Torah Fax

Friday, May 2, 2008 - 27 Nissan, 5768

Torah Reading: Kedoshim (Leviticus 19:1 - 20:27)
Candle Lighting: 7:35 PM
Shabbat ends: 8:40 PM

We bless the New Month of Iyar

Synthetic Holiness

This week's parsha begins with the command to be holy. The entire parsha is named Kedoshim, which means holy. The idea of holiness in general refers to being more G‑dly and spiritual. Indeed, this is how the Torah describes holiness:
"Speak to the entire assembly of the children of Israel and say to them, 'be holy, for I, G‑d your G‑d, am holy.'" Being holy is being more G‑dly.
But, that is a very general definition of holiness. And since the Torah does not just present us with sweeping generalities, but also guides us with regard to the details, the question that we must address is: what is meant by holiness specifically?
It is reasonable to assume that the very first commandment the Torah provides in the verse that follows the one about being holy is what captures its essence.
And here is the surprising first example: "Each person shall revere his mother and father…!"
The Torah's primary example of holiness is amazingly one that is so down-to-earth it would have never entered our minds that it is the prime illustration of holiness.
If the Torah would have provided examples that relate to the way we must shun the physical, restrict our pleasure or meditate and pray, we would have easily understood how these are examples of holiness. But how is the obligation to revere and respect our parents an expression of holiness?
On a simple level we can see how the Torah anticipated the various cults and religious orders that attacked family life and filial respect. In many cults, the first thing the new devotees are told is to sever their ties with their parents; that parents are agents of evil that seek to take them away from their devotion to their new religion.
And here the Torah tells us that, despite your desire to be holy and G‑dly, you must not allow your spirituality to get in the way of your relationship with your parents.
But the Torah is all about finding the proper balance. Lest one would entertain the notion that obedience to parents has no limits, the Torah continues in the very same verse that demands filial respect: "And you shall keep My Sabbaths, I am the G‑d your G‑d." As Rashi explains that in this phrase the Torah forewarns us against following a parent's orders even if it conflicts with observing the Sabbath and other commandments. "You and they are obligated to follow My commandments," hence, one's responsibility to one's parents does not override one's obligations to G‑d.
According to this understanding of the connection between holiness and respecting parents, the respect due to parents is not, in and of itself, a manifestation of holiness. The directive to respecting our parents is simply an instruction to make sure our pursuit of holiness does not overshadow or family ties. One could be holy and still respect one's parents.
On a deeper level, however, it seems that respecting parents is actually the most dramatic expression of holiness, and is therefore given as the first example of it.
Upon reflection, there are three models of holiness:
The first and most dramatic model of holiness is to live in a spiritual world, where there are no distractions from earthly concerns. One who fasts and engages in prayer and Torah study all the time lives a holy life in the most literal sense of the word. This form of holiness involves showing reverence and submission to G‑d. And while Judaism does not advocate a perpetual holy lifestyle of this order, it does expect of us to devote some time to entirely holy endeavors.
The second and more pervasive form of holiness is to live every aspect of our normal lives in a way that elevates life to a higher plane. When we eat, we eat kosher food, recite a blessing before and after partaking of the food, and have the intention that the food will make us healthy and provide us with the energy to better serve G‑d.
The difference between these two forms of holiness is twofold:
In the first form, the holiness is overt. Everyone can tell that the person is different and special. In the latter situation, however, an outsider cannot necessarily detect that there is something different about this rather mundane act of eating. The holiness is within.
A second difference between the two forms of holiness is that in the former the holiness requires "leaving" the world behind; whereas the latter form of holiness requires of us to be in this world.
It is quite a feat to make the transition from a way of life that requires transcending the world to a way of life that demands involvement with and connection to it.
We therefore have a third form of holiness; one that combines the two other forms. Respecting and honoring one's parents is likened to reverence for G‑d; the first form of holiness. But, at the same time, respecting parents does not take one out of the worldly element; on the contrary, it is the most efficient way for society to thrive.  Without the connection between generations, we would not have continuity; just anarchy.
In short, filial responsibility is a composite of the two forms of holiness because it combines reverence for G‑d and His agents, our parents, with social responsibility and normal life.
Another example of the synthesis between the two forms of holiness is the observance of the Sabbath; the second part of the verse.
Shabbat too creates a balance between the spiritual "otherworldly" form of holiness and the "worldly" manifestation of it.
On the one hand, Shabbat is a day when we desist from most forms of work, and we spend time in the synagogue praying etc., involved in spiritual pursuits. And, on the other hand, Shabbat is a day when we are commanded to eat and have physical pleasure. Shabbat is therefore another example of the bridge between the two other forms of holiness.
The Messianic Age is known as the Shabbat of creation. At that time, we will see the ultimate synthesis between the two forms of holiness, when, the Shabbat holiness will pervade all of our time and space.   


Moshiach Matters 

Our efforts in Jewish outreach have to permeated with the spirit of Moshiach. In practical terms: just as in the days of Moshiach there will be no famine, meaning there will be nothing to distract us from serving G‑d; so too when we reach out to our fellow Jews, we need not be afraid or feel any inhibitions. We should reach out to others in a spirit of peace and serenity. (The Rebbe, Parshah Acharei, 1986)

Moshiach - It’s a Jewish issue. For more info, visit


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