Everyday holiness

By Rabbi Howard Wolk
Parashat Kedoshim

The portion of Kedoshim is filled with tens of mitzvot that Moses passes on to the Children of Israel. The unifying theme of all these mitzvot is “you shall be holy.” Holiness, the Torah teaches us, is achieved through the observance of the mitzvot.

There is one mitzvah of the 613 mitzvot which more than all the others symbolizes holiness: the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem, the sacrifice of life for the sanctification of G-d’s name. Yet this mitzvah of “And I will be sanctified among the Children of Israel” does not appear in this week’s portion, but in next week’s portion (Leviticus 22:32).

Wouldn’t it be more appropriate for this particular mitzvah to appear in this week’s portion with its heading of Kedoshim — be holy?

It appears that the Torah is attempting to teach us a lesson in true holiness according to Judaism. Holiness, from Judaism’s perspective, does not entail removing oneself from worldly pursuits and life itself. True, we are willing to sacrifice ourselves for the core values of our belief, because we understand that life itself has value only when it expresses the divine aspects of life. So when a Jew is asked to deny the divine content of his life, he is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice and thereby sanctify G-d’s name.

Yet, this is a painful reality that is far from the ideal to which we strive and it negates the goals for which we live. This sacrificing of a life is not the ideal expressing of holiness and therefore its place is not in our Torah portion with its many living examples of holiness.

The portion of Kedoshim describes holiness in its most basic and primal form: holiness that is revealed in life itself. A life of everyday events connected each moment to the Creator. These banal, routine aspects of life give the greatest expression to holiness. Through these moments, a person reveals his connection to G-d. Even the simplest of activities of existence are part of serving Hashem.

The portion emphasizes all of our relationships — with Hashem, parents, spouse, children, business associates and animals.

Rabbi Howard Wolk is community chaplain with Jewish Family Service and rabbi emeritus of Congregation Shaare Tefilla.

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