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    Hermits & holiness – K’doshim

    Moses speaking to the Children of Israel, by Henry Felix Emmanuel Philippoteaux

    The sidra of K’doshim begins with a definition of its audience. “Speak to all the congregation of the Children of Israel,” it says: not merely “the Children of Israel”, but “all the congregation of the Children of Israel”.

    The message it conveys is for everybody. No-one is exempt from hearing it.

    What is this message that requires every Israelite to be included? It is, “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God am holy” (Lev. 19:1-2). The Chatam Sofer explains that it is only through and with the community that a person can be holy.

    Someone who withdraws from society in order to find holiness in solitude has failed to realise that holiness is, as Hertz tells us, “not so much an abstract or a mystic idea as a regulative principle in the everyday lives of men and women (by) reverence for parents, consideration for the needy, prompt wages for reasonable hours, honourable dealing, no tale-bearing or malice, love of one’s neighbour and cordiality to the alien, equal justice to rich and poor, just measures and balances…” (Hertz Chumash, pp 497-8).

    If this is so, then how is it that the word kadosh, holy, derives from a root that means to be separate? Does it not imply separating oneself from the follies and failings of society in order to live a pure life without insidious or evil influences?

    The answer is no. As the rabbis say, kadesh atzm’cha b’muttar lach – “sanctify yourself in that which is permitted to you”: remain in the community, but associate with the good people, the good influences, the constructive ideas, the decent things; in Hertz’s words, by “abhorrence of everything unclean, irrational or heathen”.

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