What It Means to Be Holy

Yael Eckstein  |  May 2, 2022

Eckstein family at home

Each of you must respect your mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God. —Leviticus 19:3

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Kedoshim, which means “holy,” from Leviticus 19:1—20:27.

When I was growing up, no matter how much my father had traveled during the week, he made sure that on Shabbat we were together as a family. My mother cooked our favorite foods, baked challah (the traditional Sabbath bread), and we cleaned our home from top to bottom. My father often played music to set the mood — traditional Jewish songs related to the Sabbath. As sundown drew closer, the tempo in the house quickened as we finished our final preparations.

After evening synagogue services, we returned to a beautifully set table and a delicious meal. Unlike during the week, no one rushed anywhere. We talked about our week, laughed, sang, and discussed inspiring ideas from the Torah. I used to joke that Shabbat meals were like holy therapy sessions!

Shabbat allowed us to let go of our worries and fill our souls with godliness. It was a time to focus on God and each other. Jewish sages taught that the Sabbath is “a taste of the world to come.” Indeed, for us, it was — and still is — a little taste of paradise.

What It Means to Be Holy

In this week’s Torah portion, God commands the children of Israel to “be holy” (Leviticus 19:2), a commandment that seems pretty vague. But what does that mean? What does it mean to be holy? The very next verse has what I believe is the answer: “Each of you must respect your mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God” (v.3).

It may seem strange that respect for parents and observance of the Sabbath are commanded together, but it shouldn’t. After all, in the Ten Commandments observing the Sabbath is the Fourth Commandment (Exodus 20:8-11), followed immediately by the Fifth Commandment, “Honor your father and mother” (Exodus 20:12).

The connection between the Sabbath and honoring and respecting parents can be summed up in one sentence: Shutting down our weekday lives and gathering around the Shabbat table, sharing our lives with each other, singing together, and discussing God’s word as a family leads directly to healthy relationships between parents and children. And maybe this is what it means to “be holy.”

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