Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5762
There are a hefty 51 mitzvos (commandments) in the second of this week's two Torah portions, Kedoshim--a true cornucopia of life-transforming ethical teachings, including the directive to "love your neighbor as yourself." (Yes, mother Judaism gave that particular idea to the world...however many souls incorrectly consider it the brainchild of her "daughter" religion.)
You will find commandments directed at our speech ("you shall not swear falsely by my name," "you shall not go about as a talebearer among your people"), commandments directed at our thoughts ("you shall not hate your brother in your heart," "you shall not harbor a grudge," "judge your neighbor favorably") and commandments directed at our actions in nearly every arena of personal and national life (leave the corners of your field for the poor, don't delay the payment of a hired worker, do not pervert justice, rise in the presence of an older person and a scholar, avoid sexual immorality). If you want to get a sense of the wide scope of Torah legislation, and the lofty nobility of the Jewish ideals of peace, justice and purity, then Kedoshim is a good portion to study.
In fact, Rashi explains that it is because so many of the core principles of Torah law are contained therein that this portion was taught to the "entire assembly of the Children of Israel" (19, 2) at once, in a mandatory communal gathering. This was a class nobody was permitted to miss.
Holiness (kedusha) is the goal of the Torah and the mitzvos, the goal envisioned for us by the Holy One Himself when He first made us that covenantal offer at Sinai that we could have--but didn't--refuse: "And now, if you hearken well to Me and observe My covenant, you shall be to Me the most beloved treasure of all peoples...You shall be to Me a kingdom of ministers and a holy nation (goy kadosh)." (Exodus: 19, 5-6)
Holiness is the goal that is highlighted in the very text of the standard blessing we recite before performing a mitzvah: "Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has made us holy (sanctified us) with His mitzvos and commanded us to..." Holiness is the ideal we invoke each day when we recite the third paragraph of the Shema (after declaring G-d's unity, and pledging to love Him with all our heart and soul): "So that you may remember and perform all My commandments and be holy unto your G-d."
Holiness is something more than being just "good" (and it bears little resemblance to being "a nice guy"). We can imagine a "good" person who has not yet reached the level of "holiness," of sanctifying all aspects of his life and directing them according to the will of G-d. Perhaps he or she is very scrupulous about interpersonal behavior, and wants (understandably) to emphasize those portions of the Torah that deal with our obligations to our fellow man. (Indeed, G-d wants us to make our fellow man's well-being a paramount concern.) Yet, to neglect the portions of the Torah focus on our relationship to G-d, that direct us to elevate our private thoughts and habits, would be to fall short of the ultimate goal. For G-d did not command us Jews to strive to be (only) good people, but to shoot for the higher status that includes good: holiness. And we must perform "all My commandments" to reach the level of being holy unto our G-d.
Needless to say (but we'll say it anyway), someone who emphasizes only the "ritual" or man-to-G-d commandments, while being coarse or dishonest with his neighbors, will most certainly fall short of the mark as well. True holiness demands the greatest effort to sanctify our social and business lives, as this Torah portion manifestly shows: "do not cheat your fellow and do not rob" (19, 13), "do not take revenge and bear a grudge" (19, 18) and so on.
However, as we've suggested, even the performance of all the mitzvos themselves is not the ultimate goal... though it's a darn good, and indispensable, first leg of the journey. For, as Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch writes in his commentary, Ta'am V'Da'as, the overarching commandment that begins the portion, "you shall be holy," requires that we strive to reach holiness with each and every mitzvah! To merely perform the commandments as a servant grudgingly discharges his obligations to a master is not what's called for. Hashem wants us to fulfill them with joy (simcha) and enthusiasm, with an appreciation of (and yearning for) the closeness to Him (d'veykus) that they create. This is the way we achieve the level of a goy kadosh, a holy people.
Nachmanidies (Ramban) famously comments that the commandment to be holy refers to living by the spirit of the law, not the mere letter. It is through healthy moderation in even those pleasures that are permitted, and through meditation on the larger goal of
self-control and sanctity, that we avoid the pitfall of being "disgusting people within the boundaries of Torah law." It may be almost a dirty word in our culture of excess, but "moderation" ideally connotes the Torah ideal of balance and harmony, of the joyful satisfaction (within Divinely--and benevolently--prescribed limits) of all our needs. As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch beautifully writes of the path to holiness:
Now, it's very easy for us to imagine that this goal of holiness is only for spiritual Olympians, for the great rabbis and scholars of our people, with the rest of us consigned to the bleachers (with plenty of ice-cold beer to get us through till the awards ceremony). Wrong. Hashem did not say that he wanted a morally mixed bag: a few tzadikim (righteous people), and the rest schleppers. He wanted all of us to strive for moral perfection--"a holy nation." And this is precisely why this portion was taught en masse to the "entire assembly of the Children of Israel," as the Torah states (and as mentioned above). Hirsch again:
"No position in life, no sex, no age, no degree of fortune, is excluded from this call to the very height of absolute morality, and to no one in particular is this call specially addressed; kedoshim, holy, are we all to be." (ibid., p. 498) We're all supposed to be Torah Olympians!
And Shabbos is the day of holiness par excellence for the whole of our holy nation. We make kiddush (same root as kodesh-holy) on wine, one of life's greatest physical pleasures, to illustrate that the physical is not suppressed or denied its rightful place in our lives. The holiness of the Shabbos (and of our Torah more generally) sanctifies the physical, converting mere physical pleasures into a vehicle for serving the Holy One, Blessed be He. We are commanded to delight in the Sabbath, and its Giver, and we utilize the physical pleasures of life in that holy service.
May we all drink to that (can't let all that ice-cold beer go to waste, after all)! And may we heed G-d's call, this Shabbos and every day of our lives, to strive to be a holy people.
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Rabbi Yosef Edelstein, Savannah Kollel. Phone: 355-0157; fax: 354-9923
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