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Kedoshim 5773 – Why We Run

I am thinking about the heinous crime that was committed on Monday near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Each and every time a tortured soul chooses violence in this way we all feel more vulnerable. We feel more open – than we already are – to pain, loss and death. It is our gut reaction to minimize that vulnerability in the face of such wickedness. And yet, we cannot forget that when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable is when it is possible that we experience incredible things …

The marathon itself is an exercise in vulnerability. Each runner exposes herself or himself to her or his physical and emotional limits – in the hope of pushing oneself to higher levels of experience. To approach those limits is to spend some time ensconced in vulnerability. Each runner knowingly and trustingly accepts that a community of organizers, volunteers, civil servants, medical professionals and citizens will be present – witnessing that vulnerability and each (in their own way) helping every runner find the transformation she or he seeks by allowing for and facing that vulnerability. Without this community, the runner cannot realize that goal.

Speaking of goals, in Torah this week our spiritual ancestors are given quite a goal. In the portion of Leviticus called Kedoshim, the Israelites are charged and challenged: Be Holy – Kedoshim Tihyu. Commentators like to make note that this charge is given not to each individual (in the singular), but to the entire community (in the plural). The idea being that the state of Holiness is something that needs to be achieved – not merely among others, but with others. I like how Martin Buber might have understood this concept: “For Buber, holiness is found not in rising above the level of one’s neighbors, but in relationships, in human beings recognizing the latent divinity of other people, even as God recognizes the latent divinity in each of us.” (Etz Hayim Torah Commentary)

The experience of the marathon – for the community it takes to host a marathon – is emblematic of this concept of Holiness. The criminal or criminals who planted those bombs at the Boston Marathon sought to strike directly at this vulnerable and holy place of ours. Even as we reel at the images and stories from the scene, we cannot abandon that charge to ‘Be Holy’, we cannot stop seeking to realize and liberate the divinity in others, we cannot stop running marathons.

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