Parashah of the week: Kedoshim

“You shall rise before a venerable person and you shall respect the elderly, and you shall fear your God. I am the Lord” Leviticus 19:32


When I first visited Israel in 1988, just after my barmitzvah, I was very taken by the fact that on the “priority seats” on buses there was a sticker saying Mipnei Seivah Takum — “Rise before an elderly person — a direct quote from the verse above.

I wondered if the average person even realised that in the Holy Land, even something so ordinary as a sign to give up one’s seat for those in need had its roots in the Torah. Like many aspects of Israeli day-to-day life and culture, from the place names to the way the working week is structured, Judaism and Jewish tradition permeate so many areas.

The parashah starts off with the instruction Kedoshim tihyu, “You shall be holy’” (Leviticus19:2), which gives the parashah its name. The commentators discuss what the actual purpose of this statement is given that we have many other examples of the Torah telling us to behave in a holy, sanctified manner — with regard to kosher food for example, among other things.

The answer given is that there is an overarching principle which transcends the actual mitzvot, that of Kiddush Hashem — that every action we take should be sanctified and for a higher purpose, even the everyday, mundane actions. Even getting up for someone on the bus is a sacred obligation. It is even possible to meet the technical requirements of a mitzvah but entirely miss the Kedoshim aspect of it.

I am a proud Old Carmelli (alumnus of Carmel College) and our school motto was B’chol D’rachecha Da’eihu, “Know Him in All Your Ways”. Every aspect of our lives should be conducted with an awareness of God in front of us and our behaviour should reflect that.

After telling us to rise, we are told “you shall fear God”. In other words, when you are sitting on the tube pretending to be asleep, and someone needs your seat, God will know the truth. This is an axiom of Jewish ethics. Do the right thing, not for popularity, not to increase profit, not because you may be caught otherwise, but simply because it is the right thing, as laid down in the Torah. Even if nobody else knows, God will know the truth.

Kedoshim tihyu teaches us we have the power to infuse even the most ordinary, mundane actions with holiness and true meaning.

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