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Parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim: Holiness

What is holiness? What makes something holy? I have noticed as soon as the word “holy” is said in any context there is a pause as a boundary goes up in between the person and the word. There is a special space around the idea of holiness. Why? In the dictionary “holy” is explained or replaced by the word “divine.” Again, a word that has a special space around it. A word that we know in relation to G-d. But, what is divinity? What makes something divine? Divine in itself doesn’t completely define holiness because in my mind it brings up more questions. Although perhaps that is the purpose. With that being said, it does explain the special space surrounding the word itself.

In this week’s Torah portion, Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, G-d says to Moses, “Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, the LORD your G-d, am holy (Leviticus 19:2).” G-d commands that we, the Israelite people, be holy because He is holy. No big deal, right?! Of course we will be holy because G-d says we will be. An easy feat to be sure. However, if G-d expects us to be holy, how does G-d define holiness? G-d defines holiness with a list of commandments. Some that will remind you of the Ten Commandments. So in G-d’s words holiness is “Honoring our parents, keeping Shabbat, not making idols, leaving grapes for the poor and the stranger, not stealing, not lying, not gossiping, not oppressing others, loving one's neighbor as oneself, and more…” G-d in fact gives us something to do, a code to live by, a way to act. Holiness is something we can attain. Holiness, although divine and special is not limited to G-d. Alshich a 16th century commentator elucidates this command to be holy, “The easiest thing is to hide from the world and its follies, seclude oneself in a room, and be a holy hermit. What the Torah desires, however, is that a person should be part and parcel of ‘all the congregation of the children of Israel’ - and be holy.” To be holy, we must be a part of the the community, a part of the world. Holiness is not something separate or other. We can and are holy. Meaning we can do holy things.

Tonight at your Shabbat table ask yourself, “How am I holy?” Think about the things that you do that are holy. Think about the things that you do that make your community, your world better. Know that you are holy because G-d is. Know your actions add to your holiness. Talk about what you can do, how you can make your holiness shine through.

Shabbat Shalom!

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