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Parashat Kedoshim (Leviticus 19:1-20:27)

“When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him.” (Leviticus (19:33)

Parashat K’doshim’s opening words are the whole ball of wax: “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 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. 19:1-2) All of Jewish history can be understood as an attempt to act upon that imperative. And all the conflicts between Jews can be understood as arguments about the nature of holiness and the best means for achieving it. The command is subversive: it asserts k’dusha, or sanctity, is not the province of the prophets or priests or kings alone; k’dusha is expected of everyone.

K’doshim offers a path to k’dusha: “V’ahavta l’rei-acha kamocha, love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lev. 19:18). No less than Rabbi Akiva considers this the Torah’s central principle (Palestinian Talmud Nedarim 9:4). But can the Torah command an emotion like love? The verse’s grammar hints at an answer.

Dr. Abraham Malamat (1922–2010; Jewish historian and Bible scholar) says the command to love your neighbor should be v’ahavta et rei-echa. By using l’rei-acha the Torah commands us instead to send love to your neighbor (i.e., be useful or helpful). Now the command is not to feel a certain way, but to behave a certain way: do good things for the people around you.

Parashat K’doshim contains mostly moral teachings focusing on social justice. V’ahavta l’rei-acha kamocha becomes the fulcrum upon which the entire parasha, or portion, balances. K’dusha is found not only in a theology, but also in a sociology: creating communities of caring, welcoming the weak and defenseless, and protecting the common good.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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