10 May 2024

Week of 5-11 May, 2024

Torah portion: Leviticus 19:1-20:27  Haftarah: Amos 9:7-15

Theme: “You shall be holy..”


The book of Leviticus rests at the centre of the Torah, and at the very heart of Leviticus we encounter one of the most challenging commandments which the Lord has given to Moses for all the community: “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” (Lev 19:1-2) The command that we should be holy as G-d is holy seems exorbitant at first glance. Adding to our dismay, the call to holiness is repeated three times in this parashah: “You shall sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I the Lord am your God.” (Lev 20:7) “You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have set you apart from other peoples to be mine.” (Lev 20:26)

The idea of the holiness of an entire people, Israel, is without parallel in human history. Yet, even before Israel was given the 10 Commandments, as a prescription for right living – “what to do”, Israel was told “what to be” – a holy people. (Ex 19:5-6)

We know that holiness is the single attribute which belongs to G_d alone. Kadosh (Heb. Holy), meaning “set apart”  has a sense of mystery, transcendence and a depth we can never fathom. For a powerful insight, we lean to the prophet Isaiah (6:3) and his vision of the Lord on a throne, attended by angels singing: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory.” Isaiah’s words resound in both Christian and Jewish liturgies. In the daily Kedushah it is customary to stand on tiptoe and stretch upward three times as if to grasp the unreachable holiness of G_d.

How does a human being “dust of the earth” become holy? ‘Man’, formed in G_d’s image, carries a spark of holiness, which, if we are open to a relationship with the Divine, this spark abides in us, sustains us and enables us to live by the conviction that our acts of goodness reflect the hidden light of G_d’s holiness. To guide us, the parashah includes fundamental duties and laws from every sphere, punctuated 18 times by “I am the Lord” and 9 times by “I am the Lord your God”. Such repetitiongivesclear focus to our relationship with G_d and a stark reminder of the fundamental commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deut 6:5). Rounding out the highest ideal for living in a right relationship with G_d, are: “love your fellow as yourself” (Lev 19:18) and “love the stranger” (Lev 19:34). Indeed, we are called to the highest quality of love!

For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Martin Buber maintained that Judaism does not divide life into the holy and profane, but into the holy and not-yet-holy. Discuss. 2. Consider how developing a closeness to G_d happens in community through shared prayer and good deeds.

Bibliography: Heschel, A.J.,God in Search of Man (New York: 1976),Berlin & Brettler eds., The Jewish Study Bible, 2nd Edition (Oxford, 2004), Green, A., These are the Words (Woodstock: 2012),ETZ Hayim: Torah and Commentary (New York, 2001)This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Mary Ann Payne, Australia, Bat Kol Alumna 2007, 2011, 2015


Comments are closed