The third book of the Torah — Sefer Vayikra — is the heart of the Torah, and Parshat Kedoshim, is the heart of the heart of the Torah. The parshah begins by God teaching Bnai Israel: “You shall become Kedoshim, because I am Kadosh.” The word “Kadosh,” is often translated as “holy,” although traditional commentators suggest that a better translation would be “special” or “unique.” We are challenged to become “special and unique,” because we are created in the image of God who is “special and unique.” The remainder of the parshah is a guide that describes how to become special and unique. It is not by virtue of any birthright or natural inheritance that we are “holy” or unique. Rather, it is through the fulfillment of mitzvot related primarily to social justice: dedicating a portion of our crops (wealth) to the poor; ensuring laborers are paid fairly, matching challenges to peoples’ abilities and needs; not standing idly by when someone is in need. Parshat Kedoshim teaches us that we become closest to God — most ‘Kadosh’ — through how we treat other people. We develop our relationship with God — beyn adam lemakom, through mitzvot oriented to other people — beyn adam lechavero.

This week, we commemorated Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut. During the Yom Hazikaron commemoration, we learned the personal stories of individuals who lost their lives defending the State of Israel. We were reminded that the loss of a single person is the loss of a unique life – a holiness – that cannot be replaced. As we transition from mourning to celebration of the Declaration of Independence, we remember that to be independent means to chart a unique path; it means to celebrate our uniqueness while upholding the responsibilities of independent people to fulfill the mitzvot of justice towards others that make us Kedoshim.

This Shabbat, may we all perform mitzvot that make us into the unique people that we strive to become.

Shabbat Shalom,

Moreh Greg