Rabbi Paul David Kerbel Temple Beth El Mekor Chayim Cranford, NJ Parashat Achrei Mot-Kedoshim
Kedoshim: The Essence of What it Means To Be a Jew
This week, we read one of the most important Torah portions in the entire Torah, Parshat Kedoshim. Chapter Nineteen is called by biblical scholars, “The Holiness Code.” In this chapter are some of the basic moral principles of human life: Be holy, love your neighbor as yourself, do not put a stumbling block before the blind, respect your elders and teachers, and leave a corner of your field when you are harvesting for the poor. Kedoshim teaches us how to live and lead a moral and ethical life.
When this portion teaches us: “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord Your God, am holy," would you say this is just one mitzvah of the 613 in the Torah or does it represent more? Moses Maimonides, in his explanation of the mitzvot of the Torah (in his pathbreaking work, ‘Sefer HaMitzvot’) suggests that there are certain ideas in the Torah that are so all-encompassing, that they cannot simply be counted just as as one mitzvah. Maimonides suggests that “You shall be Holy” is not a singular mitzvah, but rather a mode of behavior affecting our entire approach to our lives, actions and behavior. To Maimonides, ‘being holy’ is a global instruction to be applied to all of the other 612 commandments (and by extension all of the later laws and rulings based on the commandments of the Torah.
Rabbi David Milston suggests in his commentary to this parasha that, “The purpose of the Torah is not simply to list 613 technical ‘do’s and don’ts.’ The purpose of the Torah is to teach us a ‘way of life.’ " Parshat Kedoshim teaches us how a Jew should live in this world. The mitzvot of the Torah reflect a way of life and a means to achieving a closer relationship with God.
By being holy, we are letting our Judaism envelop our entire being. We are ‘clinging to God’ and allowing our every day actions to elevate our behavior and our well-being. As we read Parshat Kedoshim, may we be moved to elevate our personal and communal behaviors to reflect the best of Judaism and our God. Let us be holy, because the Lord our God is holy. But let us also be holy because God requires a certain behavior and mindset in order for us to be God’s people and have the special relationship God intended for us when we stood at Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah.
Rabbi Paul Kerbel serves on the NJ Advisory Board of the Anti-Defamation League and as incoming Chair of the Union County Board of Rabbis.