Rabbi Yechiel Brukner
Former Rosh Kollel in Munich
Over the course of the parshiyot of Acharei Mot, Kedoshim, Emor and Behar, we become acquainted with the concept of kedushah (holiness).
Parashat Acharei Mot begins (Vayikra Chapter 16) with the description of the holy man (the kohen gadol) on the holy day (Yom Kippur) in the holy place (the Holy of Holies). We then proceed to the sweeping directive of “Be holy” with the amazing reason of “I am holy” (19:1). This is followed by the assertion at the end of Kedoshim: “You will be holy to Me . . . and I will separate you from the nations” (20:26).
In this week’s parashah, Parashat Emor, the Torah continues the theme with additional variations. We begin with the priests again, about whom it is said: “They shall be holy to their God” (21:6). In the second half of the parashah, we read about the holidays: “These are God’s appointed festivals, which you are to proclaim as official days for holy assembly” (23:2).
Following this we will read next week in Parashat Behar about the Yovel (Jubilee): “And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year” (25:10). Interspersed with all of these examples of kedushah are a variety of mitzvot which are not specifically associated with kedushah. These include fearing your parents (19:3), not placing a stumbling block before the blind (19:14), not stand- ing idly by your neighbor’s blood (19:16), leaving certain parts of the crop for the poor (19:9-10), the prohibition of gossiping (19:16), and, of course, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (19:18).
How is it that these mitzvot of kedushah and other mitzvot are juxtaposed and interspersed?
What we have here is a complex and balanced picture, which teaches us what kedushah is! True, we have a holy man entering a holy place on a holy day and engaging in extremely holy Divine service. It is also true that there are times of the month, the year, and the fifty-year cycle which are holy. However, none of this takes away from the Divine demand to “Be holy,” which is a directive for how to live our earthly day-to-day lives, when relating both to people and to God. This holiness expresses itself in speaking, in working the land, in relating to the stranger, in buying clothes, and in dispensing justice.
We see that there are two types of kedushah, one heavenly and one earthly. This division is reflected in the Sefirah period between Pesach and Shavuot, which we are currently experiencing. The first 24 days of Sefirah start on Pesach and are infused with its meaning. Pesach is the time when we were physi- cally redeemed from Egyptian slavery. We were born then as a nation, a physical birth. We went from non-existence to existence as a nation – we survived. Accordingly, the first half of Sefirah is earthly. In contrast, the last 24 days of Sefirah conclude with Shavuot, the day on which we received the Torah, and they are infused with its meaning. Accordingly, these are the heavenly days. They are preparation for the day when we were charged with the great spiritual mission which gives meaning to our existence as a nation.
In our time, we have been blessed with two additional holidays, one during each half of Sefirah – Yom HaAtzmaut with its earthly character, and Yom Yerushalayim with its heavenly one.
When I shared this idea with one of my colleagues, our shaliach Yehuda David (may God keep him well), he was taken aback. He declared: “When it comes to the Jewish nation, there is no such thing as holy vs. non-holy! There is only holiness vs. holiness.” I replied: “True! Yasher koach (more power to you)!”
Notice that the day which separates the two halves of Sefirah, the 25th day, is associated with the kabbalistic emanation of netzach sheb’netzach (literally, eternal within eternal). How fitting! The guarantee of the eternal existence of our nation is the integration of these two types of kedushah, the earthly and the heavenly. Though other religions have attempted to define kedushah as cutting oneself off and separating from this world, that approach is not viable and has been shown to cause serious perversions in society. It is only the understanding that there is both an earthly holiness (in our everyday earthly life) as well as a heavenly holiness (in the heavenly aspects of our life) that allows us to achieve holiness in life.
May we be worthy of living truly holy lives!