This week we will be reading from parashat Kedoshim. Kedoshim, along with sections of last week’s Torah portion, Acharei Mot, make up what modern scholars refer to as the Holiness Code. Practically speaking, if one was to unroll the Torah from end to end, like we do at Simchat Torah, these parshiyot are found right in the middle. One might say, they make up the heart of the Torah.
Most of the mitzvot found in the Holiness Code have little to do with our relationship with God. Instead they are mostly focused on our relationships with our fellow human beings. They are mostly ethical in nature. The rational for their observance can be found at the beginning of Kedoshim, “You shall be holy, for I, the Eternal your God, am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). This means that if we wish to be blessed and be closer to God, we need to walk in the pathways of holiness.
The term for ‘holy’ in Hebrew is Kadosh. Kadosh also means separate or sanctified. This is why when a couple gets married, in Judaism we refer to it as a kiddushin, a separate and sanctified relationship.
This is also why we are often referred to as the Chosen People. It doesn’t mean that we were chosen because we are better than anyone else. Rather we were chosen to live and embody what it means to be kadosh, holy, separate, and sanctified. What sanctifies us? It is our individual and communal choices to strive to embody the ethical teachings of our tradition, especially those found in kedoshim.
We were not chosen to suffer. We were not chosen to be persecuted. However, I think one of the reasons why we have suffered and have been persecuted over the generations is because people don’t like to be told or reminded of how their actions and choices are not ethical. This is certainly an oversimplification of our history, but it is certainly a part of it.
What does it to mean to be kadosh, to be holy? As one of our great rabbis of the Mishneh, Rabbi Hillel taught, that which is hateful to you, do not do unto others. All the rest is commentary, go and learn.
On this Shabbat may we all strive to be a little more kadosh, especially in a world that could use more sacredness and holiness and less hate.
Rabbi Benjamin Sharff