Parsha Kodeshim – What Does Holiness Mean?

Parashat (Parsha) Kedoshim / פרשת קדשים / Part One

Vayikra/Leviticus 19:1–20:27

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:

  1. Awareness
  2. Healthy boundaries
  3. A sense of accountability
  4. Personal responsibility
  5. Self-control

©️ 2020 The Wild Pomegranate / ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

11 thoughts on “Parsha Kodeshim – What Does Holiness Mean?

  1. Would you share your journey to where you’re at in Judaism?
    As I said, your posts really help me. Because they align with my view of the world and Judaism. Instead of what I was raised with and need to let go of.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Wild Pomegranate (Abi)

      My posts reflect where I’m at. As for denominations — Jewish Renewal and Reconstructionist Judaism pretty much align with me. Reform is okay, but I prefer Reconstructionist Judaism. I like Kabbalat Shabbat services the best. I left Orthodoxy years ago. Right now everything is shut down and services are all on Zoom. I haven’t really felt motivated to Zoom. I just do Shabbat and such at home and write on my blogs.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. The Wild Pomegranate (Abi)

          I gained all my in-depth knowledge from Orthodox/Chasidic Judaism and now have the tools to utilize it towards the greater good and values I hold dear. 💞💞💞

          Liked by 1 person

    2. The Wild Pomegranate (Abi)

      I’ve also had my own Shabbat chavurot over the years, in the pre-covid era. I taught online back in the yahoo groups heyday. Right now, just doing my thing sheltering.

      Liked by 1 person

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  4. I love that image of empathy: “the space between a handshake”. Beautiful idea of separateness and togetherness. I have been reading a little book that talks about the various names of God. I began this after reading a book about Native Americans in America and the faith and belief system they had about the God of the Bible before “we” came and destroyed their culture and homes and lives. We of Western mentality, especially maybe of Christianity Western mentality, have lost so much in giving Creator/ Great Spirit the generic title of God. The ancient Hebrew names that God calls himself are so beautiful, so vast in scope, so personalized to God and whomever and whenever God was speaking or acting. There is of course the name that no one knows, but there are many others that provide relationship and understanding and joy in specificity. I feel a sense of sorrow of how small my own “tribe” have tried to make God — and in the process ourselves. Thank you for sharing HaKodosh — “there is no one like our God”. Shalom, Jane

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Wild Pomegranate//Abi

      Many thanks for beautiful, aware and insightful reflections, Jane! ❤️ It was wonderful to read and resonated with my neshama (soul). I was just thinking of posting about the various names for GD in Hebrew and their meanings. Rav Brachot! (Abundant blessings!)


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