By Rabbi Steven Bayar
This week’s Torah reading is a double portion: Acharei Mot/Kedoshim. The first parsha (Acharei Mot) describes the Yom Kippur rituals of purification. Kedoshim derives its name from the word “kadosh” which means holy. It answers the question of, “What makes a person holy?”
The original meaning of the word “kadosh” is “separate.” The concept of holiness is derived from those experiences that “separate” us from the ordinary. Abraham Joshua Heschel taught that Judaism creates “holy moments in time.” Some of these moments are called holy days. We can observe the yearly rituals: Matzah on Passover, Shofar on Rosh Hashanah and recognize their symbolic value yet miss the deeper meanings ascribed to them by our tradition.
Ritual was designed as a shorthand to create and reinforce meaning. We develop rituals to bring meaning into our lives. However, if the horseradish does nothing else but remind us of the taste of Egyptian slavery we have relegated the holy day to a child’s exercise in entertainment.
Each holy day is in part dedicated to the Mitzvah of Tzedakah. Each holy day has lessons to teach us about our community and gives us opportunities to relate to others in supportive ways. That is what separates a holy day from a holiday. Labor Day is a holiday. Passover is a holy day.
Yet, each day of our lives can become a holy day – if we strive to bring ritual into our lives – we invest our moments with meaning and connection. If we also look to help another person at least once a day – we have risen to a higher level of meaning. We will have “separated” ourselves from what is mundane and infused our lives with holiness.