Parashat (Parsha) Kedoshim / פרשת קדשים /
Kedoshim, the title of this parsha (Torah Portion), means holy ones or holy things.
This Parsha starts off with a bang! Right out of the gate, the opening commandment is: “Kodeshim tihiyu ki kadosh ani Adonoi Elohechem” — “Ye shall be holy; for I the LORD your God am holy.”
Oy vey! That’s a tall order! Holiness sounds like a lofty concept. The loftiest. People can get really high-horsey about it. How are we to be holy? What is required of us to be holy? How can I possibly fulfill this commandment?
Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (Nachmanides/Ramban) broke it down in simple terms. He said we can be holy by not being a “naval b’reshut ha’Torah” — “a crass boor using permission of the Torah.” What did he mean by that?
He expounds, “Jewish law allows us to enjoy the delights of kosher wine, kosher food and sexual intimacy with our spouses. Using the permission of our laws, a crass boor may assert, “I haven’t done anything wrong. Everything I did was permissible by Jewish law.”
In other words, Nachmanides said we can fulfill the commandment to be holy by not abusing and misusing permissible behaviors.
Nachmanides attributed holiness to menschkeit (ethical, honorable and responsible behavior). There’s an old Yiddish saying: “There is no Yiddishkeit without menschlichkeit (menschekeit).” It means — Judaism and humanity must co-exist, hand-in-hand.
Menschkeit is about honor, caring…it’s the space between a handshake. You know, the stuff that goes with you to your grave.Mayor John Pattas: Movie “City Hall”
Scriptural knowledge doesn’t make you holy. Prayer doesn’t make you holy. Going to services doesn’t make you holy. Quoting scripture chapter and verse doesn’t make you holy. Holiness is caring about others, respecting boundaries, respecting comfort zones and being mindful of how your words and actions impact others.
The dictionary defines holy as: “sacred, religiously dedicated, pious, devout or denoting spiritual purity.”
Kodesh (singular), the Hebrew word for Holy, simply means “set apart.”
The spelling קודש / קדש (kuf, dalet, shin) is the root word of everything holy in Judaism. We say the Kiddush (Sanctification) before our Shabbat meal, to set that food, drink and day apart from the rest of the week. A Jewish marriage is called Kiddushin, the act of “setting aside” the betrothed for each other. A name for GD in Jewish prayer, is ”HaKadosh,’’ The Holy One — The One who is distinctly set apart. In the Jewish definition of the word, “setting apart” and distinguishing is the way we designate something as Holy.
Holiness is not for the pious, the religious elite or the special few. Holiness is for everyone.Rabbi Moshe Alshich, 16th century, renowned darshan
GD told Moses to call all the Israelites together when giving the commandment to be holy, to let us know that everyone plays a part. Holiness is work we do individually and collectively.
We are to set ourselves apart by being a mindful human being, who self-cares without trampling on the self-care of others.
From the wisdom of Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman we learn that holiness is not a lofty or complicated concept. Holiness is the humanity of abstaining from reckless, selfish behavior and being accountable for the way we conduct ourselves within our homes, religious communities and society.
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