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Dan Has Questions About Holiness and Perfection: Parshat Kedoshim

05/05/2022 09:52:24 AM


Dan Lemon

This week's Parshah is Kedoshim, which literally means "Holy" (in the plural case). This section of the Torah is known as the "Holiness Code", and it starts with God telling Moses to tell us that "You shall be holy, for I am holy". Look up "holy" in your thesaurus and you will find a long, long list of synonyms, from "righteous" and "spiritual" to "God-like" and "pure". 

- What is the Torah trying to tell us here? Why not just say "be good people" or "do your best"? Why use the word "holy"?

- Can we really be like God? What does that even mean?

The Parshah continues with a long list of mitzvot, those good deed/commandment combinations that tell us how we should try to live our lives. A few are repeats of the Ten Commandments: Obey and respect your parents, observe Shabbat, do not worship idols, do noy steal, do not lie. But the Torah goes a lot farther here than in those initial commandments. Among the additional mitzvot in this Parshah are"

  1.  Leave some of your harvest in the field for the poor people to take.
  2. Pay someone who works for you at the end of the day, not the next day.
  3. Do not curse a deaf person.
  4. Do not trip a blind person.
  5. Judge people without regard to whether they are rich or poor.
  6. Do not gossip.
  7. Don't stand by while someone else gets hurt. 
  8. When others wrong you in some way, tell them so, but do not hate them. 
  9. Respect old people.
  10. Treat people from other places like they belong where you are. 
  11. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Love the stranger as you love yourself.


And there's more, as in prior chapters, about what behavior is allowed and what is not allowed, what we can and cannot eat, again using the theme of what is pure and what is impure. As the ancient Rabbis said, there's a lot to unpack here!

- Which of the 11 new commandments listed above is more important to you, and why?

- Why do you think the Torah defines special rules for specific categories of people: Poor people, strangers, old people, people with disabilities?

- What might you add to your own "Holiness Code"? 

- What's the one mitzvah you with other people would follow? Why?

- Is there one of these mitzvot that is harder than the others for you to follow? What could help you follow it?

The Ten Commandments lay out the basic rules to live by (do not murder, do not steal), and the Holiness Code expands this to rules about fairness, kidness, and respect to apply to our everyday lives. Can you think of any rules or commandments that have been more important during the pandemic?

- Are there special ways by which we have had to show kindness, fairness, and respect during the pandemic?

- Are there special categories of people we have been especially aware of or especially respectful of during the pandemic?

The idea here is that "holiness" is an ideal state where we are kind, compassionate, helpful, respectful, clean and pure, and well-intentioned all of the time.

- Is this something we can achieve?

- If not, what should we do when we fall short?

We can think of "holiness" as a state of perfection that we are expected to achieve, or we can think of it as something we aspire to, something that guides us toward doing the right thing as much as we can.

- Is there anything you are working on getting better at?

- How are you doing that? Can someone else help you?

Shabbat is a good time to contemplate how we want to improve, while also taking a breath and refreshing the energy it takes to forgive other or ourselves when we fall short, and the strength it takes for us to improve.

Shabbat shalom,


Fri, September 30 2022 5 Tishrei 5783