Halfway to 120 (Extract)

Extract of an article in Issue 2, May 12, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. The Torah portion Kedoshim (Leviticus 19:1-20:27) is read on Shabbat, May 3 What do you do when you are midway into a journey? One from which there is no return? Do you look forward in anticipation, or do you look back nostalgically? The portion Kedoshim, in which God instructs Moses to tell the Israelites "You shall be holy, kedoshim tiheyu" is halfway through the Torah, a place where we can look forward to the responsibilities of a promised holy land or reminisce about the good old days when all our needs were taken care of as slaves in Egypt. Alternatively, we can ponder the meaning of this journey, which should be not only for a physical land, but a search for holiness. What does it mean to be holy? Holiness is an ongoing process through which we sanctify ourselves by observing commandments, committing to a way of life. Does it mean we separate ourselves from the rest of the world and live the contemplative life? Or does it mean that we thoroughly involve ourselves with the world and observe God's commandments? To serve as a guideline, in our quest for holiness in the middle of our journey, there are ethical rules laid down in Kedoshim. The midrash notices that the wording is similar to the Ten Commandments. "R. Hiyya taught: This section was spoken in the presence of a gathering of the whole assembly, because most of the essential principles of the Torah are attached to it. R. Levi said: Because the Ten Commandments are included therein" (Lev. Rabbah 24:5). This is interesting because it means that in the Torah there are remnants of three Decalogues, ours in Leviticus, one in Exodus and the other in Deuteronomy. The one in Exodus was given before entry into the land, before the laws were known, before the golden calf, directly by God; whereas the one in Deuteronomy was given by Moses as a second take, after the laws were known. Do we need a second set of commandments? Wasn't the first one enough? Perhaps midway in our journey from being coddled ex-slaves with all of our needs taken care of, to becoming independent in our land, when many sacrifices are being made, both by the people and of innocent animals, it is necessary to be reminded that the primary commandments are those between fellow men (bein adam lehavero). And if we wish to be holy and worthy of God's attention we must have a different understanding of what it means to be God's people. The first set of commandments begin with, "I am the Lord your God." The commandments in Kedoshim begin with the words: "You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy." In other words, if you want to be my people you have to grow up and behave in a holy manner. Naomi Graetz teaches at Ben-Gurion University, is the author of "Unlocking the Garden: A Feminist Jewish Look at the Bible, Midrash and God" (Gorgias Press) and has been living in Israel since 1967. Extract of an article in Issue 2, May 12, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.