What is the focus of the religious life? Is it on the life of the spirit, our spiritual development and our relationship with the divine? Or is it in our relations with others?
Judaism and the Jewish people have engaged with these questions for the last 200 years, since Jews entered western societies. What does it mean to be a Jew? How should a Jew be in the world? Should our focus be the particularity of the Jewish people, on ritual behaviors and Jewish law, as many in the Orthodox world maintain, or should we focus on the universal values of Judaism and the prophetic calls for justice as our Reform movement holds?
This week’s Torah portion reminds us that there is no conflict between the two, as it interweaves so-called ritual and moral mitzvot one with the other. Laws of how to sacrifice are immediately followed by the commandment to leave part of one’s produce in the fields for the poor to gather. Laws forbidding sorcery are followed by the demand to show respect toward the elderly. Ritual mitzvot reinforce mitzvot that focus on social justice. To separate one from the other is to fundamentally misinterpret Judaism.
As Jews, we are commanded to care about both our spiritual lives and the lives of those around us. We are commanded to be holy in this world and in this lifetime, through our ritual behaviors and our acts of loving kindness.