Torah Bytes Parshat Kedoshim: How To Be Holy
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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: 6

(6) FR WILLIAM BARROCAS, April 24, 2014 3:24 PM

humans are called to be holy

A VERY COMMENDABLE EFFORT TO SHOW THAT HUMANS ARE NOT TO BE LIKE ANIMALS BUT LIKE ANGELS AND THAT OUT OF FREE WILL THE MOST DIFFICULT PART OF IT ALL. THE OX STORY NEED NOT BE BISECTED OR DISECTED AS IT IS ONLYA STORY AND HAS A LIMITED ROLE IN THE LESSON

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

Great!

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

Disappointing

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

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