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Rabbi Kalmar's SermonTazria Metzora 1 iyyar 5780

"Passive vs. Aggressive Holiness" (April 24 / 25, 2020)

At the time of the creation of the State of Israel there was a great fight about religion and even God in the declaration of Independence. The religious wanted to mention God and wouldn’t sign the document without it – the Communist parties said – mention God?! Heaven Forbid! - and the creation of the State of Israel – threatened by 5 arab armies and already in the middle of conflict – was held up by a debate about the inclusion of God in the document. Only the Jews! Finally, a compromise was reached – they would use the words Tzur Yisrael – rock of Israel. For the religious – it was God – for those against it – as Rabbi Berel Wein said, “there are lots of Rocks in Israel.”

So the nature of the declaration and the nature of the religious nature of the State would be ambiguous. But ironically – the British decided that they were leaving at midnight following May 14th – which meant that the declaration should have taken place when the British officially left – which would have been 12:00 am on May 15th 1948 - at midnight. But May 14th turned out to be a Friday – so there was no way that they could have the signing of the declaration of independence of the State of Israel take place on Shabbat – so they were forced to move it up to 4 pm on Friday – a passive recognition of the day of rest of the Creator of the Universe – which even the Communists could not argue against.

In the laws of the Torah – Tumaah - Impurity – can come in different ways: 1. one who deliberately or actively comes into contact with the dead or a cemetery or a dead animal. 2. Or it can just happen – like the case of the metzorah – the person stricken with Tzaraat (erroneously translated as leprosy), where he or she finds it on skin or clothes or a home. It’s a plague that just comes from nowhere. And while famously we say it comes for Lashon Hara – the sin of gossip or evil speech, the Talmud details a long list of possible sins. So the truth is – on any individual situation this plague comes for an unknown reason. We just get hit with it. In regards to the house that gets Tzaarat – the Talmud relates that it sometimes had a positive reason for coming – and in fact it revealed treasure that had been hidden there behind the walls by the original Canaanites. But at the end of the day – it comes and we don’t know why. So tumaah – impurity - can come in an active and a passive way.

Kedusha, holiness too, can come in an active and passive way. One can dedicate an animal or money to the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) and actively make something holy. But there is passive holiness too. Shabbat – comes whether we are ready for it or not. Trust me – as a rabbi I know.

We are used to saying that one should be actively doing things – I’m always pushing people to do mitzvos – to go to davening – to give tzedakah – to do acts of chesed – to be, to push to stretch to actively make our presence known.

But during this time of Covid 19 – we are very passive – we just have to stay home – to stay away from others – and from doing all the things we normally do. And as I have pointed out – of course there are plenty of things to do – make masks and support others and call the lonely and be good to our families and share and write and text and yes and on and on. But also – there is a certain value to being passive. To accept what is coming – and to do so with holiness. Shabbat comes and we accept it. It’s here – we don’t do anything – we stop doing things. As my wife has pointed out to our family – now we do chesed by not going out – by not going to shul – by not interacting with others – that is a chesed that we are doing for each other, for those who are at risk – for our health workers and health system and for all of humanity. We can achieve holiness by not doing.


Of course there are mitzvot that we do that are asehs – they are positive commandments – but there are also negative commandments – things we do not do, things we do not eat, things we do not say – and those bring holiness as much, and perhaps more than the things that we do.

The state of Israel was created on Erev Shabbat because of the passive holiness of Shabbat that was coming – God kaviyachal – if it can be said - made Kiddush on the State of Israel. Truman and Stalin may have recognized it – but God blessed it – with His Shabbat and His holiness.

So this week – and today as we think about the State of Israel and Shabbat – lets try to appreciate the passive holiness of Shabbat and of the kindness of staying at home to protect humanity. Hopefully that will help us to gain a little bit of peace and to deal with what is a trying and difficult time.

Mon, March 8 2021 24 Adar 5781