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Rabbi's Corner

Be Holy!

The section of the Torah we read tomorrow begins with the divine instruction for Jewish People to “Be Holy”.

So I ask you, how should we go about fulfilling this mitzvah? What does “be holy” mean? Does G‑d want us to trek through the Himalayas or meditate daily for hours? 

This short lesson in Biblical Hebrew 101 will perhaps shed some light on this important issue:

The Hebrew word for ‘holy’ is ‘kadosh’. However, a more literal translation of ‘kadosh’ would be ‘separate’. This is because something is holy when it is set aside from the mundane and in a sphere of its own. (Interestingly, this is why, in biblical Hebrew, a prostitute is called a ‘kadesh’. Because the prostitute has set him/herself aside for a specific purpose.) 

Bearing this in mind, we find an entirely new meaning to the mitzvah “Be Holy”. As Jews, G‑d wants us to act in a fashion that separates and elevates us. This means that in every moment of our daily lives – while eating, walking, conversing, or sleeping - we need to ask ourselves “Is this the way a Jew; a representative of Al-mighty G‑d, should behave?” And if the answer is yes – then we’re holy. And when people look at us they can exclaim: “If this is the way a Jewish person behaves, I want to learn more about his G‑d”.

And in fact, this week’s torah portion proceeds to enumerate tens of mitvzahs that ensure that we maintain this beautiful standard of “holiness & separateness”. (Among them: honesty in business, sexual morality, charity, Shabbat, justice for all, click here for more.)  

So as we enter this special Shabbat I encourage you to take a peek at the Torah portion and try adding one extra mitzvah to your repertoire.

Shabbat Shalom,

Am I That Important?

The story is told of a prominent doctor who was known for his generosity but was also prone to blowing his own trumpet. 

One day he was traveling when he saw the local rabbi walking. He stopped to offer the rabbi a ride. As they traveled together, the doctor, as was his wont, began to speak about his achievements. "You know, Rabbi, I get a lot of patients who can't afford to pay but I never turn them away. I treat them exactly the same as my wealthier patients." 

"I also do that," replied the rabbi. 

The doctor figured that perhaps the rabbi was referring to the spiritual counsel he gave his spiritual "patients." "Also," he continued, "a lot of times patients need expensive drugs. If they can't afford it, I provide them for free." 

"I also do that," rejoined the rabbi. 

Maybe he means that sometimes he gives people material help also, the doctor thought. "Sometimes people need days of post-operative care. I give it to them voluntarily, even though I have so little time." 

"I also do that." 

So it went, the doctor continuing to lavish praise on himself while the rabbi answered each time, "I also do that." 

Eventually the doctor couldn't take it anymore and he asked the rabbi: "Rabbi, I don't understand. You're not a doctor, how can you do all these things?" 

"No, all I meant was I also do that - I also only talk and think about myself and my own good qualities!" 

This Shabbat we stand at the beginning of a new month on the Jewish calendar; a month that we dedicate to refining and elevating ourselves; a time period when we seek to reach a higher plane and a more G‑dly state of being. 

And it is our natural disposition towards self-absorption that is, perhaps, the greatest hindrance and impediment to our becoming better and more G‑dly people. 

When we are infatuated with ourselves it becomes very difficult to see the plight of another. When we think in terms of self, transcendence becomes impossible. Only once we break out of our ‘egg-shell’ do we begin to see we the grand mission and purpose of creation. 

And somewhere in this master plan, G‑d wanted us (yes, little me) to have an integral role and special part in the symphony of creation. In an ironic way, only once we let go of our selfishness can we realize how important we really are. When we think about what G‑d expects of us; when we understand the responsibility of generations that we carry on our shoulders; and when we realize the confidence that G‑d has in our ability to carry through our mission – we begin to understand just how important we are. 

As a wise man once remarked: “Your birth is G‑d’s way of telling you that He needs you.” 

So when we get up tomorrow morning, instead of thinking ‘how am I doing’ why don’t we try thinking about ‘what I can do’? Instead of asking ourselves ‘what I need’, let us train ourselves to ask “what am I needed for”. And in so doing, we will be free 

Shabbat Shalom, 

Who Cares What We Eat?

As Jews, G‑d has put us on a special diet. It might not lower our cholesterol or contain fewer calories, but it certainly nourishes our soul. It is this week that we will read the section of the Torah detailing the intricate laws that govern the kosher diet of a Jew.

Judaism sees our nourishment, not only as a means of survival, but as an inherent part of our service of G‑d. If carried out properly, every time we eat something we are actually becoming better and holier – we come closer to G‑d.

Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk, who lived roughly 200 years ago, was known as a righteous and saintly man. One day another famous Rabbi was visiting with Rabbi Elimelech and asked the following question:

"Tell me, Rabbi Elimelech, we both are scholars, well versed in the Jewish law. Yet you have reached a level of saintliness and holiness far beyond me. Explain to me, please, what is the difference between us? What is it that you possess that I don't?"

Rabbi Elimelech pointed to the bowl of fruit, set before them on the table. "When you want to eat an apple, do you make a blessing to G‑d?"

"Certainly I do!" the visiting Rabbi answered.

"Ah, that's the difference. You see, when I want to make a blessing to G‑d, I eat an apple. When you want to eat an apple you first make a blessing. That is the difference."

Eating was the medium through which Rabbi Elimelech connected to the infinite.

Let us therefore use every meal as an impetus and springboard to grow in our journey on earth – to become better, more G‑dly human beings.

Shabbat Shalom,

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