And you shall be holy people to Me… (Shemos 22:30)
What does it mean to be holy? How do we do this?
Years ago, we went on a family trip to Lancaster Pennsylvania to visit the Amish people, not the Heimish people. On Shabbos we were discussing our trip and a Shabbos guest commented with a tinge of admiration, “They are so holy.” I was taken aback. I just couldn’t let that comment stand without some qualification. I said, “I think that “wholesome” would be more appropriate but not holy. They are busy retreating from and avoiding the world. That certainly contributes to their wholesomeness and innocence which is refreshing. The Torah, however, is advising us on how to maximally and optimally engage every aspect of the world around us. That’s holy!”
The Kotztker Rebbe commented on the verse, “And you shall be holy people to Me… (Shemos 22:30) “HASHEM has plenty of holy angels but what he desires most is “holy people”, people who encounter a complex world, and go about the business of their life in this world acting and living and breathing “l’Shem Shemaim – for the sake of Heaven. Again, that’s holy!
The Mishne in Avos mandates, “Let all your deeds be for the sake of Heaven”. Once again, the Kotzker Rebbe comments, “Even your l’Shem Shemaim should be L’Shem Shemaim- Even your ‘for the sake of Heaven’ should be for the sake of Heaven.” We cannot fool ourselves but neither can we exempt ourselves from trying.
The Chovos HaLevavos explains that all of our actions can be pigeon holed in one of three categories. 1) Mitzvah 2) Aveira -Sin or 3) Rishus – Permissible.
Let us say that we have filtered out or minimized sins. That’s good news. Let us say that we are maximizing Mitzvos. That’s great! Still the largest part of our day is still comprised of Rishus, plain old permissible stuff. We spend 1/3 of our days sleeping. We spend plenty of time eating. They are neither Mitzvos or Aveiros necessarily. What are they? Rishus! So much time and energy is lost in life on Rishus. Now Chovos Levavos gets tough with us. It may start out as three categories but ultimately there are only two, Mitzvah or Aveira! There is no neutral third option. How so!?
Let us say that a person has three possible positions when it comes to belief in HASHEM. 1) Believing in HASHEM 2) Atheism – Firmly not believing in HASHEM and 3) Agnosticism uncertainty. Now there may be three categories theoretically but practically there are only two. Either the agnostic chooses to live like he believes or he doesn’t. By not choosing he is also choosing. He is living a life without having acknowledged or developed a lasting relationship with an eternal Being.
So too when it comes to the world of “Rishus”. If one goes to sleep with the express intention of getting up to serve his Creator then all that horizontal time is launched upward in a vertical direction. He was doing a Mitzvah even while sleeping and recuperating his strength for Mitzvos. If he eats to gain strength to serve his Creator then eating becomes a Mitzvah. It’s that simple! There are hundreds of other areas of life that can be rescued with a simple thought or verbal expression. “I am doing this for the sake of Heaven” and even if I am faking it till I make it, but deep down inside I really want to perform more pedestrian deeds L’Shem Shemaim, for Heaven’s sake, that’s holy. It’s beyond wholesome and greater than being an angelic being, how holy people live.