Jackpot! Score! High-five! Yes! Winner! These are all natural responses to the opening of this Torah portion. It’s right there in black and white, whether it is written on parchment or paper. We ARE holy because God is holy. We have been singled out for holiness. We have an automatic status of holiness simply because God is holy. According to verse 2, holiness is not something we have to work for to achieve. Holiness is not something set aside only for certain people. Everyone, every-one IS holy by virtue of the fact (belief) that God is holy. Woo hoo!
Finished and done!
Holy brothers and sisters, if only it were truly that simple. Yes, the portion opens with God telling Moses (to tell the Israelites) that we are holy because God is holy. However, the rest of the Torah portion is basically a list of commandments that must be obeyed in order for the holiness to be activated and maintained.
Kedoshim takes me all the way back to the first Torah portion, B’reishit, the story of Creation. God creates humans in God’s image with certain God-like abilities. We have God-like abilities because God is God. In this Torah portion we are also singled out by God, from all other creations and given this tremendous power and opportunity. The part that excites, intrigues and inspires me most, is how humanity is given life. God breathes into the nostrils of human being and life is activated. We are the living vessel for God’s breath.
Humanity’s first breath is literally God’s breath. This breath is filled with possibility. And then, we have a lifetime to decide how to use our breath. Will we create or destroy (like God)? Will we honor or disregard? Will we elevate or degrade? Will we care for or ignore? Will we defend or be silent? Will we choose to love and live through the lens that everyone, every-one is created in the image of God with God-like abilities?
Kedoshim is asking us to revisit our pledge. No matter what, the status of holy is ours. We are born with it and it’s our forever.
God reminds us of the different ways to nurture and uphold this unique and very awesome gift. We must honor our mothers and fathers. Actually the text says “fear” (literally; “be in awe of”). We must keep Shabbat. We must treat others the way we want to be treated. There it is, that golden rule. The teaching that has permeated every culture, every society, every community around the world. Everyone, every-one believes (at least claims to believe) that everyone, every-one should be treated the way she/he wants others to treat her/him.
“V’ahavtah l’rei-echa kamocha.” Love your neighbor (lit. “friend”) as you love yourself. Hopefully it is easy to love our friends. Many rabbis expand the verse to include family members (hopefully this is easy, too) and even the other, the one you don’t know or perhaps haven’t even met. This is where the real work happens. When we can love, care for, acknowledge, respect and value the life of the other, the stranger, then we have truly fulfilled the mitzvah of loving the other.
I invite each of us to reflect on our breath and the power that we have to elevate and diminish. Let’s honor every breath through the intentionality by which we engage the other. What if we greeted one another as “Holy brother” and “Holy sister”? How might that create a closeness that has otherwise been difficult to establish? How might referring to one another as holy shift the way we behave? How much deeper and fuller might our personal “kedushah”/holiness be if we were to embrace with a full heart the holiness in the one who is not like us?
Let’s try it and see what happens.
“In blessing and respect, Laurie Phillips”