And you shall be holy people to Me… (Shemos 22:30)
What does it mean to be holy? How do we practically do this?
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”. What does it mean to be a Holy People?! How is that done?
I remember one of my Rebbeim telling us that when the Chofetz Chaim would lick a stamp to put on an envelope he would have in mind that the letter might just merit someone the Mitzvah of Tzedaka and the possibility to participate in supporting the Torah learning in Yeshiva, which will lead to an amplification of Kovos Shemaim – The Honor of Heaven.
For most everyone else we can presume that the natural and default mindset and ulterior motivations are “Kina, Taiva, and Kavod HaMotzei es HaAdam Min HaOlam – the jealousy, desire, and glory seeking that take a man out of the world.”
What is Holy? What is Holy living? Maybe we can learn from the opposite of Holy. At the conclusion of Shabbos Kodesh we declare during Havdala, “Boruch HaMavdil Bein Kodesh L’Chol” –“Blessed is He Who separates between the Holy and the Chol?” What is Chol? Some translate it as profane, whatever that means. Literally Chol means sand. What is there about – Chol-sand that stands in stark juxtaposition to Holy?
Pick up a handful of sand and study it ever so briefly. It is a loose collection of little pebbles. That fistful of sand has no meaningful organization. There is no top and no bottom. There is no beginning or end. It represents a life of disconnected experiences that have neither rhyme nor reason, no profound unifying theme or meaningful connection. It’s a loose collection of life experiences, albeit exciting and even thrilling, but in the final analysis, “sound and fury signifying nothing”.
In contradistinction, what then is Holy? Holy is when there is a connection between all those loose pebble. All of our life’s experiences are like a string of pearls on a single golden thread.
The only day in Torah life that actually has a name is Shabbos. We count every day each day only as it relates to and leads us closer to Shabbos. Shabbos is a Holy day. We are commanded to “Remember the Day of Shabbos” not only on Shabbos but even on the days of the week.
We are working for and cooking for and preparing for and waiting for and anxiously anticipating Shabbos. That gives the possibility that every part of every day is infused with the Holiness of Shabbos. That is one giant beautiful golden thread and there are many more too.
So, Holiness is not just when we are doing seemingly Holy and spiritual activities but even the ordinary and mundane is made extraordinary and sublime with a single thought as we had described by the Chofetz Chaim.
A Rebbe of mine told us that when writing a check, it is important to write in the “memo” section on the lower left hand side of the check something that explains or justifies why this check is being written. What is the purpose of this purchase?
Does it connect with something that adds Kovod Shemaim? Does it connect with Shabbos Kodesh? Does it bring you closer to HASHEM? Does it further HASHEM’s plan for the world? If so, then great! If not, then think again! Why am I expending my finite time and limited resources on this?
If we can just assign or consciously have in mind some ultimate meaning for whatever we are doing, whether it is eating, or drinking, or sleeping, or even breathing. That simple but profound thought then breathes holiness into our otherwise banal lives and we are transformed into that which HASHEM desires more than His many armies of Holy Angels. We are capable of living in this world the life of a Holy People.