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Parshas Kedoshim

Holy Kitchen, Holy Sidewalk, Holy Workplace

This week’s parsha of Kedoshim deals with a myriad of topics, all of which bear relevance to the central topic of the parsha – kedoshim tihiyu – “you shall be holy and sanctified, dedicated to God’s service.” The parsha deals with intimate matters, marriage, home and family. It deals with monetary matters, commerce and business. It deals with interpersonal behavior and challenges, with getting along with others and not taking advantage of the “blindness,” handicaps and mistakes of others It deals with purely ritual matters, with laws of sacrifices and tithes and offerings in the Temple. It is one of the most all-encompassing parshiyot of the entire Torah, leaving almost no area of human experience and Torah ritual observance untouched. So, at first glance, it looks like a hodge-podge of different rules all thrown together, formless and disorganized, unconnected and even unfocused. But that is far from being the truth of the matter. For the Torah here emphasizes the essential wholeness and unity of the Jewish concept of the service of God and of human dedication and holiness.

The home, the marketplace, the Temple, the dinner table and the kitchen are all the places of holiness. One who restricts “holiness” to specified places of holiness alone, does the Jewish concept of holiness a great disservice. The synagogue and the house of Torah study are special places of holiness but they are not the only exclusive places. Holiness exists wherever Jews apply the holy practices of the Torah in their everyday lives. It is never limited by space, time or circumstance.

This fundamental lesson that emphasizes the omnipresence and universality of the Jewish concept of holiness needs to be repeatedly emphasized in our personal and national lives. One of the great goals of both the Chasidic and Mussar movements, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries respectively, was to spread the idea of Torah holiness into every aspect of human life and behavior. In Judaism, it is unthinkable to be a pious person in the synagogue or study hall and a reprehensible person in commercial or interpersonal relationships. I believe that this tawdry situation is included in the famous statement of the Ramban in his commentary to the parsha of Kedoshim that one can be an “obscene person within the confines of Torah.” Anyone who limits Torah holiness to matters of ritual, to the places of the synagogue and the study hall exclusively, enters that obscene, treacherous realm.

The Torah does not grant us the luxury of compartmentalizing our lives and our striving for holiness. If schizophrenia is a mental and emotional disease in psychiatric terms, then this is the spiritual version of that same type of disease. The Haskala in the nineteenth century proclaimed that it could produce someone who would be a “Jew in his home and a cosmopolitan human being, a citizen of the world in the marketplace.” The events of the past century have proven that this schizophrenic dream is untenable. Only the whole, holy Jew, who practices holiness everywhere in life and in society can aspire to fulfill the Godly challenge of kedoshim tihiyu – “you shall be sanctified and dedicated unto God’s service.”

Shabat shalom.
Rabbi Berel Wein

Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Berel Wein and



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