The Torah portion this Shabbat is called Kedoshim and it calls the Jewish people to be holy. It then proceeds with the instructions on how to achieve holiness, which is nearness to the Almighty. Within it lie the secrets and the prescription for Jewish continuity.
If any group of people is to survive as an entity, it must have common values and goals -- a direction and a meaning. By analyzing this portion we can learn much about our personal and national destiny.
Firstly, the parasha is directed to ‘Kol adat B’nei Yisrael’ – “the entire community of the Children of Israel”. From this opening verse, we immediately learn that:
1) holiness if for everyone, not just those who are priests or the pious ones
2) holiness requires a community effort. The call to be holy is addressed to the
community and not the individual
Some religious people from various faiths have elected to withdraw from society in order to pursue holiness. The Essenes of the 2nd Temple period is an example of this. Which reminds me of the story of a Buddhist who retreated to a cave in a mountain to meditate and fast until he attained nirvana, the void. There was a village at the foot of the mountain and the people used to make a pilgrimage to the cave to bring food and meditate in the presence of this holy man.
After some years, the holy man determined that he had achieved nirvana and chose to descend from the mountain with a blissful smile on his face. But it happened to be market day in the village and someone jostled him from behind and he turned around and was angry!
Judaism holds to a completely different perspective on holiness and righteousness!
You don’t withdraw from the world; you engage with the world. When we can conduct ourselves in a consistent God-fearing manner amid the hustle and the bustle of this world, then we are closer to a state of righteousness (right-living) that has God’s stamp of approval! Our relationships and conduct in the horizontal must reflect our relationship in the vertical with the divine!
Furthermore, the Jewish world does not view the commandments to be a hindrance to holy living. Rather, the doing of the mitzvot is the key to holiness. Holiness is about doing, not merely speaking!
Some of the mitzvot (commandments) are logical:
Revere your parents,
no idol worship,
generosity to the poor and less privileged
deal honestly in all things (This includes your business dealing; this includes your dealings with the revenue service),
love your fellow man,
refrain from immoral sexual relationships,
honour old people,
love the proselyte,
don't engage in sorcery or superstition,
do not pervert justice,
observe kashruth and more.
But, what about the command not to plant two types of seeds in one field or not to wear garments made of two types of material? What has this to do with holiness? And so we understand them in the midst of this conundrum, we need to recalibrate our thinking about what holiness looks like.
The portion ends, "You shall observe all My decrees and ordinances ... you shall be holy ... I have separated you from the peoples to be Mine." The Hebrew word for ‘separated’ also means ‘severed’. We’ve been disconnected and disassociated from one thing while simultaneously, be joined to another. The new covenant uses the term ‘translated’. We have been translated from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of the Light of God’s Son, Yeshua! We’ve switched allegiance!
Furthermore, Torah states: "Love your fellow man as yourself, I am the Almighty" (Leviticus 19:18). Why is the commandment to love our fellow human being followed by the words “Ani Adonai - "I am the Almighty"?
The great rabbi, the Chasam Sofer, clarifies that while the commandment to love our fellow man is a concept that anyone can relate to with his own intellect, the Torah tells us to love our fellow man because it is the Almighty's will.
If your love of other people is based only on your own feelings, there could easily be a lack of consistency. One day you might feel positive towards someone and on the next day your feelings can change. However, the Torah states that the Almighty commands us to love others unconditionally. We need to develop positive attitudes towards others by focusing on their virtues whether it comes easily to us or whether it is difficult.
Everyone thinks that it is a good idea to love your neighbour, but how can the Almighty command us to love our neighbour? Some of us have neighbours who are inconsiderate and at times, difficult to appreciate! However, if the Almighty commands it, it must be possible. The medieval sage Nachmanides noticed a syntax in this command and interpreted it to mean ‘be loving’. Be loving to others as you ought to be loving to yourself!
If we make a list of someone's positive traits and focus on them – or our own - we can potentially be more loving toward them and toward ourselves. And this command to be loving stretches beyond the realm of emotions into the realm of doing.
You cannot be loving by endlessly talking about it, but you most certainly can practice it.