Are You Holy?

April 27, 2018
By Beth Mordecai
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Are You Holy?

Good Afternoon,

At the beginning of parashat Kedoshim, God speaks to Moses, saying: Speak to the whole community of the children of Israel, and you will tell them: You shall be holy, for I, Adonai your God, am holy.”  

Reading this verse I felt the echoes of an ancient challenge speaking through the ages.  This urging toward Kedushah or holiness is framed as a communal responsibility.

There are two radically different conceptions of Kedushah in Jewish tradition: The first perspective understands holiness as separation, as in the blessing we say to end Shabbat or a holiday, Lehavdil Bein Kodesh l’chol, to make a separation between holy and secular.

Rashi, the medieval commentator says that holiness is inextricably bound to the concept of separation.  In order to be holy, we need to separate ourselves from negative influences and not commit sins.  This view defines our holiness in abstention rather than action.

A different understanding of holiness exists in a parable of Rabbi Hillel in which Rabbi Hillel explains to his students that cleansing and caring for one’s physical body is an act of holiness.

By elevating his cleanliness to the level of holiness, Rabbi Hillel understood that the potential for Kedushah lay in every day acts, in the things that ground us in this mundane world.  The Talmud yields an agreement with Hillel, commenting on this very verse that we should sanctify ourselves through that which is permitted to us – through positive, intentional action, rather than by avoiding what is forbidden.

As we learn from our Torah portion this week, we learn that we must be holy and God is holy.  For us, this means we must both refrain from negative actions and commit positive ones.  God commands both abstention and action from us.  It is when we are able to do both, we are able to help partner with God making our world more complete.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Metz


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Category : Rabbi Rabbi's Journal