The Shema prayer has become THE Torah mandated mantra of the Jewish people. My vote for the next best alternative comes from the second of this week’s double portion of Acharei Mot – Kedoshim in which each and every one of us are told, “Kedoshim Tiheyu” — “You shall be holy, for I—Adonai your God—am holy.” Leviticus 19:12. We are told that we are created in God’s image—not that we look like God (or vice versa), but that we have the capacity and are instructed to imitate God’s attributes of love, kindness, mercy, justice-–all encompassed by the supremely important word Kodesh—Holy (very loose translation). My vote for “Kedoshim Tiheyu” as mantra extraordinaire comes from the fact that it is action oriented. Shema Yisrael is certainly important, but unless the recognition of God’s oneness spurs the understanding that we and the universe are part of the same oneness and that what we do to others, we simultaneously do to God and ourselves, there is no impact on our behavior. That is a fairly complex thought/action process. On the other hand, “Be Holy!” is pretty straightforward and understandable. Show love. Be kind. Be merciful. Be just. Fortunately, the Shema and Kedoshim Tiheyu are not mutually exclusive. While we are truly deepening our understanding of Shema Yisrael, we must always be holy and act in holy ways. The question is, “What does being holy mean to you?” What of your behaviors qualify as holy? What do you do daily because God wants you to do it? Are you consciously aware that your acts of ahava, chesed, rachamim, and tzedek are fulfilling the divine directive to be holy or are you just doing the “right” thing? Of course, it is all good. Maybe we can merge the mantras. Shema Yisrael—Listen Israel: Kedoshim Tiheyu! Do the right thing and BE HOLY.
Rabbi Aaron Bergman teaches our Torah Study at Adat Shalom Synagogue this Shabbat. He said, “God gives us two precious gifts in these Torah portions. The first is the ability to alleviate suffering in others. The other is to experience joy when we do so. These two gifts are what are meant by living in a holy way.” We will be learning together at 10:00 a.m. in the Shiffman Chapel.