Holiness in life
Holiness in life

The Torah portion of “Kedoshim” that is read this Shabbat in the Diaspora and last Shabbat in Israel declares the following ,seemingly impossible, declaration

"Speak to the entire congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them, You shall be holy,(Kedoshim Tihyu) for I, Hashem, your G-d, am holy (Kadosh) ."( Leviticus 19:2)

We continue to read of this concept several more times and it continues in the commandment in Emor, read yesterday in Israel and this coming Shabbat in the Diaspora, on ritual purity.

”You shall sanctify yourselves and be holy( Kedoshim) , for I am Hashem, your G-d." (Leviticus 20:7)

Then again;

“And you shall be holy( Kedoshim)  to Me, for I, Hashem, am holy (Kadosh) , and I have distinguished you from the peoples, to be Mine.” (Leviticus 20:26)

So how can we understand the concept of “Holiness” and why would the reality of Hashem being holy result in His people being holy as well?

Holiness denotes a sense of being separate and apart.

Just as G-d is Holy and is set apart “I am G-d and no man, the Holy One (Kadosh)  in your midst” (Hoshea 11:9) so are those that walk in His ways bidden to do the same “…be holy,(Kedoshim Tihyu)  for I, Hashem, your G-d, am holy (Kadosh)”(VaYikra/Leviticus 19:2).

We are struck by the fact that the simple thought that mere mortals can be Holy because "for I, Hashem, your G-d, am holy (Kadosh), seems too simplified to be true or to mirror the reality that we experience.

A further exploration of the word Holy-Kadosh would be helpful.

While it is true that the word Kadosh implies a separateness, standing apart. Yet it in fact implies much more. To be Kadosh is to be designated, to be set apart for a purpose. When a groom betroths himself to his beloved under the Jewish canopy he declares the words "Harei at Mekudeshet lee...etc’ (Behold you are sanctified unto me) what he is actually saying is that  you are designated, set apart, for me.

When the bible tells us ”Sanctify( Kadesh)  unto Me all the first-born, whatsoever opens the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast, it is Mine.” ( Exodus 13:2) G-d is commanding the people to designate for Him every first born.

To be holy then is to be set apart on the one hand and on the other hand to step in to a place of desgnation . A place  designated for a Higher purpose.

This will help us understand the words in the beginning of the Torah portion; "Speak to the entire congregation (KOL ADAT)  of the children of Israel, and say to them, You shall be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.(Leviticus 19:1-2)

The word  "adat" is a form  of "eydah."  The Hebrew word "eydah" stems from the root which implies testimony or affirmation. The people of  Israel, when called an eydah, serve as sort of a witness:

"You are My witnesses,(Atem Eidai) " declares Hashem, "And My servant whom I have chosen, So that you may know and believe Me And understand that I am He. Before Me there was no G-d formed, And there will be none after Me. I, even I, am Hashem, And there is no savior besides Me (Isaiah 43:10-11)

Why is such a witnessing necessary?

Testimony is usually needed order to affirm a reality. God has made His presence hidden. This so that man would yearn to find him. Yet at the same time, it is therefore sometimes difficult for man to perceive His existence.

 Therefore, God commands "Adat Bnei Yisrael" to be obedient to His will and create a people that  'testifies' to God's existence. Their very continued existence becomes a resounding statement of G-d's everlasting existence and faithfulness.

So this week's portion describes examples of how one is to live a designated and purposeful life . A life that at times involves separation and at other times consists of engagement. That is to say, a live lived within the will of a Holy G-d that transforms a people to become the language of that holiness.

Yet when we commemorate Holocaust Remembrance day and IDF Soldier's Remembrance Day each year in Israel, we must explore the other side of that instruction to be holy.

The Talmud describes Rabbi Akiva's martyrdom. He was arrested for the crime of promoting and teaching Torah at every opportunity and venue. As he lay there ,before his execution, while his skin was raked from his body by Roman soldiers he decided to cry out the “Shema Yisrael” prayer ("Hear O Israel, Hashem is our G d, Hashem is one" Deuteronomy 6:4)

His students exclaimed, "Even now?"

