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Achrei Mot/Kedoshim – A thought for the week by Mike Lewis

This week we read what is described as the Holiness Code; sacrifices, food and relationships not just between ourselves but also with God. It includes the ritual of the scapegoat on Yom Kippur. The list of rules is extensive. These Parashiot consider both atonement and separation.


In the middle of our reading, as we read the Sedra Kedoshim, are the words:

You shall be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.

It is not just the priests that are holy but the whole of the nation is given this reminder. We are not to be as other nations. We are to pursue a path set out by God with all the statutes and ordinances. That may seem to restrict us, but it also gives us guidance in our relationships with one another.

But what is holiness? How do we achieve it?

The Pharisees observed strict rules of purity and gifts to the Leviim beyond that observed by the ordinary people. (The word “Pharisee” comes from the word “parush”, “separate,”) This idea of holiness could evolve into asceticism and mysticism; being “holier than thou”. It is a path which may not bring us together but can lead to division. (By the way, the Latin word for “holy” is “sanctus” which is the root of the word “sanctimonious”, overly holy and becoming smug.)

In two places the verses end with the statement:

אֲנִ֖י יְהוָֹֽה
I am the Lord
You shall observe My statutes and My ordinances, which a man shall do and live by them.

 And

You shall love your neighbour as yourself.

 Perhaps holiness comes from our search for how to put these two things together.

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