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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Kedoshim 5774 "For I Am Holy"
by Devorah Weiss, Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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A number of years ago while living in Melbourne Australia, Rabbi Yaakov Haber[1] founded a Kollel known as the Australian Institute of Torah.[2]

Each year the institute would host a Shabbatone to attract non-religious Jews. One year the topic for discussion at the Shabbatone was kedusha (holiness).

The Shabbos prior to the Shabbatone Rabbi Haber was concerned. Holiness is a very intriguing and important concept and he had not been able to develop a down-to-earth message that he felt he would be able to convey. Before he went to sleep he prayed that he would be able to find the right message.

That Friday evening he had a dream. An elderly saintly looking Rabbi that Rabbi Haber had never seen before appeared to him. The Rabbi told him not to worry about finding material for his speech for the Shabbatone. He told Rabbi Haber that he would teach him whatever he needed to know. The saintly Rabbi then explained to him six aspects of kedusha with perfect clarity.

In the morning Rabbi Haber was ecstatic. The dream was the answer to his prayers. However, when he began to review the points he had heard in his dream, he was dismayed that he couldn’t remember them clearly.

When Rabbi Haber arrived at the kollel shul he saw a new sefer (book) on the shelf so he pulled it out and opened it. It was the Nesivas Shalom (chelek 1), authored by the Slonimer Rebbe, Rav Shalom Noach Berzovsky zt’l. He was stunned to find in the sefer contained a collection of essays about holiness.

Some time later, when Rabbi Haber traveled to Eretz Yisroel, he made sure to visit the Slonimer Rebbe. When Rabbi Haber introduced himself the Rebbe asked him to recount all of the details of his dream.

When he completed his account, the Rebbe replied that when he wrote the sefer he debated whether or not he should get a haskamah[3]. In the end he decided against it because he felt he would not be able to find someone who had studied the depth of the topics he had written about as much as he did. But because of that the Rebbe explained he was always distressed. But now that he heard Rabbi Haber’s account he was elated to realized that in heaven they had obviously accepted his work.[4]

The following thoughts are adapted from the aforementioned essays of the Nesivos Sholom regarding holiness:

In Parshas Kedoshim the concept of holiness is mentioned three times:

1. “דבר אל כל עדת בני ישראל ואמרת אליהם קדושים תהיו כי קדוש אני ה' אלקיכם - Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for holy am I, Hashem your G-d”.[5]

2. After the Torah warns about the severe prohibition of worshipping idolatry the verse states, “והתקדשתם והייתם קדושים כי אני ה' אלקיכם – You shall sanctify yourselves and you will be holy, for I am Hashem, your G-d.”[6]

3. At the conclusion of the parsha, after the Torah states that one may not, “render your souls abominable” by eating non-kosher birds and any crawling insect, the verse states, “והייתם לי קדושים כי קדוש אני ה' ואבדיל אתכם מן העמים להיות לי – You shall be holy for Me, for I G-d am holy; and I have separated you from the peoples to be Mine.”[7]

Nesivos Sholom explains that these three verses correspond to the three chief detractions from holiness: Immorality, idolatrous beliefs which enervate one’s faith, and partaking of forbidden foods. In regard to these three areas one must go beyond the actual prohibitions of the Torah. One must erect personal safeguards and stringencies to ensure that he does not fall prey to these egregious sins.

Conversely, there are three main sources of holiness from which one can elevate himself: The study of Torah and the performance of mitzvos, the holidays and special times which are propitious for spiritual growth, and overcoming physical desires and inclinations. The more one transcends his desires for physicality and the pleasures of life the more control he maintains over his evil inclination. These three areas represent the cadre of holiness in the life of a Jew.

The centrality of the commandment of being holy is evident. Becoming a holy, G-dly person is one of the most fundamental responsibilities of a Jew. Therefore, it is difficult to comprehend why these concepts seem to fall by the wayside even amongst scrupulously observant Jews.

The Rebbe explained this enigma by citing a Medrash[8]. The Medrash relates a parable about a king who wanted to determine the extent of the allegiance his many servants and sons had to him. He wanted to ascertain who truly loved and feared him and accepted his monarchy with reverence. In order to do so, the king ordered an architect to construct a palace with an eccentric entranceway. To enter the palace one had to pass through a narrow room, which led into an even narrower room, which led to a third even narrower room. One would literally have to squeeze his body, slowly pulling and pushing himself through the little room, limb by limb. Beyond the small room was the majestic and opulent throne of the king in a vast beautiful royal chamber.

