In order to complete the reading of the Torah in a timely way this year, it is necessary to double up certain weekly Torah readings. This week we read from a double portion, the combination of Parashat Acharei Mot (Leviticus 16:1-18:30) and Parashat Kedoshim (Leviticus 19:1-20:27).
On the surface, the combination of these portions is functional, enabling us to complete the required readings in time to begin the Torah again on Simchas Torah. On a deeper level, however, the link of these two portions suggests a far more profound connection between them. Just by juxtaposing the name of each portion, we begin to appreciate this connection.
Acharei mot … kedoshim. After death … there is holiness.
Together, these words strike at the heart of what it means to be a Jew. That even in dark and deep times, there is the potential for holiness. How do we move through these very difficult and human experiences — death, loss, sadness and disappointment — and emerge on the other side with a sense of wholeness and holiness?
Martin Buber teaches that life is not divided between the holy and the profane, but rather it is divided between the holy and the not-yet-holy. Even when we feel most burdened with the realities of human life, Judaism and our Jewish thinkers give us the lens by which to see that the world is full of endless possibilities. Within everything and everyone is the potential for holiness. And, as is pointed out in the Torah commentary, Etz Hayim, “We can be as holy as we allow ourselves to be.”
The Torah teaches us about the many ways we can cultivate holiness in our lives through our families, relationships, study, work and service to God. Within this week’s Torah portion, we even begin an entire section of the Torah called the Holiness Code, dedicated chapters that provide a framework for living a holy life. Each of us will do this in a different way, all the while appreciating that we are part of an am kadosh, a holy people, who learns and grows in holiness together.
In these weeks between Passover and Shavuot, as we trek together toward Mount Sinai and the revelation of the Torah, our people’s book of collective memories and stories, may we find, through silence and meditation, through self-exploration and study with others, a growing sense of the potential for holiness in our very human lives and an ever-present sense of wholeness, happiness and shalom, as we move toward becoming the individuals and community we aspire to be.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)