Parshat Acharei Mot - Kedoshim
2006This week we have the privilege and opportunity of a double Torah portion from the book of Vayikra (Leviticus). Due to various elements of the Jewish calendar, we read two Torah portions this week, Acharei Mot and Kedoshim. Literally, Acharei Mot means "after death" and Kedoshim means "holiness."
Pursuing Holiness, Pursuing Ourselves
Acharei Mot, the first of the two portions, refers to the death of Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, the process for Aaron to enter the Holy of Holies, the rituals of a sin offering and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Acharei Mot concludes with a listing of prohibited sexual relationships.
Kedoshim opens with some of the most famous words in the Torah: "Kedoshim tihyu, ki ani Adoshem Elokeichem" (you shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God am holy). God tells Moses to speak these words "el kol-adat b'nai Yisrael" (to the whole Israelite community). The commentary Sifra teaches that "the whole Israelite community" accentuates the importance of these basic laws of behavior. God does not tell Moses to simply say these words to the people of Israel, as God does at many other points within the Torah. Rather, everyone is to be included: young and old, men and women, infirm and well, leader and participant. Specific examples and illuminations of holiness then follow, most of them of an ethical nature. Often called the Holiness Code, they include:
Holiness can be present within many of the moments in our lives, from the act of greeting each person with a smile, to making business decisions that honor the employee, customer and investor, to doing school work with integrity. Such a way of looking at the world may, at first blush, seem like an unattainable goal. However, when we look at our daily lives as moments of opportunity, we can resonate and express the ideas at the heart of the Torah text – each one of us has a divine spark. Stoking the embers of that divine spark within us and within others is at the core of Judaism.
- Leaving the corners of the field unharvested, providing for the hungry in the community. (Leviticus 19:9-10)
- Dealing honestly in personal and business matters and paying employees in a timely manner. (Leviticus 19:11, 13, 35, 36)
- Respecting physical differences, including not taking advantage of one who is blind or deaf. (Leviticus 19:14)
- Making fair decisions that neither show undue deference to the rich nor favoritism of the poor. (Leviticus 19:15)
- Interacting with people in respectful, tolerant, accepting ways. (Leviticus 19:16-18)
- Loving your neighbor as yourself. (Leviticus 19:18)
- Showing respect to elders. (Leviticus 19:32)
- Treating the people around you, whether friend or stranger, with respect, loving each one as yourself. (Leviticus 19:34)
The famous rabbi Hillel, for whom our organization is named, once had a non-Jew challenge him on this core principle. The Talmud tractate Shabbat (page 31a) tells us of a non-Jew who came to Hillel's door and promised, "I will convert to Judaism if you can teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot." Rabbi Hillel's response was immediate. He said, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah. All the rest is commentary, now go and learn it." Challenged to boil down Judaism to its essence, Hillel spoke not of God, not of Israel, not of Shabbat, but of the importance of how we treat one another. Certainly, God, Israel, Shabbat and other laws are important, but when we begin from a place of the holy spark within, we are well on the way to living a meaningful Jewish life.
Both Torah portions this week resonate with holiness. We hear the pain of Aaron and his family when his sons step away from that holiness; we learn about the rituals of forgiveness and repair; we internalize that holiness can be present in our intimate lives; and we make holiness a part of how we understand ourselves, our community and our world. God gives us the present of holiness and Judaism helps us to contextualize it. Holiness resides in our tzedek (righteous) actions for ourselves and others, in our religious lives and in our cultural and familiar traditions. Holiness helps us be distinctly Jewish and universally human. May holiness emanate from within during this week and all weeks to come.
Prepared by Amy Greenbaum, executive director, Hillel Foundation at Miami University
Additional commentaries and text studies on Acharei Mot and Kedoshim at MyJewishLearning.com.