K’doshim (Leviticus 19:1-20:27) A Holiness Formula

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We come this week to one of the most quoted and easily one of the most powerful of portions in Torah. Leviticus 19 can be seen as sort of a one-chapter summary of Jewish values, laws, and ethics. It runs the gamut from ritual law to family law to economics and more. It has texts that have been used as proof texts for society, bioethics, respect for elders, equality in the marketplace and so much more. The chapter, and this section, is often referred to as the Holiness Code, for it really is an answer to the question that so many ask: “how can I live a sacred Jewish life”? The answer: follow the text in Leviticus 19.
How do we live a life of holiness? So many of us, at this stage of life, may be tempted to look back in life review and ask if we have done this? Also, in looking forward, how do we maintain and grow this arc of holiness? The Hebrew word that is at the heart or root of this concept is kodesh and that root is made up of three letters, the kuph, the dalet, the shin! K’D’SH Can these letters give us a sense of how we can live that ideal of holiness? Here is a brief idea of three values that, when lived together, may lead to a life of holiness.
That first letter, the kuph. I suggest can stand for the word k’hilah, or community. More powerful than any theological concept, especially as we age, is the power of being part of a community. This was proven again in Covid. Just this week, the Pew Research people released a study that again demonstrated that people who affiliate with a religious community are far more likely to have greater feelings for other human beings. We need people, relationships and thus community. It is community that helps define us and support us. A growing number of studies has shown that as we age, belonging to some community is a key factor in maintaining mental and physical health as well as longevity.
The dalet represents the Hebrew word dugma, or example. This follows on the idea of community in that we are charged to live a life of example. People are watching. Our children and grandchildren, friends, and family watch what we chose to do and how we chose to live. That is why so many Boomers have, at our stage of life, chosen to “give back” to community, each in their own way. We know that in getting involved in living a life of example, of living a life of mitzvah we who give back receive as much, if not more, than the recipient of the deed.
Finally, the shin can stand for the concept of shomer or guard, but guard in the sense of self care and taking care of our self, mentally and physically. We do not take enough time to celebrate the idea of taking care of our own self as we attempt to live. SO many of us are now active caregivers. Increasing numbers, in the next decades, will be the recipient of care. We have come to know how vital staying healthy, eating well, getting enough rest and respite is in our self-care, for to live a life of vitality we need to take care of our own self and soul.
So, just a thought this Shabbat on a formular for holiness. Being involved in and with a community, living a life of example and self-care.
Shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Richard Address

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