he comes of age during the short 25 minute episode.  I love that the story taking place in the 60’s, airing on TV in the 90’s, still remains classic today.  Our students were glued to the screen, and afterwards, I had them answer questions they had earlier posed to themselves–questions they imagined a non-Jewish friend of theirs might ask them.  I stated that they all were teachers as they went out teaching their friends about their bar or bat mitzvah and about what being Jewish means.

This ultimately is what Hillel was doing.  We see Hillel as a great teacher and leader of our own people, but this story–likely the most famous and lasting one–demonstrates Hillel was a teacher that recognized the universal truths of Torah and Judaism, far beyond the ritual and experiences we can define as part of our chosenness.

Question for Consideration:

What is the centermost portion of the Torah for you?  Does it have universal significance?

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