"Speak to the entire assembly of the children of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, Hashem your G-d, am holy" (xix, 2). The Midrash Rabbah (24:9) explains: "'You shall be holy' – one might think it means '[as holy] as I am,' [therefore] Scripture states 'for I am holy' – My holiness is loftier than your holiness. We learn this from the wicked Par'oh, as it says: 'And Par'oh said to Yosef, I am Par'oh.' One might think you have the same status as me, [therefore] Scripture states 'I am Par'oh' – my status is loftier than your status." This Midrash is difficult – why should we think that we could be as holy as Hakadosh Baruch Hu; can we possibly imagine equating ourselves with Hakadosh Baruch Hu?! It can be suggested that the Midrash sought to understand the meaning of the phrase "You shall be holy, for I, Hashem your G-d, am holy," meaning that the reason you should be holy is because I am holy. The Midrash finds this problematic – since there is no holiness like Hashem's, the second half of the pasuk, "for I, Hashem your G-d, am holy," is in need of elucidation. Therefore the Midrash explains that the pasuk teaches us that "My holiness is loftier than your holiness," which is learnt from the word "I."
Yet the difficulty still remains – what does "for I am holy" mean?
My teacher and Rabbi, HaRav Zvi Yehudah Kook, explained that the phrase "You shall be holy" includes two meanings. Firstly as a command – you must be holy (separate yourselves from licentiousness, as Rashi says; or that you should not be a 'scoundrel [naval] within the boundaries of the Torah', as the Ramban explains). The second meaning is one of promise and reality – you shall certainly be holy, no other scenario is possible, "for I, Hashem your G-d, am holy" and you belong to Me, and therefore you will certainly be holy.
Both meanings are true, as is the case with all lofty matters, for "G-d has spoken once, twice I have heard this" (Tehillim lxii, 12). Thus the plain meaning of the pasuk is that you are commanded to be holy and that you shall certainly be holy (see the speeches of Rav Zvi Yehudah). According to this explanation the pasuk "for I, Hashem your G-d, am holy" can now be understood - for My holiness is loftier than your holiness, meaning that it is the foundation and source of your lives and therefore the inner essence of your lives is holiness. Now the Divine promise that we shall be holy is clear, for this is our true selves, and we can therefore be commanded to live a holy life.
Rav Abin offers a parable in the Midrash (Midrash Rabbah 24:8), involving the citizens of a certain country that made three crowns for the king. What did the king proceed to do – he placed one of them on his own head and two on the heads of his sons. Thus on each and every day the angels crown Hakadosh Baruch Hu with three mentions of holiness. What does Hakadosh Baruch Hu do – he places one on His head and two on the heads of Israel. This is why Scripture states "Speak to the entire assembly of the children of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy" (and again) "And you shall sanctify yourselves and you shall be holy" (Vayikra xx, 7). Why, though, does Hakadosh Baruch Hu get a single holiness while Israel gets two? It can be explained that Israel possesses two aspects of holiness, one that we acquire through our actions, and the other when we merit a lofty, Divine holiness, for My holiness is loftier than your holiness (as explained above). The holiness that we create is the first to be clearly evident, while the original, pure holiness is in addition to this, as the Gemara teaches us (Yoma 39a): "Our Rabbis taught: 'And you shall sanctify yourselves and you shall be holy' – [when] a person sanctifies himself a little – he is sanctified a lot; [when a person sanctifies himself] from below - he is sanctified from above; [when a person sanctifies himself] in this world – he is sanctified in the next world."
Yet upon a deeper reflection, which is also a truer one, we understand that our original, Divine holiness comes first, and that only through it are we able to activate holiness in the world. This characteristic is imprinted in us from the moment of our creation, as the Gemara in Chullin (92b) states: "Israel is holy." The reference is not to a particular person who sanctified himself through his actions, but to an essential characteristic that we all possess as Israelites. If so, each person of Israel has claim to a potential holiness, and his function is to actualize it through his choices, thus revealing it to the world in the height of its splendor. Yet there is no potential and actuality for Hakadosh Baruch Hu; for Hakadosh Baruch Hu the reality is "He spoke and it was." He possesses no desire that is in need of expression, but rather the Divine desire is already actualized, as Rav Kook says, that "Divine ability is linked to His wishes" (Orot Hakodesh III, p. 42).
Based on this, we can understand why Hakadosh Baruch Hu has one crown while Israel has two. Israel's original holiness appears in potential form, deriving from the unique and singular Divine source in which there is no division whatsoever, and it demands us to actualize our holiness, as the aforementioned pasuk states, "G-d has spoken once, twice I have heard this."
