Parashat (Parsha) Kedoshim / פרשת קדשים / Part One
Kodeshim, 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! That’s a tall order! Holiness is 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 men and women to enjoy the delights of kosher wine, kosher food and sexual pleasures 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.”
Nachmanides said we can fulfill the commandment to be holy by not abusing permissible behaviors. His teaching is applicable to people of all faiths, all belief systems and all walks of life.
Nachmanides attributed holiness to good boundaries and menschkeit (ethical, decent, responsible behavior).
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”
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 (Sabbath) 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 One who is distinctly set apart.
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 alone and together.
We are to set ourselves apart for a Kiddush (blessing) and not a Chilul (desecration).
When I think of Holiness, I think of the Mezzuzot (plural) we hang on our doorposts. Inside the Mezzuzah is a prayer from the Torah, protected from the hostile elements of nature by the decorative case. Even though the prayer is encased, its believed to infuse the home with the protective Grace and Goodness of GD.
We too must protect ourselves from hostile people and environments, while performing acts of Grace and Goodness in the world.
As we learned from Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman — Holiness is simply abstaining from greediness, selfishness and gluttony in all of its forms. We can be greedy, selfish and gluttonous in the way we conduct ourselves within our families, houses of worship, communities and society at large.
Holiness isn’t lofty, high-horsey or arrogant. It’s actually very down-to-earth and boils down to five essential principles:
- Healthy boundaries
- A sense of accountability
- Personal responsibility
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