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Kavvanah before the reading of parashat Aḥarei Mōt and the pain caused by Leviticus 18:22, by Rabbi Victor Reinstein (2015)


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בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים
Every human being is created
btselem Elohim — in the image of God.
Honoring every person, we honor God.
Of infinite value and worth,
every person reflects one facet of God’s nature.
No person is a means to another’s end.
The presence of God in a human relationship
depends upon the recognition by each
of the image of God in the other.
This is the kavvanah, the intention of heart and mind,
and the context in which we read Leviticus 18 in Parashat Aḥarei Mōt
as we arrive at this portion in the sacred cycle of Torah reading.
This chapter contains the Torah’s enumeration of prohibited sexual relationships.
In the most intimate of human relations,
the inherent worth of each partner is expressed or denied,
the image of God honored or demeaned,
cosmic union effected or hindered.
The Jewish way is to unify body and soul,
the physical and the spiritual.
In power relationships there is only a joining of bodies.
Each person becomes an object in relation to the other.
This is the nature of relationship that is abhorrent to Torah.
It is the nature of relationships condemned;
incest, violation of boundaries,
son with mother, brother with sister,
father with daughter or daughter-in-law.
Shaming and jealousy,
playing off against each other
a woman and her daughter, two sisters;
adultery and violence.
All are power relationships,
of male over female,
of adult over child.
We come to the verse that has caused so much hurt,
“And with a male you shall not lie the lyings of a woman:
it is abhorrent.” (Leviticus 18:22)
All of the heterosexual relationships described
are condemned as power relationships.
We therefore understand this verse to refer in context
to a power relationship between non-equals of the same sex.
As power relationships,
all of the unions described in this chapter
are referred to at its end as abhorrent.
Reading this verse in the same context of concern as all of the other verses,
we thereby affirm loving and equal relationships between people of the same sex.
We choose to wrestle with Torah,
engaging its pain and challenge
no less than we celebrate its beauty.
We refuse to give up the right of interpretation,
or by abdication to give tacit agreement
to an interpretation of exclusion.
As every human being is created in the image of God,
we affirm the presence of God in every relationship
whose partners respond to the image of God in each other.
I ask forgiveness
for any hurt that I may have unwittingly caused
in this process of wrestling with Torah
and with life.

“A kavvanah (declaration of intention) that we bring to the reading of parashat Aḥarei Mot and the pain caused by Leviticus 18:22” was offered by Rabbi Victor Reinstein in 2015.




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