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Parashat Acharei Mot-K’doshim (Leviticus 16:1-20:27)

“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen.
Love your fellow as yourself: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18)

We read two parashot (portions) this week because of how the Jewish calendar is calculated. The moon’s cycle determines the months, but the sun’s cycle determines the year. Therefore, a Jewish year (including leap years, which add an entire month) can have from 50 to 55 weeks. Since the number of parashot doesn’t change, some years require certain parashot to “double up” on a given Shabbat.

Parashat K’doshim begins with God telling Moses, “Speak to the entire Israelite community and say to them, ‘k’doshim t’hiyu, be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.’” (Lev. 19:2) This command is subversive because it attacks the typical hierarchy of ancient society by asserting k’dusha, or sanctity, is not reserved for the elite classes of prophets, priests, or kings alone; it is available to the entire people.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (1948-; former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth) explains the very creation of humanity hints at this egalitarian idea when God says “Let us make humanity in our image, in our likeness…” and then creates man and woman in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27). The hint is made more explicit in when God commands at Sinai, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant…you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Ex. 19:5-6)

There always will be inequalities of wealth and power. That is why the Torah insists upon equality of dignity and human worth. The democratization of k’dusha is most fully realized when the Temple is destroyed: now every Jew becomes a priest, every synagogue the Temple, every table an altar, and every charitable act a sacrifice.


Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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