Kedoshim (Leviticus 19:1 – 20:27)

Last week’s Torah portion, Acharei Mot, was full of instructions for purification by means of atonement, sacrifices, and abstention from forbidden sexual contacts.  Now that everyone’s been purified and prepped, they are ready for the next stage: Holiness. Indeed, this portion is the heart of what is often referred to as the Holiness Code, Lev. 17-26 (maybe 27).   The theme of holiness is announced immediately:  19:2. “You shall be holy (“kedoshim”), for I, the Lord your God, am holy.”   That is the “why” (“Imitatio Dei,” imitating God), which is repeated over and over. What follows is the “how.”

I’ve read that, in only 64 verses, roughly half the length of a typical Torah reading, Kedoshim contains the 3rd highest number of laws of all the weekly Torah portions.  We’ve read a lot of them before, like observe the Sabbath, don’t worship idols, don’t steal, don’t swear falsely, don’t engage in certain sexual practices, and so on.  Many of the laws seem self-evident requirements for a functioning, ethical society: judge fairly, don’t lie, be honest, don’t gossip, respect the elderly, take care of the poor, don’t hold a grudge, don’t stand by while someone is being hurt, don’t take advantage of someone’s weakness (like orally insulting the deaf or putting a stumbling block in front of the blind), don’t insult your parents, don’t wrong the stranger, and so on.  In short, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (19:18)

Some of the laws seem specific to the times, like forcing a rape victim and rapist to marry, or to the place, like rounding the corners of one’s beard (19:27).  Then there are the “what on earth…” type of laws, like (19:19), don’t mix different kinds of cattle, seed, or wool-plus-linen textiles (shatnez).

What ties all of this together?  What is really meant by “holy”?  Merriam-Webster defines it using words like exalted, worthy of devotion, having a divine quality; sacred, and venerated.  In Judaism, “holy” (kadosh) means set apart as special, such as a bride for a groom in betrothal (kiddushin).  As I noted here last year, we find an even more basic and encompassing definition in Purity and Danger by Mary T. Douglas pp. 54-55:

“We can conclude that holiness is exemplified by completeness. Holiness requires that individuals shall conform to the class to which they belong. And holiness requires that different classes of things shall not be confused.… Developing the idea of holiness as order, not confusion, this list upholds rectitude and straight-dealing as holy, and contradiction and double-dealing as against holiness. …To be holy is to be whole, to be one; holiness is unity, integrity, perfection of the individual and of the kind.”

This is the holiness toward which the Israelites are commanded to strive, as a kingdom of priests and a holy people.  A very tall order, which, as we’ll see, was out of reach for too many of the newly freed slaves.

Shabbat shalom,


From Heat: A Mode of Motion, by John Tyndall (1868), page 109:

 “To many persons here present a block of ice may seem of no more interest and beauty than a block of glass; but in reality it bears the same relation to glass that an oratorio of Handel does to the cries of a marketplace.  The ice is music, the glass is noise; the ice is order, the glass is confusion.  In the glass, molecular forces constitute an inextricably entangled skein; in the ice they are woven to a symmetric web…”

I included that quotation on order and disorder in solids in the introduction to my dissertation, since it involved studies of glass and I like phrases like “inextricably entangled skein.”  IGP


tph ethical behavior


Gossip (selections)

A wise teacher sent a note home to all parents on the first day of school. It read: “If you promise not to believe everything your child says happens at school, I’ll promise not to believe everything your child says happens at home.”

Some people will believe anything if they happen to overhear it.

“Gossip is a rumor that goes in one ear and out many mouths.” –unknown

“Gossip always travels faster over sour grapevines.” –unknown

If someone says to you, “Can you keep a secret?” You tell them, “No, I can’t.  So don’t tell me!”

“It is twice as hard to crush a half-truth as a whole lie.” –Austin O’Malley


tph lies I tell myself

[Guilty!  IGP]


Outrageous lying

A police officer pulls a guy over for speeding and has the following exchange:
Officer: May I see your driver’s license?
Driver: I don’t have one. I had it suspended when I got my 5th DUI.
Officer: May I see the owner’s card for this vehicle?
Driver: It’s not my car. I stole it.
Officer: The car is stolen?
Driver: That’s right. But come to think of it, I think I saw the owner’s card in the glove box when I was putting my gun in there.
Officer: There’s a gun in the glove box?
Driver: Yes sir. That’s where I put it after I shot and killed the woman who owns this car and stuffed her in the trunk.
Officer: There’s a BODY in the TRUNK?!?!?
Driver: Yes, sir.

Hearing this, the officer immediately called his captain.
The car was quickly surrounded by police, and the captain approached the driver to handle the tense situation:

Captain: Sir, can I see your license?
Driver: Sure. Here it is.
It was valid.
Captain: Who’s car is this?
Driver: It’s mine, officer. Here’s the owner’ card.
The driver owned the car.
Captain: Could you slowly open your glove box so I can see if there’s a gun in it?
Driver: Yes, sir, but there’s no gun in it.
Sure enough, there was nothing in the glove box.
Captain: Would you mind opening your trunk? I was told you said there’s a body in it.
Driver: No problem.
Trunk is opened; no body.

Captain: I don’t understand it. The officer who stopped you said you told him you didn’t have a license, stole the car, had a gun in the glovebox, and that there was a dead body in the trunk.
Driver: Yeah, I’ll bet the liar told you I was speeding, too.


tph grudge letting go


Richard Jeni: Honesty is the Key

That’s the key to a relationship: honesty. Yeah — if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.



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