|The Temple Institute |
Iyar 11, 5781/April 23, 2021
“Speak to the entire congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them, You shall be holy, for I, HaShem, your G-d, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2)
Now that’s a tall order! “Be holy, for I, HaShem, your G-d, am holy!” What does that even mean? G-d is immanent and infinite; G-d fills the world with His presence, yet the world is not G-d; G-d can split the sea and make the mountains shake.
Yet we are mere mortals, consumed with making ends meet and greeting another day, one morning at a time. Yet, it is true, we are created in G-d’s image, and if there is any real substance to that statement, then, by G-d, we surely can meet the task of being holy for HaShem, our G-d, is holy.
But how? To be holy – kadosh, in Hebrew – is to be separate. To sanctify something, that is, to make it holy, means to set it aside for a specific purpose.
The beginning of this week’s Torah reading, Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, describes, in detail, the service of Yom Kippur in the desert Tabernacle, and in doing so, refers to Aharon, the High Priest’s holy garments. Not only are a kohen’s garments holy because they are worn only in the Holy Temple, but only when wearing them can a kohen perform their holy tasks, thereby becoming holy themselves.
Much of the Yom Kippur service takes place in the Temple sanctuary, known in Hebrew as the Kodesh, and, of course, what is perhaps the climax of the Yom Kippur service, takes place when the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) enters into the Kodesh haKodeshim – the Holy of Holies.
These two chambers, the Holy and the Holy of Holies, are holy because they are set aside, separated from the mundane world outside, and dedicated for the specific purpose of serving G-d.
And why is G-d described as being holy? Because G-d, despite His Presence being everywhere, saturating all of creation, is infinitely distinct and separate from creation. To be holy because G-d is holy, means, then, to separate ourselves from all things that are not G-dly, that are not infused with G-d’s presence.
In other words, to separate ourselves from all things that cause a distance, a separation between ourselves and G-d. To be holy, distinct, dedicated and separated from the profane, is to attach ourselves, body and soul, to HaShem. But we are only human! We need to eat, to drink, to work for our wages, and at the end of a long day, to sleep and recharge our batteries, so that we can do it all again on the morrow. We can’t separate ourselves from the mundane world which provides our sustenance, our daily bread.
To be holy seems an impossible task, save for kohanim or nazirites, who, by very definition, are only a tiny segment of the population. To solve this conundrum, Torah presents another path to holiness. To be holy, in the eyes of the Torah, is not to separate ourselves from the mundane, but, on the contrary, to infuse the mundane with holiness, to invest the mundane with holy purpose and and holy potential.
If we perceive the food we eat as being a gift from G-d to us, and enjoy our meal conscious of how precious this gift is, we are informing the eating of a meal with holiness.
We are not eating junk food, G-d forbid: we are eating the most precious thing in creation – a morsel created by G-d for our consumption! By uplifting our food from the profane to the holy, we are confirming a direct connection between ourselves and G-d.
We are becoming holy because haShem, our G-d, is holy. This practice of uplifting the mundane and imbuing it with holiness, applies not only to food, but to all we do in life. And this is the secret of the Torah commandments.
Every commandment, whether it is loving our neighbor as ourselves because we recognize the holiness in him (and in ourselves), or keeping Shabbat because it is holy to G-d, (and therefore holy to us), or saying a blessing before we bite into an apple, because it is a holy gift from G-d, presents us with an opportunity to make a direct connection with G-d, to complete the circuit and purpose of creation, to bring G-d’s presence right into our lives.
Every commandment is a two-way invitation, inviting G-d into our world, and ourselves into G-d’s world. We become holy by eliminating those things in life which come between us and G-d, and we complete the process by infusing those things that can connect us to G-d with holiness.
When G-d’s Presence first filled the Tabernacle upon its completion the world received a restart and an upgrade. From that moment forward, G-d’s presence is infinitely near. G-d is our neighbor. It behooves us and enhances our lives to embrace G-d’s nearness, and to draw ourselves closer to G-d in all we do, in all our deeds and all our thoughts. Being holy, for HaShem, our G-d, is holy!