This website may not work correctly in Internet Explorer. We recommend switching to a more secure modern web browser such as Microsoft Edge which is already installed on your computer.

View this website in Edge.

Drash on Kedoshim 2024

Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio

Emanuel Synagogue

Last week we commemorated Yom HaShoah and this week we look towards Yom Hazikaron, both moments so poignant this year, as we see a rise in antisemitism, alongside the loss of so many lives in the state of Israel. Every family has been touched by the events of October 7th and its aftermath: the war, the kidnappings and the trauma and loss which has not even begun to be addressed, as people try and get through each day of life. And yet, people who have travelled to Israel recently tell us that Israelis are moving forward and living each day of life as best they can. They are finding moments of joy and light in the darkness, they are grateful for small blessings, they hold together the struggle and the gifts, the heartache and the goodness. So much so that I have heard Israelis express their concern for us, in the Diaspora, their fears as we face an antisemitism we thought long buried. We wonder how it is possible, how a people can be so resilient that in the shadow of their loss and struggle, they are able to still find hope and life. Perhaps our calendar and our parasha offers an answer.

I still remember a number of years ago at the communal commemoration of Yom Hazikaron, the day of memorial for all the people who have been killed in war or terror attacks in Israel, one of the speakers, a young man who survived an attack which killed three of his friends, remembered them. He then spoke about the sometimes difficult juxtaposition of Yom Hazikaron, the day of memorial and Yom Ha’atzmaut, the day of celebration for the creation of the state of Israel which follow immediately one after the other. Israelis spend a day remembering, they tell the stories, they think of all the lives, many of them young, cut short, dreams unrealized, hopes unfulfilled and no Israeli is untouched, each one has someone they remember. Then after the memorial, they are called upon to celebrate; to dance and sing and rejoice in the land and State. The young man acknowledged how difficult this is and then he quoted an Israeli phrase: “Bemotam tzivu lanu et hachayim,” “with their deaths they command us to live.” He said that each lost life reminds us to count our blessings, to take moments not only to mourn but to also to live. In context, he was encouraging us to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, as we mourn, so too we should live. But the command, the imperative is broader than that. At the end of a funeral service, we traditionally recite the words: “Now go forth to life.” From death we return to life and we are commanded to live each of our days the best we can.

But how do we live? This week’s parasha contains the answer. In the opening words we are commanded: “Kedoshim tihiyu ki kadosh Ani Adonai eloheicha,” “You shall be holy for I, Adonai your God, am holy.”  This seems like an unusual commandment to fulfill. How do we become holy? The answer lies in the following passages of the parasha which list a great number of commandments dealing with the minutia of daily life. In some religious traditions becoming holy means separating from community, in Judaism it is exactly the opposite. To be holy, we turn towards life, towards one another and we treat each other with kindness, compassion and goodness. With our daily actions we create holiness, we turn the mundane into the sacred by the way we live our lives. Every day we are presented with numerous opportunities to embrace life, to live ethically, to make choices which honour each other and God. In Judaism, a holy life is one in which we encounter one another, see the godliness within every soul and we honour that soul as a reflection of the Divine. Holiness is not other worldly, it is here and now.

So as we remember the tragic losses of our people we are encouraged to turn to life, to channel our energies into becoming holy, sacred vessels of the Divine, by embracing one another in the fullness of life and holy being.

Find more Parashat Hashavua