Kedoshim (Leviticus 19-20) isn’t one of those passages of the Torah that challenges one’s imagination to draw meaning and metaphor from a story about life in the Ancient Near East.  There’s no character development, no narrative arc, no backstory to speak of…just a litany of all that we shalt and shalt not do, pretty much from start to finish.

Unlike stories about talking snakes or wrestling matches with angels, we are not called on to derive moral lessons or extrapolate commandments.  Kedoshim is a straightforward instruction manual, a recipe for achieving a stated objective: to be holy.

God tells us to be holy for He is holy, and in the same breath he gives us a series of rules to follow, both imperative and proscriptive.  It appears to me that these rules fall into two general categories, roughly corresponding to the two chapters of Leviticus:  personal behavior (chapter 19) and social behavior (chapter 20).

What interests me most is the divergence in legal formulations between 19 and 20.  A typical 19 commandment:

19:18 Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.

A typical 20 commandment:

20:11 And the man that lieth with his father’s wife–he hath uncovered his father’s nakedness–both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.
Chapter 19 says: don’t do this thing, even though no one would know it was you; I am the Lord. 

Chapter 20 says, don’t do this thing with another person (or animal), or else everyone will stone you, even though you think it’s a private matter between you and the other person (or animal).  Anything you do with even one other person affects the holiness of the entire people.

So even in the kitchen-sink list of rules that make up Kedoshim, one can draw general conclusions, and here are mine:

Your personal holiness is defined by what you do when no one’s looking.  God is not into the ethics of transparancy.

When you are capable of involving someone else in your transgression, you are capable of jeopardizing the holiness of your entire nation.

Finally, I don’t support capital punishment for gay men or public immolation for a mother-daughter situation.  I do think the parsha offers profound insight into the difference between crime and conspiracy, as well as a statement that holiness is extremely personal, and public holiness is more personal than you think.

Shabbat shalom!


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