Parashat Acharei Mot/ Kedoshim – Erev Shabbat 28 April 2023 (5783)
Week of 23 April – 29 April 2023
Torah portion: Leviticus 16 :1-20 :27   Haftarah: Amos 9 :7-15
Theme: Holiness as a way of life

The first two verses of Parashat Kedoshim open a whole universe for reflection. They are the famous words spoken by Adonai to Moses, who in turn is to proclaim them to the whole Israelite community: You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God am holy (Lev. 19: 2). Very often the focus of attention goes directly to the word holy and its possible meaning. But equally intriguing is the fact that the words spoken by God to Moses are not in the singular, but in the plural. The Eternal sent Moses to speak to the whole (!) Israelite community (see Lev. 19:1) – thus, holiness as the God of Israel demands it, is not an individualistic pursuit. The whole community is addressed: youngsters, grown-ups as well as the elderly, men and women, even the sick – everybody alike. 

As the parasha continues, long and exhaustive descriptions of various laws are given. The mentioned mitzvotreflect the whole spectrum of human life. They are elaborations on the ten commandments but expand even beyond them. All kinds of life situations are addressed, including ritual behavior as well as business manners, family relations and proper conduct towards fellow human beings, especially towards the most vulnerable ones, the stranger, the elderly and the poor. 

Holiness, as it is presented in the Torah, then, is not something abstract or a philosophical term to be reflected upon, but very tangible. Neither is this kind of holiness reserved for especially spiritually gifted people and it is certainly not meant to be pursued isolated and alone. On the contrary, God wants a whole community to be and to become holy together – a holiness which becomes visible by a certain behavior and conduct of a people with each other. 

The measurement for holy behavior is God himself – God is holy and it is this holiness, the community is to imitate. Even though God is invisible, his divine will is revealed in his word. So, in today’s Torah portion holiness can be interpreted as being a relational matter, which becomes visible where everything in life is being sanctified – time, place, objects, and people. With regard to personal relationships Martin Buber said, holiness does not mean rising above a (spiritual) level of one’s neighbor but recognizing the latent divinity in each of us (cf. Etz Haim, p.693).

One climax of this Parasha sums up this thought in a nutshell and makes it explicit, how God expects his people to behave toward one another, i.e., “love your fellow as yourself: I am the Eternal” (Lev. 19:18). By treating others the way we want to be treated ourselves, God is honored. Further, by sanctifying the everyday things and encounters in life, everything serves to draw the person closer to God, the holy one. Thus, holiness becomes a certain way of life, best pursued together as a community, which seeks to stay in communion with God by sanctifying daily life.

For Reflection and Discussion: 1. What is your understanding of holiness? 2. Can you relate to the communal aspect?

BibliographyEtz Hayim Thora and Commentary (New York: 1999)

This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Barbara Kauffmann
Germany, Bat kol Alumna: 2010, 2011, 2012

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