13 May 2016

Kedoshim 5776 The Holy Self

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It is not because angels are holier than men that makes them angels, but because they do not expect holiness from one another,
but from God only.

 — William Blake


There are many images and concepts that generally come to mind when we think about ‘holiness’. What does it mean to be holy? Is it connecting with one’s spiritual self? Is it reducing our involvement with physicality? Is it living in greater consciousness? Or is it simply being kind?

The Torah’s view of holiness seems to be regularly aimed at relationships. Somehow, the manner in which we interact with others affects our sanctity. This week’s parasha, Kedoshim, is named ‘Holy Ones’ as it is meant to guide us towards this end.

The great human values relating to interpersonal relationships, aside from those of the Ten Commandments, are mentioned here in Kedoshim.

You are not to steal

You are not to lie…

You are not to insult the deaf, before the blind you are not to place a stumbling block…

You are not to traffic in slander among your kinspeople…

You are not to hate your brother in your heart…

You are not to take vengeance

You are not to retain anger against the sons of your kinspeople. (19:11, 14,16,17)

At the core of all the potential care and empathy and callousness and cruelty is one fundamental issue: all of our interactions draw from our perception of, and care for, ourselves. Even in what ostensibly is the parasha’s ultimate charge towards complete compassion:

Love your neighbour like yourself. (19:18)

It can, therefore, be said that self-love is the core foundation of Torah. Rabbi Akiba famously sets the above verse as the Torah’s most fundamental principle.

Love your neighbour like yourself’.

Rabbi Akiba said this is the major principle of Torah. (Rashi, ibid.)

Hillel the Elder follows this approach with his instructions to an aspiring convert telling him that the entire Torah can be summed up in one idea:

 Said Hillel to him: ‘What is hateful to you do not do unto your friend. That is the entirety of Torah. All else is commentary. Go learn’.[1]

Morality, ethics, relationships and values are all part of what is holy. But at the foundation of all of it is the love of oneself. If we do not value the divine soul that is the force of our being, if we do not know that our worth comes from our very existence and not from the amount of external recognition that we may or may not receive, we are left with a hollow foundation. If we do not care for our own health and well-being we cannot care for that of others. If we have little personal strength we cannot strengthen others, if we have little self-love we cannot truly love others.

When shame of oneself replaces pride in oneself, the divine soul is dimmed and hopes for holiness are blocked. True holiness comes from G-d and our greatest gift from Him is our soul — our life force and being.

Be Holy, for holy am I G-d, your Lord. (19:2)

G-d’s light is the soul of man. (Proverbs, 20:27)

One of the most subtle yet beautiful examples of this in Torah literature is in the story of David before he became king. He was leading a militia around the borders of Israel in order to protect the people and secure the land. At one point the people of Amalek kidnapped all of the women and children from David’s camp while the men were on patrol. They returned in horror to an empty camp with all of their loved ones gone. In their anguish and despair the soldiers turned on David:

And David and his men returned to the city and here it was burned by fire and their sons, daughters and wives were taken captive…And David greatly despaired because the nation wished to stone him for the souls of the nation were bitter over their sons and daughters… [2]

There he stood, alone, criticised and rejected. He could not draw his strength from the crowd; there was only one option for him.

And David strengthened himself in G-d his Lord.

We are not told that David turned to the ‘G-d of Israel’, or the ‘G-d of Heaven and Earth’, but to his G-d. The one who was the very source of his own being. He found strength in the aspect of G-d that was personally his — the aspect of G-d that powered his own soul.

Through this we begin to understand the wisdom of Rabbi Akiba and Hillel the Elder. The purpose of Torah is to guide us towards cultivating our kedusha/holiness. Cultivating this holiness begins with understanding that our personal value comes from nothing other than the sanctity and divinity of our own souls that were made by G-d with love.


[1] Shabbat 31a

[2] I Samuel 30:3,6

Parasha Perspectives

VII  Kedoshim

36                Moral manual (19:1-22)
Be holy (19:2);
Fear parents, keep Shabbat (19:3);
Don’t worship or make idols (19:4);
How to offer a Shelamim (19:5-8);
Harvest – leave corners and gleaning (19:9);
Vineyard – Leave gleaning and fallen fruit (19:10);
Don’t steal, swindle or lie (19:11);
Don’t swear falsely or profane God’s name (19:12);
Do not take advantage or hold back wages (19:13);
Do not curse deaf or cause blind to stumble and fear God (19:14);
Judge fairly (19:15);
Don’t tell tales; do not stand idly when someone is in danger (19:16);
Don’t feel hatred, rebuke your friend (19:17);
Don’t take vengeance or bear a grudge,
love your neighbour as yourself (19:18);
Don’t cross breed animals or plants, no sha’atnez (19:19);
Don’t sleep with betrothed maidservant (19:20);
Atonement through Asham and Chatat (19:21-22).
37a              Land laws, don’t act as Canaanites (19:23-32)
Growing trees (19:23-25);
Don’t eat blood or divine (19:26);
Don’t cut head or beard corners (19:27);
Don’t cut or write in flesh for dead (19:28);
Don’t prostitute your daughter (19:29);
Keep Shabbat, revere God’s sanctuary (19:30);
Do not seek ghosts or spirits (19:31);
Respect the elderly and fear God (19:32).
37b             Stranger in Israel (19:33-37)
Care for stranger (33-34);
Just balances/weights (35-37)
38                Penalties for unlawful unions and more… (20:1-27)
Penalty for Molech worship (20:1-5)
Ghosts or spirits → karet (20:6)
Be holy, keep God’s law and be made holy (20:7-8)
Curse parents → death (20:9)
Man who commits adultery with another man’s wife →death of both (20:10)
Man who lies with his stepmother → death of both (20:11)
Man who lies with his daughter-in-law → death of both (20:12)
Man who lies with another man → death of both (20:13)
Man who lies with a woman and her mother → death Of all three (20:14)
Man who lies with beast → death, kill animal (20:15)
Woman with an animal → death, kill animal (20:16)
Man who lies with his sister or half-sister → karet for all  (20:17)
Man who lies with his wife when she is niddakaret (20:18)
You and your aunt → bear sin (20:19)
Man who lies with his uncle’s wife → bear sin, die childless (20:20)
Man who lies with brother’s wife → childless (20:21)
Don’t follow surrounding nation on entering the Land (20:22-26)
                    “And you will be holy to Me for I God am holy…” (20:26) 
Forewarned but still publically involved in ghosts
or childless spirits → death (20:27)
 Taken from, ‘Torah for Everyone’ by Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, Dean of LSJS