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Kedoshim: Holiness as saying yes




Today, Day 17th of the Omer. Tiferet She b'Tiferet (Harmony within Harmony) Parashat kedoshim talks about one of the central tenets of judaism: Holiness. We are called to be “holy Because god is holy

‘You shall be holy because I am holy” (Vayikra 19.2).

קְדשִׁ֣ים תִּֽהְי֑וּ כִּ֣י קָד֔וֹשׁ אֲנִ֖י

 But what really is Holiness?

Often it is thought of as some intrinsic quality.

Some people would be holy, others not.

A lot of the millenia-old antisemitism that has followed Jewish History like a shadow comes from the fact that Jews call themselves a “goy kadosh”, a "holy people", and this has been interpreted as self-qualifying as “holier than though.”


But holiness in the Jewish tradition is not an essence.

It is a relational dynamic. It is therefore a task, and a calling.


In the jewish tradition, holiness, kedusha, means setting someone or something apart for a specific purpose.


My cow is not holy in and of itself. But if I brought it as an offering (korban) to the Divine, it would become so: it has been set apart from all the other cows, for the special purpose of becoming an offering.


Mariage is a sanctification too: when a man sanctifies a woman in the jewish tradition (in a patriarchal legal context, betrothal is unilateral), she becomes holy to him: she suddenly stands out for him from all the other women in the world. Not because she is the prettiest or the smartest. But because he dedicates himself to her.

Just as St Exupery’s little Prince will teach us centuries later: His rose is not special to him because she is intrinsically unique. She has become so because she is the one he has taken care of.


Holiness is not essentialist.

It is relational. To sum it up in one word, it is a form of dedication.

And dedication is called to be mutual.


This is why the pasuk in our parasha says repeatedly, like a mantra ‘you shall be holy for I am holy


In his commentary on this verse, the Mei ha Shiloah highlights the reciprocal aspect of holiness, but he also takes it a step back:


To him, to be holy is to make oneself “zamin”, available.

In order to be dedicated, one needs to be available. And we are all invited to make ourselves available, because the Source of Life is always, already, available to us.


Available for what?

For waking up to the true reality underneath surface appearances We need to make ourselves available, the Ishbitzer says, for the Divine to “enlighten our eyes.”


And we need to remember that awakeness: this state of clarity, love, oneness, which is the mark of the divine, is always, already, available.


I love writing this on day 17 of the counting of the Omer, Tiferet she b’Tiferet, Harmony/Beauty/Truth within Harmony/Beauty/Truth.


This is what awakening is about.

And I really need to remember this right now:

Because of this promise, the Mei haShiloach adds, we “should not disturb ourselves with the affairs of this world.” 

ושלא יטרידו את עצמם בעסקי עוה"ז


As if he knew what was going on right now in the world. 

Hostages still being held captive. Unleashed antisemitism. Calls to annihilation of the Jewish State. Jews being barred access to the most Educated University campuses in the world. “Jews don’t get in,” did I hear today in a short, painful, Instagram video, coming from the hidden mouth of a masked, kaffiah-wearing, threatening youth, blocking access, together with hundreds of self-righteous bullies, to a powerless classmate. Yes the world seems to have reverted in time and space, right back to Germany in the late thirties. And somehow, it seems normal to the enthusiastic crows.

So in these distressing times, specifically in these times, Chassidic Wisdom is coming to us again with a gentle smile: “do not distress yourself with the affairs of the world.” 


No matter how dark the world seems to grow, it is our task, and our responsibility to be Holy:

Now is the time to reaffirm our dedication to Serving Life. This is what being a “Goy Kadosh” (Holy People) means. 

Dedicated to Serving Life.


And all we have to do, today, is to make ourselves available to it.

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Thought provoking and very helpful in times like today.

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