30 KedoshimKedoshim is my favorite Torah portion in Leviticus because it begins with chapter 19, also known as the Holiness Code. As in a traditional text where the core text is at the center of the page surrounded by commentaries, chapter 19 of Leviticus is the middle of the Torah, surrounded and protected by the rest of the books of the Torah. There are several reasons for this section to be in such a highly valued position.

The chapter begins with God speaking to Moses, saying, “Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I Adonai your God am holy.” Iben Ezra, the medieval commentator, writes that you here is not only the Israelites, but Moses was addressing all wandering in the wilderness, Israelites and the mixed multitude who choose to be part of the community with them. This is the only place where the command to be holy goes beyond the Israelites to the entire congregation and community, which is essential to lift up.

Every person has a spark of God in them. Kadosh, holy means separate, distinct, having inherent worth and value. How are we to be holy? That is spelled out in the mitzvot that follows. The Ten Commandments are repeated here in a slightly different order with a few variations. It goes beyond them to include judging others fairly, not cursing the deaf or placing a stumbling block before the blind, leaving the corners of your fields or vineyards for others in need, not hating another, and reproving someone for their mistakes. They culminate with the Golden Rule.

The Golden Rule in its original language is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Many have said the Golden Rule is the essence, the core of Judaism, of how we understand humanity and our obligations to ourselves and others. While the golden rule is important, I think being made in God’s image with a spark of God in each of us is the foundation for how we should treat others and ourselves. The issue with the Golden Rule is that not everyone loves themselves. It would be hard to love others if you struggle with loving yourself. I maintain the core principle for how we conduct ourselves centered on each person being holy, because we are created in God’s image so each of us has a spark of God inside. This is the only place where gerim, those who weren’t Israelites but choose to be part of the community, are included in the command to be holy.

Today, we live in neighborhoods with people of many backgrounds, so of course, loving our neighbors as ourselves means loving all our neighbors. Many choose to be part of our congregation and other congregations who are not Jewish but find our prayers, rituals, values, and communities meaningful.

The Torah also clearly states that we are to love the stranger as ourselves. Why? Because "you were strangers in the land of Egypt." Because of our history as a persecuted minority in someone else's land, we Jews should have a special sensitivity to the non-Jewish members of our communities, to those in our midst and beyond.

The Torah teaching in our portion is very clear: We must not wrong strangers. Rather, we should regard them as fellow citizens and even love them as ourselves, which would translate into granting them equal rights. Temple Israel has done that.

This week, as we also celebrate Israel’s 76th birthday and continue to pray for the release of the hostages and an end to the war and violence, we also remember that Israel is a country of Jews, Christians, Muslims, and people of other faiths and backgrounds as well. The State of Israel- which we and many Israelis see as being Jewish as well as a democratic state- needs to keep both as essential. We need to love our fellow Jews as brothers and sisters in a historic, unique collective family, and at the same time, we need to love the stranger as we love ourselves, to treat the non-Jew with the same dignity that we would wish and envision for ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom