That chapter doesn’t contain too much about prayers or piety, tabernacles or temples, sacrifices or Scriptures, meditations or mystical raptures, but a great deal about the ordinary dimensions of daily living – how to relate to one another, how to build a family and community, how to handle the people who live in your street, how to speak with the shopkeepers and street-sweepers, how to plan the working week.
Chief Rabbi JH Hertz on that 19th chapter writes: “Holiness is not so much an abstract or a mystic idea, as a regulative principle in the everyday lives of men and women.
“The words, ‘You shall be holy’, are the keynote of the whole chapter, and must be read in connection with its various precepts; reverence for parents, consideration for the needy, prompt wages for reasonable hours, honorable dealing, no tale-bearing or malice, love of one’s neighbor and cordiality to the alien, equal justice to rich and poor, just measures and balances – together with abhorrence of everything unclean, irrational, or heathen.
“Holiness is attained not by flight from the world, nor by monk-like renunciation of human relationships of family or station, but by the spirit in which we fulfil the obligations of life in its simplest and commonest details: in this way – by doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God – is everyday life transfigured.”
This is the sense in which Jerusalem is a holy city. Go shopping in Jerusalem, and the checkout clerk will tell you there’s a special on this week and you don’t need to spend so much. When you tell a taxi driver your destination, he’ll tell you it’s better to take a different route.
When you sit opposite an English speaker in the bus, you may end up inviting them home for a meal. When you drop coins in a mendicant’s collecting tin, they’ll wish you a good year. When you encounter an ex-Russian engineer singing in the street to make a living, you not only put some coins in their violin case or collecting tin but you sing along with them. When anyone is in trouble in Jerusalem, everyone wants to help.
Jerusalemites may not have British manners, but they regard everyone else as family.