2003This week's Torah portion, Parshat Kedoshim, opens with one of the most difficult, yet most poorly defined tasks in Torah: the commandment to be holy. The Torah offers little explanation of how to fulfill this monumental task.
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: You shall be holy (kedoshim), for I, the Lord your God, am holy (kadosh).
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1. What does it mean to be holy (kedoshim) as God is holy (kadosh)?
2. How can we learn behavior from God?
Don't get me wrong, I think holiness is a great thing and I'd love to do it. But what is God talking about? Saying be holy is as informative as telling a doctor "I hurt, please fix it."
An answer to these very important philosophical questions may be understood by addressing another fundamental question: Why does the Torah dedicate significant ink to describe Abraham's kindness but almost wholly neglects to describe the period of Abraham's search and invention of monotheism? Would it not be more worthwhile for the Torah to describe how Abraham found God and brought others to become aware of God?
Seemingly, Abraham's behavior was not rational. On the third (and most painful) day after his circumcision Abraham went to offer hospitality to travelers. Then, when no travelers were to be found, he bemoaned the fact that he was not doing his job. Finally, when God graced him with three guests, Abraham ran to get the best of his cattle and food. Surely desert travelers would be elated by simply having fresh food, why then did Abraham have to get them the best?!
If one judges by human standards, Abraham was not acting rationally. However, if one would understand Abraham's inspiration, it can be seen how truly righteous his actions were.
Before there was a planet and universe, there was just God. God felt compelled to create a universe and thereby bestow kindness on a limited and mortal world. So too, was Abraham's behavior. When he was sick, his primary concern should have been for himself and his recovery. Yet despite that, he was compelled to go out and look to do kindness for others.
But for Abraham, it wasn't enough to just do kindness it had to be the best kindness. Why? When creating the world, naturally God should have first created Adam (& Eve). Then, after seeing that they need land to walk on, create earth with water to drink and trees to eat, etc… But that is not how God formulated creation. God first created everything else, and only created humankind after the entire universe was created from end to end. This way the best of everything was available to Adam and Eve as soon as they were created. So too was Abraham's kindness. It was not enough that he met his guests' basic needs. Abraham had to do his utmost to provide anything and everything that he could think of the make their brief sojourn with him pleasant and motivational.
As Abraham has done with his guests and as God has done with us, so too are we commanded to do irrational kindness to others. Be Holy for I am holy. We, the Children of Israel, do not define holiness, religion, or ethics by humanistic imagination which is limited, biased, and often cruel. We are a people who are holy as our God is holy. We do kindness and we heal as our God does kindness and heals.
Prepared by Moshe Starkman, Data Systems Associate, Hillel's Schusterman International Center.
Additional commentaries and text studies on Kedoshim at MyJewishLearning.com.