Who are we as individuals? Who are we as a people? What makes us who we are? The answer is simple: our choices and our actions.
As a civil society, we need rules to function. You can’t have a community with people doing whatever they want without any guidelines. This Shabbat, we read Parshat Kedoshim, which focuses on many of the rules that we need to follow as Jews. Some are familiar: We are commanded not to steal, not to worship idols and not to commit adultery. But there also rules discussed that are less familiar to us. For example, we are commanded to not breed our cattle with those of a different species, to pay our workers as soon as their work is done and not to hate anyone in our hearts.
In reading the parshah, I notice that at the end of almost every rule, God declares, “I the Lord am your God.” In my Bible class, while we were learning about the Ten Commandments and discussing whether or not the first commandment is actually a commandment, someone raised an interesting question. Is God weak or strong if He has to keep reminding us that He is our God, or are we, the people, weak or strong if God has to keep reminding us?
I believe that the Jewish people were both weak and strong at different times. When the Jewish people first left Egypt, they were weak. They complained and said they would rather be slaves than die in the desert. However, they were strong when they defeated other nations. God showed strength, because He never gave up on them. His repetition at the end of each new rule is a reminder to them of this fact.
I think of the Jewish people like the building-block game Jenga. The Jenga towers are like the Jewish people, and the blocks are like the mitzvot. As a people, we are strongest when we are keeping the laws and performing all of the mitzvot. If we stop following some mitzvot, our tower gets weaker. Our goal as Jews is to keep our towers strong throughout our whole lives by performing mitzvot.
There are specific mitzvot that are bein adam l’chavero, between a person and another person. Indeed, most of the less familiar mitzvot in this week’s parshah are of this variety, with some commanding us to help others who are in need or who are less fortunate.
For my mitzvah project, I baked desserts for Sarah’s Hope at Hannah More, a shelter for women and children that provides meals and housing until residents get back on their feet. Over the past six months, I have made 100 brownies, four large sheet cakes, 80 chocolate-dipped Oreos, 450 frosted cookies, 100 frosted cupcakes, 100 caramel s’mores and more. I met the men and women who work in the shelter. Every time I dropped off a batch of desserts, they told me how happy the residents were to receive desserts that they otherwise wouldn’t get. In doing this mitzvah project and helping those less fortunate than myself, I feel that I am fulfilling one of the important mitzvot bein adam l’chavero and am living an important lesson from this parshah.
Daryn Levine is a seventh-grade student at Krieger Schechter Day School.