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Judaism: The Progression of Holiness in Leviticus

This week's dvar Torah is by Arik Speaker, Director of LILMOD program & head of European Desk at TMT.
Published: Friday, May 09, 2014 6:55 AM


We are drawing close to the completion of Sefer Vayikra, Leviticus, the book of Kedusha – Holiness, the 3rd of the 5 Books of the Torah, the true heart of the Divine words and commandments to the nation.

Looking at it from a macro view, trying to identify the process or more accurately put, the progress of the book of Kedusha I think we can identify the following:  the Torah moves from the holy work or worship, to a holiness of people continuing with the holiness of time and finalizing with the holiness of space.

The first Parashot (Torah portions): Vajikra, Tzav, Shmini speak about the holy worship, 'Avodat Hakodesh', obviously centered on the Temple. All that is related to the 'Korbanot' (Temple offerings) and the ancillary details (wine, flour, salt) – who, when, where, are found here.

After that we go to the second type of Kedusha - the personal Kedusha, centered on the body and the actions of individuals.  Parashot Tazria and Metzora address Tuma and Tahara – purity and impurity, the first step allowing one to achieve Kedusha. These are the 'don'ts'.

Then we learn of the 'does' in Parashat Kedoshim, an entire Parasha that speaks about nothing other than what we need to do in order to achieve holiness.  And after that we continue with the first half of Parashot Emor, dealing with the Kohanim – the holiest individuals of the Nation.

You may have noticed that I conveniently skipped a parasha – Parashat Acharei Mot, which is placed between Metzora and Kedoshim. In my defence I have to say – it's not me rather it is the Torah itself.

Parashat Acharei Mot is clearly an anachronism. This parasha "should" be placed immediately after Shmini since it relates the story about the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron the High Priest.  However in light of our analysis, we could argue the following:  Acharei Mot is actually the chain that combines holiness of work and of individual.  After we read about the holy service of the Temple in the last few Parashot - a service that seems disconnected from the degree of holiness of the individual - we see in this parasha that in order to achieve its highest form - the Temple service of the High Priest on Yom Kippur, we also require the holiness of the individual.

After completing these two types of holiness - of individual and of worship (concepts that were quite common in many other ancient societies) Sefer Vayikra begins to surprise us. There two further types of holiness introduced. both that were seldom factors in those other societies.

The second half of Parashot Emor allows us to discover that time itself can be holy, can have certain qualities that other days and times do not. Doing the exact same action on Shabbat and on Sunday can have a profoundly different meaning. Eating the same on the 14th and on the 15th of Nissan makes a world of difference. Naturally, the same goes for all Holy-days.

Going from the seventh day (Shabbat), to seven consecutive days (Pesach), to 7 weeks (Shavuot) to the seventh month (Tishrei) and then of course in Parashat Behar the seventh year (Shmita) and seven times seven years (Yovel) we can enjoy the full potential of all these special times.

But now the Torah reveals its special surprise.  A concept that is not present in any other society. Land can also be holy. Land which is normally seen as the most physical element, can also independently have qualities, needs and holiness. What we see in Parashat Behar and even more so in Parashat Bechukotai at the end of the terrible disasters that could G-d forbid happen to the nation.

Shmita (the seventh year when the land is to lie fallow) is not only there for us to rest, to learn, to open our fields to the poor. Shmita is needed for the sake of the land itself. The Shmita is called 'Shabbat Ha'aretz'  as stated in the second Pasuk: "The land shall observe a Sabbath", and in Bechukotai, after we will be expelled from the land: "Then the land will be appeased for its sabbaticals during all the years of its desolation, while you are in the land of your foes".

It is now that Sefer Vajikra has completed its deep and rich description of true and total holiness.

Just after Yom Ha'atzmaut, celebrating the fact that Hashem reversed the process in this last pasuk, we need to remember that although the land does serve us in our search for Kedusha, it also can work in the reverse direction. It has its own individual Kedusha, and we are here to serve it to achieve its full potential.

We hear a constant quarrel regarding to whom the Land of Israel belongs to. In a certain way it belongs to no one other than to Hashem. We belong to the Land.

May we continue to witness the re-uniting of the land with the nation that both longs for it and belongs to it.

Torah MiTzion (see their dynamic website) was established in 1995 with the goal of strengthening Jewish communities around the globe and infusing them with the love for Torah, the Jewish People and for the State of Israel. Over the past eighteen years Torah MiTzion has recruited, trained and dispatched more than one thousand 'shlichim' (emissaries) to Jewish communities in countries spanning five continents and impacted Jewish communities with an inspiringmodel of commitment to both Judaism and Zionism.