This month, for our weekly Torah readings, we find ourselves deep in the middle of the Book of Leviticus. The central portion of this book, Parshat Kedoshim, is considered by many to also be the central portion of the entire Torah. Twice a year, once in the Spring and once on Yom Kippur, we read a section from this portion – a section known as “The Holiness Code.” The rabbis teach that this section of Torah represents the physical middle of the entire scroll. Just as it is the core of the Torah, they teach, it should also form the core of our existence. The central goal of this parasha is holiness, as it is written: “You shall be holy, for I, your Eternal God, am holy.”
At first glance, this kind of goal sounds unattainable, doesn’t it? How could we ever achieve a goal to be holy, like God is holy? But it is actually quite reachable. The rest of the portion spells out the behaviors we should emulate if we are to be holy, like God. They can be summed up in one word, “respect.” Parshat Kedoshim teaches us to respect God, to respect those less fortunate than us, and to respect our neighbors. If we can achieve this level of respect, we can be holy.
According to the text, one way we can strive for holiness is by honoring our parents and our God, but the portion doesn’t really focus on these relationships. Instead, most of the portion is devoted to our relationships with others. In it we are taught that looking out for the stranger, the widow, and the orphan can lead us to holiness. Feeding the hungry and the needy by leaving the gleanings of our harvest can lead us to holiness. Conducting business fairly and honestly can lead us to holiness. And, treating our neighbors kindly can lead us to holiness.
Cantor Stuart Binder once wrote, regarding the lesson of this portion, that “being holy is not defined by synagogue attendance or by outward signs of piety. Nor is it matter of ritual practice or personal attitude. Holiness can be found only in our relationships with other people. It is revealed when we are just and compassionate. It is manifest when we are respectful of others and ethical in our behavior.”
If each and every interaction with another person is an opportunity to find holiness then imagine how many opportunities there are in any given day to feel and be holy. As it is written, “You shall be holy, for I, your Eternal God, am holy.”
May we too find holiness all around us.