Parashat Kedoshim: Being Holy

Rabbi Howard Kaplansky serves United Hebrew Congregation and is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.

BY RABBI HOWARD KAPLANSKY

We are told “Kedoshim tihyuh,” “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” One rabbinic source stated that the words “you shall be holy” are an admonition “to strive for absolute human perfection.” Respectfully, I offer a different perspective.

Holy, “kadosh,” refers to that which is set aside into a unique, special category. But, when God tells us to be holy, as God is holy, is God demanding of us perfection? The Torah does not portray God as “perfect.” Yes, God is loving, compassionate, just and merciful. But, the Torah tells us, also, that God is impatient and vengeful. Are these attributes of perfection, even when they are attributed to God?

No, I believe that God, the God of the Bible, expects of us goodness, not perfection. Certainly, neither Moses nor Aaron was perfect. Try to find a patriarch or prophet who was portrayed as being perfect. The Israelites, a people who God “loved,” but who God called “stiff-necked” and “unfaithful,” certainly were not perfect. The evidence certainly is in our Bible.

The prophet Micah responded to the question “what does the Lord require of us?” with the words “It has been told you what Adonai requires of you: to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Perfection was never mentioned.

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Rather, just as God was portrayed as having concern about the divine self, while at the same time loving Israel, being both vengeful and forgiving, we become “kadosh” like God when we respect ourselves, each of us, while seeking justice for others. We are told to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” In other words, love your neighbor and yourself.

Being “kadosh” means finding the balance between yourself as an individual and your relationship with others. Rabbi Hillel, over two thousand years ago, said it well: If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am for myself alone, what am I? If being “Kadosh” means being like God, then finding a balance between our own needs and those of others is being holy.

Most of all, we are “kadosh” when our relationship with God is “kadosh.” Loving God and loving ourselves and each other is holiness.

D’var Torah

Rabbi Howard Kaplansky serves United Hebrew Congregation and is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.