(From 2016) 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.
(2016) 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
Quotes about Wholeness
The thing that grounds you, and the thing that really gives you a sense of wholeness, is your family, friends and your community. Those are the things that can mirror back to you what you’re experiencing, and can affirm to you that the stories you are telling are true. Dan Chaon
When you’re a kid you have this sense of wonder and wholeness and a strong sense of your own identity. Hugo Weaving
Rhyme is an attempt to reassemble and reaffirm the possibility of paradise. There is a wholeness, a serenity, in sounds coupling to form a memory. Derek Walcott
To drop into being means to recognize your interconnectedness with all life, and with being itself. Your very nature is being part of larger and larger spheres of wholeness. Jon Kabat-Zinn
From my 8 year old son: What’s the beard’s favorite kind of nut?
I used to not like my beard
but it grew on me
My dad is always embarrassed about cutting himself while getting rid of his beard, so he locks himself in the bathroom…
I guess he’s just trying to shave face
My dad is a rugged ex-Marine with a salt-and-pepper beard…
He’s a seasoned veteran.
I had my credit card stolen the other day but I didn’t bother to report it because the thief spends less than my wife.
Always borrow money from a pessimist. He won’t expect it back.
I won $3 million on the lottery this weekend so I decided to donate a quarter of it to charity. Now I have $2,999,999.75.
Never lend money to a friend. It’s dangerous. It could damage his memory.
After hearing a sermon on Psalm 52:3-4 (lies and deceit), a man wrote the IRS, “I can’t sleep knowing that I have cheated on my income tax. Enclosed is a check for $150. If I still can’t sleep, I’ll send the rest.”
A man visited the pastor, a woman well known for her charitable impulses.
“Pastor,” he said in a broken voice, “I wish to draw your attention to the terrible plight of a poor family in this neighborhood. The father is dead, the mother is too ill to work, and the nine children are starving. They are about to be turned into the cold, empty streets unless someone pays their rent, which amounts to $900.”
“How terrible!” exclaimed the preacher’s wife. “May I ask who you are?”
The sympathetic visitor applied his handkerchief to his eyes. “I’m the landlord,” he sobbed.