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Kedusha

Author: Esther Ehrman, Sivan 5772/June 2012

Thoughts on completing the learning of the Talmud Order of Kodshin (Holy Things).

Kedusha, central to Jewish thinking and worship, has a number of meanings and degrees of intensity. Whatever connotation applies, the source of kedusha is unquestionably G-d, as is clear from statements such as 'Kedoshim tiheyu, ki kadosh ani, You shall be holy because I am holy' (Lev.19,2) and 'kadosh yiheyei lecha, he – the priest – shall be holy to you kii kadosh ani H'mekadishechem, because I, the Lord who sanctifies you, am holy' (Lev. 21,8). Yet we do also 'sanctify'. The beginning of the verse just cited is 've kidashto – and you shall sanctify him – ki et lechem elokeicha hu mekarev - because he is offering the bread of your Lord'.

Most importantly, we can bring about our sanctity: 'If you will obey my voice and keep my covenant' then 'atem tiyehu li mamelechet kohanim ve goy kadosh – you shall be unto me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation' (Ex. 19,6).

So far, the Divine attribute of kedusha can, it would appear, be conferred upon us. We have not yet been told what kedusha is; only that it is Divine.

One of the accepted meanings of kedusha entails 'separation'. Rashi's comment on Lev 19,2 above is separation from forbidden marriages because that is the context of that particular phrase. Ramban suggest that it is separation from wrongdoing in a more general sense.

We are also familiar with the blessing that we recite at the going out of every Sabbath, 'ha mavdil bein kodesh le chol, bein Israel le amim, bein yom ha shevi'i le sheshet yemei ha ma'asei, Who distinguishes between the kadosh and the everyday, between Israel and the nations, between the seventh day and the six days of creation'. There is nothing bad about the every day life, the nations or the six days of creation; they, too, are the work of the Almighty. Yet the kodesh, Israel and the Sabbath have been shown as different, given a separate status by the Lord.

The separate status of kedusha is granted to all things that are exclusively the domain of G-d, specifically the Temple, its service, its location, its sacrifices, the Kohanim that officiate there.

All these have sanctity, an inherent sanctity. It is not acquired by a moral 'good'; it can be lost or forfeited by conduct that is not 'right', that is incorrect. It forms the subject of the Talmudic Tractates that constitute the Order of Kodshin. Every procedure is examined, down to the last detail of intent and action.

Amazingly, the attention to the detail that must be assured or avoided, is embraced enthusiastically. In Tractate Tamid we see the priests vying with one another for the privilege of having a share in every possible stage, from cleaning out the ashes of the altar to holding a single limb of the sacrifice. There is great awe, indeed there must have been dread of desecrating that which is kadosh, and yet it is inspires the very great eagerness for the privilege of coming close to the kedusha. The loss of the Temple has meant the loss of a whole area of Kedusha.

The holiness of the entire nation has also suffered greatly by the loss of the world of Kodshin. Tractate Kareitot gives a list of categories of conduct that constitute breaking the covenant that conferred kedusha on the nation, conduct such as idol worship, violating the Sabbath, eating chametz on Pesach, eating on Yom Kippur and the like. A person guilty of these acts is no longer part of the covenant of kedusha, s/he is excluded by the punishment of 'kareit', being cut off from the people. If, however, the wrongdoing was inadvertent, the covenant is not broken and the person owes a 'chataat' offering. Likewise, in Tractate Meila, an 'asham meila' sacrifice is due when making reparation for the thing that was kadosh and has been wrongfully used. We no longer have the opportunity to, as it were, reinstate the kedusha physically. We have kept the concept of penitence, teshuva, which was always there. But we do not associate teshuva with kedusha, as we did when we were allowed to follow the dictates of Kodshin.