Does the Torah demand more than a person can deliver? Is it out of touch with human nature? Are we incapable of truly living up to its lofty ideals?
This week’s parsha addresses this question. “Holy people You shall be unto Me etc.,” says G-d (Exodus 22:30). Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (19th cent.) commented on these words as follows. G-d is not lacking administering angels, (And He doesn’t expect us to be like them). Rather, G-d wants the holiness of mankind.
What is mankind’s holiness? In one sense it means uniqueness. Being uplifted. How? It’s by being in control of one’s life. Enjoy life; but don’t become a slave to enjoyment. Don’t go to the other extreme either. The Torah doesn’t require us to reject the material world. Pleasures and possessions can bring us closer to G-d if we are in control of our consumption. Conversely, once we are dedicated to the material world for its sake alone, then we lower ourselves, and we relinquish control. If we are dedicated to a higher ideal, then to the degree that we utilize our physical existence as a means to that end, we have achieved holiness.
This week’s parsha is replete with the many Torah laws governing society. Lending money, responsibilities toward the poor, responsibilities of renters and borrowers, damages, personal injury, and many more can be found.
The message is: live as a physical being in a physical world, but approach life with an ideal and a goal; with a seriousness. Use physical existence for its intended purpose. That is, as a vehicle; a means to an end, a ladder which is grounded on earth, but climbs aloft into the heavens.
How does one begin to climb? Our sages give us the prescription. “Torah learning is great, for it is a catalyst for action”. Torah study opens the eyes to new perspectives. Torah study shapes attitudes and encourages elevated behavior one rung of the ladder at a time.
So, is Torah observance beyond humankind? Maybe if we had to be like angels; but that is not the goal. The goal is to live like people – holy people. Through learning with a sincere and serious attitude, we can indeed begin to fulfill the words in this week’s reading, “Holy people you shall be unto Me.”