This week’s parshah, Kedoshim, contains ‘The Holiness Code’, which includes the famous verse “you shall love your neighbour as yourself”. The Holiness Code gets its name from the first verse, which tells us that we are to be holy because God is holy. Accepting that God is the source, and we are the image, the Holiness Code tells us to fulfil what is already lying within us. In other words, the ability to infuse holiness into every relationship we have and every encounter with the world is already embedded within us.
When we encounter biblical texts describing how we should live, we expect to hear lists of what we can and cannot do. We never expect to hear anything of how we should expect others to behave toward us. In other words, we orient ourselves towards obligations rather than towards expectations.
Interestingly, in secular cultures, we are taught to think of expectations. Everybody has legal and moral rights in the world, and we expect them to be honoured. As Canadians, we have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and our American neighbours have The Bill of Rights. These outline what I can expect to receive from my society. Jewishly, there is nothing in Torah that teaches me to expect that the world gives me anything. In fact, I am taught the opposite.
The commandments teach me of obligations and responsibilities, not rights. I have responsibilities to God, to the world, and to humanity (which includes myself). I do not expect that the world will give me anything, I expect that I must put into the world to help it reshape and grow.
I am not a passive recipient of things, I am an active dynamic of change.
In today’s world, we often hear of social discrepancies based on conceptions of privilege. Once I understand that I carry responsibilities and obligations toward everything, it is difficult to inculcate a sense of privilege. I am the one who owes the world, the world does not owe me. With this perspective, I can enter The Holiness Code and understand how finding what was always inside me, and bringing it to the world, can truly affect healing, repair and change –the Jewish path to holiness.
I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.