Parashat Kedoshim

Ritual And Ethics: A Holy Blend

Only through the combination of ritual and ethics can Judaism fully express itself.

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A maximal Jew practices rituals that are rooted in ethics, and acts on an ethical system that finds expression and reinforcement through ritual. Ethical rigor and ritual profundity--that is the Jewish definition of holiness. By blending those two strands, we create a tapestry stronger and more enduring than either individual thread alone.

Ritual requires ethics to root it in the human condition, to force it to express human needs and to channel urges, to serve human growth and to foster insight. Ethics requires ritual to lend substance to lofty ideals, to remind, on a regular basis, of ethical commitments already made, and to create a community of shared values and high standards. Ritual without ethics becomes cruel. Ethics without ritual becomes hollow.

One of Judaism's central insights is to fuse ritual and ethics into a single blazing light--the mitzvah (commandment)--and then to reorient that new composite creation--holiness--to reflect the very nature of God. Our standard is no longer tailored to concede our own imperfections or to cater to our mendacity.

Ethics alone make man the measure of all things. Ritual alone surrenders the intellect to the power of unregulated passion. As many people have perished from emotion unleashed as from an unfeeling mind. The two need each other to teach restraint, balance, and compassion. By blending ritual and ethics, we shift the focus from our perspective to God's. "You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy."

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Rabbi Bradley Artson

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is Vice-President of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and Dean of its Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies. He served as a congregational rabbi in Southern California for ten years. Rabbi Artson?is the author of The Bedside Torah and co-author of a children's book, I Have Some Questions about God.