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Kedoshim(Leviticus 19-20)

How To Be Holy

Parshat Kedoshim begins with the commandment to "Be holy." How do we achieve holiness? Nachmanides explains that holiness is the result of exercising restraint in areas that are permitted to you.

For example, let's say a person keeps kosher. It may be no great challenge for him to refrain from eating a ham sandwich. But the question is: When he sits down to eat kosher food, what is his frame of mind: Does he pronounce a blessing with concentration, appreciating God's gift of bounty? Does he eat slowly and with dignity? Does he focus on the fact that the ultimate purpose of food is to nourish the body - in order to have strength to do good deeds?

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. But we humans - every time we make such a choice - refine our soul, and achieve a level higher and holier than even that of angels.

Published: April 29, 2006

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Visitor Comments: 5

(5) Anonymous, April 17, 2014 4:11 PM


This is great! Thank you so much for posting this! And I love the ox story!

(4) chava, April 27, 2009 1:04 PM

response to #1, Martha

Kol hakavod (all honor) to you, Martha (#1). You've judged the neighbor in the story in a positive way, which is itself a mitzvah. But, the Baal Shem Tov was a very holy man. He was given abilities to see and do things in ways that "regular" people couldn't see or do. In this story, probably you or I would have seen the neighbor eating in a perfectly reasonable and polite way. But the Baal Shem Tov could see on the outside what was going on in the mind of the neighbor, and that changed how he looked on the outside to the Baal Shem Tov.

(3) Anonymous, April 27, 2009 11:42 AM


It was not what I expected it to be. I, too, thought it too judgemental on the person eating. True, some people have gross eating habits and that may be from a disability. However, I don't think eating food should be considered a holy act. I eat because nature makes my body hungry - not as a desire to obey G-d.

(2) sara, May 1, 2008 9:30 PM

sometimes we all behave foolishly and do not want to

(1) Martha Meo, May 1, 2008 7:15 AM

The Holy One and the OX

Perhaps this story needs some help because the moment the Holy Man saw his neighbor from afar and thought of that neighbor as an OX, the HM does not appear to me as holy. Maybe this HM was looking out his window at a disabled person who picked up food with his hands and dumped it into his mouth any way he could. Any time we judge the heart of our neighbor from appearances, we offend and proclaim in our own mind that we are more than others, which might be a terrible sin of pride. I would be interested in the teaching of how we are to correctly judge so that we don't associate with what is bad for ourselves but at the same time how can we avoid exhaulting ourselves at the expense of others.

Let me know what you think of the Holy Man and the Ox story and where I might be wrong in my opinion as far as this story goes as written. Thank you.

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