Kedusha and Totality
By: Rav Mordechai Greenberg
We would like to focus on two of the many teachings of Chazal on the pasuk, "Be holy" (Vayikra 19:2).
1. "Be holy" – be ascetic.
2. Perhaps like Me? The pasuk teaches, "For I am holy" – My sanctity is above yours.
The Ramban has a well-known comment that the mitzvah of abstaining is even from pleasures and indulgences that are not inherently prohibited, since without this a person can still be vile within the framework of the Torah.
Based on this, the two aforementioned teachings are very difficult! If holiness means separation from physical pleasures, how is it possible to compare our holiness to the Divine holiness? Furthermore, what is the idea that His holiness is above ours?
Rav Shimon Shkopf addresses this at length in the introduction to his work, "Sha'arei Yosher." He explains there that all of a person's actions have to be with a single goal – to help others, and not for his own benefit. In this way, man is similar to the Creator, all of Whose actions were only for the Creation. Even when a person is attending to his own needs, the ultimate goal is the benefit of the community. After all, if he will not care for his health and welfare, he will not be able to function.
Chazal say about this in Pirkei Avot: "If I am not for myself, who is for me? When I am for myself [only], what am I?" In other words, every person is obligated to achieve his personal potential. If he does not do this, no one else will do it in his place. However, the goal of self-fulfillment must be directed to the community, i.e., to consider himself a limb of the general body. Therefore, "when I am for myself" – and only for myself – "what am I," since this has no value.
Thus, there was room to think that man should be holy like G-d, i.e., that he should forego his individuality completely for the benefit of the community. This is what Chazal negated, "My holiness is above your holiness," that a person must care for his needs, and not like G-d, Whose actions are directed just towards others.
This is what the Ramban means, that the idea of holiness is abstinence. Physical pleasures that are not for the purpose of developing the body properly, but for personal pleasure, should be avoided, because this contradicts the Divine holiness, Whose actions are all for the community.
A person needs to work on this point. True, when a baby is born, all of his concerns are for himself alone, but little by little he should associate himself with the community – first with his family, and, ultimately, with mankind as a whole. Rav Kook zt"l writes in Orot Hakodesh:
§ A person has to free himself from his personal confines that fill his entire essence ... This lowers a person to the depths of small-mindedness, and there is not limit to the physical and spiritual suffering that results from this. Rather, his thought and interest and basic thinking must be given to the total all – to the whole world, mankind, the whole of Israel, to all the universe. Through this, his individuality will also be established in the proper measure. (p. 147)
§ The more a person rises in his spiritual stature, the more he feels the great value of the community. The Divine voice begins to become alive inside him, in his heart and the depths of his desire. (ibid.)
§ The nation's greats cannot be separate from the most encompassing totality, all their want and aspiration is always the good of the entire klal. (p. 444)
One person sings his personal song, and in himself he finds everything. Another sings the song of the nation, and he clings with a gentle love with the wholeness of Knesset Yisrael. Another, his soul expands until it goes out and spreads beyond Israel, to sing the song of mankind ... Yet another spreads even above this until he joins with the entire universe, with all the creatures and all the worlds. He sings with them all. This is the one who is involved in the daily song, who is guaranteed to a place in the world to come. (ibid.)
Shiur ID: 3748