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Cantor's Comment - Parshat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim      April 24, 2021 - 12 Iyyar 5781

04/23/2021 11:03:42 AM


Holiness.  It’s a word that Judaism tends to throw around a lot.  Most of us have a pretty good idea of what kinds of things are holy.  Of course God is holy.  Torah is holy, along with other sacred texts.  We have ritual objects that we consider holy like a mezuzah or a shofar.  And we also have places that are holy, like a synagogue, the kotel (what many know as the wailing wall), or the whole city of Jerusalem, for that matter.  It’s actually a topic we’ve covered on this channel before, where we learned that holiness really, can be anything that is special or dear to us.  It could be something expensive and glamourous, like a piece of heirloom jewelry, or it could be something simpler like a picture of a loved one that we treasure, or a song that carries special meaning for us.  What about people though?  Can a person be holy?  Of course!  Traditions around the world have holy men and women.  Some are holy because their tradition teaches that they speak on behalf of God, some are holy for their great wisdom and attunement to the harmony of the universe.  But in Judaism, we tend not to label individuals as being either a holy man or woman, even when it comes to great rabbis.  And it’s not because we don’t believe they’re holy, and there isn’t even anything wrong with CALLING them holy either.  The reason we don’t do it is because in Judaism, we are ALL holy.

In this week’s double parsha, Acharei Mot / Kedoshim, the section for kedoshim begins with the words, “vay’daber Adonai el Moshe leimor, daber el kol adat b’nei yisrael v’amarta aleihem, k’doshim teehiyu, ki kadosh ani” – “And God spoke to Moses saying, speak to the entire assembled people of Israel and say to them, you shall be holy, for I am holy.”

So you see, it’s a bit weird in Judaism to single out one particular person as an example of someone who is holy, because we are all supposed to be holy.  But, says the torah, holiness works a bit differently with people.  As with objects, we are holy because we are precious and significant to the people in our lives.  But there is a second dimension to holiness within people because we also have the opportunity and the obligation to make ourselves precious and significant not only to others, but also to ourselves.

How do we do that?  A huge chunk of the Torah that we are reading this week is dedicated to what scholars refer to as The Holiness Code - a long list of rules and regulations on how we must conduct ourselves both ritually and morally.  Between laws that teach us not to spread gossip, or to take unfair advantage of others, we also have laws that get up close and personal as they teach us about intimacy,  while others simply tell us to avoid buying into meaningless superstitious beliefs.  In the end, the Holiness Code can be rolled up into one word… respect… respect for ourselves and others.  It is showing respect that gives us our holiness.

As I prepare this message, Ontario remains in lockdown due to the recent surge in COVID cases.  For many of us, this latest lockdown barely feels any different than what we have endured over the past year.  Still, the weather is getting warmer, and despite the slow vaccine rollout, we know that better days ARE just head so long as we sit tight.  And yet, for many of us, this doesn’t bring us much comfort.  In fact, there is a higher tendency for many of us to simply feel a bit numb to all of the drama at this point.  A New York Times article from this week suggests that the word for what we are experiencing now is ‘languishing’.  It’s not depression.  Surprisingly, it’s not even anxiety anymore, which used to be a big one for a lot of us.  Rather it’s a feeling of a lack of motivation, difficulty focusing, and just a big gigantic collective feeling of “meh”.

The soul within each of us that connects us all to each other and to God means that we are all forever spared from being meaningless.  Nobody is meaningless, and therefore we can’t ever really lose our holiness.  But we can lose our meaning.  In fact, it is easy to lose our joi de vivre when we’re stuck inside all day every day.  It’s easy to fall into a rut where we lose respect for ourselves, and lose sight of the main goal of being human, which is to bring beauty, knowledge, and healing to the world, which in turn fills us with meaning and holiness. It’s easy to give up on our ourselves when there’s nobody around to keep us accountable.  

So, God says, you will be holy because I am holy.  Not necessarily because others are holding us to a standard, but because God is holding us to a standard.  We cannot languish because God doesn’t languish.  Holiness is a job that God has charged us to do at all times, whether we feel like it or not.  You’ve gotta keep doing you’re job, God says, because I’m staying committed to mine.  We all MUST keep filling the world with holiness.  That was the deal, no matter what.  We are in this together.

Have a Shabbat Shalom.

Mon, July 4 2022 5 Tammuz 5782