"You shall be holy, for I, the L-rd, your G-d, am holy."
24th day of the Omer
This past Tuesday Israel celebrated her independence and this coming Shabbat Jews around the world will be reading chapters sixteen through twenty of the book of Leviticus, the (double) section known as Acharei Mot-Kedoshim. The second half of the reading, Kedoshim, repeatedly exhorts the children of Israel to be holy - kedoshim - "for I your G-d am holy." This recalls the words G-d spoke to the nation soon after its deliverance from the Egyptian servitude, "And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." (Exodus 19:6) What is the connection between holiness and nationhood? What is the connection between Yom Ha'atzmaut - Israel Independence Day - and the Torah reading of Acharei Mot-Kedoshim?
A nation can either be free, or subjugated; independent, or under the thumb of a foreign power. A mutual exclusivity exists between freedom and servitude. Therefore, whatever events lead up to a nation's becoming independent, whether it be the ten plagues, the offering of the Pascal lamb, or the 1948 War of Independence, one moment a nation is still serving another nation, and the next moment it is not. But as we have learned from our Passover experience and the ensuing forty-nine days of gradual spiritual preparation for the receiving of Torah at Mount Sinai, that "freedom moment," that moment of casting off our oppressors does not necessarily prepare us for, nor promise for us, a future as a free people. Much spiritual work awaits us. As our Torah reading teaches us, the guarantor for liberty is holiness: "You shall be holy, for I, HaShem, your G-d, am holy." (Leviticus 19:2)
But we are mere human beings, flesh and blood and nothing more. How can we possibly be holy as G-d is holy? There is no more irrefutable evidence of G-d's limitless love for mankind than in His insistence that we can indeed be holy, not in spite of our humanity, but because of our humanity. Only by realizing our limitations can we transcend our finitude, and by doing so become holy. Our holiness is not manifest beyond the horizon or over the sea, but right here, in society, in how we behave toward G-d, ourselves, and our fellow man. By transcending the evil inclination within ourselves urging and prodding us on to be self-interested and self-serving, we create bonds between ourselves and others, thereby forging a society and a nation that in turn can shake off the impositions and interference of other nations. By being holy individuals we create a holy society. And as a holy society we enhance and ennoble the individuals in our society. This is why G-d, in exhorting us to be holy as He is holy, exhorts us to be honest in our use of weights and measure, to honor the elderly and the impoverished, to be intolerant of idolatry and charlatanism. This is the path to true freedom and independence.
The Hebrew word for holiness - kadosh - literally means to be separate or distinct. By separating ourselves from the greed and lethargy of the modern world, in which the credo, "What's in it for me?" rules the day, we become holy. By distinguishing ourselves though our care and compassion for others, through our scrupulous adherence to G-d's word, and by maintaining the integrity and honesty prescribed by Torah for all our transactions with others, we create a holy society, breathing real life into our nation.
"And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." (ibid) G-d presents the children of Israel not with a prophetic vision, but with a fact of life: this people can and will survive and thrive only as a holy nation. This is the only option afforded Israel. Less than holy means less than free, less than independent. Servitude and oppression beckon us through the politically correct bon-tons of self aggrandizement and self righteous judgment of others. By creating a society imbued with brotherly love we separate ourselves from these corrosive forces. This week Israel turned sixty two years old. It is not the strength of Israel's army that guarantees her liberty, but the holiness of her selfless soldiers. It is not the strength of her prospering economy that ensures her independence, but the unflagging dedication of her people to come to the aid of those less fortunate. It is not a dry mechanical adherence to the letter of G-d's law that distinguishes Israel from her detractors, but the living Torah that is shaping hearts and souls in the land of Israel: A holy nation at home in the world!
Tune in to this week's gala Israeli Independence Day TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven reflect on the Divine gift of the State of Israel at 62. All prevarication aside, the state of Israel is a Divine gift, a manifestation of G-d's love for the Jewish people. Isn't it time displaced diaspora Jews realized this and came home? Why the month of Iyar, the month of healing, preparation, and anticipation, is the perfect time for the establishment of the State of Israel. Do you know? King Solomon knew!