Entrances to Holiness

This week’s Dvar Torah on Parashat Kedoshim is written by Rabbi Judith L. Siegal, Senior Rabbi of of Temple Judea in Coral Gables. Rabbi Siegal has been teaching Melton at Temple Judea for the past 5 years. Learn more about Melton classes at Caje-Miami.org/adults to learn more. 

We have come to the exact center of the Torah in our weekly readings, and quite literally, if one rolls the scroll to its center, one finds the Parashat Kedoshim, meaning holiness. 

In this parsha is found a compendium of paths to holiness, including revering mother and father, Shabbat, making sacrifices, the rights of the poor, fair courts of law, handling anger, maintaining distinct categories, what we do with our bodies, respect for elders, fair commerce practices and so much more. 

It is a part of what is called the Holiness Code (Levitics 17-26), and it is a guide for how we are to act in great detail to live a holy life and be considered holy as God says to begin this parsha: “You shall be holy, for I, your God am holy.”

So, what does it mean to be holy and what is the best way to do so?

We are taught by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner in his book Eyes Remade for Wonder that entrances to holiness are everywhere.  We each find them in our own way.

Many Jews find their sense of holiness through worship, sitting in the sanctuary and davening. Some find a sense of holiness by being a part of a caring community or doing acts of chesed/ loving-kindness, visiting the sick, comforting the mourner.  Others find their way to holiness through learning, studying Torah, Talmud, and taking Melton courses, teaching religious school or preschool.  And some Jews find a connection through social action, doing Tikkun Olam.  Some Jews find a Jewish connection in their homes, reading Jewish books, admiring Jewish art.  And some find a Jewish connection through Israel, summer camp, organizational work, Jewish philanthropy, or a myriad of different possibilities. 

And all are created equal.  No one has a claim on being “more Jewish” than another and no one can claim being a “better Jew” or “holier than thou.”  We all have equal access when it comes to our Judaism.  We all can find meaning and holiness through our own ways of connecting to Judaism.

Several Hassidic commentators see a hint of how Jews must seek to understand their own, unique purpose in life:

Every Jew must know that s/he is unique in the world, and there was never anyone exactly like him/her- if there were someone like him/her (before), there would have been no need for you to come into the world. Every single person is someone new in the world, and it is his/her duty to improve all her ways, until all of Israel have attained perfection. (Beit Aharon, quoted in Itturei Torah.)

This commentator seems to be exploring the tension between each person finding his or her own personal path into a holy life and also being grouped into a larger social unit. This is a fundamental tension in contemporary Judaism: each of us must develop our own, personal journey of Jewish spirituality, and yet we are not alone in doing so.

We are inheritors of a larger Jewish tradition, with all of its teachings and customs and different interpretations. There's no such thing as a Jew who just makes up a brand new Judaism for themselves, but rather we always exist as individuals in a creative, covenantal relationship with the larger Jewish community.

Not only does the individual have to find their own path to holiness within the larger Jewish tradition, but we must also recognize that the Jewish community is not complete unless people are finding their own, comfortable place within it. Judaism is not "one size fits all!" One person may become zealously observant of ritual practices; another person may devote all her energy to Judaism's vision of social justice; a third may find that studying sacred texts is the proper entryway for holiness in living Judaism.

It is only when each person finds their own personal mission within the broader Jewish framework, that the Jewish people as a whole can find its "perfection," or ultimate potential.[1]

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, teaches that there is no such thing as coincidence--that we are surrounded by "invisible lines of connection," that God is the ocean and we are the waves.

Human beings are the hands of God; each of us, he said, has a "Torah" of our own, a unique teaching that we convey to others by our words and our actions. In this way, our very lives can become a blessing and a teaching. 

Mishkan T'filah, the Reform Movement’s Siddur, reflects this important teaching about where we each find our own connection to the community, to God, to holiness:

Entrances to holiness are everywhere.

The possibility of ascent is all the time.

Even at unlikely times and through unlikely places.

There is no place on earth without the Presence.

[1] Adapted from a Dvar Torah by Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger

Shabbat Shalom!

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