“My kedushah (holiness) is greater than yours.”
– The Maggid of Mezrich
People always tell me it’s “so LA” to talk about energy and vibes, but I think perhaps it’s just more openly discussed here. In truth, we all feel and are affected by both. That’s why it’s so important to be mindful of the company we keep. I often place myself in what I call sacred spaces or spiritual environments, because when people are there to reach higher levels of being, it means the base level of what’s expected is generally pretty elevated. I often go to spaces that one Rabbi in particular will be at, and people ask if I am a chassid of this Rebbe, and I say, I am not, but I find it inspiring to be in the presence of both this Rebbe and the people that do follow him.
I try to catch Mishmar, which all over the world tends to be a Thursday night tradition for enrichment and spiritual growth. Mishmar in Hebrew means “guard.” It’s named Mishmar because, similar to a military rotation of a watch, a community encourages people and often appoints a leader or speaker to keep the spiritual life going. The last one I attended was at the beautiful, artful, and very LA-styled house of Yitzy Katz. David Sacks spoke, and I don’t believe I have ever heard him speak without being completely blown away by his stories, his fresh perspective and his delivery. He’s always sure to not go even one minute over, and so we went from the outside area into the dining room, all crowded, feeling as if we are in Jerusalem or Bnei Brak, packed in as tight as can be, so that we could be close to the Rebbe. But in this case, it was just in order to be close to creating holiness. Just then one of the guys began singing a nigun (chassidic melody) and everyone joined in. It was as if we were all melding into one, and our individual worries began to wash away. We then got more lively and the energy elevated. I remember just then, I turned to my friend Shua and said, “This is dope, this is what I needed right now.” And he replied, “This is why I come every time; it grounds me during the week. Singing in this space reminds me that everything I’m worried about is small and will be fine, and this connects me to what matters and reminds me of why we’re alive. I felt the holiness, each one of us raising the other.
Kedoshim (“holy ones”) is my Bar Mitzvah parashah. I always considered myself lucky, because it was a short one, and I had to memorize the trope to get all the notes and nuances correct. So, with it being slightly less of a daunting task because of its length, I was able to sing it to everyone present without any mistakes.
The Abarbanel teaches that the parashah of Kedoshim repeats all the mitzvot mentioned previously to stress that they are meant to be practiced in an atmosphere of kedushah (holiness) and not ever to be practiced mindlessly as a habit. We demonstrate this when we perform a mitzvah saying,
אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְותָיו
(asher kedushahnu b’mitzvotav)
“Who has made us holy with His mitzvot”
We proclaim that the mitzvot are the basis for kedushah and, as our Sages say, “Whoever sanctifies himself from below is sanctified from above.”1 The recurring theme throughout all these dvars I write is how to bring more blessings into our lives. It started with my project “Don’t Block Your Blessings.” And now, looking at the weekly Torah readings and Kabbalah with this project, “Light of Infinite”, I’m hoping these words inspire you to delve deeper into the Torah and kabbalisitc texts, and, as Chaim Vital says, “One can go deeper and deeper, as far as the human mind can delve, and it will always yield new treasures.”
As I often say, life can be so precious if you are truly present, and the Torah is the present that presents the tools of how to sanctify time, space, and oneself. When we have full faith that “this world is like a corridor to the World to Come,”2 we can tap more into our purpose and our spirit and worry less about the temporal “realities” of this material world. Abraham Joshua Heschel writes in Man in Search of God: religion begins with a consciousness that something is asked of us. It is in that tense, eternal asking in which the soul is caught and in which man’s answer is elicited.3
This in a sense was what Munbaz, a righteous king who lived at the end of the Second Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) Era, meant when he answered his detractors stating, “My ancestors stored for this world, but I stored for the World to Come.” King Munbaz was a convert, the son of Queen Heleni. During a famine Munbaz opened the royal treasures and disbursed the riches to the poor. His family, angry at the loss of their wealth, united against him: “How can you do this? Your ancestors gathered and saved treasures only ever adding to them, and you squandered it all!” He explained that they stored money, he stored souls. They stored the riches only for themselves while he shared the riches with the poor and united souls, the ultimate in Ahavat Yisrael (love of one another & Israel). And in an attempt to explain in a way that they might understand, he said he was storing the ultimate reward, the reward in the World to Come.
Albert Einstein was quoted in LIFE magazine in conversation with William Miller sharing, “the important thing is not to stop questioning; curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when contemplating the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of the mystery every day. The important thing is not to stop questioning; never lose a holy curiosity.”4
The parashah opens commanding us to be holy, קְדֹשִׁ֣ים תִּהְי֑וּ (“Be Holy [because, I, God your Lord am holy]”),5 implying that we should always seek greater levels of kedushah. We can also interpret the Hebrew words קְדֹשִׁ֣ים תִּהְי֑וּ as a Divine assurance that we will attain kedushah, if we sanctify Hashem’s name. As we learn in Pirkei Avot,6 “One who honors Torah, will be honored…”7
As we read further in the parashah, “Observe My Shabbats and fear My Sanctuary; I am God.”8 Reb Natan of Breslov teaches that the main tool a person can use to subdue materialism and elevate their spirituality is awe and fear of Hashem, explaining that “Fear My Sanctuary” means that if one has fear, they can experience “My Temple [for they have ascended above materialism].9
When the Maggid said, “My kedushah (holiness) is greater than yours,” he wasn’t saying “I’m holier than you are,” rather, that “My kedushah stems from your kedushah.” This connects to a fundamental Torah concept, מצווה גוררת מצווה (mitzvah goreret mitzvah), which means that one good deed always pulls another one in its wake. The Maggid takes this idea into the realm of kedushah: if someone else does a holy act, it inspires you to be holier for yourself and for others, and so your holiness increases beyond the initial act. So, the Maggid is saying that your kedushah makes his kedushah greater, because each of us has the power to make others holier. And as Abraham Joshua Heschel reminds us, ‘Every Moment Is an Opportunity for Greatness.’
One cheat code to heaven is that of the mitzvot and teaching Torah to others. The Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches that by bringing another close to the Torah, one becomes their teacher, and the disciple will argue in Olam Haba (the World to Come), “I cannot be here without my master.”10 And so the one who shared Torah will be immediately placed in Gan Eden.11
Rashi points out that this parashah “must be read in a public assembly,” שׁרוב גוּפי תוֹרה תלוּיין בּה, 12 because the holiness of the Torah has no place in isolation. The fundamental purpose of Torah is to teach us to love our fellow humans and bring them closer to kedushah. And the midrash says, “If you make yourself holy, I will consider it as if you made Me holy.” If we limit our pursuits to nature, Hashem acts naturally towards us; if we raise ourselves above nature, Hashem’s dealings with us are supernatural.
My soul clings to You
But faced with this daunting task of making ourselves and even Hashem holy, the Oheiv Yisrael teaches that one might say, “How can we attain that level, since our lusts control our desires? How is it possible that when one engages in physical pleasures he adds to the dimensions of perishah (separateness) and kedushah?” It is for this reason that the Torah states this week:
כִּ֣י קָד֔וֹשׁ אֲנִ֖י יְהוָֹ֥ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶֽם
(ki kadosh ani Hashem Elokeichem)
“For I, Hashem, your G-d, am holy.”13
Just as Hashem fills all the worlds and beyond but is separate from it, we too must exist in this world, interface with physicality and humanity, without becoming engulfed by it. We are made in Hashem’s image, so our purpose is to try to emulate His holy presence in the world and His holy transcendence of it.
