David Harbater
Author, educator and scholar

Parashat Kedoshim and Yom Haatzmaut

This Shabbat we read Parashat Kedoshim and on Monday night and Tuesday we will be celebrating Yom Haatzmaut, the anniversary of Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Is there a connection between the two?

I believe the answer may be found in the word “kedoshim” which appears at the beginning of the parasha and after which the parasha is named. The opening verse of the parasha is, “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them; You shall be holy (kedoshim tihyu), for I, your God, am holy” (Leviticus 19:1). The question, of course, is what does holiness mean and how does one achieve it?

Rashi maintains that holiness refers primarily to separation, or being apart, and he suggests that the Torah here is coming to teach us to separate ourselves from inappropriate sexual liasons. Rashi apparently based his suggestion on the juxtaposition of the commandment of kedoshim tihyu with the long list of prohibited sexual unions described in the previous parasha.

The Ramban disagrees with Rashi and argues that kedoshim tihyu is not merely coming to require separation from illicit sexual relations but to teach us to separate ourselves from certain things that are halakhically (in accordance with Jewish law) permitted. For example, although the Torah permits sexual relations between husband and wife and the consumption of foods that are kosher we should not get carried away and become sex addicts or gluttonous eaters. In other words, according to the Ramban, kedoshim tihyu does not relate to any specific mitzvah but is a general call for us to go above and beyond the letter of the law, to exercise restraint and to avoid unnecessary indulgences.

The problem with both of these approaches is that the kedoshim command appears at the beginning of the parasha as well as at the end (Leviticus 20:26) with a long and comprehensive list of mitzvot in between. Thus, it would appear that it does not refer to mitzvot that were listed in the previous parasha, as Rashi avers, or to habits and behaviors that are beyond the call of duty, as the Ramban suggests, but to the mitzvot that are listed in the parasha itself. If so, what is the relationship between it and the various mitzvot listed therein?

It seems that when we fulfill the mitzvah of revering our parents, which is one of the mitzvot in the parasha, we sanctify, or make holy, our relationship with them, and when we keep Shabbat, which is another (19:3), we sanctify our week. When we prevent our courts from rendering unfair decisions and favoring the rich or the poor (19:15), we sanctify our legal system. When we refrain from taking revenge and holding grudges, and when we love our neighbors like ourselves (19:18), we sanctify our relationships with one another. When we leave a portion of that which we reap in the fields of our land for the poor (19:9), we sanctify our society. When we avoid the fruit of the trees planted in the land during the first three years and then designate them as sacred during the fourth, we sanctify the land and its produce, and so on and so forth. In other words, the Torah in Parashat Kedoshim is offering us a blueprint for the way in which we can sanctify all aspects of life in our land.

And how does all of this relate have to do with separateness? At the end of the parasha the Torah says “You shall be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy, and I have set you apart from other peoples to be Mine.” (Leviticus 20:26). By creating the kind of society in our land that the Torah envisions, we separate ourselves from the other nations of the world and, thus, we become kedoshim—holy, as God is holy.

For religious Jews, the day that Israel declared its independence was not just a dramatic turning point in our fate and fortunes as a people but in the opportunity it presented to realize the religious vision encapsulated in the words kedoshim tihyu. Thus, while the Hatikvah refers to our hope of two-thousand years to be a “free nation (am chofshi) in our Land”, Rabbi Riskin, for example, prefers the words a “holy nation (am kadosh)”—which gives expression to our two-thousand years of religious yearning as well.

Despite the horrific attack of October 7th and despite the continued attempts of our enemies to destroy us, we remain a free and sovereign nation in our land. Whether or not we become a holy nation in our land as well is entirely up to us.






About the Author
Rabbi Dr. David Harbater's recently published book "In the Beginnings: Discovering the Two Worldviews Hidden within Genesis 1-11" is available on Amazon and at book stores around Israel and the US. He teaches Bible and Jewish thought at Midreshet Torah V'Avodah, at the Amudim Seminary, and at the Women's Beit Midrash of Efrat. Make sure to follow him on Facebook and LinkedIn for more interesting content.
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