We begin with atonement and the ways to become impure, and we end with a list of prohibitions and ordinances. These are the rules of life and they mark out our separation from the nations around us. In Chapter 19, we find a recitation of the rules that inform a civilised society.
The words begin with an instruction; not just for the priest but for all of us.
Speak to the entire congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them,
קְדשִׁ֣ים תִּֽהְי֑וּ כִּ֣י קָד֔וֹשׁ אֲנִ֖י יְהוָֹ֥ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶֽם:
You shall be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.
The question arises; what can make us holy? Is it the relationship between us and our fellow men or our relationship with God?
We are instructed to be holy because God is holy. The “how” is harder to put into action. Other than the recitation of blessings at every opportunity, how do we live a holy life?
The simplest response to the first part of the question was made by Hillel, who commented
Love your fellow as yourself
This he based on the verse in the Parasha this week which tells us
The stranger who sojourns with you shall love him as yourself
Can the second part be answered by another verse in Kedoshim?
You shall observe all My statutes and all My ordinances, and fulfill them. I am the Lord
Do we withdraw from the practices of other nations and seclude ourselves in order to be holy? That way can seem attractive, but we are asked not just to observe but to fulfil. That means we have to face the challenge of living with the stranger, who is also a fellow human being. It does not mean turning our backs on those statutes and ordinances which mark us out as Jews but to engage with life, it is the concept of being “a light unto the nations”
Although we no longer have a temple to carry out specific rites the prohibitions in the Sedra are still, for the most part, relevant. Modern times present changes in outlook and challenge what we do, how we interpret statutes and ordinances and how we live our lives.
At the end of his life Moses says
It is the manner in which we live our lives that can make us holy.
During the Yiskor service we speak of “Kiddush Hashem”, Sanctification of His name by those who perished in the Shoah. Whilst we count the Omer, we should also count our own days. We too can become sanctified, in how we live our daily lives and in our own deeds.