Parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim represents the transition from the first half of Vayikra to the second. The first half is focused solely on the Temple, its holiness and the sacrifices conducted therein. Tazria-Metzorah, the previous double parasha, continued this theme, detailing the various ritual impurities, the tumot, that would require a person to be sent out of the camp and prevent his or her access to the Temple. Here, in Acharei Mot, the Torah limits access not to the Temple itself, but to the Holy of Holies:”Speak to Aharon your brother, that he may not enter at all times into the Holy… Only with this may Aharon enter into the Holy” (Vayikra, 16:2-3). Aharon is singled out because he is the Kohen Gadol; normal kohanim are never allowed to enter. Even Aharon is only allowed to enter on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, and only after completing exacting sacrificial rites.
Clearly, gaining access to the Temple, the place of God’s presence, is not a trivial matter. With the Temple so inaccessible – at times both geographically and ritually – it would stand to reason that a person may want to reach out to God by bringing a sacrifice without the Temple. This option is denied as well, as the bringing of such sacrifices is prohibited in the middle of Acharei Mot. That the first half of Vayikra ends with this prohibition underscores just how difficult it is to connect to God through the Temple.
Beginning the second half of Vayikra, Kedoshim presents a radically different approach to holiness and to connecting with God. “Speak to the entire congregation of Israel and say to them: Be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Vayikra, 19:2). To access the holy is not to enter the Temple, it is to strive to become holy. To connect to God is not to enter into the Holy of Holies, but to strive to be like God. It is through such striving that we actualize the holiness, the divine, the tzelem elohim, that is in each and every one of us.
There are, then, two types of holiness, two types of kedusha. There is the kedusha of Acharei Mot and the kedusha of kedoshim ti’hiyu, “you shall be holy.” In other words, there is a kedusha that conceives of God as residing in a place, and there is a kedusha that perceives of God as residing in each and every person.
The first represents the attempt to draw close to God, to enter into God’s abode. It is thus a kedusha that is restrictive, one of limited access. For what human being can leave this world and enter into the place where God dwells? The second is holiness whose goal is not to leave this world to be close to God. Its goal is to actualize the divine within us, to bring God and Godliness into this world. It is a kedusha that is accessible by all.
Kedoshim opens not with “daber el Aharon achikha,” “Speak to Aharon your brother,” but “daber el kol adat benei Yisrael,” “speak to the entire congregation of Israel.” All of you – man, woman, child, ritually pure, and ritually impure – each one of you can become holy, can become like God. This is a holiness that includes rituals and rites to be sure, but it is also a holiness of morality, a holiness that touches on every act, religious or interpersonal. It touches every detail of how we live our lives.
How does one live such a life of holiness? One strives for Godliness in all actions. One does not only connect to God during ritual or “religious” activity; one also brings an awareness of God into his or her interpersonal exchanges. Kedoshim ti’hiyu is a holiness that demands ethical behavior in all spheres.
Thus we find that Kedoshim opens with two mitzvot: the mitzvah to have awe and respect for one’s parents and the mitzvah to keep Shabbat, an ethical commandment and a religious one. The foundation of our interpersonal behavior in life is laid in the home; it starts with and is shaped by how children interact with their parents. And the foundation of holiness is not the Temple with its difficult and limited access; it is Shabbat, a staple of our week, a holiness that all can experience, a welcoming of the Divine Presence into our homes.
The rest of Kedoshim presents a dense and varied listing of mitzvot, with almost every other verse ending with the refrain, “ani Hashem eloheikhem,” “I am the Lord your God.” This echoes the opening verse, “Be holy, for holy am I the Lord your God.” The Torah is telling us: This is what it means to be holy, to be like God. If we are to live a life of this type of holiness, then we must bring God into our harvesting of grain, our buying and selling, our hiring and paying of workers, our dealing with the disadvantaged, our speaking of others, and our feelings towards others. To have access to God everywhere means that we cannot compartmentalize our religious life away from our “normal” life. God can be found in every activity, thus we must strive to find God in all parts of our lives.
In his introduction to Vayikra, Ramban notes that the purpose of constructing the Mishkan was to recreate Har Sinai in the Israelite camp. Just as God’s presence came down onto Har Sinai, God’s presence filled the Mishkan. Just as boundaries were set around the mountain to prevent the people from “bursting through,” impure people were kept outside the Temple. And, one might add, just as Moshe and Aharon alone were allowed to go to the top of the mountain, only Aharon is allowed to enter into the Holy of Holies.
So ends Ramban’s parallel, but one thing is missing. For after God descends on Har Sinai, something important happens: the Torah is given. The purpose of the descent was not so that we might go up the mountain to draw close to God’s presence; the purpose of the descent was so that God may command us in the mitzvot of the Torah.
The parallel to the Giving of the Torah is not the Mishkan; it is Parashat Kedoshim. Many commentators have already noted that the mitzvot at the beginning of Kedoshim parallel the Ten Commandments. More than that, Parashat Kedoshim serves as the culmination and translation of all that came before. The purpose of the Mishkan was not for the sake of “with this Aharon may enter the sanctum.” Its purpose was so that God may dwell in our midst, so that we can live a life of holiness. The kedusha of Acharei Mot serves to bring about the kedusha of Kedoshim.
Even in our religious strivings, as we try to come close to God, the ultimate kedusha is a life of mitzvot, a life of actualizing the divine within us; a life in which God is accessible to every person, a life in which God is present in all of our actions.