This week’s Torah portion is Kedoshim, Leviticus 19:1-20:27.
This week’s Torah portion, Kedoshim is a code of laws of moral conduct, sometimes called the Holiness Code: You shall not insult the deaf or place a stumbling block before the blind. Do not steal. You shall fear God. Love your fellow as yourself.
Chapter 20 includes laws of family relations, including forbidden sexual unions. It concludes with how to observe the law in the land of Israel, and a warning to not follow the practice of the conquered people in their idol worship, which is abhorrent.
In meeting with couples who are engaged to be married, I at some point discuss kiddushin or “holiness” as marriage is called, and how we can understand holiness in the context of a mature relationship. How much holiness is enough? Will the concept be a turn-off to many since it is difficult to relate to?
How does holiness fit into the adolescent’s world of soccer, baseball, basketball, hockey, and music and dance lessons? Or does it fit in? Hillel teaches that the entire teaching of the Torah is represented by Leviticus 19:18: “Love your fellow as yourself.” We make holiness part of our lives through the observance of this principle.
In his classic book Man’s Search for Meaning, Dr. Viktor Frankl wrote that the Holocaust taught him that mankind is divided into two races: the decent and the indecent. The decent are those who follow the Golden Rule — love thy neighbor — and who act in a responsible manner.
Years ago, I heard Holocaust rescuer and Dutch citizen Aart Vos speak at the Embassy of Israel in Washington. He said that he did not consider himself a hero. Rather, he was religious. He and his wife, Johtje, harbored dozens of Jews, especially children, in their home, on their property, underground, while risking their own lives and the lives of their six children.
Vos also said something which I found stunning: When he or members of the Resistance found wounded Nazis soldiers, they did not kill them. Instead, they put them on Red Cross wagons. Not everyone would have done that, but Vos said that is what he had been taught by his parents: not to take revenge, and love your fellow as yourself.
Life is sacred.
Ramban comments that it is a challenge to love our fellow man for all but the most saintly, and adds that we should at the very least treat each other with respect. “Just as you love yourself … so shall you love others, even without reasons,” according to the Alter of Slobodka. Maimonides, adds that this includes visiting the sick, celebrating with the bride and groom, hospitality and comforting mourners.
Raising the experience of life requires us to move away from the unholy and toward the holy. To do this we must examine the laws, recognize the blessings of life and affirm that as Jews we must be committed to being among
Frankl’s decent race of human beings.
And for the question “Why should we?” the Torah answers “God, commands it! (I am the Lord!).” n
Rabbi Arnold Saltzman is the rabbi of Hevrat Shalom of Maryland, Beit Chaverim of Calvert County and Sha’are Shalom of Waldorf.