"You shall be holy; for I HaShem your G-d am holy."
The Torah presents some commandments with precision and detail. Concerning the ark of the covenant, for example, we are instructed as to its precise materials, components and dimensions. The dimensions of the tabernacle, and the nature of the construction of its walls are likewise related in painstaking detail. Other commandments, like the one quoted above, which opens this week's Torah reading, "You shall be holy; for I HaShem your G-d am holy," is delivered with such broad strokes that we could almost, (mistakenly), understand it to be simply vague words of encouragement: "Gather everyone together and hold a pep rally."
We know, however, that every word and every verse of Torah is filled with meaning, and every commandment is given over to the people with the intention that they perform the commandment with all the detail and precision of any other commandment. Unlike the commandment to build the ark of the covenant, the commandment to "be holy" does not deal with gold or acacia wood or cubits. The raw materials we are to draw upon in order to "be holy" are our own souls, with the measurements, the width, height and breadth being the qualities of our character.
Having recognized the nature of the "materials" we are to work with, the question remains, "How?" The answer can be found in the Passover experience. G-d brought the Israelite nation out of Egypt, with signs and wonders and an outstretched arm. Overnight, an enslaved people found itself free from its bonds. Re-experiencing this overwhelming sense of instant freedom is the challenge of the Seder night. To the extent that we succeed in achieving this sensation, we find ourselves the next day in much the same situation that the Israelites found themselves: "Now what?" The Israelites, having been rescued from the spiritual abyss, known to our sages as the forty nine levels of impurity, needed to be made ready by G-d to receive Torah, their ultimate certificate of freedom and eternal attachment to G-d. The forty nine day period that lies between the first night of Passover, (the exodus from Egypt), and Shavuoth,
(commemorating the giving of Torah at Mount Sinai), is known as the days of the counting of the omer:
"You shall then count seven complete weeks after the day following the [Passover] holiday when you brought the omer as a wave offering, until the day after the seventh week, when have numbered 50 days. Then you will present new grain as a meal offering to G-d." (Leviticus 23:15-16)
Both the physical omer - barley - offering made by the priests in the Holy Temple and the counting of the forty nine days that we include in our daily prayer between the day after the Seder and the holiday of Shavuot are involved in the same process: self-improvement in the name of better serving G-d.
We have been given forty nine opportunities to reach into our own selves and work at removing the dross that weighs us down in our relationships with ourselves, with others, with G-d. This introspective process of removing from within that which is unholy, that which stands in the way between ourselves and others, between ourselves and G-d, is how we are to "be holy."
"You shall be holy; for I HaShem your G-d am holy." No, we can't be holy as G-d is holy. But by lifting ourselves out of the impurity of our own private Egyptian bondage that we find ourselves immersed in, we can draw closer to G-d's holiness, and prepare ourselves for the receiving of His direct word, as did our fathers at Sinai. Working on ourselves we can draw upon the tools that our own souls possess in a manner no less precise than the description of the ark of the covenant, and achieve results no less holy. G-d tells us, he doesn't ask: "You shall be holy."
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK to hear Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven reflect on Passover, discuss the omer, as it was observed in the Holy Temple, and as it is observed today, the Torah reading of Kedoshim, and the preparations we must make for receiving Torah on Shavuoth.
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