By Rabbi Aron Tendler
The Kedusha Infomercial
The underlying theme of Sefer Vayikra is a presentation of an ideal life of
Kedusha - sanctity. The setting of the Kohain in the Bais Hamikdash is the
model that the Torah chose to describe this utopian life of materialism in
the service of spirituality. The two Parshios, last week's Acharei Mos and
this week's Kedoshim, continue this theme, but they extend the examples of
sanctity beyond the realm of the priesthood and temple service. Most of the
Mitzvos in this week's reading introduce sanctity into the daily lives of the
Last week's Parsha, Acharei Mos, is divided between a description of the Yom
Kippur service and the fifteen prohibited sexual relationships. This week's
Parsha Parsha, Kedoshim, introduces a variety of applications for the
integration of sanctity into our daily lives. The following is only a
partial list: The honoring of parents; charity; paying a workers wages on
time; concern for the spirituality and physical well being of others; not
placing a stumbling block in front of the morally blind; judging fairly; not
to gossip; giving proper criticism; not standing idly by when someone else is
in danger; not to harbor resentment; to love your neighbor; and not to bear a
grudge or take revenge.
Additionally, there are a number of laws dealing with speciation and
separation: Do not crossbreed livestock. Do not crossbreed different
species of seeds. Do not wear Shatnez - a mixture of wool and linen.
In the second half of Kedoshim the seemingly eclectic examples of how
sanctity is applied are continued. It is interesting to note that the Torah
saw fit to prohibit consulting with mediums or oracles three separate times:
19:31 - 20:6 - 20:27.
Why does the Torah repeat the prohibition against seeking the advice of
oracles and mediums, three separate times? Why are laws such as Shatnez and
not crossbreeding lumped together with the laws of honoring parents, sexual
prohibitions, maintaining justice, and not visiting practitioners of the
As stated in verse 20:26, the reason for the laws of Kedusha is, "You are to
be holy because I (G-d) am holy." The laws of sanctity set us apart from all
the other nations and establish a unique bond between G-d and ourselves. The
same could be said for all the Mitzvos; however, it is specifically in
regards to the laws of Kedusha - sanctity that the Torah states this reason
of "being like G-d." Why?
The belief in a G-d who created the universe is intended to focus us on G-d's
reasons for creating the universe and all who inhabit it. The greater our
awareness of G-d, the greater our acceptance that everything in the world has
a unique purpose and destiny. The Talmud relates an incident with the Yom
Kippur goat that had been chosen to be sent into the desert rather than being
offered as a sacrifice in the Temple. The goat had run away in protest at
what it perceived as being a less important destiny than its twin goat
because it had been chosen to die in the desert rather than on the altar.
The great Rabbi Akiva comforted the goat by telling it, "This is why you were
created. Your personal destiny is to serve your Maker by being sent into the
desert." The goat willingly went to serve its destiny. (Note: An otherwise
non free-willed creature exhibiting free will in its service to G-d,
specifically on Yom Kippur - the holiest day of the year.)
Our behavior in all arenas of life, family, social, business, personal, and
religious, should reflect our acceptance of G-d's dominion and His reasons
for creating all things. To truly appreciate why G-d created every little
thing is impossible for us to ever attain. It would take many lifetimes for
us to study and understand the particular destiny of each element in our
world. (Another reason why the pre-diluvium generations lived so long.)
However, our behavior can certainly reflect our acceptance of the fact,
regardless of our understanding. (Another application of the concept of
"Naaseh Vnishmah - We will do and they we will attempt to understand.")
Our primary way for showing our acceptance of G-d's dominion is to listen to
His Mitzvos. Whether we understand G-d's exact reasons or not, and keep in
mind that 97% of all the Mitzvos can and should be understood, by following
His instructions we express our trust that He (G-d) knows what He is doing.
The practical meaning of Kedusha - sanctity is the specific designation of
function and purpose. Keeping that in mind, we can review each Mitzvah in
this week's two Parshios and understand why they were selected as examples of
Whether the fifteen prohibited sexual relationships; the prohibition against
wearing Shatnez; the prohibition against all forms of crossbreeding; the need
for proper justice, or the commandment to honor parents, the understanding of
Kedusha as emphasizing designation of purpose through separation remains
consistent - regardless of whether or not we understand the exact reason for
each Mitzvah. In truth, the very fact that certain Mitzvos are not easily
understood is itself a lesson in separation and sanctity. We need to learn
and accept that we are not G-d. There are many times that G-d, like parents
and teachers, sometimes knows better - whether we like it our not.
