Ascending to holiness

Ascending to holiness

Parshat Kedoshim, Leviticus 19:1-20:27

So, just how do we do it? We are given a direct order in the very beginning of our parshah, kedoshim tihiyu, ki kadosh ani — “you shall be holy for I (your God) am holy.”

How are we to be holy? We can’t be holy as God is. We will always fall short. We are but flesh and blood, imperfect in our essence.

But the Torah gives a path to holiness. It is not to be like God, but rather to do the things that God clearly states in this parshah for us to do (or not to do).

Revere your mother and father. Keep Shabbat. Have a system to take care of the poor, such as leaving the corners of your field and the fallen items of the harvest. Don’t take advantage of others’ blindness. Don’t curse the deaf. (How would the deaf even know? But God would.)

Pay your workers on time. Don’t hold grudges. Don’t gossip. Don’t steal and don’t act deceitfully with each other. Make justice blind to one’s position in society. Don’t favor the poor because they are poor and certainly don’t favor the rich because of their wealth. Treat strangers fairly. Citizen and resident alien alike are to be treated equitably. Correct your neighbor, but don’t be so overbearing that the sin is on you.

Take care in farming not to harvest until the fourth year. That way, you honor God and you improve the chances for successful harvests in the future. Rise before the aged and honor them. Be honest in the marketplace. Have accurate weights and measures, both liquid and dry.

Love your neighbor as yourself. In Hebrew, your neighbor is your rei-a, who does not even have to be Jewish!

Maybe if we can’t be holy like God is, we can ascend toward holiness with our daily acts. Maybe each of the unique mitzvot of this parshah is a rung on the ladder of holiness.

All of our lives we go up and down on this ladder. There are times in our lives when all seems to go wrong and we simply try to hold on to a lower rung and not fall off. There are other times when we feel strong enough to climb hand over hand and rise higher and higher toward the goal of kedusha, or holiness.

I believe that the path to holiness is in small steps, like those on a ladder, not great deeds that may come about once a year or even a lifetime. I believe that our kedusha is built up over many years of mitzvot and acts of gemilut chasadim (acts of lovingkindness).

All our mitzvot reflect the will of God. Some love the Ten Commandments more than the others. I strive every day to live up to the human and ethical standards set forth in this week’s parshah. Every day I strive to fulfill the words of my teacher and mentor, Dr. Tal Becker, who teaches that we should seek to do something today to make tomorrow a little better than yesterday. I think he meant for us to climb a rung on the ladder of kedusha, of holiness.

Rabbi James A. Gibson is the senior rabbi of Temple Sinai. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.