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Vol. 5 No. 28
To Be Holy
To be holy, is an injunction that is easily misconstrued. We tend to think of monks and monasteries, of people who don't get married and live in recluses. To be sure, a life of seclusion may well be the remedy for someone who finds difficulty in controlling his impulses when in a society, as indeed the Rambam prescribes. But for the majority of people, this is not how the Torah expects us to live. Hashem created the world for our benefit and He wants us to use it and enjoy it. He created people and He expects us to live with them, helping them to improve their quality of life, both physically and spiritually. The Kotzke Rebbe, explaining the possuk, "And you shall be holy men unto Me", commented - Hashem is not short of angels. He has plenty of them up in Heaven. It is holy men that He wants, here on earth!
Rashi therefore, interprets being holy as to abstain from adultery, to take positive steps to avoid falling prey to the many temptations that adultery presents. The Torah is in fact, bidding us to guard our eyes, our mouths and our thoughts from anything that is impure. For to be sure, a person who declines to look at something tempting, will be unlikely to be attracted by it, since what the eye doesn't see, the heart doesn't grieve. And so it is with someone who controls his tongue from unclean speech. By not opening the door to the Yetzer ho'Ra , he will be spared the next round of temptations which inevitably follow.
The Ramban however, finding no particular reference to adultery or incest mentioned here, explains that the Torah is not referring to any specific mitzvah, when it commands us to be holy, but rather to a general injunction to abstain from excessive pleasures. That applies, he maintains, even to those areas where the Torah permits one to benefit, such as the areas of eating, sleeping and marital relationships. Someone who sits for hours indulging in a multi-course meal (not of a mitzvah), would most certainly be transgressing the mitzvah of being holy, even if the food was of the highest standard of kashrus and he recited all the necessary b'rochos in the process. Over-indulgence is intrinsically a violation of the precept of 'being holy', whereas the ability to abstain from excessive pleasure is in itself an act of holiness.
The Ra'avad writes about abstinence that, just to stop eating a food that one is enjoying, in order to serve Hashem, is more worthy than fasting.
This concept can be better understood when we realize that the pleasures of this world which, as previously stated, exist for our benefit, must not be seen as an end in themselves. 'Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die' is a quotation from Yesha'yoh (22:13) yet it is a subtle misquotation, for following a similar statement in Koheles (11:19) Shlomoh ha'Melech continues: 'And know that for all these, G-d will take you to task'. The pleasures of this world must be seen as a means to spiritual growth. Inasmuch as a person comes closer to G-d through appreciation of the food that he eats), or becomes stronger and healthier (or happier), thus enabling him to serve Him properly, To that extent, eating is conducive to holiness, in excess of that, one must be wary of contravening the mitzvah of 'You shall be holy'.
Why, one may be tempted to ask, if Hashem wanted us to desist from the pleasures of this world, did He not command us to do so explicitly? We quoted a similar question last week (in Parshas Tazriya, in the name of Turnusrufus, who asked Rabbi Akiva why, if Hashem wanted us to have Bris Milah, did He not create us that way? And the answer that Rabbi Akiva gave Turnusrusus is equally appropriate here: indeed Hashem could have, but He didn't want to. He wanted us to perfect ourselves, by performing the Bris Milah. and by going on to perform all the other mitzvos which help perfect man's character.
Much in the same way, Hashem could have commanded man to desist from all the excessive pleasures of this world - but He did not want to. He wanted us to take up the Torah's cue of "Kedoshim tih'yu" and to follow this up by striving to become holy by abstaining from those pleasures that we could do without.
In addition to this, it would appear, it seems, that Hashem deliberately couched this mitzvah in vague terms, in order to leave the choice of the area of abstention from desire, to the individual, as well as the extent to which he abstains. Everyone is obligated to abstain from giving vent to his desires in a way that does not detract from his service of Hashem, due to unbearable discomfort. Each person must do it in a way that enhances his own spiritual growth.
(Adapted from the Chofetz Chaim)
Mitzvos, the Source of Life
"And you shall observe all my statutes and judgements and live by them."(18:8)
It is well-known, observes the Chofetz Chaim, that a man has 248 limbs in his body, corresponding to the 248 positive mitzvos. Some of those limbs are vital to his existence, such as the brain and the heart, without which he could not live; others are less significant, inasmuch as his survival does not depend on them - a person can live without a finger, a hand or an ear, although he will be blemished.
Correspondingly, there are some mitzvos which are vital to a person's very existence in the World to Come, and others, whose failure to fulfill here in this world, will only result in one's arriving in the next world blemished.
Tefilin shel Yad, for example, is a mitzvah which, if discarded, will render a person blemished in the World to Come; he will arrive there minus an arm. Emunah, on the other hand, is a basic mitzvah that effects the mind - one of the vital organs, and without doubt, a lack of faith will jeapordise one's very rights to a portion in the World to Come. That is why the Torah writes "and you shall observe all of My statutes and all of My judgements - and you will live by them." The only way to ensure that one will both live in the World to Come, and that all one's limbs will be intact, is by observing all the mitzvos.