Separation grants us the ability to see all things as unique and special.
(Another good reason for parents and educators to revisit their more liberal
approach to the Boy - Girl issue and what the Halacha truly expects of our
behavior.) The very first Bracha in the weekday Amidah (Shemoneh Esray) asks
that we be granted, "Dayah, Binah, V'Haskel - wisdom, insight, and
discernment." The ordering of the three components of intellectual
understanding is intentional. Discernment is the highest level of
understanding, because our willful acceptance of G-d's commandments is
possible only at the level where we are fully cognizant of G-d's reasons and
intentions. (Keep in mind that although we said "Naaseh V'Nishmah - We will
do and then we will attempt to understand," the second level, and therefore
the higher level, was V'Nishmah!) Only if we know G-d's will can we truly
choose not to listen or yes to listen.
I have always been fascinated and intrigued with the willingness of people to
seek "spiritual advice" from a garishly dressed, Gypsy - like, Madam
Whomever. Aside from the obvious caricatureness of the scene, I assume that
they would not be in business unless there was a market for such services.
The same is true for the more sophisticated marketing of Psychic hot lines
and products. Why would any intelligent person willingly turn to a medium of
sorts for advice and answers?
As already stated, discernment is the highest form of understanding because
it allows us to recognize and accept the limitations of our own mortal
intellect. By accepting our own limitations in relation to G-d, we also
accept that we are not in control of the universe, or our own lives. If we
are not in control of our own destinies, and G-d is, then the only avenue for
us to exert any control over our own destinies is through following G-d's
instructions and doing as He commands -regardless of whether we understand or
agree. However, that degree of real control comes with the price of our
willfully giving up the option of doing what we want and not listening to
G-d. Guess what? That has been humanities most fundamental struggle since
the time that Chava and Adam decided to eat from the tree of knowledge!
What happens if a person refuses to accept the limitation of his own control
over life? Does he then have more control? Of course not! The only thing
he is left with is futilely attempting to understand why things happen to him
and to the world in the manner that they do. Why do good people suffer? Why
do little children die? Why must apples fall down instead of up? From the
sublime to the mundane, there will always be more questions than answers.
Yet, we humans desire control, and I either accept that I am subject to the
design of a superior power, for better or for worse, or I need to have
Psychic hot lines and Madams Whomever are as old as time itself. As Shlomo
Hamelech said, "There is nothing new beneath the sun." Our desire for
control and answers allows us to believe in the irrational and the
ridiculous, so long as it does not limit the pursuit of our desires. We
willingly accept the ridiculous as cause and reason so long as it does not
include imposing a superior intelligence over our own. The acceptance of a
superior intelligence forces us to do whatever that superior intelligence
commands; otherwise, we have no control. Through believing in the occult and
the superstitious, we proclaim that there is no rhyme and reason to what
happens. Therefore, there is no reason not to do as we desire, so long as we
can somehow find out what the "powers that be" have in mind for us. Then, we
can at least prepare ourselves to deal with the inevitable and thereby exert
some degree of control-without being responsible to any other moral or
ethical system of restrictions.
Considering our tendency away from acceptance and obligation and toward the
irrational, the Torah forewarned us to stay away from oracle and mediums.
Sanctity, which is this week's focus, involves accepting G-d's reasons for
whatever is and whatever happens, regardless of our comprehension or
agreement. If we can do so, and also accept our own limitations, then we can
be G-d's holy people.
Iyar 5, 1948 to 5760
The State of Israel is an event of unparalleled historic importance. Since
the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdash we have been a nation without a
land. True, we never stopped praying for our return to the land; however, for
2,000 years Hashem did not agree to our tears and prayers. Fifty years ago,
G-d deemed us worthy of returning to our home.
Maybe because we had offered 6,000,000 pure and blameless burnt offerings.
Maybe because Hashem's pitcher of tears is nearing full.
Maybe because the supplications of the Avos (Fathers) and Imahos (Mothers)
had been joined by a chorus of 6 million more voices singing His praises and
demanding His love.
