Graciousness, Greatness & Gratitude

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Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

Parshat Kedoshim begins with Hashem exhorting Bnei Yisroel to "be holy/kedoshim tihiyu; for holy am I, Hashem your God." Our first concern in our discussion must be to define kedushah/holiness, sanctity. While Rashi defines kedushah as separation and dedication to a particular purpose, Rambam understands that we are not to separate from life, but that we are to enjoy life without finding loopholes within strict Torah law to act in undignified and depraved ways, we should not be נבל ברשות התורה.

How can we compare ourselves to Hashem, asks the Aish Tamid. It would be sacrilegious to contemplate being as holy as Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Therefore we must find other explanations for the Torah's seemingly telling us that the reason we are to be holy is be just like Hashem, because Hashem is holy.

The Kotsker Rebbe, as cited by Rabbi Reichman in Living the Chassidic Legacy, explains that the second half of the verse is trying to teach us how to become holy: When one attaches oneself to God and wants to create closeness to Him, when he want God to be his God, he will take the physical elements of life and elevate them to the spiritual. In other words, explains Rabbi Gamliel Rabinowitz in Tiv Hatorah, the key to a holy life of service to Hashem is realizing that one is always in Hashem's presence. He always sees us. As we say every morning, "The beginning of wisdom is awe/fear of/Yirat Hashem;" the letters for awe and fear, yirah/יראה are also the root for seeing, ראה.

How does one achieve that stage? In Heorat Derech, Rabbi Weissblum suggests some meditation to create a sense of mindfulness of Hashem's presence. Ask yourself two questions. First, what am I about to do? This question, although meant to prepare us for performing a mitzvah, is equally effective in preventing us from sin. Then ask yourself before Whom am I standing? [Studies have shown that even in the presence of a photograph of eyes, people are more circumspect and honest in their behavior. CKS] One of the reasons we don't grow in our observance or prayer is that our performance becomes rote, without thought or intention. However, mental and emotional preparation turns us into receptacles to receive spirituality. That is why we prepare for a mitzvah with the brachah, "That He has sanctified us with His mitzvoth..."We need to make a conscious choice to observe a mitzvah, to recite that preparatory blessing with focus rather than act robotically as an obligatory response to a stimulus. Draw an awareness of God down before you begin the mitzvah. Be mindful of what you are doing.

The simplest reading of our verse implies that we are to emulate Hashem, and thus to become holy as He is. But it is quite evident that we cannot be holy as He is, for Hashem is all spiritual, while we are bound with our bodies to the physical world. Therefore, Rabbi Sternbach explains, we are meant to enjoy this world, for it too is holy. We are not meant to refuse enjoyment of the world Hashem has created. Even a nazir must bring a sin offering for denying himself some of the earth's pleasures. Only God can be completely separate from this world. But one must achieve the proper balance and measure between the physical and the spiritual. As Rabbi Mattisyahu Salomon, citing the Mesillot Yesharim writes, the physical world is meant to enhance and buttress the spiritual world so that we can be comfortable. It is difficult to serve Hashem when one is uncomfortable or struggling. Nevertheless counsels Rebbetzin Smiles, in a world and environment of tremendous abundance, it is often difficult to maintain a line between comfort and over-indulgence.

Nevertheless, there is a place for abstinence, writes Rabbi Adlerstein in Step by Step. When one knows the triggers that temp him to bad behavior or to sin, it is prudent to distance oneself from those situations completely. [Think of emptying one's pantry from unhealthy snacks when you need to lose weight. CKS] Rabbi Adlerstein, citing Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz, contrast Esau, the man of the field, with Yaakov Avinu who was a dweller of tents. Esau was not content without excitement, without "the thrill of the hunt." Yaakov Avinu, in contrast, was self sufficient, content with what he had in his surroundings. Perishut/abstinence is not asceticism. It is the discipline of being able to say no to ourselves. In this context, training oneself to always leave something on one's plate may indeed be an effective exercise in discipline.

But there is an element of sanctification based on dedication for a specific function (like designating a particular sheep to be offered as a sacrifice), explains Rabbi Svei, citing Rabbi Shimon Shkop. We are meant to sanctify our lives by dedicating ourselves to serving others, not to living selfishly only for ourselves. However, we cannot help others and give to others unless we take care of our own needs first. We must keep ourselves, strong, healthy and content so that we can help and give to others graciously.

Rabbi Berger in Widen Your Tent, continues this theme by noting that the Torah follows this verse by listing many mitzvoth that are for the benefit of others, like honesty and generosity to others, with only a few mitzvoth dealing directly with man's relationship to God. A person should view what he has as a gift he can use to benefit others. Even down time and sleep can then be viewed as a way of rejuvenation so that one can again arise and help others. We should be known as kllal people, people our communities and friends can always count own.

The comparison remains that just as Hashem gives to others, so can we. But we do not have infinite resources as does Hakodosh Boruch Hu. We need to take care of ourselves and give to ourselves first so that we have the ability to give to others.

When the Torah commands to love your neighbor as yourself, the underlying premise is that you love yourself first. However, the definition of "self" is elastic. One begins by loving only oneself. But we grow as others are included in that circle of self, explains Rabbi Zev Leff, citing Rabbi Shkop. A man's wife becomes part of self, as does one's children. Friends and neighbors enter the circle. The more expansive the definition of self, the more gadol/larger/greater does one become, and the more he resembles Hakodosh Boruch Hu Whose Self identifies with and includes everyone. [It is Moshe who is described as becoming gadol/mature/great when he leaves the royal palace to identify with the suffering of his brethren. CKS]

Rabbi Chaim Shmulevits discusses the Prophet Shmuel. When Chanah was praying for a son, she asked for an average child. Yet, this "average child" grew up to become a prophet who, in Tehillim, is compared to Moshe and Aharon and all the Kohanim. If we focus on the kedushah/sanctity we each have, we have the potential and the ability to achieve greatness, and only Hashem's greatness is above that. Recognize that same sanctity in others, especially in children, and be careful not to destroy it. After all, Hashem commanded us to build a sanctuary so that He may dwell within, not simply with, you. Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi urges us to discover the kedushah within ourselves.

Search out the treasures within yourself. Taking some poetic license, Rabbi Meislisch notes that hidden treasures are called מטמונים/matmonim, a word we can divide in two, מט מונים/counting 49. We are now in the season of counting the 49 days, the omer, from Pesach to Shavuot, reaching the pinnacle of sanctity when our nation witnessed the revelation at Sinai. Taking this time to assess our individual talents and strengths will help us develop them so that we can use them to serve Hashem. It is our choice.

Rabbi Svei interprets our verse from a different perspective. When we sanctify ourselves here below, Hashem credits us with sanctifying Him in the heavens above. In this context, sanctity does indeed involve separation. It means separating ourselves from our normal inclinations, our yetzer horo, and rising above our nature. When we separate ourselves from our nature, Hashem responds by separating Himself from the natural processes of nature and rises above them for our benefit. Our actions draw down reciprocal responses from on High.

We have earlier stated that an important way to become holy is to do acts of chesed. But Rabbi Ephraim Fordsham notices an important caveat here. Usually, when someone does a favor for his friend, he rejects getting paid or getting a favor in return. Rabbi Fordsham suggests that the motivation for not accepting anything in return is actually not altruism, but a means to keep the recipient forever indebted to his benefactor. To avoid this pitfall, Rabbi Fordsham presents a solution from Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz: Get into the habit of asking for a favor, even a small one , immediately after you have done something for him, and free the recipient from feelings of inferiority or indebtedness. {Something as simple as asking him to carry your bag into the house, for example.]This, continues Rabbi Fordsham, is why Hashem asks us to observe mitzvoth and do chessed. Hashem does not want us to feel worthless because He does so much for us and gives us so much. By asking us to "do Him the favor" of leaving gleanings in the field, being honest in our relationships, and so much else, He has removed the sense of shame we would feel from having received so much as a favor, without earning it or using it for others.

Understanding these dynamics helps us to value ourselves. Do not minimize your worth, for when we create kedushah on earth, it interacts and influences the kedushah above. The physical world we live in is the only vehicle we, as human beings, have to create sanctity. In that way the two halves of our verse are totally connected; Hashem is the model. By partnering with Him as our God, mostly through acts of chessed along with other mitzvah performance, we create holiness and make His sanctity manifest on earth as it is in heaven.