Taking Note of Our Origins

It’s quite an “aha” moment for a youngster when they realize that milk does not originate in a carton and food does not originate at the market. It has a beginning and a source. Our produce and grains come from the ground, and our milk and dairy come from animals (unless its soy, oat, or almond milk). Similarly, part of becoming a spiritual person is understanding where we all come from and appreciating how we got here.

Parshat Kedoshim, which literally means “Holy People,” begins with two Mitzvoth that are very familiar: Revering our parents and observing the Sabbath. Here it is in chapter 19 verse three:

אִ֣ישׁ אִמּ֤וֹ וְאָבִיו֙ תִּירָ֔אוּ וְאֶת־שַׁבְּתֹתַ֖י תִּשְׁמֹ֑רוּ אֲנִ֖י יְוָ֥ה אֱלֹיכֶֽם׃
You shall each revere your mother and your father; and keep My sabbaths: I am your G-d. 

The great sages of yesteryear pose the following question: Although revering parents and observing the Sabbath are both important commandments, why are they mentioned in the same verse? Since they are separate Mitzvoth, why aren’t they presented separately? What can be learned by this coupling of commandments?

The Kli Yakar Rabbi Ephraim Luntschitz (1550 –1619), who served as the Rabbi of Prague from 1604-1619, explains the connection magnificently. He writes that a reason we are commanded to honor and revere our parents is because we emanate from them. Without them we would not be here to read this article. So, too, Shabbat is celebrated each week as a recognition and testament to the creation of the world by G-d. Both commandments help us recognize and appreciate where we and all of life come from. Therefore, they are brought together in this verse.

While this verse is limited to honoring parents and observing the sabbath, recognizing the good in our lives and from where it emanates is a worthwhile endeavor in all arenas of our lives. If there is a shirt, there was a shirtmaker. If there is a building, there was a builder. Behind the finished product are those that helped make it happen.

In our Jewish community here in Southern New Jersey, lots of what we enjoy can be traced directly back to our Jewish Federation, whether it be the social services provided by Samost Jewish Family & Children's Service (JFCS), the recreational facilities at the JCC and JCC camps, or the scholarship funds that help families afford Jewish education and camping. It all takes place with your help and participation that benefits and fortifies our community for generations to come.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Ephraim Epstein
Community Scholar in Residence