Kedoshim: How To Be Holy

| parsha reflection |

Hello, holy ones. This week’s Torah portion, kedoshim, is translated as “holy ones.” But how does it feel to be addressed as holy ones? Does a part of you say “I’m not holy”? Or does a part of you say, “Hey, she’s not holy.” Or do you think “What does being holy even mean?”

This portion offers us detailed instructions for holiness — how to treat people from our parents to strangers, how to behave in our business dealings, how to eat, and who not to sleep with. It begins with G-d saying to Moses, “Go tell the Israelites: You will be holy because holy am I haShem your G-d.” And laced between the directives in kedoshim are the words “I am haShem your G-d” over and over.

In Leviticus Rabbah, a compilation of midrashim or stories told to explain the Torah, there’s one midrash that interpreted G-d’s opening message to the Israelites in this week’s portion to mean: “My children, as I am separate, so you be separate; as I am holy, so you be holy.” Though we are addressed as a collective of holy ones in kedushim, I believe that separateness is essential to achieving holiness.

In a commencement speech at West Point in 2009, William Deresiewicz said that what we need is the solitude of concentration. Only in solitude can we wrestle with questions such as whether we are doing the right things with our life; whether we believe the things we were taught as a child; what do the words we live by—words like holiness—really mean.

If we take the time to meditate, to create internal space to contemplate the holy, we can find the moral courage to lovingly adjust ourselves, our loved ones, and the larger society when it falters. If we do not spend time in solitude, we may be so steeped in the thoughts and behaviors of others that we may not recognize when we need to chart a different course.

In Jewish mystical tradition, the period of counting the omer is a time for spiritual growth and renewal. Each week represents one of the seven sefirot or attributes of G-d and each day of the week represents another. Thus, there are 49 combinations of attributes or qualities that we can work on cultivating in ourselves. The second day of the second week represents gevurah of gevurah, an attribute sometimes translated as discipline, judgment, boundary-making or strength.  So what is the discipline of discipline, the boundary of boundary-making, the strength of strength? What is gevurah’s essence? What are we trying to cultivate in ourselves? Perhaps it is the inner strength that comes from the discipline of sitting. My kavannah, or intention, for us is that we each find the strength to sit and allow the still small voice inside of each of us to surface — the voice that knows what’s right and what’s wrong and how to be holy.