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Kedoshim Tihyu: Be holy, for holy am I, Your God!

The strange thing about Parashat Kedoshim, the first part of this week’s double sedra Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, is that completely unrelated topics huddle cheek by jowl in the Torah text. From ritual (don’t eat anything that has its blood in it), to business ethics (keep honest weights and balances), proper behaviour toward the poor (when you harvest your field, leave the gleanings for the poor and the stranger) to family relations (you can’t have sex with your sister or marry your brother’s wife). Have the Biblical editors lost their editorial discretion? Or is there a unifying principle reflecting a Torah worldview at play?

‘Kedoshim Tihyu: Be holy, for holy am I, your God!’ opens the sedra. And so we must ask: What does it mean to be holy? Samson Raphael Hirsch, the 19th century German rabbinic leader, defines holiness as occurring ‘when a morally free human being has complete dominion over one’s own energies and inclinations and the temptations associated with them, and places them at the service of God’s will.’ For Martin Buber, the 20th century  philosopher of ‘I and Thou’ fame, holiness is found in human relationships, recognizing the spark of divinity in each human being, just as God recognizes that spark of holiness in each of us. The Etz Hayim Torah commentary suggests: ‘To be holy is to be different, to be set apart from the ordinary… To be holy is to rise to partake of the special qualities of God, the source of holiness. Holiness is the highest level of human behaviour, human beings at their most Godlike.’ In the eyes of Parashat Kedoshim, the potential for holiness is present in every aspect of human activity. Said another way, there is no aspect of daily life when we are not called to rise above our greed and selfishness, our small-mindedness and fear, and to act as if we are looking out with God’s eyes on the world, to act with a grander and broader vision of fulfilling God’s purpose here on earth.

Acting with a grander and broader vision of fulfilling God’s purpose here on earth is perhaps what we have witnessed in the events of this past week in the world as they have unfolded.  On Tuesday, justice was delivered by the jury’s guilty verdict on three charges in the murder of George Floyd by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. President Biden declared, ‘systemic racism is a stain on our nation’s soul’ as the verdict was announced.

On Thursday, as the world celebrated Earth Day 2021, President Biden and world leaders of 40 countries committed to large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, with Biden pledging to reduce US emissions by half by 2030. The Jewish community in the UK has played a significant role in raising awareness of the plight of over one million Uyghur Muslims subjected since 2017 to oppression and persecution in China’s Xinjiang province.

World Jewish Relief, which aided Jewish refugees during the Second World War, has launched an emergency appeal to provide food, healthcare and psychological support to some of the most vulnerable of the 11,000 Uyghur families who have managed to flee to relative safety in Turkey, where they are now stranded. Chief Rabbi Mirvis has made the following appeal: ‘As we protest the unfolding and ceaseless persecution of Uyghurs… we must continue to search for tangible expressions for our utter horror at this atrocious reality.’ You can donate to WJR’s emergency appeal here: Uyghur Appeal ( .

Kedoshim tihyu. Let each one of us rise to the call of holiness in every aspect of our lives.

Be safe. Be Well. Wishing you all a Shabbat of Peace, Rest and Holiness.

Rabbi Lisa