This week's Parsha begins with the Mitzvah to "Be holy." How do we achieve holiness?

The Torah provides many avenues, and keeping Kosher in a primary one. Imagine you're on vacation and you come upon a restaurant offering roasted pork at a good price. Your mouth waters and your stomach growls. But the food is not Kosher, so you pass it by. That's called mind over matter - the soul exercising control over the body. And that's holy.

But there's a much deeper level to the Mitzvah to "Be holy." Nachmanides explains that holiness is the result of exercising restraint in areas that are permitted to us.

Let's go back to our example of keeping Kosher. It may be no great challenge to refrain from eating roasted pork. But the question is: When we sit down to eat Kosher food, what is our frame of mind: Do we pronounce a blessing with concentration, appreciating God's gift of bounty? Do we eat slowly and with dignity? Do we focus on the fact that the ultimate purpose of food is to nourish the body - in order that we'll have strength to do good deeds?

Indeed, it has been said that "all holiness begins at the dinner table."

The story is told of the Baal Shem Tov, the great kabbalist, who looked out the window and saw his neighbor sitting at the dinner table. In the eyes of the Baal Shem Tov, the neighbor appeared not as a human, but as an ox. The neighbor was eating for purely physical reasons, just as would an ox (and the holy Baal Shem Tov was able to perceive this). Although the neighbor was acting in a permitted manner, it was not a holy one.

Sometimes a child will do something that demonstrates particular self-discipline, and the parent will say: "You're an angel!" But in actuality, the child is greater than an angel. An angel is a purely spiritual being, with no sense of "free will" to choose spirituality over the mundane world of animalism. But we humans - every time we make such a choice, we refine our soul, and achieve a level ... higher and holier than even that of angels.

 

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Shraga Simmons