The Chatam Sofer points out that the two distinct names of Hashem used in this phrase, כִּ֣י קָד֔וֹשׁ אֲנִ֖י יְהוָֹ֥ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶֽם, come to teach us two different ways He relates to the world and that we can relate to Him. The first, ה׳, is the Name of G-d that is totally beyond our comprehension. But it is followed by, אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶֽם, literally “our G-d”, which implies the special and intimate relationship between us and Hashem. Even the preceding words, קָד֔וֹשׁ אֲנִ֖י, “I am holy”, imply this dual relationship. While קָד֔וֹשׁ (kadosh) implies separation from this world, the preceding word of אֲנִ֖י, “I”, is there to imply Hashem’s personal closeness to us. So, being made in Hashem’s image, we must separate ourselves from the world in ways, abstain from certain materialism, but also make ourselves close to the world, elevating the mundane, spiritualizing reality.14
Hashem called to Moshe from the mountain, saying, “..if you hearken well to Me and observe My covenant, you shall be to Me the most beloved treasure of all peoples, for Mine is the entire world. You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you shall speak to the Children of Israel.”15 Our task is to be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” This “priestly function” is manifested through being kadosh, fulfilling the mitzvot in our private lives, and so bringing God-consciousness and holiness to the world. We bring Hashem to the world and the world closer to Hashem. The prophet Isaiah termed the “priestly function” as a “light to the nations”,16 which is to sanctify oneself and uplift those around you, not to separate and isolate oneself.
The Alter Rebbe points to Proverbs, “the soul of man is a lamp of God,”17 teaching that just like the flame of the lamp strains upwards, seeking to tear free of the wick and rise heavenward. Though this would spell its own demise, so, too, does the Godly soul in each of us constantly strive to tear free of the body and the material existence and to be nullified within its source in God. And as the Ramchal stresses in Mesilat Yesharim, even when one is engaged in the physical activities required by the body, the soul must not deviate from its elevated intimacy, as is stated, “My soul clings to You; Your right arm sustains me.”18 If one sanctifies himself with the Holiness of his Creator even his physical actions come to partake of holiness.19 The Chatam Sofer points towards Avraham Avinu as a role model in this regard, that despite his exalted status, he not only invited in his contemporaries, he had a great impact on them. And it was because of this aspect of his kedushah – being concerned about the spiritual welfare of others – that he was elevated and was a manifestation of קְדֹשִׁ֣ים תִּהְי֑וּ.
As the famous dictum goes, “Who is wise? The person who learns from everyone.”20 This means that everyone has something that another person can learn from them. And so everyone is a “rich person” in this regard by virtue of their unique quality. And as it’s written in Likkutei Sichot, it follows then that everyone is obligated to use their unique quality and talent to benefit others who do not possess it, and from this that person will be blessed from Above with those things which they may not possess. As we know from the first time blessings were written in the Torah, it’s stated, “those who bless, shall be blessed.”21 It is even more important to follow this path, because the converse is also true, as it’s stated explicitly in the Gemara, “when failing to benefit another, there will be a lack in blessings and help from Above.” The Gemara concludes stating that the rich themselves may become poor.22
The Rebbe relates that Torah without Ahavat Yisrael will cease in the end. Relating a story of Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev’s hearing three teachings from the Baal Shem Tov, one of them pertained exactly to this.23 The Baal Shem stressed that “All Torah that is not combined with work will ultimately cease.”24 The term ‘work’ refers to effort in Ahavat Yisrael. Essentially, if the Torah is to continue to endure, it must be combined with effort in Ahavat Yisrael. The lesson had such a profound impact on R’ Levi Yitzchak that all his life was devoted to efforts on behalf of Ahavat Yisrael.25
The great Rabbi Akiva taught that the fundamental principle of the Torah is the commandment which we read this week which is to ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’26 Many ask if that is possible, when our default is selfishness and making sure first and foremost that we are taken care of. The Baal Shem Tov expounds on Rabbi Akiva’s lesson that, though we are aware of our many faults, we still look out for and love ourselves, and we need to do the same for those around us despite their faults. This is why these commandments to be holy were given in public assembly, as ‘my holiness is your holiness’ and vice versa— we need to uplift and elevate and that could only be done when leading with love of the “neighbor as yourself.”
The heights of holy sexuality
If we look at the mitzvot connected to childbirth and sex and compare them to other traditions’ views and practices, the differences are significant. In some other religions, the clergy, the holiest practitioners of those religions, have to remain unmarried in order to avoid any sexual thought or behavior; holiness is synonymous with abstention. In Judaism, sex is considered one of the most holy acts we can partake in, as it is a way in which we become partners with Hashem in creating. Just as we are meant to live in the world in all other ways with holy intentions, we are tasked with having sex with holy intentions and in a way of holiness, so as to elevate something that has the potential for the great darkness into infinite light.
As R’ Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky writes in his preface to his translation of The Arizal’s Divrei Torah:
We see in these teachings the awesome power of the misuse of sexual energy as well as the sublime heights to which holy sexuality can lift us. Yes, it is easier to follow the extreme of total denial or the extreme of total indulgence; it is far more challenging to take the middle path and fuse intense physicality and intense spirituality. But the rewards of taking the latter path are far greater, and it is really the only way to navigate the pitfalls endemic to the extremes. G-d has programmed us with both a strong sexual drive and a strong spiritual drive, and ignoring one at the expense of the other is simply a recipe for disaster.27
The Arizal explains this is all part of Adam and Eve’s primordial sin and the constant battle we were forced into as humanity, always torn between opposing physical and spiritual inclinations. The more we act in a way of holiness, the more our spiritual inclinations connect us to Hashem. Through our partnership with Hashem, choosing right over wrong, elevation over desecration, we grow spiritually, and then the spiritual everlasting rewards come. As we covered a few weeks ago, The Zohar compares man to animals in regards to the korban, deducing from the verse “and the eighth day the skin of the orlah should be circumcised” being amidst the verses that deal with tumah (impurity) and taharah (purity) of the woman giving birth. What we see in these readings, in the proximity and importance, is the sanctification of time (Shabbat) of man (brit milah) and of place (the korban). Hashem is kadosh as it says, “for I am Kadosh.”28 We, on the other hand, have the constant struggle to attain kedushah. All of this comes to teach us how to free ourselves from that which is not holy and to take actions towards holiness, freedom, spirituality and oneness. But all of this can’t be done in isolation, but must be done by inspiring each other, being lights unto each other, and by virtue of that, ourselves.
R’ Shlomo Ganzfried points out something very interesting — that the command to respect one’s mother and father29 immediately follows the command to live a life of kedushah. This juxtaposition of verses comes to teach the sanctity and holiness of the act of creating life and of life itself. Because if life were to come from lust and not holiness, the child would have no reason to respect the parent. But when a child is born out of a holy impulse and the desire to emulate Hashem, the desire to give, love, and honor, then the respect of the child to the parent and the parent to the child is present. The Sefat Emet’s interpretation of the Talmud’s line “his interior matches his exterior”30 is that a man’s children are testimonies to his inner essence.
The mitzvot are our cheat codes to holiness. When we choose to be shomer habrit (careful of our covenant), we are choosing to live beyond our animalistic nature, to act in accordance with our infinite selves, our souls. All of nature can be used for darkness or for light. If we learned anything from Stan Lee and his Spider-Man comics, and I think we learned a lot, it is that “with great power comes great responsibility.” We have the power, we have the potential, we even have the cheat codes. It’s only if we use them and tap into the infinite part of ourselves that we become supernatural.
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Notes & Sources
- Talmud Yoma 39a
- Talmud Avot 4:21
- Man in Search of God by Abraham Joshua Heschel, pp. 162-163
- LIFE magazine 2 May 1955
- Leviticus 19:2
- Pirkei Avot 4:8
- Chatam Sofer 44, ד׳׳ה קדושים
- Leviticus 19:13
- Likutey Halachot I, p. 466
- Talmud Makot 10a
- An Anthology of Talks, Likkutei Sichos p. 154
- Rashi on Leviticus 19:2:2
- Leviticus 19:2
- Chatam Sofer 44, ד׳׳ה כי
- Exodus 19:3-6
- Isaiah 49:6
- Proverbs 20:27
- Psalms 63:9
- The Path of the Just by Moshe Chayim Luzzatto, p. 329
- Pirkei Avot 4:1
- Genesis 12
- Talmud Terumah 16a
- Sefer Hasichot 5700, p. 115
- Talmud Avot 2:2
- An Anthology of Talks, Likkutei Sichos p. 146
- Leviticus 19:18
- Apples from the Orchard, teachings of The Arizal
- Vayikra 19:2
- Ibid 19:3
- Berakhot 28a