Parashat Acharei Mot – Kedoshim – Erev Shabbat 23 April 2021
Week of 18 – 24 April 2021
Torah portion: Leviticus16:1-20:27 Haftarah: Amos 9 :7-15
Theme: All called to Holiness
Parashat Acharei Mot begins with: “The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they drew too close to the presence of the LORD”. Kedoshim begins similarly but is more expansive and almost contradictory: “The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I, your God the LORD am holy.’”
These two sections present two contrasts. Acharei Mot emphasizes the Transcendence of God while Kedoshim emphasizes the immanence of the divine presence (Emmanuel) among his people. The second contrast is that in the first section of our Parasha the LORD’s message to Moses is for Aaron as the priest concerning the role of the priesthood. The second section addresses all the people of Israel concerning how they are to be holy as the LORD their God is.
In Parashat Tazria – Metzora we read howthe priest is the one who pronounces on unclean and clean and offers purgation and burnt offerings making “expiation on her behalf, for the impure discharge, before the LORD” (15:30) This serves as an example of the priest’s role before the LORD and for the people.
The two sons of Aaron who were priests had defiled the sanctuary (10:1), hence the need to remind Aaron (and all priests) that they too move from states of purity to impurity and therefore boundaries between themselves and the LORD God, they served, were to be set and clarified. The priest’s calling is to maintain distinctions between the Divine and the human, Israel and the Other, and priests and the people of Israel. The LORD God is Other – separated from the human while those who belong to God are separated for God.
Commenting on Parashat K’doshim, S. Tamar Kamionkowski (A Women’s Commentary, p.701) says: “Holiness here differs radically from what we have encountered in previous Torah texts. Leviticus 19 offers a fundamentally new vision of holiness; one that has the potential to bring women and other disenfranchised populations within Israel into the realm of holiness.”
What is the ‘holiness’ to which we are called? Kadosh/kedoshim implies that all things, procedures, persons associated with God are holy. It can also mean: being set apart for God or the things of God. Gradually as this word was used it came to mean a spiritual gap between creature and Creator. It could also mean: you shall be somebody special because of your calling and closeness to God.
“Be holy’ (Leviticus 19: 2) is the most difficult of all the commandments in the Torah – God asks of His people ‘to be’ rather than ‘to do’. ‘You shall be holy’ – holiness is for now and for the future – it is a daily striving.
For Reflection and Discussion: The implications of God’s calling for us as human beings are: to live a life of holiness as defined (in the rest of Lev 19) for a human being because God is holy; holiness is about ‘completeness’ – human beings must be true to the creatureliness to which they are called; Israel’s (and the Christian’s) fundamental calling is spelled out in Exodus 19:6 “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (refer to 1 Peter 2:9). Discuss.
Bibliography: Eskenazi, Weiss: The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (New York: 2008); My research for a presentation: “Called to Holiness”.
This week’s Parashah Commentary was prepared by
Bernadette Teresa Chellew, South Africa, Bat Kol Alumna: 2008