From the Head of Jewish Life
Kedoshim – Democratising holiness
This week’s Parasha, Parashat Kedoshim, starts in an unusual manner. Rather than being advised or commanded what to DO (though that comes later), the Parsaha opens with God telling or commanding us how to BE. קְדֹשִׁים תִּהְיוּ, Kedoshim Tehiyu. Be Holy.
What do you think of when you hear the word “Kadosh”?
Often, when we think of holiness, Kedusha, the first things that come to mind are Shabbat or Chaggim, festivals, for others, perhaps saying Kaddish or keeping kosher, or the long-gone Kedusha or Kadosh Kedoshim, the Holy of Holies of the Temple and its sacrifices.
Yes, those are definitely elements of Kadosh in Judaism, and in this section of the Torah. However, this parasha reveals something that was a game changer in the ancient world, in the understanding of human purpose.
In those times, and possibly all the way to more recent times, for most civilisations and religions, godliness and holiness were the privilege of the upper echelons of society; kings, pharaohs, caesars, popes and priests, whilst the rest of humanity lived in service and often in fear of these near demi-gods or messengers of God.
However, the Torah demands a different reality, a different morality:
וַיְדַבֵּר ה׳ אֶל־מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר׃
דַּבֵּר אֶל־כׇּל־עֲדַת בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם קְדֹשִׁים תִּהְיוּ כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אֲנִי ה׳ אֱלֹהֵיכֶם׃
And God spoke to Moses, saying:
Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: Be holy, for I, your God, am holy. (Vayikra/Leviticus, 19:2)
Here, the term ֶכׇּל־עֲדַת בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל “kol adat bnei yisrael” is used, rather than, just “bnei yisrael”, which is understood to mean every individual member of the Jewish people,
Not only is every human being created in the image of God, as expressed in the opening chapters of the Torah, but each man, woman and child has the potential to live a life of holiness, to connect to God and to lift their mundane everyday actions into a higher level of morality.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, z”l, explain this masterfully; “Kedoshim is the radical democratisation of holiness”.
This concept was expressed earlier in the Torah as well, in the book of Exodus (19:6):
וְאַתֶּ֧ם תִּהְיוּ־לִ֛י מַמְלֶ֥כֶת כֹּהֲנִ֖ים וְג֣וֹי קָד֑וֹשׁ
You shall be for me A kingdom of priests and a holy nation – every single person – Kol Adat B’nei Yisrael.
Here in Kedoshim, we learn that the representation of Kedusha lies not just in the holy days and holy places, but in lifting our game in how we treat others;
Not just looking after the needy, but even leaving the corner of our fields or the fruit that has dropped in our harvesting of the orchards – providing sustenance for the needy to access in a dignified manner without needing to beg.
According to Kedoshim, not only must we not steal, but we must be scrupulous in all our business dealings and ensure justice prevails in society, with no exploitation, cheating, lying, grudge bearing, vengeance and so forth.
It is in this parasha, Kedoshim, that demands holiness of us all that we find some of the most well-known mitzvot:
- Do not put a stumbling block before the blind nor curse the deaf
- Do not stand by the blood of your brother
- Love your fellow human as yourself
Through our mindful, purposeful actions that improve the lives of others and ourselves, in every aspect of our day to day lives as well as in actualising our larger hopes for humanity, we imbue our lives with holiness and become Kadosh.