Parshat Kedoshim: Being different

1Kedoshim (holy ones) begins with the Divine Commandment to the People of Israel: “You shall be Holy because I, the Lord your God, am Holy.” (Leviticus 19:2). Most of our Sages remark that the fundamental message of Torah is stated in this chapter of Leviticus. The whole Torah is about being holy in order to be close to our Creator, and that means to be different. The root of the Hebrew word kadosh, usually translated as holy, means “separated” or “set apart” and in a practical context implies being different. Hence holiness is by definition a separate state, a world apart. That which makes us different. And how this difference can be more real than the “rest”? Living in Truth is the answer, which is living in Love’s ways instead of the ways of materialistic illusions and ego’s rules.

The portion continues restating the Ten Commandments, and emphasizing in some of the ways we have to relate to our fellow human beings. These are guidelines aimed to love, care, protect and cherish them. The Talmud (Yevamot 20a) points out that we also have to sanctify life and act with holiness in what is permissible to us. It is not enough to refrain from what is forbidden, but also to be moderate with the pleasures material life offers us, as it is suggested by Maimonides and Nachmanides when they speak about the meaning of being holy. As part of the Ten Commandments, God warns us against falling into ego’s materialistic desires and illusions: “Do not turn to idols, nor make to yourselves molten gods” (19:4).

Rashi explains the order of this sentence saying that the “idols” at first are like fantasies when we desire them, and later we end up turning then into “gods” as we make them our main purpose in life. In the Ten Commandments there is also a reminder to avoid negative or evil speech: “You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people, you shall not stand by your fellow’s blood” (19:16).

We must not be indifferent or unconcerned about our fellow man’s pain, misery or disgrace: You shall not stand by your fellow’s blood, and this includes our responsibility to guide him into God’s ways and attributes. When we “Rebuke, rebuke your fellow” (19:17) we must question him when his beliefs, thoughts, emotions, feelings, passions and instincts take a negative trend.

With this preamble the Torah introduces its fundamental principle: “You shall not take vengeance nor bear any grudge against any of your people;
and you shall love your fellow as yourself, [because] I am the Lord.” (19:18). When we love our fellow man and God’s Creation, we love the Creator. This means to be aware of the Oneness that we are part of. We love everything and everyone because they, as well as we, are made of the same Love that we all are; and there is no separation in this Love.

Love, as the material manifestation of God’s Love, unites everything because all comes from God and it is sustained by His Love. Next to this verse it is written: “You shall keep My statutes. You shall not let your cattle gender with a diverse kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; neither shall there come upon you a garment of two kinds of stuff mingled together.” (19:19).

Why does this verse comes after Torah’s cornerstone love your neighbor as yourself? In a deeper meaning it tells us that Love does not mix with anything different than its ways and attributes. Love, as the material manifestation of God’s Love, is what must lead every dimension of our consciousness.

Interestingly the portion continues with the laws on agriculture and the ways we have to treat the Land, the trees and their produce: “When you shall come into the Land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food.” (19:23). The Land also represents our life and all levels of our consciousness with which we relate to ourselves, to our fellow man, and to the entire Creation. We have to let our consciousness mature long enough to be able to fully experience and manifest Love as our true Essence and identity. Thus we share all we create and produce with those who don’t have. By doing this we elevate others with our Love.

“You shall rise before the white-haired, and honor the face of the old man” (19:32), hence we have to honor wisdom and understanding (which also represent our father and mother), and consequently we have to also honor knowledge, experienced learning, and the valuable counsel and advice from which we can benefit. We have to honor the acquired wisdom from our own experiences by engaging our consciousness with it. We must not disregard anything we learn, thus every day we apply our knowledge. Love is the greatest knowledge and teacher of all, and sustains the Truth in everything we learn. As we mentioned in this blog, from Love emanate all wisdom.

The next chapter of the portion lists the consequences of living in idolatry and with customs that reject the holiness the Creator wants us to honor in order to be always close to Him. The Torah mentions several kinds of “punishments”, which should not be perceived as forms of retaliation or retribution but simply as the consequences of choosing what denies Love’s ways and attributes.

Those consequences range from turning our hearts into stones (being “stoned” by our attachment to a materialistic lifestyle), expelling ourselves from the People and the Land that represent the Oneness with God; and “dying” as the result of not living anymore in the true life that God offers us when we walk in His ways: “You shall therefore keep all My statutes, and all My ordinances and do them, that the Land where I bring you to dwell in vomit you not out. And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation which I am casting out before you; because they did all these things, and therefore I abhorred them. But I have said unto you: ‘You shall inherit their land, and I will give it unto you to possess it, a Land flowing with milk and honey.’ I am the Lord your God, who have set you apart from the peoples.” (20:22-24).

Separation from the illusions of darkness is clearly commanded in the last sentence, and continues commanding us to separate between clean and unclean, darkness and Light: “And you shall be Holy to Me because I, the Lord, am Holy, and have set you apart from the peoples, for you to be Mine.” (20:26).

In the haftarah we read along with this portion, the Prophet (Ezekiel 22:1-6) warns that the Promised Land does not allow or condone impurity, and that we will be expelled from it if we tamper our consciousness with anything other than the holiness the Creator wants from us. Again we are reminded that God’s Love does not cohabit with anything different than His ways and attributes. Mystic Sages teach that when we live in the darkness of exile we learn to search for the Light with which we return to the Holy Land, which is also the highest awareness or our connection with God’s Love.

About the Author
Ariel Ben Avraham was born in Colombia (1958) from a family with Sephardic ancestry. He studied Cultural Anthropology in Bogota, and lived twenty years in Chicago working as a radio and television producer and writer. He emigrated to Israel in 2004, and for the last fourteen years has been studying the Chassidic mystic tradition, about which he writes and teaches. Based on his studies, he wrote his first book "God's Love" in 2009. He currently lives in Zefat.
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