For the week of April 26, 2003 / 24 Nisan 5763
Torah: Vayikra / Leviticus 16:1 - 18:30
Haftarah: Amos 9:7-15
Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled (Vayikra / Leviticus 18:24).
Most people have standards. A standard is a rule that we view as a model or example for things we do or produce. A company usually has standards for their employees to follow. In the sporting world being allowed to compete at a particular level requires meeting set standards. Most of us have personal standards. We may or may not be able to express what they are exactly, but we do tend to have expectations of ourselves based on some set of standards.
Some societies give the impression that for one's own standards to be genuine, they need to be derived by ourselves and for ourselves. The thought of someone imposing standards of behavior on us is viewed as oppressive and controlling. The cry of the decade of 1960s was "Do your own thing." This expression of extreme individualism has become a foundational value for many in our own day.
The Torah has a different perspective. The Torah views God as the one who sets standards for us, especially in the spiritual and moral realms. Far from any thought that we can figure these things out for ourselves, the Torah imposes standards of behavior upon us.
I get the impression that even among those who say they respect the Scriptures there is a tendency towards the individualistic do-your-own-thing type of view. We put a greater value upon people's own convictions of right and wrong than upon God's commandments.
I accept that we may not always understand what the Scriptures mean or how they apply to our day, but however those details are worked out, we need to accept that it is God who sets the standards.
Some think that the standards God sets are only for a select group. While it is true that there are certain things in the Torah and the rest of the Bible that were for a particular group at a particular time, there is much that applies to all people for all time. This week's portion is an example of that.
This week we are given a long list of unacceptable intimate relationships. The Torah is clear that these behaviors were the cause of defilement for the nations living in the land of Canaan. It didn't matter who these people were, or whether or not they knew these things were wrong, they would be judged as a result.
When it comes to morality, whether we acknowledge them or not, whether we are comfortable with them or not, God has established universal standards. Our continued neglect of those standards can only mean that it is a matter of time before we too suffer a similar fate to that of the nations of Canaan.
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