Rabbi Akiva replied, "All my life I agonized over the verse, '...and you shall love G d...with all your life.' It means, even if they should take your life from you. I pondered, 'When will this [opportunity] come to me so I can fulfill it?'" (Talmud, Brachot 61b.)

Throughout the ages as Jews were being murdered, burned or tortured for their faith and today as they defend their country or fall victim to barbaric terror, they have been seen as people dying for Kiddush Hashem (Sanctifying G-d). So many of them throughout the ages ended their lives with the Shema prayer on their lips.

That was true in the torture chambers of the Christian Inquisition, under the murderous hands of the Caliphs, and in the gas chambers of Nazi Germany. Even those attacked and victimized for being Jews by terror or random antisemitism who may not have declared this dramatic statement of faith, were also seen as sanctifying G-d's name. This is also true of even the many who did not choose to do so but were victimized  simply because of who they were.

The problem that needs to be confronted is understanding why such deaths constitute sanctifying G-d's name. Why would their murders serve to make G-d be seen as more holy? It would seem the opposite would be true.

Furthermore the concept of martyrdom is foreign to Judaism. The concept of dying for one' belief is not considered the highest virtue. Judaism is a theology and way of living that affirms and sanctifies life. The people of Israel are not focused on trying to get to heaven. Their ultimate purpose was trying to bring heaven down to Earth. To be Hashem’s language in our life and by so doing bring greater sanctity to His name.

'He said to me, you are My servant, Yisrael - that through you I am glorified' (Yeshayahu 49:3).

So what does the term “La-mut Al Kiddush Hashem” (to die sanctifying G-d’s Name) truly mean. The confusion regarding this phrase arises out of distorted vision.

Those that are killed in Kiddush Hashem (sanctifying His Name) do not achieve that sanctification by their deaths.

Their Kiddush Hashem is achieved rather by their frantic attempt to live a life representing Hashem even unto the very last second of that life. Those of our people killed because of who they were actually were killed because of Who they represented by their lives.

Rabbi Akiva did not yearn for death and in fact spent many years hiding in the underground teaching and living Torah. Yet at the last minutes of his life he wanted to keep living his Torah even with very his last breath.

The  last  moments  of  those Jewish   men  women  and  children  who were packed into  those  gas chambers in the death camps of Europe were filled with terror and painful realization.  The  last  words  uttered  by  most  of those  frightened  people  was  the  Sh’ma:  “Hear,  O  Israel,the  Lord  our  God,  the  Lord  is  One.”

The  last  paragraph  of Sh’ma  (Numbers  15)  describes  the  string  of  tchellet  (blue  thread)  that  was added to the fringes of the garment. That mysterious color tchellet was described in the Talmud as “a light blue resembling the sea, which resembled the Heavens, which resembled the Throne of Glory.”       

If one were to visit those gas chambers of Europe today , they would note blue streaks across the ceiling ostensibly caused by the Xyklon B gas used for the murders .Those blue streaks on the ceiling may have been caused by the gas on the surface level.

I  believe  that  the  final  Sh’ma  of  these  people  left  an  imprint  on  the  ceilings  of these  terror  filled  rooms.  It left  an  imprint  that  could  not  be  erased.  Their  collective  prayers  even  in  that painful place left an imprint of the Biblical blue tchellet. It left an imprint of that light blue color that was in itself a whisper of the Throne of Glory.

Such is the imprint of Kedusha - Holiness in this world. Its imprint can never be extinguished. Not by the Nazis of Europe, nor by the Jihadists of the world or lone haters crawling out of any hole they hide in.

You shall be holy, for I, Hashem, your G-d, am holy."( Leviticus 19:2)

Living very moment . even the last. to sanctify His name.

May the memory of all those holy souls be for a blessing.

Lerefuat Yehudit bar Golda Yocheved and Yehudit bat Esther