This week’s Torah portion begins with a command that seems to be nearly impossible to fulfill. But is it really as difficult as it sounds?
And HaShem spoke to Mosheh, saying, “Speak to all the congregation of the children of Yisra’ěl, and say to them, ‘Be holy (set-apart), for I HaShem your Elohim am holy (set-apart).Leviticus 19:1-2
After reading that and pondering what that looks like, you might feel just like the boy in the image. You need to start climbing a ladder that goes straight up into the sky and once you reach the top what’s next? Can you reach the top? But on the other hand, some of us may feel like we’ve already arrived. We’ve made it as high up as we can possibly go, so we’ve stopped to enjoy the view. Look at all those people down there!
What we should do when we reach the top isn’t really a something that we should concern ourselves with. Torah study is not merely mental ascent. What we need to be asking ourselves is what does it mean to be holy? What does that look like in real time and in the real world?
Parshah Kedoshim gives us many suggestions as to how to begin practicing practical holiness in every day life. Rashi states that “wherever there is separation from immorality, there is holiness.” The sages also give another bit of insight that we may have never considered before: “Sanctify yourself in what is permitted to you by refraining not only from what is expressly forbidden, but also from too much of what is permitted.” Leviticus 19:9-10 demonstrates what that looks like.
“And when you reap the harvest of your land, do not completely reap the corners of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. And do not glean your vineyard or gather every grape of your vineyard, leave them for the poor and the stranger. I am HaShem your Elohim.”
This is specified in more detail in Deuteronomy 24:19-22 that you shouldn’t even look behind you when you glean and if you happen see some left in the field when you return, do not go back out after it. Why so much emphasis on leaving bits of your crops when you’re harvesting? It’s because you were once a slave in Egypt and these wonderful gestures would have never been done for you. It’s as if He’s saying, “I’ve separated you (kedoshim) from your past and your bad influences. You now have an opportunity to better the lives of those around you. Are you going to treat others how the Egyptians treated you?”
Abundance and blessings are not a bad thing by any means. But we should remember in our abundance we can help those who lack. The Torah seems to make an explicit point that we should be considerate of those who would be less fortunate than we are. Maybe we don’t have piles of cash or an overflowing vineyard, but there are areas where He has given us an excess. We can either hoard the blessings up for ourselves or we can be like Avraham who sat under a tree waiting for someone to come by so that he could share what he had. Even sharing your time and your insight into The Scriptures can be a direct fulfillment of this command.
The admonition for proper and humane treatment of others doesn’t stop there. It continues as if for some reason we need to be reminded that it’s wrong to curse a deaf person or put a stumbling block in front of a blind person. Rambam says, “Even though he cannot hear the curse to be angered or embarrassed by it, it is forbidden to curse him. Surely, therefore, it is forbidden to curse those who are aware of what is being done to them.” This may seem like common sense to you, but unfortunately this isn’t always the case. Additionally, this is a warning against doing anything to cause another individual to sin. Just because they can’t “see” it’s a sin, doesn’t mean that we can encourage it. We should even extend this warning to caution us against giving bad advice to an unsuspecting person.
Whatever view we hold on what it means to be holy, HaShem places much importance on the proper treatment of others. Who are we to determine who is deserving of kindness and mercy when He has graciously poured it out on us? If we can see people the way He sees people, maybe we can begin to understand what one small part of holiness is. The next time you think you’ve made it to the top of your ladder, look around. It should be that the higher we climb and the closer we get to Elohim, the more needs we should be able to see.
“Clean and undefiled religion before the Elohim and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. “James 1:27