Kedoshim, Leviticus 19:1-20:27 Parshat Ha Shavua for Shabbat, May 7, 2022

Kedushah or holiness is one of the essential concepts in Jewish religion. What does it mean to be holy? How can we attain this state and once attained how can we sustain it? This week’s Torah portion might be considered the heart of Torah; in the middle of the middle book of Torah. God says to Moses, “Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, your God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:3) 

What follows is an enumeration of ways that the Israelites must be holy and these directives alternate between ritual commandments (commandments between God and human beings) and social commandments (commandments regulating human interaction). We must keep the Sabbath and we must also not gather in everything we grow so that the landless poor may have something to eat. We must not steal or take God’s name in vain. We must not mock the disabled or worship false Gods. 

There is a wisdom in this balance: ritual behaviors reinforce social behaviors, and both are religious behaviors. One cannot exist without the other. 

A holy society is sensitive to God and to the needs of the community. The two cannot be pulled apart. This is the wisdom of Jewish religious thought; God is the source of morality, but it is up to us to put God’s wisdom into practice in the societies we build and the social relations we construct.