I don't know why we finally merited seeing the realization of our prayers.
However, as Rav Kook Zt'l writes, "The establishment of the State of Israel
allowed the Jewish people to once again become a nation. In the Golah we are
individual Jews. However, our purpose is to be a Holy Nation, a light onto
the word. This cannot be done when we are scattered all over the world under
the authority of the other nations. It can only be accomplished when we are
together in our Holy Land as a Nation." (As heard from a Shiur by Rav
Rav Eliyahu Kitov writes, "In the year 5708, on the 5th of Iyar, there arose
men of the seed of Yakov, and they stood upon the soil of the Holy Land and
declared, "This land upon which we dwell and cling to with all our might
belongs to us, to us alone, and to our children afterwards forever! No
sovereignty or rule shall prevail in this land save that of her sons, the
children of Israel, who are reclaiming their stolen inheritance. Let them all
come from the four corners of the earth and inherit their eternal possession.
When you see people of Israel who are thankful for all the good, but who
still pray for G-d's redemption to be complete, join them! But if you see
people of Israel whose hearts are divided and who are unable to recognize the
goodness that has been bequeathed them, pray for them to be granted clarity
of vision to see G-d's salvation, and for yourself to be rescued from the
blindness and ingratitude into which they have fallen. Let your mouth be
filled with song and praise to G-d for what He did, for what He does, and for
what He will do."
This coming week, it is incumbent upon us to proclaim to ourselves and our
children that we see the miracles of G-d that "are with us daily; evening,
morning, and afternoon." The problems that beset our beloved State of Israel,
internally and externally, are complex and apparent; however, her existence
is still the single greatest revelation of G-d's love and protection since
the second Bais Hamikdash. (Possibly since the time of Purim)
Often, within the majestic tapestry of history, the true greatness of G-d's
love for us is lost. We can all either recall or have studied the great
moments of our modern miracle: The establishment of the state; the breath
taking revelation of the Six Day War; the unbelievable rekindling of a
generations desire to do Teshuva and return to the ways of their ancestors;
the fears of that fateful Yom Kippur; the pain and anguish of our war in
Lebanon; the hopes and often disappointments for a seemingly impossible
peace, and our ongoing battle against the horrors of terrorism. Within such
a whirlwind of earth shattering front-page events we tend to forget the true
miracle that is Eretz Yisroel.
Let me share with you the simple joys of reveling in G-d's revealed presence
in a land whose Kedusha - sanctity is as real as the smell of Angel's freshly
To touch and even kiss the stones of the Kotel.
To walk the streets of Yerushalayim and know in the depths of your soul that
you have come home.
To stand at the corner of Rechov Strauss and Malchei Yisroel on Erev Shabbos
and wonder, "Where did all these Jews come from?"
To ride a bus and see the full spectrum of our people sitting shoulder to
shoulder - some touching and some doing their very best not to!
How many of us have been to Israel to visit our children who are learning in
Yeshivos and Seminaries in a manner that 30 years ago was considered
extraordinary and unique? Can anyone determine the changes that have resulted
from two generations of Torah study within the shadow of Yerushalayim's
To have walked through the ruins of Masada, floated in the Dead Sea, swam in
the Kineret, hiked the paths of Ein Gedi, snorkeled in the Sinai, and traced
Avraham and Yitzchak's steps through the hills of Judah and Shomron as they
made their way to the Akeidah - Binding.
However, there is one miracle that is so real and commonplace that it takes
the words of the prophet Zechariah to highlight the meaning of redemption and
the revelation of G-d's love. Throughout Eretz Yisroel, the modern State of
Israel, you can visit parks and playgrounds where young children run freely,
playing, climbing, and scraping their knees. At the same time, watching over
them, or simply enjoying the warmth of the sun or a cool breeze, the elderly
of our people sit on park benches enveloped in the normalcy of life and
"Thus says Hashem: Old men and old women shall again dwell in the streets of
Yerushalayim… and the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls
playing in her streets." (Zechariya 8:4)
To be alive and to witness the fulfillment of promises and the realization of
prophecy is a gift truly deserving of rejoicing and gladness. May we all
merit to see the coming of Mashiach, and the building of the Bais Hamikdash,
speedily and in our days!
Copyright © 2000 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA.