What is holiness?
When we hear the term holy, we conjure up all types of images in our mind but actually the concept of kedusha, holiness, is quite different from what many people presume it to be.
Parshat Kedoshim commences with the imperative,
“Kedoshim tihyu,” – “You must be holy just as the Lord your God is holy.” (Vayikra 19:2) There follows 51 of the 613 mitzvot of the Torah. They provide a recipe for kedusha, for leading a sacred life. What are these mitzvot all about?
They include for example keeping shabbat, fearing heaven, not worshipping idols, loving others like yourself, loving the stranger, not putting a stumbling block before the blind, not cursing the deaf, being very charitable, being honest in your business dealings, not taking revenge and so on. What we can see is that holiness is all about elevating the ordinary.
I find the opening mitzvah of these 51 to be the most significant:
“Ish imo v’aviv tira’u.” – “Every person should revere their mother and father.” (Vayikra 19:3) This is a mitzvah all about healthy discipline. It’s about the functioning of a happy, nurturing family unit. It’s about children loving and respecting their parents and parents loving and respecting their children.
Our Covid-19 experiences have highlighted for us just how central and crucial the family unit is in our lives. The breakdown of the family unit contributes not just to the destabilising of our society but also to the desecration of our society, while loving, caring and nurturing family environments contribute towards a higher level of kedusha, of holiness in this world.
Surely that is what King David meant when he said,
“I shall dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” (Tehillim 27:4) He meant to say: I will bring Hashem into my home so that the spirit of Hashem should be felt through the love and the care and the compassion that is felt within the family circle.
During the coronavirus pandemic I’ve been inspired by so many families who, despite the significant challenges, have brought beautiful kedusha into their homes. From Parshat Kedoshim we learn that if we elevate the ordinary to become extraordinary, each and every one of us can be holy.
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis