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Parshas Kedoshim - Time for Real Introspection                            4 Iyar 5779

05/09/19 19:06:01


The weeks between Pesach and Shavuos are meant to resemble a Jew’s spiritual preparation and elevation towards receiving of the Torah on Shavuos. We try to follow in the footsteps of the generation who left Egypt at the forty-ninth level of impurity who transcended to the forty-ninth level of sanctity. While the time to grow and work on becoming a better Jew and ultimately a better human being is not limited to this time of year, it should nevertheless be highlighted and emphasized. The other obvious well-known time of introspection takes place leading up to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur when we/Moshe had ascended and descended Har Sinai the second time. The only reason there was a second time was because we sinned with the golden calf when Moshe delayed after ascending on Shavuos.

The average Jew thinks the level necessary to obtain the Torah must be so high that it is just about out of our reach today. The truth is that while the level is very high, there is a simple focus we need to zero in on in our daily lives to reach it. Perhaps I can explain the how, what and why we need to attain this level by illustrating how we are not doing what we need to do. Without becoming too controversial or critical, we can glean a great deal from how more and more Jews are losing sight of what is important in life. I would like to use the “Pesach Programs, Over stuffed smorgasbords, Over the top Bar/Bat Mitzva celebrations and the like” as illustrations. There are by no means any restrictions in Halacha to enjoy the permissible things life has to offer. Nevertheless, it should not become the goal or the purpose in life to overindulge in the pleasures of life. I was perusing through Jewish magazines that advertise the variety of Pesach programs available throughout the world. One common theme with regard to the focus of Pesach has become lavish meals with buffets, twenty-four-hour tea rooms, snack times, early bird dinners, and so forth. Chas V’Shalom/Heaven forbid do I say this about every Jew who attends a Pesach program is there only for the food, that is absolutely not my intention. There are, however, those who look forward to a ten-day gluttonous adventure that boasts “You can’t even tell it’s Pesach”! The rolls, bagels, the pizza and pancakes, where does it end? We need to honestly ask ourselves, “Is this a true, spiritual experience that will enhance my neshama? Is this what God wants from us? Is this the service to Hashem that He seeks from us?” This is only the most recent example that comes to mind as our digestive systems are still digesting the matza from Pesach. However, we must be cognizant of this whenever and whatever we do every single day. We must be confront ourselves with the question, “How is this going to make me a better person?” We need to ask ourselves after we did something or said something, “Did I make the world a better place as a result of my actions and deeds or not?” The strategy for accomplishing this is not a new kind of fad; it is something we find in the Torah.

In this week’s Parshas Kedoshim the Torah states in Vayikra 19:1, “Dabair El Adas Bnei Yisrael, V’Amarta Lahem, Kedoshim* Tihiyu Ki KadoshAni Hashem Elokeichem”: “Speak to the congregation of the children of Israel and say to them, be *holy, because I am holy.” The section opens with a uniqueness; the entire Eidah or congregation was to hear this. Rashi explains that from here we learn that this portion was recited at Hakhel because most of the Jewish principles are dependent upon it. I would like to explain the significance in two ways. 1. Rashi is telling us this had to have occurred during Hakhel because there are many mitzvos taught here. Among them the highlighted mitzva of ‘V’Ahavta L’Reiacha KaMocha’: ‘Love your neighbor like yourself’ which Rebbi Akiva paraphrased as the primary principle in Judaism (Jerusalem Talmud Nedarim Ch. 9). 2. Moshe speaking to the Jewish people in a gathering is particularly relevant when speaking of holiness. The key to many mitzvos is determined by the level of ‘kedusha’ - sanctity or holiness in which a person engages. Rabbeinu Yona writes in Shaarei Teshuva (Shaar Aleph Os 30, 31): The ninth level of repentance comes through the smashing of a person’s physical desires – with that he could fully repent. Man must implant within his heart the realization that desire causes him to sin and draws forth transgression with the cords of falsehood. He must withdraw himself from pleasures and not be pulled after his desire, even in relation to things which are permissible. He must follow the ways of separation and eat only to satiate himself and to maintain his body, as Shlomo HaMelech said in Mishlei 13:25 “The righteous eats to the satiety of his body”. The desire which is implanted in a man’s heart is the root of all his actions. Therefore, if his desire is properly ordered, instead of being served by all the body’s members, it will cause them to follow the dictates of intelligence so that all of his actions will be rendered fit. But to the fools who do not break from their desire but constantly pursue the pleasures of men, their desires will continue to pursue them. Ultimately, the desire pulls and tugs at an individual, drawing him to nonsensical sinning, creating an impediment to Teshuva unless they try to stop it.

Reb Moshe Chaim Luzzato, in his work Mesilas Yesharim, ch. 13, recognizes all the challenges and temptations we face in the world of physicality and the vulnerability we humans face because of our weak nature. Therefore, he recommends and instructs us that whenever possible in any and every possibly questionable situation in which we find ourselves to do whatever we can to remove ourselves from that situation. Do something to minimize the damage. For example, try to walk away after the first helping.

Since Kedusha is the separating from that which is permissible to us, it is considered the most basic and primary focus we need to have to elevate our souls through our bodies. This is the reason Moshe gave this commandment to the entire gathering all at the same time. A clear message is that Hashem wants us to become holy not through complete removal from society, such as fasting, celibacy, silence and the like, but to the contrary. Hashem encourages us through the mitzvos of the Torah to partake and participate in every permissible pleasure this world offers, with one caveat: to do so through becoming a Kadosh, to avoid overindulging in any area of pleasure in life.

Changing a trait is no easy task; it takes time and effort. Let us use the impetus of the Omer period to make those changes and not let it go by as lip service. Focus and concentrate during the day, find yourself in a situation that you (and only you know about) could decide to hold back on a pleasure or desire that you may even be entitled to and hold back a little. Become holier today more than you were yesterday and the day before. Through this Avoda (and it is no easy task) we can and will change who we are and what is truly important in life. When we figure out the Emes/truth of what Hashem wants from us we will be ready for another revelation such as the one we ALL witnessed together at the foot of Sinai.


Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


*The Hebrew word Kodesh in all its different forms is loosely translated or explained as holiness. A better term of understanding to being Kadosh would be to separate.

Sun, May 24 2020 1 Sivan 5780