Parashah of the week: Acharei Mot-Kedoshim

“You shall be holy, for I, Hashem, Your God, am holy. Every person shall fear their mother and father” Leviticus 19:2-3


The parashah of Kedoshim starts off with the over-arching mandate to strive for holiness. We are instructed to imitate the Divine and bring this sensitivity into our lives. The parashah then continues with a rich and varied list of mitzvot (51 are included within 64 verses).

We can only conclude that within these mitzvot is some guide towards attaining holiness. I believe there is a deep relevance to the fact that the very first mitzvah in this list is that of fearing our mother and father. What is it about respecting our parents that makes us a holy people?

In the Jewish worldview, holiness is not achieved through retreating from the world and sitting on a mountain top. We are instructed to engage fully and enthusiastically with the world around us, elevating our interactions and experiences with a sense of the Divine. The small, daily interactions are the bedrock of kedushah.

This is evidenced most powerfully in the realm of interpersonal relationships, and the first and most formative relationship that a person has in life is with their primary caregiver. In the language of the Torah, with their mother and father. As a psychologist I see in my therapy room, without failure, how this relationship deeply shapes a person; it influences their romantic life, their self-belief, identity and aspirations.

Parent-child dynamics are often not simple. There is an entertaining stereotype of the parent who goes to a school parents’ evening and is astonished to hear about a model child, polite, respectful and charming. “Are you sure you are talking about the same child?” they exclaim. “At home he is a nightmare”.

I often reassure parents that this is not only normal but healthy. Children need to learn how to test boundaries. In a healthy home they know that they will be loved unconditionally and so use that as the place to explore their limits.

While this may be natural and even essential for children, it is not something we easily outgrow as adults. When we know we will be accepted no matter what, we might feel we have the licence to let loose in our frustration, agitation and even anger. Oftentimes, those closest to us and those we love most are exposed to the worst parts of ourselves.

Perhaps the Torah is teaching us that this is where holiness is found. It is found when we answer the phone, when we make the effort to visit, to listen to the same story and laugh at the right moment, to forgive the foibles and quirks. Holiness is found in the effort to act with love, respect and reverence towards those with whom we are most familiar, with our families.

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