Parashat Kedoshim is the thirtieth weekly portion in the Torah and the seventh in the Book of Leviticus (19:1-20:27). It opens with the mitzva which is the simplest to understand yet the hardest to fulfill in all the Torah: “Be holy!” In fact, the portion contains more than fifty commandments. The positive ones include revering one’s mother and one’s father, observing the Sabbath, giving parts of the crop to the poor and the disadvantaged, defending and loving one’s fellow, respecting God’s holy places, honoring the elderly and wise, loving the stranger and maintaining accurate weights and measures. The prohibitions include idolatry, desecrating offerings, theft, lying, perjury, cheating, abusing the disabled, perverting justice, spreading gossip, taking revenge, bearing a grudge, sorcery and sex trafficking. This is all in Chapter 19 alone!
Chapter 20, the second half of the portion, opens by condemning the vile cult of Moloch and its custom of child sacrifice. It is not enough for an individual not to follow such inhumane practices; the community must make sure that no such crimes are countenanced in any home and that all offenders and their accomplices are exposed and punished. Indeed, the term chillul (desecration) is used four times in Parashat Kedoshim, to show that lying in God’s name is as blasphemous as disrespecting the sacrificial service and that sexual abuse within the family is as abominable as child sacrifice. Abusive sexual practices, such as incest, adultery and bestiality, are anathema as well in a Godly society.
Indeed, the Torah explains that all the laws of ritual impurity earlier in the Book of Leviticus are ultimately about internalizing the idea of embracing a life of conscious purity and holiness. This is what it means to be God’s people. The thesis of this portion is that holiness is an all-encompassing mission; it is not achieved by cutting oneself off from society, but by engaging with and improving society, through the application of compassion and justice.
There are different traditions as to the portion from the Prophets. Most Ashkenazic Jews read Ezekiel 22, which Sephardic communities read the previous week. Those communities read this week from the Book of Ezekiel once again, but two chapters earlier, ch. 20. There we discover a recurring theme: that God acts to prevent the desecration of His name even when the Israelites are less than deserving. All that God wants is for the people to follow His laws “so that a person shall do them and live by them.”