Drash on Parashat Kedoshim
Rabbi Jeffrey B Kamins OAM
Emanuel Synagogue, Woollahra, NSW
This year we read Parasha Kedoshim between Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron, bringing home the lesson of the significance of memory in our present and future life. Last week at Yom HaShoah, our youngest survivors shared stories of babies being born in bunkers and in camps during those darkest times. It is remarkable that even then, life was created. Yom HaZikaron, the day in which we remember and honour all those who have died in Israel’s wars and terror attacks, is immediately followed by Yom Ha’Atzmaut, the celebration of our independence in our land. On Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron, death and tragedy are recalled, yet at the same time, life is affirmed. That is the faith of the Jew. We will bring light out of darkness.
Kedoshim tihyu – you shall be holy – we are taught in this week’s parasha. This teaching is core to our faith, that we shall “walk in God’s footsteps” so to speak. Parasha Kedoshim, also known as the Holiness Code, is an amplification of the “Ten Commandments” that guides us in the way to bring the light. It instructs us in the highest principles of Judaism - from the ethical, highlighted by “you shall love your neighbour”, to the ritual, including a reminder of the holiness of Shabbat, its centrality to our faith emphasised by its being the focus of the very first story of Torah.
The way we remember during Shabbat brings home our faith lesson of bringing light in darkness. In the evening Kiddush we state that Shabbat is “a reminder of coming out of Egypt” and “a memory of the deeds of creation.” We remember that after hundreds of years of slavery and oppression in Egypt, we came free in order to serve life itself through our embrace of Torah and mitzvot. We count the Omer at this time specifically to connect the festival of Pesach, our redemption from slavery, to the festival of Shavuot, our freedom to serve. As we count the Omer, we ascend spiritually 49 steps from the degradation of slavery to the exaltation of the gift of Torah and what it provides. We imagine moving “onward and upward”, of bringing light out of darkness.
As for the memories of creation, we remember the Torah begins with all being darkness and chaos, which is turned good by God’s proclamation: “let there be light”. Light is what each one of us can bring into the world, as we are taught in that very story of creation, that each of us is created in the divine image. Each soul represents the light of God (Proverbs 20:27). Those babies born during the Shoah brought light in the midst of deepest darkness. The children born today bring that same light. Each one of us is a spark of the divine, each one of us has potential to dispel darkness.
We as a people have known dark times – from Egypt to the Shoah, and in the dark times of the wars of Israel. We see darkness and chaos around us at this time – from the wars in the Ukraine and beyond, to economic uncertainty and the increasing threats to our very existence on this planet affected by climate change. Yet our faith tells us to be the light, to spread the light. We do so when we live by the mitzvot as expressed in this week’s parasha that demand love, equity, inclusion and sustainability. This is why memory is so important to us – whether on Yom HaShoah, on Yom HaZikaron or indeed, every Shabbat. Every time we remember, we do so not only to honour the past, but in order to effect positive change in the future. Kedoshim tihyu – you shall be holy.