Rashi points out that when Hashem promises life for keeping the mitzvos, He means life in the World to Come (for, when all's said and done, how long and how meaningful is life in this world?). This is what the Gemoro in Kiddushin (39b) writes. The Gemoro in Eiruvin however (22a) explains that the wicked get paid for their good deeds in this world, in order to deprive them of reward in the World to Come.
The good deeds of a wicked person are of relatively little value (since his intentions are generally not pure). That is why he receives his reward here in this world, where the rewards are also of relatively little value.Whereas the tzadik, whose good deeds are intense and executed with extreme devotion, receives his reward in the World to Come, where the stakes are infinitely higher - as well as being eternal.
Similarly, the Chofetz Chayim used to explain the apparent discrepancy between the Chazal which says that only someone who studies Halochos is assured of being a 'ben Olom ha'Bo', with that which says that every Jew has a portion in Olom ha'Bo. Sure, everybody gets a portion in Olom ha'Bo, he explains. However, this can be compared to a poor man who attends a wedding - yes, he receives a portion, but in what capacity? What sort of portion does he receive, and how is it served to him?
The one who studied halochos on the other hand, is compared to one of the Mechutonim who attends the wedding. He, an important guest, receives an invitation. He is greeted with honour, and shown to his place, before being served with great esteem.
Shabbos is called a Kallah (as we refer to it in Lechoh Dodi), and Yisroel, a choson, explains the Chofetz Chayim. If the choson honors the Kallah properly, then the father of the Kallah will be sure to give him presents.
Hashem is the father of the bride, and Yisroel, the choson. That is why the Torah writes "And He blessed the seventh day" - He blessed it with gifts for those who honour it.
The incredible integrity of the Chofetz Chayim is legendary. He once travelled by train to sell his books. He arrived late at the station, and did not manage to pay for the extra baggage (the boxes of books, that he was taking with him to sell) at the ticket-office.
To avoid holding up the train's departure any longer, a fellow-passenger, who recognized the Chofetz Chayim, succeeded in convincing the inspector to allow him to take his luggage with him in his compartment, and to exempt him from paying the extra tax. Imagine his surprise however, when the Chofetz Chayim declined his offer, and insisted on paying the full tax, on the grounds that the inspector was no more than an employee, whereas the train belonged to the government, and who gave the inspector the right to forego the government's money!
(The Mitzvos Asei)
Adapted from the Seifer ha'Mitzvos ha'Kotzer of the Chofetz Chayim.
28. To desist from work on the festival of Shevu'os - as the Torah writes in Emor (Vayikro 23:21) "And you proclaim on this very day a holy calling".
The details of this mitzvah are exactly the same as those of the first day of Pesach (Mitzvah 25). Shevu'os is unique inasmuch as (a) the Torah does not specify a fixed date (like it does for every other Yom-tov); and (b) it has no specific mitzvos of its own (like every other Yom-tov does), only customs - such as eating milky foods and staying up all night - which are all Rabinically-orientated.
This mitzvah applies everywhere, at all times, to men and women alike.
29. To desist from work on the first day of Tishri (Rosh Hashonoh) - as the Torah writes in Emor (Vayikro 23:24) "On the first day of the seventh month there will be for you a day of rest (from work), a remembrance of blowing, a holy calling".
The details of this mitzvah are exactly the same as those of the first day of Pesach (Mitzvah 25). The Rabbonon decreed that Rosh Hashonoh should consist of two days - even in Eretz Yisroel (unlike every other Yom-tov, where the din of two days is confined to Chutz lo'Oretz). Tashlich and all the special dinim pertaining to Tefillah are purely Rabbinically-orientated.
This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike.
30. To hear the sound of the Shofar on the first of Tishri - as the Torah writes in Pinchos (Ba'midbor 29:1) "It shall be for you a day of blowing".
A shofar is the bent horn of a sheep (ram). Other horns are invalid. One is obligated to hear nine notes (by Torah-law): three times 'Teki'ah, teru'ah, teki'ah'. However, due to our uncertainty as to what constitutes a teru'ah, whether it is what we call shevorim-teru'ah, or teru'ah, or shevorim, we blow all the possible combinations, a total of 30 notes, which constitute three times 'tashrat' (teki'ah, teru'ah, teki'ah). We blow all of these thirty notes first with the appropriate b'rochoh, and again, in the course of the Amidah. The extra forty notes that we blow at the end, have no halachic significance, and are customarily blown, only in order to attain the significant total of one hundred notes. This mitzvah applies everywhere, and at all times, to men but not to women (though nowadays, the women have undertaken to fulfill it voluntarily, like the mitzvah of Succah) .
31. To fast on Yom Kippur - as the Torah writes in Emor (Va'yikro 23:27) "But on the tenth day of this seventh month is Yom Kippur (the day of Atonement), and you shall afflict yourselves (by not eating)".
One is obligated to fast from evening to evening, and even to add to the twenty-four hours, by bringing in the fast a few minutes before dusk, and bringing it out a few minutes after nightfall.
Anyone who eats more than usual at the meal before the fast is considered as if he had fasted both on the ninth and on the tenth (see also Lo Sa'aseh 152 of this mitzvah).
This mitzvah applies everywhere, at all times, to men and women alike.
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