OU Torah Insights ProjectParashat Shemini
The Torah first introduces the notion of national sanctity at Mount Sinai, where G-d commands the Jewish people to be a holy nation. Then, Hashem directs them to build a Sanctuary, in which His Divine Presence will reside.
In Parshas Shemini, the Torah develops this theme, informing us of our potential for personal sanctity through our responsibilities as individual Jews, and instructing us on how to accomplish this.
The Torahs detailed delineation of kosher and non-kosher species culminates with the directive: "You shall make yourselves holy and you shall be holy, for I am holy."
Seforno explains that this verse is not to be understood as saying that adherence to the laws of kashrus automatically endows us with holiness. Not so. It merely prepares us to acquire that holiness.
Hashem wants us to become holy, and to prepare ourselves for holiness. How then, according to Seforno, is holiness acquired?
Our ability to sanctify ourselves comes from the command, "Vehalachta Bidrachav--You shall walk in His ways." Our emulation of G-ds traits brings santity upon us. Just as Hashem is merciful, so too should we be merciful. Just as Hashem is kind and patient, so too should we be kind and patient.
In other words, holiness does not emanate merely from the ritual performance of mitzvos bein adam lamakom--commands between man and G-d--such as kashrus. Rather, these G-d directed mitzvos prepare us for the performance of the interpersonal mitzvos bein adam lachaveiro--commands between man and his fellow. Hence, Rabbi Akivas dictum that the foremost principle of the Torah is "Love Your Neighbor as yourself," and Ben Azais response that common respect for all people is even more important.
Both Rabbi Akiva and Ben Azai focused upon the interpersonal dimensions of Torah and mitzvos and described them paramount to our mission as members of the Holy Nation.
Our Sages further explain that the duplicate phrasing--"You shall make yourselves holy and you shall be holy"--indicates that our every movement toward sanctity is reciprocated with an amplified reaction by Hashem.
First, one who sanctifies himself in a small way, is sanctified, with G-ds help, in a much greater way. Second, one who sanctifies himself below, on earth, is sanctified from Above. And finally, one who sanctifies himself in this world, will be sanctified by G-d in the world to come.
Thus, Rav Yosef Dov HaLeivi Soloveitchik, zt"l, accentuated the ethical emphasis of Judaism. The Rav would quote his grandfather, Rav Chaim Brisker, zt"l, that the function of halachic man is "to redress the grievances of those who are abandoned and alone, to protect the dignity of the poor, and to save the oppressed from the hands of his oppressor."
Our attainment of holiness is predicated upon our small acts of kindness performed in this world. It is these interpersonal mitzvos that endow us with personal, individual sanctity and enable us to bond with the One Who Is All-Compassionate.
Rabbi Shlomo Hochberg
Rabbi Hochberg is rabbi of the Young Israel of Jamaica Estates, Jamaica Estates, Queens, New York.