Parshot Festivals

Being holy is about being separate

  • RabbiRGoldstein
Every day, twice a day, we emulate the angels on high and say kedusha (a prayer describing G-d’s holiness). We exclaim that Hashem is “kadosh, kadosh, kadosh – holy, holy, holy” – powerful stuff, but what does holiness mean?
by Rabbi Ryan Goldstein, West Street Shul | May 09, 2019

Should we seclude ourselves from the physical trappings of this world and ascend a mountain in Nepal? Should we be like the monk who sold his Ferrari? Should we divest ourselves of our clothing, sit in a loin cloth, and meditate all day long? As breezy as that sounds, it can’t be what Hashem expects from us when in this week’s Torah portion, we are commanded, kedoshim tihiyu (you shall be holy).

For starters, our mitzvots (commandments) are very physical and sometimes expensive exercises. A box of shmura matzah can set you back R700, so can a lulav. Don’t even get me started on the prices of mezuzot and tefillin (phylacteries). And you can sell your car, and maybe you will have enough money to buy a Torah scroll. Mitzvots are expensive. We would not be able to enjoy our peaceful meditation and supposed holiness by chucking our jobs and very physical lifestyles.

So what is holiness, and how do we achieve it?

When we and the angels call out that Hashem is holy, we are actually making a statement about our lack of understanding of the divine. Kadosh is better translated as “separate”, and we are admitting that not only is Hashem separate from this physical realm, and not only is he separate from the celestial realm, he is also so beyond the conception of the highest and greatest ofanim, chayot and seraphim (heavenly beings). Hashem is totally transcendent. But in the very next breath, we paradoxically know that despite Hashem being so ineffable, he melo chol ha’aretz kevodo (fills up all of existence with his honour). Hashem is not a cold, indifferent universe, he is always close by. He is immanent, but I digress.

Being holy is really about being separate. Shabbos is only holy if we separate it from the rest of the week with learning, special prayers, and unique food (cholent!). Marriage is called kiddushin, as it separates the couple from the big pool of available singles.

And when Hashem commands us to be kadosh, we are to be different, separate, and unique, especially among non-Jews. We are to make a kiddush Hashem (sanctify the name of G-d by being holy). There’s that word again. If we truly want to be kedoshim, we are to stand separate from the crowd. We don’t have to get drunk at the office Christmas party. We don’t have to steal the office stationery, and we don’t need to sit around enjoying the office gossip. This is hard work, but that is what is required of us to truly be called a holy people.


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