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Shabbat Parashat Emor 5778

Parashat Hashavua: Israel is a Nation of Holy People

Harav Yosef Carmel

The matter of kedusha (sanctity) is very much stressed in the parshiyot of Vayikra. Parashat Acharei Mot starts with the service of the kohen gadol on Yom Kippur, whose pinnacle is in the Kodesh Kodashim of the mikdash. The parasha ends with the prohibitions of arayot (illicit relations), which is followed with the charge, “Be holy, for I, Hashem your G-d, am holy” (Vayikra 19:2). Rashi explains this to mean: “separate yourself from arayot and sin, for whenever you find separation from arayot, you find kedusha.” Parashat Kedoshim also ends with the commandment: “You shall be for Me holy, for I am holy, and I have separated you from the nations to be for Me” (ibid. 20:26).

The kohanim are commanded to have an even higher level of kedusha: “They shall be holy to their G-d and shall not defile the name of their G-d, for they offer the sacrifices of Hashem …” (ibid. 21:6). The kohanim’s extra level also obligates the regular Jew to preserve the kohanim’s status by treating them preferentially (ibid. 8). The second section of Parashat Emor deals with a different kind of kedusha, that of the day of Shabbat and the holidays, which are called mikraei kodesh.

Let us understand the term kedusha a little better. When we use it in regard to Hashem, it clearly means that He is elevated and separated from us. He is not part of our material world. Even though “the whole world is full of His glory” and “there is no place which is devoid of Him,” Hashem is the “place of the world, and the world is not His place.” We can also understand that Shabbat is kadosh, as Hashem sanctified it. However, what does it mean that a person is holy, considering that we originate from the earth and are part and parcel of the material world? Our name adam is even based on the word adama (earth). How can we be holy and sanctify the times (in creating the calendar for holidays)?

The answer is apparently connected to the parshiyot discussing arayot. The novel idea about Am Yisrael is that we show that it is possible to sanctify the material world. We can give spiritual significance to life on the face of the earth, even when one was “created from earth and will return to earth.” The basic condition for this is to be “separated from arayot and sin.”

In the context of the section dealing with arayot, the Torah warns us to avoid the actions of the people of Egypt and Canaan (ibid. 18:2-6). There the default situation was of violating the laws of arayot. It is not that the “path to the tree of life” runs through a life of abstaining from worldly pleasures. Rather, what is required is an abstinence from the abominations of the people of Egypt and Canaan and a desire for putting spiritual content into our physical body.

This is the way people can become holy! This is the way the Jewish nation can become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation! This is the way we became able to sanctify the days of the calendar! May we succeed in sanctifying the material world and making it subservient to the life of the spirit in a manner that truly liberates us.

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