Parashat Kedoshim

The Nature Of Holiness

The commandment to be holy raises questions about our responsibilities towards community and our relationships with God.

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Provided by the Union of Reform Judaism, the central body of Reform Judaism in North America.

Parashah Overview

  • God issues a variety of commandments, instructing the Israelites on how to be a holy people. (19:1-37)

  • Various sex offenses are discussed and punishments for them are presented. (20:1-27)

Focal Point

Adonai spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them, You shall be holy, for I, Adonai your God, am holy (Leviticus 19:1-2).

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not pick your vineyard bare or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I Adonai am your God.

You shall not steal; you shall not deal deceitfully or falsely with one another. You shall not swear falsely by My name, profaning the name of your God: I am Adonai. You shall not defraud your neighbor. You shall not commit robbery. The wages of a laborer shall not remain with you until morning. You shall not insult the deaf or place a stumbling block before the blind. You shall fear your God: I am Adonai. You shall not render an unfair decision: Do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich; judge your neighbor fairly (Leviticus 19:9-15).

Your Guide

In most instances, Moses is instructed to "speak to the Israelite people." Here Moses is told to "speak to the whole Israelite community." Is there a difference?

"You shall be holy, for I, Adonai your God, am holy." The Rabbis understood Leviticus 19:2 to mean that we should strive to be as much like God as possible. How can we imitate God?

What do Leviticus 19:9-15 have to do with holiness?

What does swearing falsely by God's name mean? What might the consequences of doing so entail?

Insulting the deaf might seem like a "victimless crime." (The implication is that the person you insult does not know that he or she has been insulted.) Why does this parashah prohibit such an act?

The Rabbis understood "the blind" to mean blindness regarding any matter, not just visual impairment. In what ways is it possible to be "blind?"

Why shouldn't judgments be weighted so that they favor the poor?

By the Way…

Even the highest and noblest principles of Judaism can be attained by any Jew, provided he makes the necessary effort. These laws were not for the select few. People should not say that such standards of conduct were only for the man of exceptional piety: "Speak to all the congregation of Israel." The appeal "You shall be holy" concerned all of them (Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in Vayikra, World Zionist Organization, 1983).

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Stuart Binder is the cantor at Congregation Beth Chaim in Princeton Junction, N.J.