Kedoshim 5768 - Hitching Mount Sinai to Your Car

by Rebbetzin Malkah

"On many paths, I have walked,
To search for truth.
I did not hesitate to feast on the delicacy of sin.
We did not find ourselves, the lies have no more taste.
This culture is not for us, for there is fire in our hearts.
For I am the smallest and lowest of all, standing here trembling and amazed....
For You are holy,
And Your name is holy,
Holy ones praise You all day,  Amen."  

"Atah Kadosh" by Adi Ran

Countless expeditions have been made around the Sinai Wilderness, searching for and claiming the mountain that is Sinai.  But even if we find it and we climb the rocks, rest ourselves on it and contemplate its meaning, will it really matter?  Will it stir up some special emotion and fill us with overwhelming holiness and motivation?  Will we feel the quake under our feet as it quaked so long ago when the Torah was imparted to our people?  Probably not.  And even if it did, the sensation would only last for a while.  Instead, we need to realize that, regardless of where Mount Sinai truly is in the wilderness, we need to hitch up the essence of the Mount Sinai experience and drive it around daily.  What is that essence?  Holiness.

A Tall Order

 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying," Speak to the entire congregation of the Children of Israel, and say to them,You shall be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy."  Vayikra 19: 1-2

This is a command like no other -- to be like our creator.  It is one thing to aspire to holiness, but to be commanded to be holy?  How is this possible as we sorely lack all the qualities that the Holy One has in perfect balance?  This could be a recipe for an ulcer if we don't peek ahead at the rest of the parasha.  After the command to be holy is given, we are given crucial keys to understanding what it means to be holy. 

An Ideal or a Lifestyle

The word kadosh means holy, or separate.  This concept of separateness defines holiness all throughout the parasha.  Holiness literally becomes the gate through which we must pass in order to live properly. 

Imagine yourself at the airport.  Due to heightened security, you can't take on a few cans of seltzer, large bottles of your favorite shampoo, and that special bottle of wine you intended for Shabbat.  You are forced to separate yourself from these items to enter a smaller, more restrictive space.  The benefits far outweigh the inconveniences, however -- you will receive that long awaited vacation and travel lighter.  The pain in what was lost seems dwarfed by what is waiting on the other side.

The same idea applies to paring ourselves down in order to achieve holiness.  This gate requires you to empty your life of excesses, forbidden mixtures, and practices.  This forced downsizing not only tempers expectation but consumption as well.  This concept of kadosh is directly tied to the concept of separateness, or nivdal, which in all cases creates an elevated purpose for each person, each day, each creature and the land.  (Kiddushin 2b, Tosafos). 

But how does holiness go from being a lofty, great concept to something tangible?  How does this intellectual musing transport itself into our actions?  This very failure on the part of numerous cultures (who claim to behold the concept of holiness but have yet to understand how to implement holiness) has resulted in the slaughter of countless innocent victims.  To conceptualize it without implementation can lead to unknown definitions of holiness and a continuing ambiguity of the term. 

The process of becoming distinct and separate first begins in our intellectual sphere. The idea of what it means to be kadosh must first be informed by the instructions given to Moshe and all of Israel in this week's parasha, and then go from being an intellectual encounter to a visible lifestyle.  For simply knowing these details is not sufficient: they must be acted upon.  And this is precisely where holiness moves from being an ethereal concept to every day living.

From the Ground Up

The Torah builds us from the foundation up.  In order to be holy as Hashem is holy, we need to first perfect our relationship with Hashem's Shabbats, our parents, the land and our neighbors.  We are commanded on a daily, weekly, and yearly schedule to remember Him in all our ways.  Why?  Our parents are our parents, the Shabbats are Shabbats.  They are clearly distinctive in their status and purpose.  They are set apart and that difference is to be revered. Our dealings in the marketplace and the courts are commanded to be different than those of the nations around us.  In every transaction, in every product, in all our bookkeeping, there should be no question that we are ethical, honest and upright.  When we have social encounters, it should be known that we are reliable and trustworthy.   That we are forbidden to mix wool and linen (because of the prohibition in wearing garments like the priests) shows that even the clothing that we wear must have the concept of nivdal woven into it as it covers our outer shell.  This is the reputation we cart around with us; this is the calling of distinctiveness that makes us holy.

But how do these earthly separations elevate us and cause us to be holy rather than restrict us?  How do we avoid feeling like we are losing something or forgoing a pleasure, just as when we are at the airport security checkpoint handing over our excesses?

Not Yours for the Taking  

One common theme running throughout Kedoshim, or the "holiness code" as it is so named by the rabbis, is the sense of forbidden mixtures -- whether it is animals of different species mating, seed planting, clothing fibers, or relationships with family members.  So much is given to us in the world, but the holiness code goes about separating out that which is not allowed for us to experience as well as moderating that which is given for us to enjoy.  This elevation of the rights of individuals, possessions, and relationships all for the sake of Heaven brings a deeper meaning to the physical world around us.  It brings us closer to God, through His creation, but in a way that gives honor, distinction, and proper treatment to every element. 

For example, orla refers to the Torah commandment to wait for three years before partaking of any fruit from fruit-bearing trees. The forbidden fruit itself of this period is known as orla.  If we are to wait to partake of fruit--and fruit is something which is not treif, forbidden, or unhealthy-- then how much more do the commandments regarding forbidden relationships, food, and mixtures mean to us.  Just because there is much to partake of upon the earth, doesn't require Hashem to allow it all for the taking.  Just as the fruit has a timetable of harvest and sanctification, so too do temperance and patience play a role in performing positive or refraining from negative mitzvot. 

Holy But Not Awkward 

But if we are called to be a holy people, how do we do it without looking like we pulled up with our car and our strange trailer with Mount Sinai in it?  Does our holiness appear to others as righteousness and a pleasing aroma?  Many times people of self-proclaimed holiness have an aroma of weirdness and bring discomfort to those around them.  But what about those moments where we encounter people who are truly holy; they emanate such regality, righteousness in behavior and spirit, and create a desire amongst ourselves to emulate them in deed and manner.  This is most likely what Mashiach Yeshua was seeking when he reiterated the call for us to be holy: 

"For I say unto you, ‘That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. ‘"     Matthew 5:20

The verses following this call lend a very similar list of mitzvot as this week's parasha to achieve that goal.  To know what is right and wrong is not enough; to sit in places of authority does not suffice for fulfilling Hashem's calling either.  It is in our day to day relationships and acting out of our inner self that reveal if we refining and sanctifying ourselves. When we responsibly heed the call to follow Hashem's ways, we open the door to a greater opportunity to align ourselves with the Divine Will and the ability to woo others into a more meaningful, honorable existence. 

As we move closer to Sinai during these days of counting the omer, we are determined in deeper and more meaningful steps. Mashiach reassures us that in this striving the burden is easy, the yolk is light, and the gas mileage is excellent.  The self-propelling nature of Torah is that once the process of performing a mitzvah begins , each mitzvah helps beget another mitzvah.

What are you waiting for?  Back up the car, pull down the tailgate and hitch up to a lifestyle infused with moments of Mount Sinai everyday.  Don't wait for holiness to rain upon you or thunder in a loud voice- start manifesting it in all your actions.  The journey awaits......

Shabbat Shalom....

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