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Parashat K’doshim (Leviticus 19:1-20:27)

“You shall faithfully observe all my laws and all my rules: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:37)

The book of Leviticus is considered the heart of the Torah because it’s the middle book. Parashat K’doshim is considered the heart of Leviticus, making it the heart of the heart of the Torah. It is known as the Holiness Code because of the many times the word kadosh (holy, or sanctified) appears.

The parasha, or portion, begins with the command, “…K’doshim t’hiyu, Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” (Lev. 19:2) That is pretty straightforward (if not so simple); what is confusing is the thicket of seemingly unrelated laws that follow: honoring your parents, keeping Shabbat, when to eat a sacrifice, gleaning, not wearing clothing made of linen and wool, paying workers on time, and not mixing seeds when you plant your fields.

Kedoshim concludes each set of laws with the phrase, “I am the Lord.” According to Maimonides, (1137-1204; the preeminent Spanish medieval Jewish philosopher) this recurring pattern means there is more to being kadosh than merely obeying commandments. Being kadosh requires developing an ethical aesthetic which can only be learned by practice and lived experience and not from a list of laws in a book (even when the book is THE BOOK.) This means it is hard to define what makes a person (or a people) holy, but you recognize it when you see it. The command to be k’doshim,therefore, means to be a different kind of person, one whose primary concern is, “…walking in God’s ways.” (Deut. 28:9

Kedoshim’s initial command is given in the plural (k’doshim t’hiyu). This implies a collective responsibility for society; you need many people living virtuous lives to support the individuals trying to do the same.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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