When the palace was completed, the king summoned his servants and sons. He sat on his throne and waited. He watched as each individual approached walked through the increasingly narrower rooms. He watched as some plunged on into the increasingly narrow constraints, while others just walked away. Only those who were willing to suffer the pain of the struggle were his true servants and loyalists.

The Rebbe explained that the narrow rooms symbolize the obligation of a Jew to transform himself into a receptacle of holiness. The responsibility of becoming a holy person is arduous. It encompasses every aspect of a person - body, soul, thoughts, emotions, desires, and even the things he yearns for. Only one who truly loves his King and wants to be in His embrace would accept on himself such a herculean undertaking.

It is for this reason that the obligation to be holy is not counted among the 613 mitzvos (commandments). Prior to giving the Torah at Sinai, G-d declared to Klal Yisroel, “You shall be for Me a kingdom of ministers and a holy nation.”[9] Those words were not stated as an obligatory commandment, but rather as a revelation of G-d’s Will. G-d was expressing His newfound expectation that the nation receiving the Torah strive for holiness and devoutness.

So too, the Torah’s instruction, “You shall be holy, for holy am I, Hashem your G-d”, is a statement of G-d’s expectation of His Nation. One’s yearning and striving for holiness is a testament to his love and devotion to his Creator. It demonstrates his willingness to undergo the travails and self-abnegation necessary to live an elevated spiritual Torah life. The statement that one must be holy is an exhortation, not an actual commandment!

One can be completely Torah observant, meticulous in his performance of the mitzvos, and pray with fervor and concentration, yet be spiritually loathsome. In the timeless words of Ramban, one can be a “naval b’reshus haTorah- a repulsive person with the permission of Torah[10].” Such a person may keep the letter of the law but has completely misunderstood the spirit of the law.

My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, explains that the Torah wants us to realize that mitzvos are the building blocks - the stepping stones to achieving the goal of being holy. However, the mitzvos therefore are not an end in themselves.

The true and intended end and goal is kedoshim – to be holy! The mitzvos are the Torah’s description of the means available to achieve that end goal. We must pay great attention to the details, halachos, and minutiae of every mitzvah.

But many times people become bogged down in the mitzvos without realizing the goal of kedoshim that lies at the heart and purpose of mitzvos. The Gemara compares mitzvos to silver, money, and wealth. Just as wealth is only a means to do good and achieve a better life and should never be viewed as the end and final goal itself, so too the mitzvos are the beginning of the process of human elevation and not the end goal all in itself.

All of Jewish history has shown that those who attempted to attain holiness without the means of mitzvos have failed. But even punctilious observance of mitzvos does not always guarantee holiness.

It is not enough to observe the laws of Torah but one must internalize its message. The Torah must be a lodestar, not just a book of guidelines and restrictions.

In a sense, the true test of one’s devotion and love for G-d can be judged by viewing the extent of one’s efforts to achieve holiness[11].Therefore, the Torah’s instruction that one be holy is not a commandment per se, but a rudimentary prerequisite for performance of all mitzvos.

“You shall be holy, for holy am I, Hashem, your G-d”

“You shall be for Me a kingdom of ministers and a holy nation”

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[1] Rabbi Haber was also the former Rabbi of Congregation Bais Torah in Monsey. He is currently the Rav of Kehillat Shivtei Yeshurun in Ramat Bait Shemesh.

[2] In the shul where my in-laws daven in Lakewood, NJ, Kehillas Kol Chaim, there is a weekly group that studies Nesivos Shalom, the classic works of the late Slonimer Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Noach Berezovsky zt’l. The Rebbe’s discourses are beloved due to their encouragement and inspiration. He constantly spoke of spiritual renewal and a person’s ability to continually develop his personal relationship with his Creator.

Rabbi Yisroel Meir Shapiro, who initiated the group, related to me the following story that he heard at a lecture given by Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer.

[3] letter of approbation

[4] Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer added that he heard the story from a chassid of the Slonimer Rebbe, who is one of the biggest charity collectors for Slonim institutions. When the chossid arrived in Melbourne to solicit funds and told Rabbi Haber what he was collecting for, Rabbi Haber related to him his uncanny ‘connection’ with the Slonimer Rebbe.

When the chossid returned to the Rebbe in Jerusalem and asked the Rebbe about the story the Rebbe replied that he was glad that G-d had chosen to use his sefer to promote the study of Torah.

[5] Shemos 19:2

[6] 20:7

[7] 20:26

[8] Tanna D’vei Eliyahu 16:9

[9] Shemos 19:6

[10] i.e. within the confines of actual Torah law, although not within the Torah’s ‘spirit’

[11] holiness as the Torah defines it

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