This coming Shabbat we read a double portion: Achrei Mot-Kedoshim. The last parsha is also called ‘The Holiness Codex’. It starts by commanding us to be holy. Or does it? God says to Moses: “Instruct the community of Israel: kedoshim t’yehiyu, be holy, because I the Lord your God am holy” (Vayikra 19:2). How can we human beings be holy like God, Him/Herself? We are created in God’s image as stated in the first book of the Torah, but we are not God!
The commandment does not mean that we should be holy like God, but that we should strive and continuously try to be holy. We should aim to be holy as God is, and even if we do not reach this level, we should not stop trying. And how do we try? The “Holiness Codex” that follows contains these concepts. There are mitzvot between people and God (ben adam la’Makom) and there are mitzvot between people and fellow people (ben adam lechavero). Judaism stresses that the relationship between a person and their neighbor is more important than the relationship between a person and God. And it is very simple – the text in the parsha reflects the Ten Commandments, but in a different order: “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods; you shall not swear falsely; remember the Shabbat; honor your father and mother; you shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not covet.” It is all repeated in this section of Vayikra and summed up in 19:18: “Ve’ahavta lereacha kamocha, ani Adonai” – love your neighbor as yourself, I am the Lord.”
The mitzvot between people and their fellow people should be kept because there is this golden rule for humanity: Love your neighbor as you love yourself, only then can you try to be holy like God. If only we would care for our spouse, children, parents, neighbors, ‘the other’ in society, then society would be a lot better off. Dialogue with others, instead of monologue – listen to others but also hear what they have to say, see what can be done, and not only what can not be done: these rules are crucial for a just and humane society. It all starts in your own house, in your own environment.
Read the codex for this Shabbat and think about what you really do to strive for holiness in your own lives.
About the author: Rabbi Menno ten Brink serves Liberaal Joodse Gemeente Amsterdam/ Liberal Jewish Community of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
The above formerly appeared as #114 from our Torah from Around the World series.