Kedusha and its meaning for us
We are all familiar with the concept of Kiddush Hashem. We have heard stories of those who have given their lives for the preservation of Torah and on behalf of Am Yisrael. We grew up on the tragic tale of Rabbi Akiva, who, while being tortured by the Romans, rejoiced in the fact that he could finally fulfill the statement of the verse in Shema, “to love the Almighty bechol nafshecha, with all one’s soul”. More recently as we mourn the modern day disasters that have befallen our people as we did last week on Yom Hashoah, we incorporate episodes of martyrdom into our collective remembrance. But whilst we gain strength from these heroic acts throughout the history of Am Yisrael, we all hope and pray that we and our loved ones will never be in a situation in which we would have to fulfill this aspect of our religion.
As we read the opening passuk of the second of this week’s parshiot, “Kedoshim tihyu, ki kadosh Ani Hashem Elokeichem, You should be holy, for I, Hashem your God am holy”, (Vayikra 19:2) we wonder how this mitzva can be fulfilled without the tragic circumstances described above. Although mefarshim on this passuk have understood this concept in many different ways as we shall discuss, the enjoinment later on in the parsha, “vehitkadishtem, viheyitem kedoshim, you shall make yourselves holy and be holy”, (Vayikra 20:8) and a similar passuk in next week’s parsha (Vayikra 22:32), suggest that we are dealing with the commandment of Kiddush Hashem. The fact that the requirement to infuse our lives with kedusha always seems to be connected with the notion that Hashem is kadosh points to the fact that fulfilling this mitzvah would seem to be a part of the requirement to sanctify Hashem’s name, Kiddush Hashem.
[We have translated the word kadosh or kedusha as holy. Although this is the accepted translation, it is not necessarily the correct one. Alternate suggestions include, sacred, sanctity, separated and dedicated. It is possible that there is no translation that does justice to this central concept in Judaism.]
The Or Hachayim, commenting on the first passuk of the parsha, quotes a statement of Chazal from Massechet Kiddushin(39B). The gemara states that one who sits and does not transgress, is given reward as if he had done a mitzva. The gemara goes on to qualify this statement by explaining that this is true in a case where the person was presented with the possibility to sin and avoided the temptation. However, the Or Hachayim suggests that merely not committing a sin could be seen as a fulfillment of the injunction “Kedoshim Tihyu”. The passive act of not sinning allows us to at least on the most basic level lead a life of kedusha.
This explanation can be supported by an interesting idea I heard from Rabbi Jay Marcus many years ago. He pointed out that Rambam has fourteen books in his halachic work, Mishneh Torah. The book of Kedusha we might have expected to contain details of sacrifices, of descriptions of the avoda in the Bet Mikdash or similar halachot. This is not the case. Rather, Rambam included two sets of laws in his volume on kedusha; the laws of forbidden relationships and the laws of forbidden foods. These two aspects of our everyday life, the basic human desires and how we treat them, classify us as an Am Kadosh. Only if we abstain from those relationships and foods proscribed to us and channel our desires in the way outlined by God do we attain kedusha.
This idea is known to us based on the idiom found in chazal and discussed in the Ramban at the beginning of the parsha “kadesh atzmecha bemashemutar lecha, sanctify yourself with what is permitted to you”. However, the suggestion of the Or Hachayim is a little different. Not only is channeling our desires in the way described by the Torah, and in the Ramban’s words, in moderation, a recipe for achieving kedusha. According to the Or Hachayim, the mere abstention from aveirah, the simple passivity of not sinning is a fulfillment of the requirement to emulate Hashem by being kadosh.
We therefore have seen two extreme sides of the mitzvah to be kadosh or of Kiddush Hashem. On the one hand we recall the historical notion of Kiddush Hashem, that of martyrdom. On the other hand we have noted the suggestion that passive abstention from sin amounts to a life encompassed by kedusha.
Let us suggest a middle path in our quest to understand kedusha. The parsha begins with the phrase “daber el kol adat Bnei Yisrael veamarta aleihem kedoshim tihyu., speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel and tell them you shall be holy” (Vayikra 19:2). Rashi, quoting Torat Kohanim, explains why Moshe was instructed by Hashem to speak to “all the congregation of the children of Israel”. This parsha was said in public, to the entire congregation, says Rashi, because many (or the majority of) principles of the Torah are included or dependant upon this section of Torah. There are two questions which arise on reading this comment of Rashi. First of all, are there not principles of the Torah in many other parshiot? Does this suggest that this part of the Torah is more important than others, a notion we generally do not adopt? Secondly, what are the principles outlined in this parsha which are considered so fundamental that it required a different method of delivery than the rest of the Torah?
There is a well known midrash which draws a parallel between the Asseret Hadibrot and the beginning of Parshat Kedoshim. The Kli Yakar cites this midrash as the basis for finding fundamentals of the Torah in this parsha. In the same way as the Asseret Hadibrot are seen as the basis for the entire Torah so too is the first section of Parshat Kedoshim. (Kli Yakar also points out that certain other parshiot were delivered to the whole of Am Yisrael.)
On a close look at the mitzvot listed in this section of Parshat Kedoshim we could raise a different suggestion. Many interpersonal precepts, mitzvot bein adam lechavero, are found here. These include the requirement to fear one’s parents, to leave parts of the field for the poor and the mitzva not to delay paying the wages of an employee. These culminate with the prohibitions against hating your brother in your heart, taking revenge and bearing a grudge. The basis for all mitzvot bein adam lechavero, vehavta lere’acha kamocha, love your neighbour like yourself is also here. Perhaps this collection of mitzvot, of which we have cited only a few, are also the fundamentals on which the Torah is based.
Returning to our theme of kedusha, this is obviously apparent in the mitzvah of Shabbat, the eating of sacrifices or the requirement to dedicate the fruits of a tree’s fourth year produce. But are we able to discover kedusha in those everyday actions governing our interpersonal relations. Can we find kedusha when we have a difference with our neighbor, pay our workers or meet an elderly person on the street? This parsha tells us not only that we can and must find kedusha in these aspects of our lives, but that this is a form of Kiddush Hashem. Over the centuries, Kiddush Hashem has also come to mean how we, as Jews, act in public. This is usually in the realm of bein adam lechavero. How we relate to our fellow Jew and fellow human being demonstrates our ability to emulate Hashem and be kadosh as He is. Kiddush Hashem then can be martyrdom or abstention but for most of us it can be found on a daily basis, in the workplace, at home or on the street.
As I write these words, Am Yisrael is remembering its’ modern day martyrs, the fallen soldiers of the IDF who have given their lives over the last 60 years so that Medinat Yisrael can exist and grow from strength to strength. They certainly fulfilled the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem. As we move into Yom Ha’atzmaut, we celebrate the other form of Kiddush Hashem. We celebrate the thousands of people, residents of Israel who are Mekadesh Shem Shamayim on a daily basis. They may be simply earning an honest living in the Jewish homeland or volunteering in a soup kitchen. They are the ambulance drivers and the policemen, the nurses and the teachers, they are Am Yisrael. It is these people who make us proud to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, as members of Hashem’s nation, the Am Kadosh.
Chag Ha’atzmaut Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,