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The Ultimate Gift Of Holiness

The Ultimate Gift Of Holiness

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone and chief rabbi of Efrat.

Candlelighting, Readings:
Shabbat candles: 7:25 p.m.
Torah reading: Leviticus 16:1-20:27
Haftarah: Amos 9:7-15 (Ashkenaz);
Ezekiel 20:2-20 (Sephard)
Shabbat ends: 8:27 p.m.

We has just finished the cycle of days, from Yom HaShoah to Yom HaZikaron to Yom Ha’atzmaut, whose leitmotif is Kiddush Hashem: martyrdom for the sanctification of God’s name, in the Holocaust and on the battlefields of Israel reborn.

Kadosh (the holy) expresses the goal and defining characteristic of our nation and the central commandment of this week’s portion: “You shall be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy” [Lev.19:2].

Rudolf Otto, in “The Idea of the Holy,” sees God’s holiness as expressing the “mystical numinous,” a wholly otherness and awesome uniqueness. God is above and beyond the material or physical. He is totally free of the limitations of nature and human nature.

From this perspective, human beings achieve holiness when they too are free of those limitations, as well. When a Jew sacrifices his life for the eternal and spiritual values of his faith, he indeed becomes “a kadosh,” a holy individual, having surrendered this physical world and his physical life for the eternity of bearing testimony to his faith and connection with the Divine.

For Judaism, however, true holiness can be achieved by living one’s life by God’s laws rather than giving up one’s life for those laws. The primary example of this is Isaac, who is referred to by the Midrash as a “whole burnt offering” when he lives, when God commands Abraham not to sacrifice his son but rather to dedicate Isaac to God in life.

What is the path to holiness in daily living? It is by serving God through fulfillment of His commandments, and especially by loving our fellow human being — what Rabbi Akiba called “the greatest rule of the Torah,” the command which follows the charge to be holy, “You must love your neighbor as you love yourself, I am the Lord” [Lev. 19:18].

Instinctively, every human being sees himself as the center of the universe, and always looks out for “No. 1.” To love another means to leave room for another, to give of oneself to the other, to take from one’s material possessions in order to make certain that the other is provided for. Indeed, the Hebrew word for love, ahavah, comes from the root verb hav, which means give.

When we make the blessing (kiddush, from the word kadosh) over wine, we take the wine goblet in the palm of our open hand, enclosing it with cupped fingers, but keeping our hand open to give to others. All of the assembled drink from that goblet of wine; there can be no sanctification without giving and loving.

Kiddushin, the sanctified engagement between bride and groom, emanates from the charge to “love your neighbor as you love yourself” [B.T. Kiddushin 41a]. This is confirmed in one of the blessings under the canopy: “Rejoice, beloved and loving neighbors…” Marriage is the most intensive expression of loving one’s neighbor as one loves oneself, as each spouse constantly gives to one another and actually merges as one in sexual union, producing a child who combines parts of each of them.

God is the source of sanctity; the ultimate Lover and Giver. The Kabbalah teaches that God constricted and constrained Himself (tzimtzum) to leave room for the other. He did this because, as Rav Haim Vital explains, the God of consummate love must have people other than Himself to love. These must be people with the capacity to choose against His will in order to truly be other, to be His partners and not His pawns. And it is His love for us and belief in us that will eventually empower us to choose in accordance with His will, and to partner with Him in perfecting the world in the Kingship of the Divine.

To be like God and to walk in His ways means to love just as He loves and gives to us.

Two Talmudic passages:

“Rabbi Hama the son of Rabbi Hanina said: What is the meaning of the verse, ‘Follow the Lord your God?’ [Deut 13:5]… He answered that just as God clothed the naked (Adam and Eve after they sinned), so must you clothe the naked; just as He visited the sick (Abraham, after his circumcision) so must you visit the sick; just as He comforted the mourner (Isaac after Abraham’s death), so you must comfort the mourner; just as He buried the dead (God buried Moses), so must you bury the dead” [B.T. Sotah 14a].

In the context of the respect due to a president of the Sanhedrin, we are taught: When the rabbis were feasting at Rabban Gamliel’s son’s wedding, Rabban Gamliel, the president of the Sanhedrin, stood up and served them wine. He poured Rabbi Eliezer a glass of wine, but (Rabbi Eliezer) would not accept it from him. He served Rabbi Yehoshua, who accepted it. Rabbi Eliezer chided Rabbi Yehoshua, “How can you remain seated and permit the great Rabban Gamliel to stand and serve you wine?” Rabbi Yehoshua countered: “Abraham our father was greater than Rabban Gamliel, and he stood and served three Arab wanderers (so the angels appeared to be), so why is it not fitting for the great Rabban Gamliel to serve us!” Rabbi Zadok had the last word: “Does not God cause the winds to blow, raise up the clouds, bring down the rain, cause the earth to sprout vegetation, and set a table with food before every human being? If so, why not permit Rabban Gamliel to stand and serve us as well?” [B.T. Kiddushin 32b].

It now should be clear why every Sefardi siddur opens with a prayer of Rav Haim Vital: “You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.” 

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone and chief rabbi of Efrat.



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