Friday, April 29, 2011

Kedoshim: Help Me Help You

The following is based on the Sfas Emes and Reb Tzadok HaKohen. Please feel free to print this out and read it over Shabbos, just not during Tefilos! :)

This week’s Parsha, Parshas Kedoshim deals with an array of Mitzvos Bein Adam L’Chaveiro - Commandments which apply between man and his neighbor, the regulations of interpersonal relationships. Honest business, honoring one’s parents, being kind to the disabled and generous to the poor; and most famously V’Ahavta L’Reiacha Kamocha, love your fellow as you love yourself – among many other similarly categorized Mitzvos are mentioned.

Chazal tell us that Moshe Rabbeinu conducted a Hakel - a mass gathering of all the Jew, to teach, of all things, Parshas Kedoshim. When we have all the Jews together, why read this? When we have the attention of all the Jewish people, we tell them to be nice? Why couldn’t he just write it down like any other part of the Torah? To answer this question we need to ask another, and get deeper into what is Kedoshim really all about.

Unlike most of the Parsha, the first verse calls for a very general spiritual requirement of every Jew. Kedoshim Tihiyu – Ki Kadosh Ani Hashem Elokeichem - “You shall be holy, for I, Your God am Holy.” But what exactly does this mean?

The Rishonim offer two possibilities, the first, given by Rashi is that in order to be holy we need to distance ourselves from all Aveiros (sins) that have to do with Arayos (prohibited sexuality). To be Kadosh means to elevate above our baser desires to a loftier state of control.

The Ramban offers an alternative understanding. To be holy means not just control ourselves in the realm of that which is not allowed, but it means to become more refined in regards to that which is allowed. For example, there is no prohibition in the Torah against eating Kosher meat and drinking Kosher wine. But that doesn’t mean it is the path of the devout and righteous to gorge on burgers and get trashed all day either – can you picture your favorite Rabbi doing that? Something’s not right. In this view, to be Kadosh means to become diginified, even within what is permitted.

Either way you look at it, Kedoshim Tihiyu is about overcoming the physical as means to achieve more spirituality. Kedoshim teaches us to strive for greater levels of purity. But in this context, this topic is out of place. Let’s explain.

We are taught that titles in Torah-literature carry tremendous significance. The goal of any given title is to encapsulate as much of the content as possible. If this is so, what does Kedoshim’s name have to do with the content of the rest of the Parsha. Bein Adam LeChaveiro is one thing, and my personal Avodas Hashem is another? And even we want to say that they are connected – being as Hashem told us about both – why name a whole Parsha about man and his fellow man after a commandment between man and his Maker?

Perhaps the connection between Bein Adam LeChaveiro and Bein Adam LeMakom is deeper than we thought…

We know that Am Yisrael as a unit achieves a collective Kedusha that is greater than the sum of the maximum potential of each individual. As the Midrash tells us, had one Jew been missing, the Torah would have not been able to be given. Matan Torah (our standing at Mount Sinai) was totally dependant on Achdus (national unity). We needed that one last Jew to push the whole nation over the edge. That’s why the Torah HaKedosha can only be given when Am Yisrael is in a state of K’Ish Echad B’Lev Echad (A whole nation standing unified as a single body with one heart). The word Yisrael is an acronym for the term Yesh Shishim Ruba Osios LaTorah – ‘There are Six Hundred Thousand (root) letter in the makeup of the Torah.’ And while each letter, each verse, each concept carries intrinsic holiness – it’s not considered a valid Torah scroll until every single letter is present. When it comes to the holiness of Jews, as the saying goes: “The total is greater than the sum of the parts.”

Therefore it follows that in as much as a person is connected to the Achdus of Am Yisrael he will be able to achieve higher and higher levels of personal spiritual achievement.

The perfect example is Aharon HaKohen. Aharon, the Kohen Gadol is synonymous for the apex of our discussion, namely Kedusha. He is the only one allowed into, and also synonymous with the Kodesh HaKodashim, the sacred inner sanctum of the Mishkan, the Holy of Holies. And yet, what does Chazal say about him? He was busy all day creating peace in the home. By intensifying his relationship with other Jews, his relationship with God strengthened automatically. The Mishna which tells how to be (in principle) a student of Aharon tells us, to be Ohev Es HaBrios U’MeKarvam LaTorah, ‘Love all the creation and bring them close to the Torah.’

And now we understand the depth of it: only when is via a path of love to all creations can a closeness with the Torah be generated.

With this we also understand the teaching of Chazal that when one is Noach LaBrios (sweet to the creations) it is a sign that he is also Noach L’Boro (sweet in the eyes of his Creator).

The same concept explains the Midrash that tells us how to be like Hashem. The Passuk that we started with tells us, Kedoshim Tihiyu – Ki Kadosh Ani Hashem Elokeichem - “You shall be holy, for I, Your God am Holy.” But what is God’s holiness, and how do we imitate it. With this Chazal say Ma Hu Rachum Af Atah Rachum, Ma Hu Chanun Af Atah Chanun - ‘Just like He is Merciful, so too shall you be merciful. Just as He is Gracious, so too shall you be gracious.’ Merciful and gracious are attributes that fall under the category of Bein Adam LeChaveriro! The Torah is telling us that closeness to God is dependant on closeness to our fellow Jew.

And to drive it home, Rav Moshe Wolfson brings down that the Gematria (numerical value) of the phrase V’Ahavta Es Hashem Elokecha ‘And you shall love Hashem your God’ (511), is the same as Passuk in this week’s Parsha, V’Ahavta L’Reiacha KaMocha Ani Hashem ‘Love your fellow as you love yourself, I am God’ (also 511).

Now we can understand why Kedoshim Tihiyu is read at Hakel, and why a Parsha about Bein Adam LeChaveiro is named after a Mitzvah which is Bein Adam LeMakom.

It’s now clear that the most opportune time to read Kedoshim , to learn about what Rashi and the Ramban said above is when we have all of the Jews in one place. A moment with such an atmosphere of K’Ish Echad is the time that we learn on an intrinsically deeper level about how to be closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu.

It is only through devotion to Klal Yisrael that a person will succeed as an individual. Many Mitzvos are proceeded with the small prayer entitled L’Sheim Yichud - that they will be accepted and accomplish the various spiritual tasks that they are meant to do. Every L’Sheim Yishud ends the same way, “B’Sheim Kol Yisrael” – and I’m doing this in the name of all Jews. Because when my Mitzvah has the whole Jewish nation standing behind it, it’s infinitely more powerful.

HaKadosh Baruch Hu should give us a Bracha that our hearts are filled with nothing but love for other Jews and the world at large. He should energize us with the excitement that we need to jump at the opportunity to help some out. When we tap into a mindstate the pushes us to connect to other Jews, it will inevitably lead to a stronger connection to Hashem. If we can do this there is ono doubt that we will live lives of Simcha and Shleimus, moving closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu, and ultimately the Geulah Sheleimah!

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