Acharai Mot-K’doshim (Leviticus 16:1-20:27) The Holiness of Loneliness?

Left human palm. Photo by Carlos Arthur M.R on Unsplash
Left human palm. (Photo by Carlos Arthur M.R on

What a double portion! From the scapegoat and sexual laws to the so-called “Holiness” Code, this week we delve in serious issues and proof texts that have been the subject of centuries of controversy and moral justification: from same sex issues to social, business and medical ethics; these two portions span the gamut of human emotion and, in a “normal” year, would be unpacked in a variety of ways. But this is not a  normal year!

I just wish to look at this idea of holiness, best expressed in many ways in the famous chapter 19. This is a so-called “Readers Digest” of Jewish rituals, family, business, social and economic laws; all based on the idea that we are “in God’s image” and that your actions should reflect that which is holy because ” I am God”. Theology aside for the moment, there is a way of looking at this from the perspective of our current situation. We are experiencing a pandemic of loneliness and we need to address this as the implications are serious and long lasting.

To act in a “holy” way, we need to make sure we do not allow people to be alone. Study after study is now showing us the medical and psycho-spiritual challenges associated with loneliness. This is not the same as “social distancing”. A recent study from National Institute on Aging (part of NIH) noted that while about 28% of elders live alone many are not “lonely or socially isolated. At the same time, some people feel lonely despite being surrounded by family and friends.” We are now seeing increased mental health concerns as a result of the increased isolation that has often manifested itself in outcomes that are often self destructive. As one scholar noted in the study, “loneliness acts as a fertilizer for other diseases”.

This is a real wakeup call for our communities of faith to reach in to our communities and establish and maintain connections with people. That one phone call or shopping trip for someone may help provide a connection that helps in ways we may not know. Most of us are not therapists. But all of us can act upon the values of k’dushah (holiness) that is expressed this week. It is not good to be alone, existentially cut off, spiritually distant and feeling isolated. The answer may not be in Zoom calls or meetings, rather reaching out person to person.

Shabbat shalom. Stay safe.

Rabbi Richard F Address

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