Holy is, as Holy does

During the upcoming holidays we will read Leviticus chapter 19 as the Torah portion for munch of Yom Kippur. This selection, which precedes the climatic close of our Yom Kippur services, enjoins us to be a holy community stating, “You shall be holy, for I, the Eternal your God, am holy.” Have read and reflected on the Torah’s text, it is clear that the holiness granted to Israel is prescriptive, not descriptive. That is to say, that we have not inherited some innate holiness, but rather that we manifest holiness through the observance of mitzvot. That much said, mindless observance of the mitzvot rarely seems sufficient to achieving the aim of creating holiness. So, what is it that makes a community holy?

I was especially struck by the above question after a recent visit to the synagogue of Rabbi Morris Allen. Rabbi Allen has become well know in recent years for spearheading “Magen Tzedek” —an attempt to certify that kosher foods not only meet the standards of kashrut, but are also produced in accordance with halakhically endorsed social values (i.e. fair labor practices, humane treatment of animals, low environmental impact, etc.). I have heard Rabbi Allen speak on many occasions, but what struck me this time was the way that he used the words holiness and Godliness frequently and without a hint of sanctimoniousness. In his teaching of Jewish observance, holiness is something concrete and accessible—actionable in our daily lives and central to our existence as community.

Thinking in terms of holiness also offers us a positive inverse to the concept of “sin.” As we enter the High Holidays, rather than ask ourselves, “How have I sinned? How have I failed?” we can ask “Am I using my potential to manifest holiness in the world? What can I do to help create a community that is force for Godliness?” By framing our decision making in terms of making “holy choices” rather than just “right choices,” we can come closer in our search for personal transformation and the goal of creating a community that is a locus of tikkun olam (repair of the world)—is a kehilla kedosha (holy community) in every sense.