Leann Shamash
Author of the blog Words Have Wings

Holiness is as holiness does

Shin (Photo by Leann Shamash)

דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל כּל־עֲדַ֧ת בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל וְאָמַרְתָּ֥ אֲלֵהֶ֖ם קְדֹשִׁ֣ים תִּהְי֑וּ כִּ֣י קָד֔וֹשׁ אֲנִ֖י יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃

Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, the LORD your God, am holy. — Leviticus 19:2

* * *

It is interesting that this combined parsha of Acharei Mot/Kedoshim comes approximately seven months following Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is all about our relationship with God and judgement. We are asked to repent for our misdeeds and do better in the year to come if we are judged favorably. Being good and doing good is at the forefront of our thoughts all during the High Holiday season.

Seven months later, as memory of Yom Kippur has already faded into the distance, along comes Parshat Acharei Mot, where the alarm bell rings midway in the year to remind us to do good, to be good and in its partner Parsha, Parshat Kedoshim,  educates us in the art of being holy.

Parshat Kedoshim gives us a panoply of ways to be holy.  Perhaps the message is this: Holiness is about actions. It is many things and in some ways it is beyond description. Holiness is as holiness does.

* * *

Holiness is as holiness does

Holiness is remembering to call

even when you are busy

and even when you don’t have much to say.

Holiness is giving someone your place in a long line.

Holiness is smiling at your neighbor

even if his dog barks too much.

Holiness is as simple as a deep breath

or as complex as the debate that has gone on for millennia

on what holiness really means.

Holiness is as holiness does.

Holiness is noticing;

not taking for granted

and not forgetting

to give,

to give

and to give some more

and sometimes holiness is also taking.

Holiness is as holiness does.

Holiness is being available.

It is the words you speak and the foods you eat.

Holiness is about being alone, but surrounded

by something you cannot define

and understanding that not everything needs a definition.

Holiness is understanding that you are not the center,

but a part of what makes the mechanism work

It can’t work without you.

Sometimes holiness is words over action

and sometimes it is actions over words.

The holiness of balance.

Holiness is as holiness does.

Holiness is placing yourself

in someone else’s shoes without judgement.

And did I mention,

it is making that call

to that someone who needs a call,

or an ear,

or a shoulder.

Holiness is knowing when to fight the fight

and when to raise your voice.

Holiness is the celebration of silence.

Holiness is knowing and holiness is

understanding that we know nothing.

Holiness is knowing when to pivot towards

and when to turn away.

Holiness is as holiness does

Holiness is remembering

even when it is easier to forget

and forgetting when it is easier to remember.

Holiness is more than the past,

more than the future.

Holiness is this very moment.

Holiness is more than


Or 5
Or 7
Or 10
Or 49

Or even 613

Perhaps it is about 1.

Holiness is the common denominator.

It is as inconceivable as infinity,

but it is right at your fingertips

if you take the time to look.

Holiness is as holiness does

Look down at your hands

and make that call.

About the Author
After a career in Jewish education, Leann Shamash is the author of the blog Words Have Wings, which addresses the parsha of the week through poetry.
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