Parashas Kedoshim

This week’s parashah opens with the charge: “Be holy!” The Maggid, in his commentary on Shir HaShirim 3:11, expounds on this charge at length. I present here an abbreviated version of this lengthy essay.
The Maggid begins by noting that that the charge is addressed to “the entire congregation of the Children of Israel.” This shows that holiness is not a far-flung goal. Rather, it is a state that every Jew can reach – and without great exertion. The soul of a Jew is quarried from beneath Hashem’s throne of glory; it is, as the sefarim say, “an extract of God on high” (chelek Elokah mi-maal). Etched within it are the noble character traits that lead a person to devote himself to serving Hashem: understanding, fear of Hashem, love of Hashem, and all the offshoots of these attributes.
Thus, to attain holiness, all we need do is divest ourselves of the defiling effects of sin. Consider, by analogy, how we can use water to wash a white garment that has become soiled. The washing makes the garment white – not because the water is white, but because the water clears away the dirt. After the washing, the garment’s original whiteness automatically returns. Similarly, as long as a Jew keeps his soul pure, holiness automatically abides within him. In this vein, the Midrash says that anyone who guards himself from immorality is called “holy” (Vayikra Rabbah 24:6). This Midrash teaches that when the Torah exhorts us to “be holy,” it is telling us simply to keep from defiling ourselves. Then our inner holiness will come to the fore.
The Torah declares (Devarim 30:11): “This commandment that I command you this day – it is not far removed from you, and it is not distant.” On this verse, the Midrash relates (Devarim Rabbah 8:3): “Said the Holy One Blessed Be He: ‘It is not far removed. And if it is far removed, it is due to you, because you do not delve into it.’”
The Maggid brings out the point of this Midrash with another analogy. Consider two men standing next to each other. If each one walks off in a different direction, we would say that the two men are moving away from each other. But now suppose that only one of the men walks off, while the other remains in place. In this case, we would not say that the two men are moving away from each other; rather, we would say that one of the men is moving away from the other. Similarly, a Jew’s inner wellspring of holiness remains in place within him, embedded within his soul, without budging one iota. When a Jew becomes distanced from holiness, it is because he has distanced himself from holiness by exposing himself to impure things and sullying himself with sin. This is the meaning of the Midrash: If the Torah is far removed from us, it is on our account that this is so. But if a Jew divests his heart of all evil influences, it then can serve as a vessel for storing spiritual bounty – and then, as a natural result, words of Torah will enter it.
The Maggid reinforces the point with yet another analogy. Suppose you are thinking about buying a certain suit, and you want to try it on to see how it fits. To do so, you must first take off the clothes you are presently wearing, and then put the new suit directly on your body. If you keep your clothes on, you cannot properly judge how the suit fits. Similarly, if a person finds love of Hashem an elusive goal, it is because his heart is cloaked in worldly interests. In order to develop a vibrant awareness and love of Hashem, a person must shed all external desires and place the Torah’s words directly upon his heart. One must strive, as the first paragraph of the Shema says, to love Hashem with all his heart, without harboring other affections and yearnings. In a similar vein, in the second paragraph of the Shema it is written (Devarim 11:18): “You shall place these words of Mine upon your hearts and upon your souls.” A Jew must guard his heart by infusing it with Hashem’s words – and nothing else. If he takes just this one basic measure, he will automatically be filled with love of Hashem, to the ultimate degree.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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