Ways to redeem one problematic line (Radical Torah repost)

This week's portion: you shall be holy


What is done in the narrow places
from which I have freed you
you shall not do
I am Adonai

Do not take one another
for granted
Don't assume that what you want
is right for everyone

Do not stew in your own resentment
if the dishes are left in the sink
You shall not lash out
You shall not be cruel to one another

If you have power, do not lord it over
someone who is powerless
If someone cares for you, do not take advantage
of their empathy

Don't close your eyes
and pretend
that the person you are with
is someone else

Don't make these mistakes
lest your home become inhospitable
and spit you out on the sidewalk
I am Adonai

This week we're in parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim. This portion contains the "holiness code," a long series of injunctions about appropriate ritual and sexual behavior framed with the frequent refrain "You shall be holy, as I, Adonai Your God, am holy."

Last year I wrote a sestina arising out of the first part of this Torah portion, and then a poem exploring boundaries which came out of the second part of the portion. (Last year, this parsha was stretched out over two weeks; this year it's a single double-wide portion.) This year, as I read the portion in preparation for writing a new Torah poem, I was drawn to the holiness code, specifically the sexual prohibitions.

One idea I see at the heart of the holiness code is that we are forbidden from transgressing boundaries in ways which would be destructive. I understand the injunctions against uncovering the nakedness of a family member in this way. And I'm struck, always, by the code's framing device with its mentions of what is done in the land of Mitzrayim and how the children of Israel must differentiate themselves from those practices. This year's Torah poem for this portion went in that direction: imagining relational practices which God is here forbidding us from engaging in.

(For another take on the holiness code, you're welcome to check out the Returning to Mitzrayim, the d'var Torah I wrote for Mosaic's Torah Queeries series last year when this parsha fell right on the cusp of Pesach.) When you read the holiness code this year, what sticks in your craw and what speaks to you?


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