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Kedoshim- Love Your Neighbor

Updated: Dec 8, 2023

There are, traditionally, 613 mitzvot in the Torah.  Fifty One of them are found in this week’s parsha, Kedoshim.  Kadosh, of course, means holiness.  It’s the root of many words that are familiar- kiddush, the blessing over the wine, kaddish, the prayer that occurs in many forms in the prayerbook, kiddushin, marriage, being in a holy relationship with another.  The Hebrew root of kadosh means different.  We might understand it as special, unique.

The portion begins with the words, “You shall be holy as I, God, am holy.”  This is a pretty high standard!  Somehow we are supposed to behave in ways that will elevate our souls, that will make us stand out from those whose aspiration is “good enough,” but, perhaps, not to be holy, as God is holy.

Fortunately, the Torah continues with LOTS of guidance as to exactly how to bring a greater sense of holiness into our lives.  Everything from how we care for the needy to paying our debts in a timely fashion, bringing ultimate fairness to our judicial system and gently rebuking those who have gone astray,  Don’t be a tattletale, the Torah tells us,  and conduct your business honestly.  Don’t steal and don’t swear and make sure you honor the elderly.  And don’t curse your parents.

With all of this guidance and wisdom, Rabbi Akiba suggests that the most important teaching in the entire Torah occurs right here in Leviticus Chapter 19, where verse 18 teaches us, “V’ahavta l’reyacha kamocha- love your neighbor as  yourself.”[1]  We’ve all heard it- what does it mean?

Well, for one thing, we can fulfill this mitzvah right now, at this very moment, according to Yitzchak Buxbaum, who writes that,  “Davvening in a synagogue represents a balance between being with people, to join with them in worship and to derive power from that togetherness, and being apart from people in your own meditative world with God.  But, certainly, being friendly is an essential part of Judaism.  Traditionally, a person is supposed to utter, before praying, (their) resolve to fulfill the commandment, ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  This is part of a preparation for praying, because (p. 17) opening your heart to your fellow humans helps you open your heart to God.  So, if you have time during your moments of preparation, say:  ‘God, I resolve to love my fellow Jews and all people.  Let me join now with the Jews davvening here with me.’  When uttering this sentence, you can also look around at the other congregants and think that all those present, like you, have come to worship God, that they are in God’s image and are God’s children, and that by loving them you can express your love for God.  Have compassion on them, even with their faults, and reflect that they too, in their hearts, yearn to serve God. Greeting other congregants warmly before the services begin is a good preparation for opening yourself to greet the Divine Presence in prayer.  .  .You can intend,” he concludes, “ as you greet people, to fulfill the commandment to love your neighbor.”[2]  Let’s take a moment to look around this sanctuary and connect with a sense of love for others.

Love means looking at the other person and seeing the image of God, it means thinking about and trying to fulfill their needs without their even asking, it means rejoicing in their happiness and connecting with their pain.  It means greeting people warmly and caring about their dignity.   It means feeling love when we see others acting in loving ways.  “A physician once said, the best medicine for humans is love. Someone asked, ‘What if it doesn’t work?’  He smiled and said, ‘Increase the dose’.”  Love your neighbor as yourself; increase the dose.

Last year, our neighbors in Ahwatukee erected a display of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s inspiring words, “I Have Decided to Stick with Love.”  His full quote reads like this- “And I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to humankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today. And I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I’m talking about a strong, demanding love. For I have seen too much hate. […] and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love.  .  .  He who hates does not know God, but he who loves has the key that unlocks the door to the meaning of ultimate reality.”

Building a world filled with love, love of our neighbors, love of ourselves, is our ultimate dream of a messianic age.  It’s a challenge, it’s a risk, it’s a vision.  Let’s imagine such a world, as articulated by the poet Danny Siegel, whose words you can find in your Shabbat bulletin”

If you always assume

the man sitting next to you

is the Messiah

waiting for some simple human kindness-


You will soon come to weigh your words

and watch your hands.


And if he so chooses

not to reveal himself

in your time-


It will not matter.

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