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ABOVE AND BEYOND

by Yoel Spotts    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

"Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, Hashem your G-d, am holy" (Leviticus 19:2).

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"Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, Hashem your G-d, am holy" (Leviticus 19:2).

Heading the list of the 51 mitzvot enumerated in this week's Torah portion is the command to be holy. So important does the Torah regard this injunction that it correlates our attainment of holiness with that of Hashem's. Clearly, striving to become holy plays a central role in our service of Hashem. However, what the Torah seemingly does not provide for is a means by which to achieve this goal. One would expect the Torah to follow its initial command to be holy with a step-by-step strategy which will direct us towards the eventual plateau. Instead, the Torah appears to leave us hanging with a simple two-word instruction - "Be holy" - without even a definition for this wide-ranging, indeterminate concept.

A look at the classic commentators offers some relief as they explain that the idea of kedushah (holiness) throughout the Torah connotes separation. Within the context of this mitzvah, working towards holiness necessitates mastering the discipline of moderation and self-restraint. However, we are still left with a nagging feeling of uncertainty, for while we now may know what the word means, we know little else. From what or whom should we separate ourselves? For how long? Under what conditions? Almost all other mitzvot are definitively clarified and defined by the Torah. We know how, when, and what we must do. However, for this unconditional requirement of being holy, the Torah provides no elaboration.

In truth, our difficulty is really no problem at all, because, as we shall soon discover, it is precisely because this mitzvah is so important that the Torah provides no explanation. As is readily perceivable, although humans share many common characteristics with each other, the physiological and psychological differences that mark each individual are perhaps even more significant than the similarities. As the saying goes, "Humans are like snowflakes - no two are alike." Each person has his own particular strengths and abilities, his own unique idiosyncrasies. As such, we must raise a very serious question regarding almost all the mitzvot in the Torah: If everyone's mental and emotional makeup is so distinct from each other, how can the mitzvot which are so uniform in nature lead each individual on his own personal path towards spiritual perfection? How can the mitzvot, being so rigidly defined, communicate to each person as an individual?

The answer, as you may have already guessed, is that in truth they cannot completely help each person find his own path. The mitzvot provide a basis, a framework; they help define a Jewish person as part of the Jewish people, and serve as a foundation upon which to build. However, even strict adherence to the every component and detail of all the mitzvot is not enough, because, as we now see, the very fact that the mitzvot are so carefully circumscribed limits them in a certain sense. The individual, with his own peculiarities is, to a certain degree, lost.

This is true with almost all mitzvot, the exception being the mitzvah with which we have been struggling - "Be holy". As the Netziv, a leading Torah commentator in the late 19th century, explains, this injunction, unlike all the other commandments in the Torah, speaks solely to the individual. It instructs each person to investigate, to search himself, to know himself. It commands a person to discover his talents and strong points, as well as his faults and shortcomings. After he has taken inventory, he must determine what personal choices he must make, what changes he must implement, and what precautions he must take in addition to the 613 commandments. The mitzvot of the Torah provide a beginning; now he must enact his own personal undertakings so that he, given his own individual makeup, can serve Hashem in the most effective way possible.

Therefore, the Torah clearly had to leave the commandment of "Be holy" so ambiguous. There is no magic formula that will aid every person on his own level. Rather, each person must discover his secret formula on his own. Each individual person must write his own continuation, defining for himself the mitzvah of "Be holy". With this script, he can grow from the level of mediocrity to a level of greatness. It is with his personal addition that he can become, in every sense of the word, holy.

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Yoel Spotts, a native Atlantan and graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, is studying at the Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore.

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