Parasha Kedoshim begins with the injunction to “be Holy, for I YHVH your G-d am Holy” and the Torah then follows with a list of things by which that command is fulfilled. Interestingly enough, while we generally think of holiness in religious terms the vast majority of what follows in Kedoshim are not what we would call ‘religious’ guidelines but moral injunctions. To understand why this is so, let’s take a look at what it means to be holy.
Kadash, the word translated holy, means to become holy, sacred or consecrated. If we explore the ancient root we come up with the following. The qaph is the rising or setting sun, a circle, to shrink or draw together or an alternate meaning is the back of the head, or that which is behind, that which follows. The dalet is the door or opening, the way in or out, and the shin represents the teeth and encompasses the idea of something sharp, piercing, pointed or of destruction. If we put these ideas together we come up with holiness being “following the way of him that was pierced” or the way of Mashiyach. It is following the “way, the truth and the life”, going in through the ‘door’. It is exemplifying His example, walking in His steps, living as he lived.
Let us now go back to our original question. Why are the majority of the commands moral rather than religious? Because many of the religious commands of Torah are a means to an end and that end is the development of g-dly character. Our holiness is related to G-d’s holiness, we are to be like Him. We are to develop His attributes within ourselves. Those attributes are already part of our makeup, since we are created in His image, an the Torah was given to assist us in ‘revealing’ the image of G-d within us. That is why rabbi Sha’ul called the Torah our ‘schoolmaster’; it is basic training. We do not cease to apply those basic lessons, once we ‘graduate’, but through the application of those lessons, we gain an appreciation for the larger goal and have been properly trained to achieve it.
Look at some of the injunctions in our passage. Concern for the poor, the disabled and the stranger, guarding the tongue so as not to cause injury to someone, judging justly, sexual purity, correct weights and measures. These are all things that make us people of integrity, of compassion, of love. Are not those the words we use to describe G-d?
There is one mitzvot on the list I left out in order to expound upon it. If we look at Torah the way Sha’ul described it and understand holiness as a way of life to develop true mature, g-dly character, then we need instructors that have been working at the process a long time and can share insight and understanding with us. That is why the Torah elevates the elder, one who by the virtue of advanced age has acquired wisdom, or one who has intensely studied and applied Torah to achieve the same goal. We are to show our respect for such men and women by rising before them and learning from them. The reinvention of the wheel is a long process. But G-d has shown each generation how to improve from the one before. We should not be starting from the same place as our parents and grandparents. If they fulfill their responsibility and teach us the Mitzvot, and we honor them, we should be picking up where they left off. Many of us did not have that opportunity but we do have a wonderful community whose knowledge and experience stretches back four thousand years. The ideal is not to sit in a closet with your bible and try to understand it but become part of the community so we can learn from one another. As we elevate each other we will become holy as YHVH our G-d is holy.
This weeks parasha contains a prohibition on sorcery. “The person who shall turn to the sorcery of the Ovos and the Yid’onim to stray after them....I will cut him off from his people.” (20:6) On the surface, we think we know why, sorcery is of the devil, right? Perhaps, but there doesn’t seem to be an indication, at least in Tenach, that ‘satan’ is responsible for it. It is also not like ‘giving your children to Molech’, also mentioned in this weeks parasha. This involved child sacrifice of the most gruesome sort. Sorcery, as described in our parasha, is ‘harmless’, it doesn’t hurt anyone else any more than reading your horoscope or having your palm read. Sorcery is the attempt to know the future or some other ‘hidden’ knowledge outside of God’s prophets and revealed word.
It is really symptomatic of a deeper problem and that problem is not knowing God. The only reason for engaging in that kind of activity is because the right way, through YHVH, is not accessible any more. If the prophets do not speak, they are not speaking because of sin and because they do not know God, they are not tapped into the eternal things. We find ourselves in a similar place. We are not tapped into the eternal, not like Moshe or the prophets or the Talmidim. God seems distant to us, and when we read the Bible, He seemed so close to them. What are we missing?
We are, in many respects, like people in an art gallery. The pictures in this gallery are paintings and photographs of past people who knew God. There is one of Abraham and several of the other patriarchs, there’s David and Daniel, Ezekiel and Isaiah, Peter and John. They knew God, they had intimacy, and we think that if we study their paintings long enough we will know them and God as well. We hope this is true but we know it’s not. I can study past presidents all I want, I can memorize their pictures and speeches but I will never know them. ‘Knowing’ in scripture involves intimacy on the highest level, that is why it is used to describe the sexual act between married people. It is this level of knowing that God wants from us and we seem to be so at a loss to achieve.
That is because we are still pursuing it the way Adam did, we are pursuing knowledge. We think because we know facts we know something. It was the pursuit of knowledge that got us into trouble in the first place and it still does because it is misdirected. If I read a book, even memorized it, on how to fly a plane, would you be ready to jump in and go up in the sky with me the first time? I wouldn’t. Flying, and most things in life, require more than just knowledge. We study the bible in order to know God but even if it is memorized, we will not achieve the goal of intimacy. We will just be looking at static picture, wishing they were more.
Intimacy requires experience, it requires wisdom. Adam had both and traded them for knowledge. The most the stories and pictures and words can do for us is direct our way. Y’shua said that the Pharisees studied the Torah because they thought the words contained eternal life. They were just words without substance and He was the substance. He was reality, the words were just pictures on the wall. It is the difference between looking at a picture of a sunset and being there. The crucial thing is no one can do it for us. We have to experience it, we have to be there, we cannot rely on the pictures of others. The gate is narrow, it only admits one. The path is single file; we may follow, we may lead but we must take our steps alone because only we can experience our intimacy with God, it is non-transferable. Study will show us the goal, may give advice from the past on how the goal is reached but we must set out on our own journey, we must seek, we must get to know God in reality, not just know about Him but be intimate with Him. That is what He desires but we must let go of all our preconceived ideas placed there by our knowledge and allow our true selves and God formulate our unique path to the wedding chamber. No two romances are alike, we should not expect that our ‘romance’ with YHVH should be a cookie cutter replica of anyone else's. God made every one of us different and our relationship with Him will reflect that uniqueness.