“Well, Isn’t That Special!”: Kedoshim 2019

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Do you believe that “normal is boring”? To what extent do you seek out unique items, people, and experiences? Or is ordinariness underrated?

As the theme of this week’s portion is holiness, there are numerous musings about what it means to be holy:

The Pitch: “You shall possess their land, for I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey. I Adonai am your God who has set you apart from other peoples. So you shall set apart the pure beast from the impure, the impure bird from the pure. You shall draw abomination upon yourselves through beast or bird or anything with which the ground is alive, which I have set apart for you to treat as impure. You shall be holy to Me, for I Adonai am holy, and I have set you apart from other peoples to be Mine.” – Leviticus 20:24-26

Swing #1: “The fourfold occurrence here of the verb hibdil, ‘to set apart, separate,’ recalls its repeated occurrences in Genesis 1. In fact, these two passages account for well over a third of the attestations of the hiphil of bdl. If, as seems likely, this is not coincidence, the point would appear to be that the distinction of Israel from the nations is as fundamental to cosmic order as the separations through which God first brought order out of chaos. This is a natural implication, given that the primordial institution of the Sabbath has been made known and commanded to Israel alone. More telling is the fact that the passage just quoted views Israel’s own separation of fit from unfit foods as a continuation of the process of her own separation from the Gentiles so that even so humble an activity as eating replicates the ordering that is fundamental to God’s good world.” – Jon D. Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil

Swing #2: “Oddly enough, in the midst of these moral precepts and warnings against pagan affections in the religious realm, is a reminder about the laws of cleanness. But what appears to be out of place here (and belongs instead to Leviticus 11) is attached to what has been considered out of place there. The point, however, is that the writer of Leviticus did not wish the two to be separated; cleanness and holiness are twin concepts. One cannot stand without the other.” – The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 1

Swing #3: “[God says,] ‘You will be special to Me, engaged in My Torah, engaged in My commandments!’ And thus Scripture states, ‘… and I have set you apart from other peoples to be Mine’. [God says,] ‘As long as you are separated from other people, you are Mine. But if not, you are Nebuchadnezzar the Wicked’s and his companions!’” – Tanhuma d’Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai

Late-Inning Questions: How do our commentators seem to understand “holiness”? Is it best defined as being special, being unique, being separate, or some other term? When it comes to being Jewish, how holy do you have to be? Is it wrong to be like other people in some ways and uniquely Jewish in others?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: I am so grateful for all the kind words surrounding Shoshana’s Bat Mitzvah last Shabbat. And luckily for us, the celebrations in our synagogue continue: tonight, we’ll honor our Beit Din (6th grade) graduates at 6:00PM services, and tomorrow, we’ll honor our Confirmation (12th grade) graduates at our 9:30AM services.

The Big Inning at the End: How does baseball define someone who is special? Typically, those people are inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. But, as statistician Bill James once put it, the main problem with the Hall of Fame is that it’s a self-defining institution: simply, you’re a Hall of Famer if the Hall of Fame says you are. Should the Hall of Fame include only the greatest players of all time, or should it be more expansive to tell a broader story of the game’s history?

Shabbat Shalom!