Parshat Acharey Mot/Kedoshim: Leviticus 16:1-20:27; Amos 9:7-15.
I have to admit, I wanted to take the easy road when it came to this Torah commentary.
This week we read a double portion, Acharei Mot/Kedoshim; in Kedoshim, there are some great (read: fun and meaningful and straightforward) things to discuss, ranging from the Ten Commandments to being fair and honest in business; from the well-known adage, “Do not put a stumbling block before the blind,” to another, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
These are the ethical laws and values, all listed together in what is called the Holiness Code (Leviticus 19), that reminds us of what it means to be good and decent human beings.
So, I have to admit, I’d rather talk about any one of these mitzvot right now; but, I’m compelled to look at the chapters that sandwich this code, chapters 18 and 20, focusing on the laws of sexual morality. Given our current climate, we need to talk about sex.
In Judaism, sex is considered a good thing. “Be fruitful and multiply” is the very first commandment. There are laws that encourage healthy and active sex lives. Human beings are meant to engage in loving and meaningful intimate relationships within the context of marriage; or perhaps in our modern day, we might say within monogamous and long-term relationships.
Sex is not meant to be harmful, demeaning or abusive. It is not about power and control of one partner over another. It is not about harassment or violence, which it seems, is more pervasive than any of us could ever have believed. And while, societally, we never felt comfortable talking about it until the most recent #MeToo and #Timesup movements, the Torah never had any compunction about it.
These sections in Leviticus deal with whom Israelite men are allowed to engage in sexual relations. Note, it doesn’t speak at all about women’s sexuality; but simply put, it disallows incest, bestiality, two men together and sleeping with a menstruating woman. There are limits on our sexuality. A person can’t just have sex with whomever, whenever, however, that person wants. And while the text doesn’t describe the quality of the intended sexual relationship, it is inferred that it be positive, healthy and affirming.
We take these ideals, not from our modern vision of a love relationship, but from the fact that the next chapter is the Holiness Code, concentrating on moral and ethical behaviors. If we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, all the more so, should we not love and respect the person who we engage with in the most intimate of levels?
As I read the Torah portion this year, I can’t help but believe that the Torah is telling us that enough is enough. The Torah is telling us #MeToo and #Timesup. It is time to change the way we are with each other. It is time to call out bad behaviors, and it’s time to make all our relationships, but especially our intimate ones, healthy, loving and encouraging.
(If you are in an abusive relationship, please call JFS at (833) 445-4357 or Haven at (248) 334-1274 for help and support.)
Rabbi Marla Hornsten is a rabbi at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield.