by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"You shall be holy, for I am Holy, HaShem your G-d." [Lev. 19:2]
We are commanded to emulate G-d, by being holy. Yet why is it necessary for
the verse to conclude "HaShem your G-d" - what purpose does this serve? Do
we not know Who it is Who is giving the command?
Our Sages say that one might think that we should be holy _exactly_ like
G-d. So the verse says "I am Holy, HaShem your G-d," to remind us that G-d
remains distinct, unique. His Holiness is greater than ours, so we cannot
be exactly like Him. But this answer itself causes us to question: who
could even imagine otherwise? How could a person think that he could truly
emulate any of G-d's attributes, much less his transcendent Holiness?
Rather, the Sages teach us that we cannot attempt to be holy in precisely
the same _way_ as G-d. G-d transcends the physical world, and thus His
Sanctity is transcendent as well. We, on the other hand, find ourselves
within the physicial world. Our mission is to achieve holiness under these
circumstances; our holiness must express itself in the concrete, in day to
The world thinks of "holiness" as some abstract concept, often involving a
guru sitting atop a mountain, withdrawn from the world, fasting and
meditating to the point that the walls could cave in around him without
distraction. This is not the Jewish definition of "Kedushah", of holiness.
On the contrary, the Torah commands us to rejoice on the holidays, and our
Sages say in the Talmud that "rejoicing" involves meat and wine! This does
not mean that every person is necessarily obligated to consume meat and
wine, but that they do not conflict with holiness when used appropriately.
Thus we see that holiness does not involve asceticism, disavowal of all
wealth or pleasure.
What, then, is holiness? It is not easily defined, but can be recognized -
especially in interpersonal conduct. A 'tzaddik', a righteous individual,
is a scholar - but one who is recognized for charitable pursuits, for
helping others, and for being extremely difficult to anger.
The Talmud tells the story of the sage Hillel, and of a man who wagered
with his friend that he could anger the great scholar. So the protagonist
of the story (perhaps more accurately described as the antagonist) went and
stood outside the bathhouse on the eve of Yom Kippur, as Hillel was busy
with preparations for the holiday. He called out "who here is Hillel?"
Then, when the sage emerged, he asked him an extremely silly and non-urgent
Hillel answered the man with great patience. The fellow then permitted the
sage to return to the bathhouse, and presumably remove half his clothing,
before calling him out a second time for a similar purpose - and again,
Hillel was patient in the extreme, and answered him gently.
This went on yet a third time, at which point the man confessed to Hillel
that he had now lost a considerable sum for failing to arouse the leader's
ire. Hillel responded that it was better that fortunes should be lost than
that Hillel should become angry!
This is the holiness we seek. Not a person who is withdrawn from the world,
but someone who achieves perfection both in his interaction with G-d, and
in his interaction with his fellow man. May we merit to follow in Hillel's
[Parts of this Dvar Torah come from Rabbi Grunblatt, Rabbi of the
Queens Jewish Center and Professor of Judaic Studies at Touro College.]
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