Sometimes, the holiest of the holy is attained by using your heart and your God-given brains.
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
This week we read the double portion of “Acharei Mot – Kedoshim” (Leviticus 16:1-20-27), and it is filled with more than 10 percent of all the mitzvot (commandments) in the Torah. The first Torah portion, Acharei Mot, deals primarily with the Yom Kippur service. The second Torah portion, Kedoshim, has a whole slew of mitzvot that we are to observe in order to be “Kedoshim” – Holy.
The portion of Kedoshim opens with “And God spoke to Moses saying: ‘Speak to the entire people of Israel and tell them that ‘You must be Holy, for I am Holy.’” [Leviticus 19:1-2].
Very few Torah potions unfold in the presence of “the entire people of Israel.” Rarely is the entire nation gathered together to hear a sermon from Moses. This must mean that the Torah portion of Kedsoshim is especially important.
To borrow from the Passover Seder, “So why is this Torah portion different from all Torah portions?”
Usually, Moses gives the messages to Aaron, and a few others, who in turn disseminate the message to yet others,and so on, until the entire nation got the message. (Yes, Facebook or WhatsApp would have been much easier.) Why is this a one-shot deal? Why is everyone gathered together?
It is explained that this week’s Torah portion contains the most fundamental mitzvot – the bulk of mitzvot which, when properly observed, can make a person holy.
But there’s more. “You shall be holy” is a mitzvah in its own right! It is completely independent of the many other mitzvot that appear in the Torah portion, which will assist people in becoming holy. The famous example of “You shall be holy” is behaving in a dignified manner even if behaving differently or doing something else might not be technically forbidden.
Not everything that is improper is in the Torah. The Torah doesn’t say that not saying “good morning” to people is a sin, or that walking around in an unkempt, disheveled manner is a sin. But to ignore people is unbecoming, it is not the mark of holiness. To walk around unkempt and disheveled is not a sin, but it is not the mark of holiness. Sitting around all day eating non-stop is not forbidden, but it is not the mark of holiness, even if the food is kosher.
If not for the mitzvah of “You shall be holy,” a person could indulge, be a glutton and live a degrading lifestyle all without technically sinning. However, the Torah says, “You shall be Holy”—you must abstain. You must act with restraint, with holiness. Do not indulge. Do not be a glutton. It is so vital that it had to be said to the entire nation together.
There are some decisions concerning which we do not need the Torah to tell us what is right or wrong. Some decisions, and even ethics, often come from our hearts and our God-given brains. Sure, keeping kosher, keeping the Sabbath, fasting on Yom Kippur are all mitzvot that will help us to become holy. But sometimes, the holiest of the holy is using your heart, pondering how to become a better person, going out of your way to help others.
It is the unwritten mitzvot such as these that will truly catapult us to holiness, perhaps even more so than that the mitzvot that are actually written.
For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.