Former Shaliach in Dayton
We are now in the period before Yom HaShoah (Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day) and Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day for Israel’s Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror).
Our parsha opens with a special and unique mitzvah – to be kedoshim (literally, holy):
“Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and say to them, you shall be holy; for holy am I, Hashem your God.” (Vayikra 19:2)
Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook observed that “you shall be holy; for holy am I” can be understood in two different ways. First, this is a commandment: you must be holy. In other words, as Rashi explained (and thereby connected this parsha to the preceding one):
“Separate yourselves from arayot (sexual immorality).”
Or, in the Ramban’s view, one must not be a naval birshut haTorah (literally, a despicable person with the Torah’s permission – i.e. one who observes the letter of the law while obviously violating its spirit).
The second way of understanding “you shall be holy; for holy am I” is as a promise and as a description of reality. That is, you are certainly holy, and it is inconceivable that you should be otherwise. After all, ” holy am I, Hashem your God.” Since you belong to Me, you must be holy.
We sanctify HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s “Name in this world just as they sanctify It in heaven above… Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh.” HaKadosh Baruch Hu is Kadosh, and in order to achieve this kedushah, we must sanctify ourselves during our lifetimes. Thus, we utterly reject the aspirations of the so-called shahids, the Moslem terrorists who are anxious to be killed and to destroy the world in the process.
“B’maalot kedoshim u’tehorim” (literally, “in the lofty levels of the holy and the pure” – from the Kel Malei prayer)
When does Judaism consider a deceased person to be “kadosh”?
The first reference to a deceased person as “holy” seems to be in the Maharil (1360 CE). When asked whether an orphan should recite the Kaddish for his father who had been murdered al kiddush Hashem, the Maharil (99a) replied:
“And with respect to Kaddish for the orphans of the kedoshim, I did not hear what Mar wrote in the name of our holy Rav. But I heard others say so, and I did not observe them. Because it seems to me to be evident that one should say it. And my reasoning is based on mourning, as the Maharam wrote – that it is because of the sentence of the evil ones in Gehinom for 12 months…
“And I heard from my masters that so too the matter was resolved during the decree of Prague, where there were those who wanted to refrain from mourning the kedoshim. And in the end, the gedolim in those days agreed to mourn.”
According to the Maharil, the kedoshim are the Jews who died al kiddush Hashem. In order to be sanctified, one must sanctify Hashem’s Name in this world.
Does the issue depend on the victim’s intention of dying al kiddush Hashem or on the murderer’s goal of killing Jews simply because they are Jews? Perhaps this question highlights the dichotomy inherent in the pasuk’s meaning.
On one hand, a person must choose to sanctify the Name by separating from arayot (Rashi) or by observing the Torah’s laws without distorting their spirit (Ramban).
Yet, at the same time, Rav Tzvi Yehudah stressed, “you shall be holy,” because nothing else is possible. Judaism itself sanctifies us – regardless of whether or not we choose to be sanctified – “for holy am I, Hashem your God.”