This week’s parasha deals with the three different types of holiness we find in Judaism: holiness of the person, holiness in time, and holiness in space.

The first two portions of the sidra outline the special responsibilities on the Cohen. Whom may he marry? Under what circumstances may he go to the cemetery? What are additional responsibilities upon the Cohen Gadol, the High Priest? What could disqualify him from serving as a Priest? The holiness of the person is explored in this section.

Much of the central section of the parasha will be familiar as the Torah Reading on the festivals. Starting from the Shabbat, the section goes on to describe the holy days of the calendar. The Torah calls these Mikraei Kodesh – or holy encounters in time.

The next section describes some aspects of the service in the Temple: the olive oil that was used for the Menorah and the specially prepared twelve loaves of broad that were placed on the Table in the Temple each week. These items give us a flavour of the special holiness of the Temple in Jerusalem. Holiness of space. 

Just before the Torah starts to elaborate on the details of the festivals, we have the commandment, Venikdashti Betoch Benei Yisrael – “And I shall be sanctified amongst the Children of Israel.” Thus, the pivotal verse of the whole parasha is the command to sanctify G-d’s name, and this can be manifest in person, in time, and in space. In last week’s portion we read of the High Priest entering the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur. In that sublime moment, the holiest man entered the holiest place on the holiest day.

The final section of the parasha jars, in stark contrast to these lofty ideas. A man in the camp blasphemes. The community is in shock. How can such an act have happened? Even Moses does not yet know how such an act should be punished. Yet we have here the antithesis of the three-part sanctity of the sidra. The blasphemer’s act of desecration undermines the three kinds of holiness. His words have de-sanctified him as a person. They have sullied the camp and have polluted the day for all around him. Perhaps the message is that holiness in person, time and place are goals to strive for, and there will be successes and failures.

Whether we are a Cohen or a regular Israelite, wherever we are and whenever we are, we all have the challenge of trying to create holiness. Were there words of prayer and Torah study in my home today? Did I engage and grow? Have I used my time only for myself or did I try and reach out to others? Especially during these times of lockdown, every day can be a test. Sometimes we will succeed and sometimes we will fail. There will be days when our homes can feel like a sanctuary and other occasions when we feel we are living in a prison. One day we may feel great. Another day, we will have a meltdown. May God give us the strength to rise to our challenges in serving Him every day, benefitting ourselves and helping one another. Shabbat Shalom.