Friday, April 25, 2014

"You shall be holy, for I, HaShem, your G-d, am holy."

(Leviticus 19:2)
Nisan 25, 5774/April 25, 2014

"You shall be holy, for I, HaShem, your G-d, am holy." (Leviticus 19:2) Before we even begin to try to understand how we are to fulfill this commandment to be holy because G-d is holy, let's ask an even more basic question: What is it doing here? We have been reading the book of Leviticus with the understanding that it is a book about the Tabernacle in the desert, and by proxy, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the nature of the Divine service and the various offerings, whether they be the Tamid daily offerings or the special Musaf festival offerings of Passover, Shavuot andSukkot, Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur and Rosh Chodesh, and the rules concerning the eligibility and special conduct assigned to the kohanimpriests. This all followed logically the conclusion of the book of Exodus which closed with the completion of the construction of the Tabernacle. Yet in the closing chapters of Leviticus we seem to be moving away from our declared central theme and have been touching upon all different types of subjects outside of the outer curtains of the Tabernacle. Leviticus has discussed the status of the person who has been stricken with tzaratdue to evil speech, the similar plague which can strike a person's house in the land of Israel as well as their clothing. Leviticus has discussed what we can and cannot eat. In this week's reading of Kedoshim the commandment to leave the gleanings of the corners of our fields in the land of Israel for the poor and the stranger is presented and soon Leviticus will introduce the concept of the shmittah seventh year sabbatical in which we are to leave fallow the fields of the land of Israel. Again, what do all these commandments have to do with the nature of the Tabernacle or of the Divine service? Why are these commandments included in the book of Leviticus?

"You shall be holy, for I, HaShem, your G-d, am holy." (ibid) is a commandment that takes under its wing all of the other "extra-Tabernacle" commandments that we have mentioned above. Each of these various and, on the surface, unrelated commandments are particular expressions of holiness that we must perform here in the land of Israel. And why must we perform them here in the land of Israel? Why is the imperative to let our fields rest once every seven years one not merely of personal responsibility but of existential responsibility on the national level? Because G-d also expresses His holiness here in the land of Israel and His Divine presence which rests in the Holy of Holies of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem will not abide a profane environment even beyond the parameters of the Holy Temple or the Temple Mount or even Jerusalem.

But G-d's instruction that we be holy is not merely a demand that we don't come to rain on His holy parade. G-d's very presence in the Holy Temple enables us to be holy as His holiness radiates beyond the Holy of Holies and beyond the Holy Temple and beyond Jerusalem and fills and saturates the entire land of Israel. In truth, G-d and Israel's coexistence here on this earth can only be complete if both partners are upholding their ends. If there is no Holy Temple and the immediacy of G-d's Divine presence is lacking from the land then the people of Israel can exist in the land of Israel, but only on a very diminished level. On the other hand, if Israel determines that being holy is an imperative and builds for G-d a Sanctuary so that Israel may be holy then the nearness of G-d's holiness will permeate and elevate Israel.

Ultimately, the holiness which emanates from the holy Temple and fills the land of Israel will increase and intensify and spill out filling all the world with G-d's holiness. This is the promise of the Holy Temple and this is the fulfillment of the commandment, "You shall be holy, for I, HaShem, your G-d, am holy."

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