April 30, 2020
Acharei Mot / Kedoshim
This week’s double parsha brings us to the center of Torah, where God tells us, “Kedoshim tihiyu” – “Be holy,” “ki ani kadosh” – “for I am holy.” And Torah then elaborates with a dozen mitzvot for cultivating personal sanctity, from the mitzvah of charity to the principle of equality in the sight of the law, to observance of Shabbat, sexual morality, honesty in business, honour for parents, and consistent awareness that all life is sacred. It’s a list of boundaries suggesting that the path to holiness is not a cultivation of a rarified internal state, but, rather, scrupulously attentive to personal ethics and transpersonal responsibility.
The Slonimer Rebbe teaching on this verse, amplifies a causality between the two clauses. If we are fair, generous, respectful, honest, etc. (“Be holy”), then God will notice our effort and reach out to meet us where we are, ushering us into a more complete holiness that emulates godliness (“for I am holy”). God notices our effort, and our readiness to receive. When we support the boundaries of an ethical social structure, we create a container for holiness, a sanctuary for godliness, and then a higher level of holiness comes to dwell within us and within our community.
The great mitzvah of our moment is our social distancing. Every day we consciously choose to consider the welfare of all with whom we are interconnected, and we restrain ourselves for their sake. Are we not, as the Slonimer suggests, elevated by this practice? Over time, we see that our adherence to boundaries makes a difference in mitigating the virus and we feel good about our contribution. We are lifted by doing good. Living within the restrictions of our moment raises us to gratitude and to wonder; we are more appreciative of the holiness of life itself and aware of our personal holiness more of the time.
The lesson I hope we can bring forward, even after many freedoms are regained, is that holiness comes through living with profound respect for our responsibility to one another, other creatures, and Creation.