Something fundamental happens at the beginning of Parashat Kedoshim, whose story is one of the greatest, if unacknowledged, contributions of Judaism to the world. Until now Leviticus has been largely about sacrifices, purity, the Sanctuary, and the priesthood. It has been, in short, about a holy place, holy offerings, and the elite and holy people--Aaron and his descendants--who minister there. Suddenly, in chapter nineteen, the text opens up to embrace the whole of the people in the whole of life: "The L-rd said to Moses, 'Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: be holy because I, the L-rd your G-d, am holy'" [this and preceding verse]. This is the first and only time in Leviticus that so inclusive an address is commanded. The sages said that it meant that the contents of the chapter were proclaimed by Moses to a formal gathering of the entire nation (hak'hel). It is the people as a whole who are commanded to "be holy," not just an elite, the priests. It is life itself that is to be sanctified, as the chapter goes on to make clear. Holiness is to be made manifest in the way the nation makes its clothes and plants its fields, in the way justice is administered, workers are paid, and business conducted. The vulnerable – – the deaf, the blind, the elderly, and the stranger – – are to be afforded special protection. The whole society is to be governed by love, without resentment or revenge. What we witness here in other words, is the radical democratization of holiness.
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