We can already grasp the definition of holiness from the first verse, "You shall be holy, for I, Hashem your G-d, am holy." Two names appear here – "Hashem" and "your G-d." In the psalm of thanksgiving we state (Tehillim c, 3): "Know that Hashem is your G-d…" Rav Kook explains: "The principles that bring a person to rejoicing in the service of Hashem come through the knowledge of the elevation of the Divine beyond all limitation, and beyond any natural law that might restrain the depths of the goodness and the great kindness from spreading in the world." The name "Hashem" expresses the lofty, Divine holiness, which rules over all natural laws. Yet these very heights might be the cause, due to man's weak understanding, that a person might think that he can have no connection to such a lofty holiness that has no equivalent whatsoever. We must therefore know that "Hashem the holy One, who is above all laws and limitations, is the G-d that founds all laws and orders all natures, and it is He who relates to limited creatures in a manner of great intimacy, filled with the attentions of utterly unending compassion and mercy" (Olat Ra'ayah I, p. 221-2). This means that the name "Hashem" = the holy and lofty One, above the laws of the world; who is revealed and relates to the limited reality of the world = "G-d."
This is also the meaning of our pasuk – we must be holy just as Hashem/G-d is holy; just as He attends to us despite the greatness of His separation and holiness, so we must be holy while being attached to the reality of the world, rather than separated from it.
The pasuk states "I, Hashem your G-d," and not "I, Hashem the G-d." There is a specific reference here to Am Yisrael. This can be explained based on the words of Rav Kook (Orot Hakodesh II, p. 488). In our world we find both evil and good, and therefore "three aspirations reside in the spirit of man: the aspiration towards complete evil, the desire to rule over all the values of life and the world – this is paganism. The second aspiration recognizes evil as such and as a result completely despairs of everything – this is the Buddhist approach. The third aspiration is one of a part despair, in other words to despair of evil and give over to its hands the material and social worlds, while saving from this despairing the inner aspects of life, their good side – this is the Christian approach. The fourth aspiration is to save everything, body as well as soul, the outer aspects of being as well as the inner ones, evil itself as well as good, and what is more – to turn evil into complete goodness. This is the aspiration of Israel, expressed in the depths of the Torah through the foundation of belief and manner of living." Only Israel, due to their Divine quality – "Israel is holy"- can fully express that Hashem is G-d. Therefore the Torah states "for I, Hashem your G-d, am holy."
The first practical expression of holiness is contained in the subsequent pasuk to the command of holiness: "Each person must fear their mother and father, and guard My Sabbaths, I am Hashem your G-d" (3). Rashi quotes the Gemara in Keddushin: "What constitutes fear of one's father? He may not sit in his place nor speak in his stead, nor contradict his words. And what constitutes honoring? He feeds him and gives him to drink, clothes him and provides him with shoes, helps him enter and exit." While the sanctification of Hashem's name through a single heroic action is indeed important, yet the harder obligation is to live a normal, regular life through sanctity. Even the daily act of honoring one's parents contains an aspect of satisfaction and the feeling that one has done something important. The sanctification of Shabbat also carries with it a feeling of festivity and holiness. Rather it is in the cases of fearing one's mother and father and the guarding of Shabbat, in which we must be careful of stumbling over small and simple matters, where we express the holiness of our lives, spreading through every aspect of our existence, without any limit.
This holiness is expressed through actions between man and his Creator, between man and his fellow and between man and his land. We shall address the well-know pasuk, "…and love your neighbor as yourself…" (xix, 18) about which Rabbi Akiva said, "this is a great rule in the Torah." This is a demand that is difficult to comprehend – how can a person reach such a level that he can love his friend just as he does himself?
The pasuk states, "And love…as yourself." This implies that a person must first of all love himself and only then can he love his friend as well. It would appear that a person who loves himself is egoistic and egocentric – how can he love his friend?
However, when this command is understood as part of the general command of holiness, the issue becomes clear. Holiness teaches us that we possess a pure, Divine soul, that is revealed and expressed in every part of our characters, spirits and bodies, and therefore we love ourselves. From this perspective we can love our fellow as well.
The love of another that comes from a disparaging of the lover's self does not constitute true love, and will inevitably collapse. Thus Rav Kook explains (Orot hakodesh III, p. 13): "The ultimate purpose of life is holiness. Holiness is not opposed in any way to self-love, which is imprinted in the depths of every living soul, but rather it places a person in such a lofty state that the more he loves himself the more the good that is within him will spread over everything, over all the surroundings, over the whole world, over all creation."
Eretz Yisrael is the only place where our holiness can be fully expressed, and therefore we are commanded to live a life of modesty and family purity in order that "the land that I am bring you there to dwell in it should not expel you" (xx, 22). We are commanded to relate to the fruits that the land produces in holiness, and therefore "three years it shall be forbidden to you; it shall not be eaten. And in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, for giving thanks to Hashem" (xix, 23-4). We are commanded to express the "Israel is holy" principle through the proper relationship between man and his fellow.
In these difficult days, of spiritual crises in our relationships towards our holy land and the sanctity of a modest life, and which contain many severe internal tensions, we must return and review our essence – the original, Divine holiness – and know that we are commanded to actualize it through our actions.
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