Parshat Kedoshim: Leviticus 19:1-20:27; Amos 9:7-15.
In Judaism we use the Hebrew root kof-daled-shin a lot. We make Kiddush on Shabbat, we say Kaddish when we remember someone who passed away, we say the Keddushah in the Amidah (the central prayer of each service), we are called an Am Kaddosh (a holy people), and this week’s parashah is called Kedoshim.
The parashah begins with the command, “You (all) shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” We use this word in all its variations many, many times, but do we really understand what it means? What does it mean to be “holy” as the Torah uses it and as we use it throughout Jewish life today?
To be holy is to be different, set apart from the ordinary. It means to be special. But it is rare that something simply is holy. Rather something is made holy by the actions we take or how we relate to it. It is our actions that could increase the holiness of an object, an action, a period of time, a relationship or a place.
When we engage in this process of sanctification, we are fulfilling our potential as humans and even more as Jews. When we elevate time from every day being the same to recognizing and declaring Shabbat as a “day apart from the rest — a castle in time” through reciting Kiddush, spending time with family and attending synagogue we are fulfilling the command “to be a holy people in the image of God.”
When we recognize that when we eat in a manner that is elevated above a base level of pure survival, through reciting blessings and being conscious of what foods we are eating, then we are elevating both the food and the process of nourishing ourselves.
Finally, and perhaps most important, holiness must exist in our relationships. When we treat others in a purely utilitarian manner — to get something done — we have taken away any possibility of holiness in such a relationship. But when we recognize the inherent spark of God that exists in every single human being and we find a way to treat each other in such a manner reflecting that recognition, then we have elevated our relationships to a place of holiness. Sometimes all it takes is a simple smile but that smile allows the other person to see the spark of God in us and creates a potential for holiness to emerge in the relationship.
For us to fulfill our mission of being a holy people, we must look for those hidden opportunities of revealing sparks of holiness wherever we go. We must search out places of ordinary living and find ways of elevating them, allowing the Divine light of God to enlighten the entire world.
Rabbi Shalom Kantor is the rabbi of Congregation B’nai Moshe in West Bloomfield.