Parashat Kedoshim Torah Reading: Leviticus 19:1-20:27 This week's Torah portion is called "Kedoshim" a word taken from the opening verses of the reading. Every portion is named through this same technique of pulling one significant word from it's first or second verse. Many times that word has no real connection to the content of the entire parasha, sometimes it does. In this case, "Kedoshim", "holy" in the third person plural, very much sums up the verses that follow.
That verse reads:
דַּבֵּר אֶל־כָּל־עֲדַת בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם קְדשִׁים תִּהְיוּ כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אֲנִי ה' אֱלֹהֵיכֶם:
Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and you shall say to them: You shall be holy because I, Adonay, your God, am holy.
The Israeli Torah commentator, Benyamin Lau, in his brilliant work Etnachta, introduced his discussion of this week's Torah reading with the thought-provoking title: Holy Community not Holy Person.
Rabbi Lau's title highlights an element of the verse which is literally lost in translation . . . and that is that the "You shall be holy" is written in the plural, not the singular. The mitzvah conveyed in the verse is a challenge to be a holy community, not a holy individual.
We don't have saints in Judaism. We don't elevate those who close themselves off from the world: we have no nuns or monks.
Our tradition honors scholars of Jewish texts, laws, theology and values. Our tradition honors people who bring holiness into the world through their integrity, their compassion. Our tradition honors people engaged in bringing the teachings of our faith into the real world.
Rabbi Lau's insight is that we cannot be holy as a collection of individuals. Even as a collection of individuals who study Torah and who do good deeds. We can only fulfill the challenge of this verse if we engage in a community that studies Torah, worships and does good deeds together.
In Hebrew, a synagogue community is referred to as a "Kehillah Kedoshah" as a Holy Congregation. I find this to be a much more engaging and challenging appellation for a Jewish community than "Temple." The Temple was a building. It was the site of the sacrificial cult and it was run by an oligarchy of Kohanim/Priests. In my eyes, our verse in this week's Torah reading lays out a challenge to be not a Temple, but a Kehillah Kedoshah . . . a Holy Community of people coming together for the ultimate Jewish experience: bringing the sacred into the world through our commitment, our learning, our actions, and our joy and pride in our Judaism.
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.