Parshat Ki Tetze: Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19; Isaiah 54:1-10.
We are deep into the Hebrew month of Elul when many Jews spend time preparing for the Yamim Nora’im — the Days of Awe.
Some will spend the time preparing ritually with additional slichot (prayers of penitence) or reflection; some will be preparing culinarily, and many who work in synagogues will be putting the final logistics together for the annual homecoming pilgrimage of congregants back to our sanctuaries.
We often become so engrossed in our own preparations we sometimes overlook something important that we learn in this week’s Torah portion.
The Torah tells us: “Since the Lord your God moves about in your camp to protect you … let your camp be holy; let [God] not find anything unseemly among you and turn away from you.” (Deuteronomy 23:15.
The Torah has already told us that we are a holy people and are to act in a manner reflecting our designation as a nation of priests. However, here the Torah is taking this concept and adding on two new layers — our camp is to be holy; and should God find something “unseemly” amongst us, then God would, at least in that moment, remove His holy presence.
The word for “unseemly” is ayrom coming from the Hebrew word for nakedness. At its base — this means that we must not fall to the lowest levels of animalistic behavior where we act without the proper coverings of compassion and genuine concern for one another. It is in those moments, the moments when we abandon our sense of connection to one another, that, regardless of our clothing, we are, in fact displaying such nakedness; in that moment, when we lose the ability to care for one another, then God’s presence is driven away.
Yet the Torah tells us that it is not enough for us as individuals to act as holy people; we must ensure that our camps are also places of holiness. So how, especially as we prepare our “camps” for the High Holidays, do we ensure that they are indeed places of holiness where God will not find that which is “unseemly” amongst us?
Let us all work together to ensure that nobody is left behind, nobody is left outside the doors, nobody is left without a place and community with whom to celebrate the new year. Let us find that extra seat in our sanctuaries and at our tables; let us reach out to those who are lost and help them find their way; for those who are hungry, let them fill themselves next to us so that as “God moves through our camps,” there will be nothing but holiness and joy as we move into the new year.
Rabbi Shalom Kantor is the rabbi of Congregation B’nai Moshe in West Bloomfield.