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Parshat Aharei Mot/K'doshim


"The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:

'Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them:

You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your G-d, am holy.'"

Though we begin this Shabbat reading from Aharei Mot, the chapter that describes Yom Kippur rituals and observance, the above opening lines of K'doshim capture the essential theme of this important double portion: Since we all contain a spark of the Divine, we must strive to be holy, as He is, in every aspect of our spiritual and physical lives.

In Aharei Mot we learn about the elaborate cleansing of the Mishkan that must be done by the High Priest to mark this most sacred day of the Jewish year, "...the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month...". Aaron, who normally "'may not come at will into the Shrine behind the curtain in front of the cover that is upon the ark, let he die; for I appear in the cloud over the cover...'" is only allowed inside the Holy of Holies on this day. Dressed completely in white linen with a white turban on his head, he brings a bull and a ram to offer for his own sins and two goats, "'one marked for the Lord and the other marked for Azazel (the scapegoat)'", that will represent the transgressions of the Israelites. He will use the animals' blood to cleanse the sanctuary.

As for the people, "'This shall be to you a law for all time: (on that day) you shall practice self-denial; and you shall do no manner of work, neither the citizen nor the alien who resides among you. For on this day expiation shall be made for you to purify you of all your sins.'"

K'doshim repeats the Ten Commandments in addition to laying out a long series of social-contract laws meant to legislate sanctity by rooting the world in G-d's word and rules. These include sexual mores and the listing of those whose "'nakedness...you shall not uncover'"; protection of the vulnerable ("'You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind...When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt'"); agricultural restrictions ("'...you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed'"); and the directive that Rabbi Hillel famously used to sum up the Torah when asked to recite the entire Bible while standing on one foot: ("'Love your fellow as yourself: I am the Lord.'") The rest, Hillel said, is commentary.

But how do you represent holiness? What does it look like? Shabbat mom has been struggling with these questions all day, trying to figure out what kind of visual image does justice to the elemental idea of holiness--and our eternal struggle to reach the Holy--in this week's reading. The best I could come come up with is a close-up of today's beautiful, moody sky with its pure-white puffy clouds hovering above our heads.

May the memories of the 10 Israeli teens who were tragically killed in a flash flood while hiking near the Dead Sea yesterday be for a blessing. And may their families be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Shabbat Shalom!