This week’s parsha contains some of the most well known mitzvot which relate to interpersonal relationships and social justice:
“Love your neighbor,”
“Don’t stand idly by,”
“Don’t place a stumbling block before the blind.”
Parshat Kedoshim* opens: “Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them, You shall be holy (kedoshim tihiyu), for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” The Sifra teaches (quoted by Rashi) that this was read out to the whole community during hakhel, when all of Israel gathered to hear and learn Torah, because the mitzvot included were so fundamental. Rashi (based on midrash) interprets the command to be holy to mean “to separate from illicit relations and sinfulness.” This understanding: be holy = be separate, might have been understood as encouraging isolation or asceticism, as was a common trend among various groups in Second Temple times. The Chatam Sofer however, corrects this misconception and explains that the parsha was read at hakhel to emphasize the importance of being part of a community. Furthermore, he teaches that the essence of the command “kedoshim tihiyu” is to be an “ohev habriyot,” a lover of humanity, to actively seek out relationships and help elevate those we come into contact with.
Hence, this command precedes a long list of interpersonal mitzvot. Through personal connection and social action we give expression to the image of God within us and become holy. By caring for others one spreads God’s kedusha in the world. May we find ways to foster community during this challenging time and may we be able to return to our communal life and increase kedusha together again soon.
(* This week we read the double parsha, Aharei Mot-Kedoshim)