Moshe KempinskiMoshe Kempinski, author of "The Teacher and the Preacher", is the editor of the Jerusalem Insights weekly email journal and co-owner of Shorashim, a Biblical shop and learning center in the Old City of Jerusalem.
You shall be holy for I, G-d, your G-d am holy. (Leviticus 19:1)
What then is the essential nature of that holiness that G-d demands of us?
Holiness can best be described as a state wherein one has never felt closer to G-d while at the exact time one is confronted by how far one truly is from Him. When the finite moves closer to the infinite man begins to understand how finite he is. It is a delicate balance between “fear or awe of G-d “ and “Love of G-d”. How is such a delicate balance maintained?
The parsha of Acharei Mot begins with an ominous reminder.
"And Hashem spoke to Moshe after the death of Aaron's two sons, when they drew near before the Lord, and they died.”(Leviticus-16:1).
We repeat at least twice daily ,the words "And you shall love the LORD your G-d with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might."(Deuteronomy 6:5). Yet as we saw with Nadav and Avihu, all encompassing love with the Infinite can become a risky and dangerous endeavor. We could have tried to explain that perhaps that these two sons of Aaron had acted in an arrogant and unholy fashion before G-d. Yet this does not fit with the words "And Moses said to Aaron: "This is it that which G-d spoke, saying: I will be sanctified in those who are close to Me..." (Leviticus 10:3).
Nadav and Avihu were close to Hashem! Yet as we clearly saw, closeness to the Infinite Divine without boundaries and limits can be all consuming ."For Hashem your G-d is a consuming fire" (Deuteronomy 4:24).
Furthermore love of G-d can itself be made int something familiar and commonplace .Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz z"l teaches that "Habit is the greatest enemy of one who wishes to feel holy and uplifted. When one stands opposite that which is sublime and exalted, and in his soul burn sparks of a holy fire, habit sneaks in and douses the embers one by one until the entire fire is extinguished.”
We see that same concern expressed by King David:
“ One thing I ask of Hashem , that I seek-that I may dwell in the house of Hashem all the days of my life, to see the pleasantness of Hashem and to ( Levaker) to visit His Temple every morning.(Psalm 27:4)
The word levaker means to contemplate but it also means to visit. The hassidic masters ask" If King David was asking to dwell in the house of Hashem all the days of his life,why would he also ask to visit His Temple every morning? They respond that what King David was truly asking for, was to dwell before Hashem's Presence all the days of his life, but to never lose the awe of a visitor.
The prophet Yechezkel declares "When the populace comes before Hashem on the appointed days, whoever comes in by way of the northern gate [of the Temple] to prostrate himself shall go out by way of the southern gate, and whoever comes in by way of the southern gate shall go out by way of the northern gate. He shall not return by way of the gate through which he came in; rather, he shall go out opposite it."(Ezekiel 46:9). Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz explains that the visitor may become so familiar with the gates of the temple, that he equates it with the gates of his own house. Familiarity can diminish awe.
Therefore Hashem says ”And now, O Israel, what does Hashem, your G-d, demand of you? Only to fear Hashem, your G-d, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, and to worship Hashem, your G-d , with all your heart and with all your soul"(Deuteronomy 10:12).
Begin with fear and awe because otherwise love of G-d without fear of G-d can easily become love of self.
The Divine sadly becomes the means rather than the purpose.
Therefore King David writes “The awe of G-d is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 111:10 ). King Solomon re-iterates " Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear G-d and keep his commandments, for this is the whole of man"(Ecclesiastes 12:13).
Yet it cannot end with fear and awe . This was made clear in the verse in Deuteronomy. In that verse we understand that the ultimate purpose was to "to love Him, and to worship Hashem, your G-d , with all your heart and with all your soul"(Deuteronomy 10:12)
There is a hassidic story told of Reb Zusya
“Once the sainted Reb Zusya prayed to G-d, saying;‘Hashem, I love you so much, but I do not fear you enough! Hashem ,Let me stand in awe of You like your angels, who are penetrated by Your awe-inspiring Name.’ Hashem heard his prayer and filled him with the awe of the Holy. At this point Zusya suddenly crawled under the bed like a wounded puppy and he cried out in fear and trembling, ‘Hashem, please I cannot continue. Please let me love you like Zusya again!’ And G-d answered his prayer again.”
Fear of G-d without Love of G-d simply becomes fear of punishment.
How then do we maintain the desired balance? King David offers the answer; "The awe of G-d is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 110). The more we understand the awesome reality of Hashem's existence , the more loved and loving we feel as we begin to be aware of the role and purpose He has allocated in our lives.
This helps us to understand the verse "You shall be holy, for I, G-d your G-d, am holy."(Leviticus 19:1)
Perhaps it can be understood in the following way. "Know that I am the Infinite and holy G-d . When you truly know that , then you will find your place within the infinite and holy plan.
( le-refuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved)