Rabbi Eli Blum
Former Rosh Kollel in Cleveland
As we celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut and mark sixty years since the establishment of the State of Israel, we must take a moment for introspection and self-evaluation.
Appropriately, this year, Yom HaAtzmaut falls in between two important parshot which deal with kedushah (holiness or sanctity). Last week, we read Parshat Kedoshim, which opens and closes with the idea of kedoshim tehiyu (“you shall be holy”):
“And you shall distinguish between the pure animal and the impure and between the impure bird and the pure; and you shall not make your souls abominable through animals and birds and anything which creeps on the ground, which I have distinguished for you to render impure. And you shall be holy for Me, for I Hashem am holy; and I have separated you from the peoples to be Mine.” (Vayikra 20:25-26)
Immediately thereafter, Parshat Emor opens with the kedushah of the kohanim:
“They shall be holy to their God, and they shall not desecrate the Name of their God; for the fire offerings of Hashem, the food offering of their God, they offer, and they shall be holy. They shall not marry a woman who is a zonah or a chalelah, and they shall not marry a woman who is divorced from her husband; for he is holy to his God. You shall sanctify him, for he offers the food offering of your God; he shall be holy to you, for holy am I, Hashem, Who sanctifies you.” (Vayikra 21:6-8)
Much can be said about the topic of kedushah, but I would like to address one specific point. Note that almost every time the Torah speaks about kedushah in relation to us, the term is accompanied by a verb in future tense. For example: “you shall be holy;” “they shall be holy to their God;” and “you shall be to Me a kingdom of princes and a holy nation” (Shmot 19:6). However, there are two exceptions. The first, which we cited above, refers to a kohen:
“They shall not marry a woman who is a zonah or a chalelah, and they shall not marry a woman who is divorced from her husband; for he is holy to his God.” (Vayikra 21:7)
The second exception refers to Am Yisrael:
“You are children to Hashem, your God; you shall not cut yourselves and you shall not make any baldness between your eyes for the dead. For you are a holy people to Hashem, your God; and Hashem has chosen you to be for Him a treasured people, from all the peoples which are on the face of the earth.” (Devarim 14:1-2)
Thus, kedushah is not an inborn trait. A person must toil in order to crystallize and to mold his personality and to allow it to achieve a state of kodesh. We know that kedushah can be found at the culmination of a person’s avodat hamidot (loosely, working on one’s character traits). Similarly, kedushah hovers over the observance of all the mitzvot and provides meaning to the mitzvot’s impact on the person.
As the Rambam (Sefer HaMitzvot 4) writes:
“And there are those who erred with respect to this shoresh (literally, root) as well, and they even counted ‘you shall be holy’ (Vayikra 19:2) as a mitzvah among the positive mitzvot. And they did not know that when it says ‘you shall be holy’ and ‘you shall sanctify yourselves and be holy’ (Vayikra 20:7) – they are commanded to observe the entire Torah. It is as if [the Torah] said that you should be holy as you do all that I have commanded you in it and you should be cautious about all that I have cautioned you away from.”
In other words, the Rambam defines “being holy” as an allencompassing commandment.
Yet, as we noted above, there are two places where kedushah is considered to be an inborn trait: with respect to the kohanim and with respect to Am Yisrael.
When it comes to genealogy, the kohen is holy from birth, and therefore, he may not marry a zonah, a chalelah, or a divorcee. But in terms of the other aspects of the kehunah – and the avodah in the Mikdash in particular – the kohen’s activities train him and qualify him to reach a new and special level of kedushah. As the navi teaches us:
“My covenant was with him, life and peace, and I gave them to him with fear, and he feared Me; and because of My Name, he was over-awed. The teaching of truth was in his mouth, and injustice was not found on his lips; in peace and with equity, he went with Me, and he brought back many from iniquity. For the lips of a kohen shall guard knowledge, and teaching should be sought from his mouth; for he is a messenger of Hashem, Master of Hosts.” (Malachi 2:5-7)
Similarly, Am Yisrael is a holy nation from its very inception, and therefore:
“Hashem has chosen you to be for Him a treasured people, from all the peoples which are on the face of the earth.” (Devarim 14:1-2)
As the Maharal (Netzach Yisrael 11) explains, Avraham’s selection was based on the totality of the unusual character traits which he possessed and which rendered him the fitting choice to be the father of our nation. Nevertheless, as we learned above:
“You shall be to Me a kingdom of princes and a holy nation.” (Shmot 19:6)
In other words, the course of the geulah (the redemption) is dependent on us and our actions. Furthermore, our hold on the land of our forefathers depends on us, and our task is to become worthy of all this.
The Ramban constantly stresses that the Creator treats us differently than He does other nations; our entire history is rife with hidden miracles. If we are worthy, we merit greatness, but if not, chalilah, our lot is likely to be bitter.
In this light, we must assess ourselves and our lives here in Eretz Yisrael today. How is Am Yisrael celebrating Yom HaAtzmaut, and why? What have we done to properly influence the course of this day and its message? And what actions have we taken in order to infuse more holiness into the lives of Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael and in the Diaspora?
Hopefully, these questions will enable us to find the correct answers. Although our responses may be partial answers at best, b’ezrat Hashem, these fragments will unite and become a torch which illuminates from afar:
“Her salvation blazes like a torch.” (Yeshaya 62:1)