Religious jargon has many favourite words. High on the list is holiness, commonly understood in highly rarefied terms: a holy place is set apart and consecrated; a holy moment is plucked out of the sweep of time; a holy person is an other-worldly saint. Holiness is not for the ordinary run of human beings.
There are people who share this view – but they are quite wrong. The proof is this week’s parashah. “You shall be holy people to Me, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev. 19). Rashi says simply, “This section was pronounced at the hakhel, the popular assembly”.
He could have gone on to say that after hearing the message, the candidates for holiness could have left the convocation and gone off into the desert or any other place where they could be alone and meditate with their soul. But no: holiness did not require becoming apart from the community but a part of the community.
Evidence? The opening verses of the Torah portion are not followed by commandments about asceticism, fasting or self-affliction. They lead into very homely material: honouring your parents, dealing justly, not stealing or traducing – holiness at home in the midst of normal living.
The tzaddik – to use an old Yiddish phrase – is not a tzaddik with a pelz, a fur coat that keeps him warm whilst others are freezing. The tzaddik warms other people and is holy in his regular relationships.