You shall be holy, for I, the Eternal your God, am holy

DSC_7444The word kadosh is usually translated as “holy,” as in the Holy Land, the Holy of Holies, the Holy Ark, and the High Holy Days. Three times a day, in the K’dushah part of the Amidah, the standing prayer, we say “Holy, Holy, Holy is Adonai Tz’vaot,” which is one of God’s names (Isaiah 6:3). Shabbat is also called Shabbat Kodesh–the holy Sabbath. The prayer we say to sanctify time on Friday evening is the Kiddush, a word directly related to kadosh, “holy.” And this week’s Torah portion is called Kedoshim, the plural of kadosh.

Clearly, the word kadosh–holy–appears over and over again in our tradition. And yet, what does this common word actually mean when we say it? Do we think about its meaning? Do we understand its implications? I do believe that this week’s parashah opens the doors to a better understanding of what the word “holy” can mean for us. The portion begins with the words “The Eternal One spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them“. So, it is clear that what follows is meant for all of the Israelites–not just the priests, not just the leaders, not just the men, not just the adults. Everyone was to be addressed! So what are the words that are so important that everyone must hear them? Here is what follows: “You shall be holy, for I, the Eternal your God, am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). What an inspiring message. We shall be like God. We shall be holy because God is holy.

What follows our somewhat astonishing sentence about being holy, is an extensive list of commandments, some of which I will summarise here: We are told to revere our parents, keep Shabbat, not turn to idols, take care of the poor, and not steal, lie, or profane God’s name. There are warnings about defrauding people, abusing those with disabilities, and treating strangers badly, and we are instructed to pay workers immediately after their work is completed. We cannot eat the fruit of a tree until it is four years old and we should not eat blood. There are many laws about sexual relations included here as well. But perhaps the most famous rule in this part of Leviticus is “Love your fellow as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).

I would argue that these laws provide us with a clear definition of the word “holy,” at least for human beings. In short, if we want to be holy like God is holy, we can certainly understand this parashah as a guide to achieving that status. Observe these commandments and you will be holy! If we read this Torah portion carefully and figure out which of these commandments can fit into our lives, our lives will be greatly enriched and maybe, just maybe, we will get a taste–and only a taste–of what being holy like God can mean.

Shabbat Shalom Rabbi Adrian M Schell (Source:

Torah Reading for Shabbat Kedoshim

Leviticus 19:1-20:27 (Reading Lev. 19:1 – 25; P p.798; H p.497);
Haftarah: 1 Samuel 20:18-42 (P 1495; H p.948)

Parashat Kedoshim, which means “holiness” lists those ritual and ethical laws that, if followed, will make the Jewish people a “holy” people.

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