Rabbi Yisroel Chait
Written by: Rabbi Mendy Feder
A very central theme throughout Judaism is the concept of kedusha, sanctity.
Although the term seems rather abstract as Torah Jews we are commanded to
constantly strive to be kadosh, to be holy. In Leviticus chapter 19 verse
2, we are commanded to be kadosh because :" I the Lord your God am
holy." Chazal teach us that kedusha means to be "poresh mey arayot",
abstain from the sexual prohibitions. This implies that if not for this
commandment, there would be no reason for one to live a moral life style.
Throughout the generations, the greatest philosophical minds without the
benefit of the Torah have come to the same conclusion, based upon their
rational faculty. The best life is one of abstention from the physical pleasures.
It would therefore seem that the Torah is redundant.
The Torah additionally instructs us to be holy because God is holy.
This creates a dilemma based upon our aforesaid definition. If holy means
merely to be "poresh mey arayot" what relevance does it have respecting
The concept of a poresh must have greater significance than simply abstaining.
Pure abstention infers that the person is withholding something from himself.
This would imply that the person really has the desire to do the prohibited
action but he is just controlling himself. Such an idea would be nothing
more than an exercise of self-restraint and denial. The Torah's concept
of a poresh is not so trite. The essence of a poresh is an individual who
is poresh because it is a reflection of his true nature. His energies are
no longer attracted to the areas of the arayot, to the physical, but flow
naturally to the area of chachma, wisdom. Insofar as ones essence is truly
that of a poresh, he partakes of the "tzelem elokim". The "Boreh
Olam" by his very nature, is extraneous to, and not limited by, the
physical. Thus, in order for one to be a poresh from the Torah perspective,
requires great intellectual conviction, whereby all ones energies flow to
the acquisition of knowledge.
There is a critical distinction between the Torah's concept of "prishah"
and that of the philosophers. The philosophers, although they advocated
a lifestyle of "prishut", it was based upon their appreciation
of human nature. They recognized that human nature has two components. Man
has an instinctual nature and an intellectual nature. Based upon their investigation
of human nature they concluded that man can only achieve true happiness,
in the pursuits of his essential intellectual nature. They therefore preached
a lifestyle of "prisha". However to the Torah Jew the concept
of "prisha" has much greater significance. We are taught that
if we lead a lifestyle of "prishus", then we can have a relationship
with G-d. We strive to mold our nature to be essentially a Poresh, and attain
"kedusha" in order that we can relate to Hashem. In Judaism there
is a metaphysical dimension if one is a true Poresh. This metaphysical relationship
with the creator is only possible when one is a poresh. If one succeeds
in redirecting his energies so that they naturally flow to chachma, only
then will he relate to the creator, the source of reality. If a person abstains
from the physical because of fear of punishment than he is not truly a poresh.
Such a person is still guided by the pleasure principle. The fear of punishment
is merely a means to control the person from being punished, and thereby
remain in a state of pleasure. He is abstaining from the physical prohibition
only because he feels that indulging said physical desires would ultimately
cause him greater physical pain. However a talmid chacham is naturally drawn
towards the principles of the Torah. He is in a unique state, whereby his
energies naturally flow to the metaphysical. Thus we can appreciate the
Torah imperative to be kadosh because "ki kadosh ani hashem elokaychem".
At such a high spiritual level a person can relate to God as his energies
naturally flow to chachma.
Chazal agree with the philosophers, that the life of the ideational
is the best life since they hold that "kol d'racheha darchay noam",
all the ways of the Torah are pleasant. It would be absurd that Hashem would
command man not to live life the best way. It is obvious that God desires
man to achieve happiness by living life in line with his essential nature.
However the Torah recognizes that by living a life of chachma one initiates
a relationship with the creator. God, who is not physical and whose essence
is mirrored in the world of the ideational, commands that man aspire to
live a life based upon the intellectual dictates of the Torah not predicated
on the physical. Only then is one able to approach God through chachma.
Since God is not subject to physical whims and passions so too man is directed
to be kadosh because "ki ani hashem elokaychem kadosh". We are
taught that Chazal did not fully partake of the pleasures of this world.
This does not mean that they essentially sought an austere existence. They
did not believe in repressing their desires simply because they felt there
was a virtue in moral restrictions. This philosophy is characteristic of
Catholicism which venerates the lifestyles of priests and nuns. Nor did
they have an emotional repulsion to pleasure. Quite the contrary is true
because we are taught "ei efshar bli basar chazeer"; one should
not refrain from eating pork because he doesn't like it. The proper attitude
is for one to say that he really desires pork but that he is not having
it to demonstrate his acceptance of the mitzvos. He struggles to elevate
his behavior from purely the instinctual to the level of kedusha which is
based upon mans true nature, his tzelem elokim. Maimonides in his Mishna
Torah in his book on kedusha incorporates the laws of the forbidden foods
and prohibited sexual relations. His point is evident. One can only attain
kedusha by channeling his energies from the basic instinctual drives of
man, the sexual and appetitive and directing them to the intellect. This
does not mean denial of the physical but rather an appreciation of the life
of a talmid chachom.
Chazal did enjoy the benefits that God offered in this world. We are
told that Rebbi was very wealthy and there was nothing lacking from on his
table. However, he did not direct his energies to the physical. He had the
blessings of the physical world which he did not deny, but his energies
were not drawn to the physical. He lived the life of a kadosh as evidenced
by his appellation. His energies naturally flowed to chachma.
Whereas by Iyov, Chazal tell us that the reason Iyov lost his wealth
was because he had an over attachment to materialism. He viewed it as an
end in and of itself. However, after he realized that the physical was only
a means to relate to Hashem, not an end, was he capable of regaining his
riches. After learning this lesson and redirecting his energies, he used
his prosperity simply as a means in Avodas Hashem.
The Vilna Gaon explains the concept of "pas bemelach tochal",
that one should subsist on bread and salt. This is not to be taken literally
as espousing an austere existence. The Gaon explains that at the beginning
of ones learning he must "pas b'melach tochal". This means that
if one is to succeed as a talmid chocham, it demands total commitment. If
one is fortunate to live a life of kedusha his energies must naturally flow
toward chachmas hatorah.
Rashi teaches us that the parsha of Kedoshim is so basic that "kol
goofay hatorah teluyin bah", all the basic principles of the Torah
are summarized within it. This obviously can not be taken literally for
most of the 613 commandments are not within the parsha of Kedoshim. Rashi
is expressing the importance of the concept of kedusha. It is such a vital
and essential concept to the Torah observant Jew, that adherence to its
basic principles can lead one to perfection as a Ben Torah.
Therefore the mitzvah of kedusha is extremely valuable concept in Judaism.
The imperative of kedoshim teheeyoo must be appreciated in the proper perspective.
We must be scrupulous in our pursuit of true kedusha. If one abstains from
being a zolell vesorah, a glutton because of health reasons, he is not fulfilling
the commandment. He is simply perusing one desire in favor of another. His
desire for longevity has displaced his appetitive desires. Such a person's
energies are still rooted in the physical pleasures. True kedusha requires
a painstaking process where one works to channel his energies to the learning
of Torah and its teaching. Ultimately he can aspire to kedusha where his
energies will naturally flow to chachma since the learning of Torah will
give him the greatest pleasure. Thus, he will obtain true kedusha and be
blessed with an appreciation of "ki kadosh ani hashem elokaychem"
and be fortunate to have a metaphysical relationship with the creator.