Holiness in the Mundane


Last Saturday, I had the absolute pleasure of leading an online Shabbat morning service through Sim Shalom – the New York based, online Jewish Universalist Community. I know, it might sound odd… virtual community?  But I actually found the experience extremely spiritually rewarding.  As I led, folks could type into a chat to communicate with each other and with me.  I didn’t feel alone at all.  In fact, I enjoyed hearing their thoughts… we rarely do that when sitting in a sanctuary!   And I hope those that participated didn’t feel alone either.  It is an honor and a responsibility to be streamed into their homes and their hearts.  I hope you will join me next time on June 4 at 8:30am (PT)/11:30am (ET).  I’ll remind you as it gets closer.  🙂

This is the sermon I gave both Friday night at our in-person Shabbat with Cool Shul and during the Saturday online service.  Enjoy!

Right now in the Torah, we are standing at the foot of Mount Sinai.  The Israelites have escaped Egypt and become a peoplehood. But now, it’s time to figure out what kind of people we are going to be.  We are hearing all of these instructions of God’s on how we are to behave as members of this new community.  I imagine one might need a little guidance, figuring out the rules of day to day life after living lives only as slaves.  How would we even know where to begin?  In this story, God is right there to get us started and help us define our community identity.

So, While standing at Mt. Sinai, we hear about rules for sacrifices, and skin diseases, and a bunch of other things that are not so easy to talk about.  But right now, with Parshat Kedoshim, the narrative changes beyond what to do to be pure or impure, to what to do in order to be holy.  The portion begins with directions from God: K’doshim tihyu…. You will be holy, and Holiness comes in this text with deeds such as: leaving fruits on your trees for the poor, not stealing or deceiving or swearing or defrauding or insulting or hating. Holiness comes with loving your neighbor as yourself.

Those are easy to appreciate, but of course, there are lots of rules in the Torah not all of us follow, and some that, quite frankly, many of us no longer even believe are necessarily the “right things to do.”  But does that mean that we can’t be “holy” if we don’t live by strict Orthodox standards? 

Of course not!

In the Etz Chayim commentary, it says: “Everything we do has the potential of being holy.  Buber wrote that Judaism does not divide life into the holy and the profane, but into the holy and the not-yet-holy.  Go beyond obeying the letter of the law and refraining from what is forbidden by finding ways of sanctifying every moment of your life.  We can be as holy as we allow ourselves to be.”

So there we are.  We can go beyond the letter of the law to the essence of the law, and find ways in our every day lives to discover our holiness.  So, lets think of some examples from our normal activities.   

Making lunches for kids in the morning… Holy or not yet holy? 

Putting gas in the car…. Holy or not yet holy? 

Homework (be it from school or our jobs)… Holy or not yet holy? 

Let’s try some easier things. 


Eating a piece of single origin free trade chocolate? 

Watching your child or grandchild sleep?

If we claim holiness for ourselves in the non-yet-holy, if we can unleash the holiness hidden in the most mundane tasks, we have entered a whole different way of living… a mindful way of living.  Now, believe me, I am speaking more from theory than from practice.  I try to live with holiness…  but I get cranky and forget nearly every day. So, let’s not try for perfection in ourselves. Let’s not scare ourselves into thinking that if we forget to embrace the holy of doing the laundry, we have failed.   Let’s not feel like if we make a mistake, if we spend a minute or an hour or even a year forgetting to act through holiness or sensing our inner-holiness that that means we aren’t holy anymore.  Goodness knows if we look at the people (and, yes, the God) of the Torah they make a lot of mistakes!!    Sometimes they are selfish, mean, judgmental.  But they grow from their frailties.  So, let’s grow too, and allow the holiness code of this week in the Torah to be an inspiration and an invitation to bring a little more of the spiritual into every day living… to imagine, if there is, in fact, a God, that our hands are her hands doing those dishes.


Email me at diane@coolshul.org if you would like to be on our mailing list to get information and invitations to all of our Cool Shul events (and I’ll invite you to the online ones too!).

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