Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz: A Holy Nation

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yated_logo1.jpgThis week we read and study Parshas Kedoshim. Any time some one asks you what’s wrong with doing this or that, where does it say in the Torah that it’s forbidden, the answer is, right here. We are commanded to be a holy nation, kedoshim tihiyu. The commandment is given not only to old people with long white beards or to ascetics who cut themselves off from all of life’s pleasures. Kedoshim tihiyu is the mantra for all Jews and for all times.

So often, the temptation is there to act like everyone else, to do things we know are wrong, because “everyone” does them and gets away with it. We have to know that we have to be better. We have to eat differently, sleep differently, conduct business differently and treat people differently because we are the people who are commanded by G-d, kedoshim tihiyu.

Granted, it’s often easier said than done. I remember that as a small child I would often complain about not being permitted to do things that “everyone else” did. My mother, aleha hashalom, would answer that she loves me more than the other children’s parents love them and that’s why she can’t allow me to stay out late or engage in dangerous activities or whatever childish mishugas I was interested in.

Kedoshim tihiyu. We are Hashem’s beloved children and therefore we have to conduct ourselves differently.

Actually, knowing how to behave often takes nothing more than good old fashioned common sense, something sorely lacking in our day. Instead of mindlessly coasting along with the masses, we can usually arrive at the proper perspective and the right course of action if we pause for a few moments to weigh the matter carefully.

After watching someone make a fool of himself, I remember asking my rebbi, Rav Elya Svei shlita, how a smart person could do something so silly. “What was he thinking?” I asked him. He answered, “He wasn’t thinking. If he had been thinking, he wouldn’t have done it.”

It’s a deceptively simple comment, one rich with insight into human nature. All too often we act without thinking, without using foresight, without realizing the ramifications our actions will cause. We act irresponsibly because we don’t think.

We get ourselves in trouble because we forget the admonition of kedoshim tihiyu.

Behave responsibly, with dignity, and with holiness. 

We are influenced by the surrounding culture that glorifies the victor, irrespective of his virtue and morality. Kedoshim tihiyu teaches us that winning is worthless if it is achieved through means which are not entirely holy. Kedoshim tihiyu ought to open our eyes to the fact that if we get ahead through cutting corners, taking advantage of people and being not entirely honest, we haven’t won at all.

The Zohar writes that the purpose of all the Torah and mitzvos is to introduce holiness into our hearts and make us holy. Thus we make brachos and state, “Asher kidishanu b’mitzvosav v’tzivanu…That He made us holy with his mitzvos and commanded us to…”

We are meant to live holy lives, to be kedoshim through our actions as we live our lives. It is one thing to die as a Jew, as a kadosh, the way so many millions of our brothers and sisters died throughout the ages. It is a completely different matter to live as a kadosh. Chazal teach us that Jews have an intrinsic moral strength and courage to be moser nefesh thanks to the mesiras nefesh of Avrohom Avinu who jumped into the kivshan ha’eish to sanctify G-d’s name.

We commonly refer to the Jews who perished in the Holocaust as “the kedoshim;” they died with the eternal words of Shema Yisroel on their lips, killed for being the children of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov.

In truth, we should find living people we can refer to as kedoshim, and we should begin by looking into our own hearts and souls.

Kedoshim means to be holy, but another definition of the word is to be separated. In order to be holy, we must put a mechitza between ourselves and the corrupt ways of the world. We must separate ourselves from the mad urge to get ahead in life at all costs.

The recent spree of media sensationalism surrounding the tragedy in Virginia should remind us of the dangers of succumbing to the drive to get ahead at any price.

We know how far gone the media are in their race for better ratings. But last week we saw their opportunism and hypocrisy hit a new level, as media outlets vied with each other to publicize the rantings of a madman who killed 32 innocent people in Virginia.

Pandering to the public’s morbid fascination with the deranged murderer, the media displayed appalling irresponsibility and poor judgment. They purveyed wicked sensationalism in the pursuit of a few dollars, replaying the gunman’s obscene ravings on a video clip he sent to a news station. Only later did the media chiefs pause to wonder whether such sensationalism might inspire other sick individuals to “copycat” the crimes of the Virginia murderer.

Consider another example of people pandering to dishonorable causes in order to promote themselves. Last weekend, a prominent rabble rouser with a long record of incendiary anti-Semitic remarks and actions held a convention of his imaginary National Action Network. Every single candidate for the Democratic nomination for president scheduled a spot at the so-called convention to set forth their agenda and seek an endorsement. Nobody so much as reprimanded them for stooping to ingratiate themselves with this rabble rouser. Let’s remember the moral cowardice of these politicians when they come calling for our vote.

How can we respect people who have no compunctions about paying homage to an unscrupulous opportunist? Where is their moral fiber, the courage to stand behind something they profess to believe in? They are willing to step into the cesspool in order to further their relentless drive for power. No matter how many elections they win, in truth, they are losers. 

There are no longer any standards in our world; the drive for money or power determines people’s allegiances. There is no one left to admonish those who step over the line. No one guards the line. No one even seems to know where the line is or of there is a line at all.

Kedoshim tihiyu commands us to be ever cognizant of the line and ensure that we don’t cross it, no matter the temptation and no matter how many others cross it with seeming impunity.

This applies not only to our personal lives but to our field of employment as well, whatever it may be.

Becoming a kadosh is a lifetime mission and does not come easily, but Chazal in Maseches Yoma (39a) tell us that if a person sanctifies his life even to a small degree, he receives Divine assistance in achieving greater holiness. If we truly seek to bring kedusha into our lives, we can and will succeed in being a light unto the nations and unto ourselves.

We can all do it. Kedoshim tihiyu.


12 COMMENTS

  1. In these days of ikvasa dimishicha, there is is very little “heimish” material to read. We publicly salute you R’ Pinny and YW Editor for being behind the forces that combat the ruach raah, and thanks to them we get to read good quality material, that we dont have to be embarrased to let our kids read.

  2. Beautiful piece, and at least to me – its very inspirational.

    Thank you Mr. Chinuch for cooling it off with your Letzones and motzie shem rah. Quite befitting the name you’ve chosen.

  3. There is plenty to read in the “heimish” genre. YW, Yated. Hamodia, Mishpach, JO, and some say JP and JA. “Quality”, each to their own standards of what quality is.

  4. YW – Thank you again for posting another great piece (and well written, kudos to the Philly English dept!) from R’ Pinny. Why can’t you post this earlier in the week, by Thursday afternoon I usually already read it…

    R’ Pinny if you read this, send YW a copy on Tuesday. Don’t worry we’ll still buy the paper!

  5. Thank you for posting this article (and last week’s). We here in England unfortunately can’t get the Yated (the British edition stopped publishing and the American edition is not available here). Keep it up