6 Iyar 5782
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From Parashah Kedoshim we learn that the sacred, the holy, is not achieved by separating ourselves from the rest of the congregation, but simply by walking side by side with others; otherwise, what is the point of being “holy”; it is only for ourselves?
The parashah begins with God’s decree ordering the people to be “Kedoshim”, sacred or holy: “Adonai spoke to Moshe saying: Speak to the whole congregation of the children of Israel, and tell them: you shall be holy, for I, the LORD your God, am Holy”. (Vayikra / Leviticus 19:2)
This verse has a peculiarity; the divine mandate says: “Kedoshim tihiyu”, “You shall be holy”. The language is plural, not singular. Kedusha or holiness is attainable to the extent that we are a collective, a group, a society, not single beings that highlight individuality above all else. “Being “Kadosh” according to the Torah, commits us to be connected to our surroundings and to behave according to what is good and right, what is just.
The entire congregation of the children of Israel was commanded to be holy, set apart. The order was not to each one individually but to the people as a whole, to the community as a whole.
The precept “You shall be holy, because I am Holy“, is somehow difficult to digest, because if no one can even understand who the Almighty is, nor speak of the concept of what His holiness would be like, then, what does God mean by commanding us to compare our holiness to His?
The commentators explain that it is the well-known concept of the Sanctification of the Name of God. That is to say: take care that your behavior is correct and proper, because in this way His Great Name would be sanctified. In other words, the people around us would observe that whoever calls himself part of the Eternal’s people, behaves, as they say, “as God commands”, resulting in others also wanting to do His Will, because each of us, at our level, has a link with the Creator of the world. Humanity is aware of our actions, so we must take care, at all costs, that this divine spark that we represent, remains bright and clear, and justifies our well-known nickname of being “the people of God.” All those who belong to the house of Israel, as a rule must sanctify the great name of the Creator, since it is written: “And I will be sanctified among the children of Israel...” (Leviticus 19:32). Anyone who abstains from a transgression or fulfills a precept, not for himself but for the Creator, hallows God’s Name. But if we do things that, for example, arouse negative comments among people, we desecrate His Name.
In Hebrew, the term Beit Hamikdash, usually translated as Temple, literally means a house of kedushah—of holiness. So, then we might ask, what is kedushah? Previous parashiot mentioned purity (“holiness”) but in reference to specific things or people, such as the sanctuary, the cohanim, etc. In last’s week’s parashah (Achare Mot) the Torah gave us the instructions regarding the basic morality of the people of Israel. Now in this parashah, these instructions on holiness encompass all peoples, of all ages, and in all situations of daily life. That is why they are exposed to the people of Israel in a direct and similar way to the declaration of the Ten Commandments. Here the call of kedushah, which we translate as “consecration”, is not addressed to a sector of the people (as in the case of the priesthood, for example) but to each person. Some precepts are stated in the singular while others are in the plural; the Torah is showing us that although there is an established individual responsibility, it is the community that will ensure that the “mitzvot system” works in harmony; so that there is no collective morality apart from individual morality. The end results of the actions of a moral individual must necessarily be a moral society.
Our sages compare chapter 19 of this parashah with Exodus 20, agreeing that Parashat “Kedoshim” was declared before the entire congregation of Israel and that most of the basic foundations of the Torah are contained in it. They say that in Parashat Kedoshim there is a correlation between – “Honoring father and mother” and ‘Keeping the Shabbat’. According to our sages, education for “kedusha” (“consecration”) must begin from childhood; that parents, through their behavior, must be a source of inspiration for their children, but everyone, parents, and children, must be harmoniously united in their faith in God, Creator of the Universe, so that all this leads to the “creation” of a world as it was in the beginning, which is what Shabbat represents.
Verse 18 of this parashah says, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself“. The instructions listed above culminate in this mitzvah. Love of neighbor is not an abstract attitude, rather it manifests itself as respect for the life, feelings, and property of our neighbor. Therefore, this love must manifest itself in the protection of our neighbor and his environment. To fulfill this mitzvah is to want for our neighbor all those positive things that we want for ourselves, but not only in desire but in practice and in truth. Some sages explain that, to love others, one must first love oneself, that is, the person must refine his qualities, such as humility, respect, manners, etc., so that he can then love others. According to Ramban, what the Torah wants is for us to desire that other people would achieve the same success and prosperity that we would wish for ourselves. Others say that this refers to the fact that we should not only love those who are easy to love, but even those who are difficult to love. One of the ways to fulfill this precept of love for others is that the empathy we feel for the pain of others is sincere and not contrived; we must always treat others with respect, seek the best for them, receive them with kindness, be forgiving, offer them help and never think of ourselves as being better than anyone else.
Hillel said: “Whatever is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the entire Torah. The rest are commentaries…” (TB Shabbat 31.a) Rabbi Yeshua said, do unto others as you would have them to unto you. (Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31)
Leviticus 20:24 says, “…I set you apart from among the peoples…” The people of Israel can claim the fact of having been chosen by God as long as they separate themselves and move away from pagan people and their corrupt behaviour. The election of the people of Israel is not a right rather it’s a responsibility. Consecration means loyalty. The breaking of this loyalty brings with it the deterioration of the special relationship between the people of Israel and their God, the Creator of humanity. To avoid this deterioration, we have received the Torah.
In short, “kedusha” and “kedoshim” tell us about the immense blessing of having been made in the likeness and image of the Creator and of being bearers of those “sparks” of Him in us and what it means to be transmitters of that light to the whole world.