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Holiness vs. Human-ess

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

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In the Book of Leviticus (19:2), the Jewish people are commanded: “You shall be holy, for I, the L-rd your G-d, am holy.” This commandment is quite puzzling; isn’t holiness achieved through following G-d’s commandments? What is the meaning of this independent commandment to be holy? The one who observes the Shabbat, meticulously follows the Kosher laws, and prays regularly three times a day—is he not holy already?

Nachmanides, the famed medieval Biblical scholar, explains as follows:

“The Torah has forbidden illicit sexual relations and non-kosher foods, but has permitted sexual intercourse between husband and wife and the consumption of [kosher] wine and meat. Therefore, the hedonist will find the opportunity to be totally immersed in sexual gratification with his wife (or wives) and to be a glutton of meat and wine. He will converse of abhorrent matters as he desires – for that is not expressly prohibited by the Torah – and he will be a lowlife within the boundaries of the Torah! Therefore, after the verse details those activities which are forbidden, the Torah further enjoins us to distance ourselves from excessiveness... and [in this manner] to sanctify [ourselves].”

A Jew has the ability to sanctify his life even during those hours when he isn’t directly involved in Torah-mandated ventures...The person whose entire day is dedicated to the Almighty – eating, resting and exercising in order to have strength to serve Him, is permanently connected to his Divine source; living a Divine life in a terrestrial land
Chassidic thought expands on this idea and puts an esoteric spin on the commandment to be holy. The great Arizal, the most authoritative mystic of all times, taught that every Jew possesses two independent souls; a G-dly soul which is a spark of the infinite G-d, and a natural human soul. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of the Chabad school of Chassidut, explains that at every moment a Jew is being vivified by one of these two souls. When a person is preoccupied with performing G-d’s will, whether it is through Torah study, prayer, or Mitzvot, he is receiving his life-force from the G-dly soul, and thus is totally connected to his Creator. Conversely, when a person is involved in any other activity, even a permitted and seemingly benign pursuit, his existence emanates from his human soul – a mundane and finite life-force which is very similar to the energy which animates the rest of creation.

However, the Jew has the ability to sanctify his life even during those hours when he isn’t directly involved in Torah-mandated ventures. Any act which is done l’shem shamayim (for the purpose of serving G-d) has the exact same effect as a Mitzvah. The person whose entire day is dedicated to the Almighty – eating, resting and exercising in order to have strength to serve Him, working in order to have the means to serve Him and in order to be able to give charity, etc. – is permanently connected to his Divine source; living a Divine life in a terrestrial land.

Obviously, the one who dedicates his life to G-d’s service will not overindulge, because overindulgence does not contribute to being a spiritual person. But the holiness isn’t achieved merely through practicing moderation, rather it derives from a deep commitment to devoting ones life to connecting to G-d.


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Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Mitzvot
Plural form of Mitzvah. Commandments of G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Kosher
Literally means "fit." Commonly used to describe foods which are permitted by Jewish dietary laws, but is also used to describe religious articles (such as a Torah scroll or Sukkah) which meet the requirements of Jewish law.
Chabad
Chabad, an acronym for Wisdom, Knowledge, and Understanding, is the name of a Chassidic Group founded in the 1770s. Two of the most fundamental teachings of Chabad are the intellectual pursuit of understanding the divine and the willingness to help every Jew who has a spiritual or material need.
Chassidic
(Pl.: Chassidim; Adj.: Chassidic) A follower of the teachings of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), the founder of "Chassidut." Chassidut emphasizes serving G-d with sincerity and joy, and the importance of connecting to a Rebbe (saintly mentor).
Chassidut
The teachings of the Chassidic masters. Chassidut takes mystical concepts such as G-d, the soul, and Torah, and makes them understandable, applicable and practical.
Leviticus
The third of the Five Books of Moses. This book deals with the service (of the Levite Tribe) in the Tabernacle, and contains many of the 613 commandments.
Arizal
Rabbi Isaac Luria, the 15th Century founder of Modern Kabbalah.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.