A Balancing Act

RABBI WAGENSBERG ON
PARSHAS KEDOSHIM
“A Balancing Act”

Our portion begins with the verse, “And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and say to them, ‘Kedoshim Tihiyu (you must be holy) for I Hashem your God am Holy” (Parshas Kedoshim, 19:1-2).

Rashi (ibid), based on the Toras Kohanim (19:1) and based on Vayikra Rabba, Parshas Kedoshim (24:5, Rebbi Chiya), says that this verse, which mentions “The entire assembly” teaches us that Parshas Kedoshim was said “Bihakheil” (in front of the entirety of the Jewish people: men, women, and children) because the majority of Torah’s essentials are contained within this parsha.

This comment makes us wonder, “What is so essential about this week’s parsha which mandated that it be said in an assembly?”
Moreover, the Zohar (Parshas Kedoshim, pg. 81a) tells us that when Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai’s disciples studied Parshas Kedoshim, they were exceedingly happy.

This statement begs us to ask another question, “Why were the Rashbi’s followers so happy when they began to learn Parshas Kedoshim?

In his Toras Moshe, the Chasam Sofer (Rabbi Moshe Sofer, 1762-1839, Pressburg) teaches that this parsha was said in Hakheil (an assembly) because the Hakheil component teaches us what it means to be holy (Kedoshim Tihiyu).

The word “Kadosh” typically refers to a person who is separate, isolated, and secluded from the materialistic world. However, being holy does not mean to distance oneself from the community and live in a forest or in a desert, because each person must do chesed with others and teach others about Torah and Mitzvos (Chovas Halevavos, chap. 3; Rabbenu Bachya, 1255-1340, Spain).

Rather, being a Kadosh means that even while he is a productive participant in society, he must still remain distinct with respect to his personal and intimate relationship with God. Such a person should be separate from materialism which takes him away from Avodas Hashem. The way to achieve distance from excessive and destructive materialism is to be constantly davuk (connected) to Hashem.

This deveikus with Hashem is the way a person demonstrates kedusha because a kadosh means one who is set apart from everybody else. When a person maintains a unique relationship with Hashem, he is apart from everyone else with respect to his own unique connection to God.

This explains why Parshas Kedoshim had to be said Bihakheil. It is because it teaches us that separatism (kedoshim) must be within the community (hakheil). This means to say that one must mingle amongst the people in order to draw them closer to Torah (Hakheil), and on the other hand, the person himself must be set aside in his personal and intimate relationship with Hashem. Such a person should also stay away from earthly pleasures for their own sake because they can draw a person away from Hashem.

This teaching will help explain a Talmudic passage in an even deeper way. The Gemara in Meseches Berachos (chap. 6, “Keitzad Mevarchin”, pg. 35b) quotes Rebbi Shimon ben Yochai who said, “Is it possible that a person plows when it is time to plow, and sows when it is the time to sow, and harvests during the harvest season, and threshes when he is supposed to thresh, and winnows when the wind is blowing, Torah Mah Tihei Aleha” (what is going to be with his Torah learning).

The simplistic message of this Gemara is that if a person gets so preoccupied with his livelihood, there will be no time left for Torah study. However, there is a deeper understanding of this passage as well.

The Chasam Sofer says that this Gemara means to say, “Is it possible for a person to plow and his entire mind is focused only on plowing? Is it possible that he has no other thoughts of Torah or Avodas Hashem on his mind while he is plowing? ‘Torah Mah Tihei Aleha,’ meaning, ‘What kind of Torah is that?’”

In other words, even while a person is plowing, his mind should be focused on loftier spiritual ideas. For example, when plowing the field, he should think to himself that he should also plow the crevices of his heart in order that he will be able to sow in it seeds of Torah and Mussar.

This is what it means to be a Kadosh. It means that even when a person is involved in earthly activities, he is still connected to the heavenly spheres through Torah thoughts.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this balancing act can be achieved only by people who engage in the study of Toras Nistar (the secret hidden kabbalistic aspects of the Torah). This is because it is specifically Toras Nistar that teaches a person how to be mastir (conceal) his deveikus in Hashem even while he is mingling amongst the people.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that now we can understand why the disciples of Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai were so happy when it came time for them to study Parshas Kedoshim. It is because they benefitted learning Toras Nistar from Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai. Therefore, they knew that they could fulfil the first directive of this parsha which is to be Kadosh even while one is living Bihakheil.

In fact, this teaching sheds light on the famous Rashb”I story. In Meseches Shabbos (chap. 2, “Bameh Madlikin”, pg. 33b) it tells us that the Rashb”I once spoke about the disgrace of the Roman Empire. As a result of that, the Roman’s issued a death penalty on Rebbi Shimon. This caused Rebbi Shimon to run away with his son, Rebbi Elazar, to a cave in the wilderness of Lod. They remained hidden in that cave for thirteen years. A miracle occurred and a boxer tree suddenly grew for them and a stream of water miraculously appeared for them so that they would have what to eat and drink.

In Tikkunei Zohar (Preface, pg. 2b) it adds that every single day Eliyahu Hanavi would appear to them and teach them Toras Nistar. It was in the cave that the Rashb”I became a master of Toras Nistar.

This idea is echoed in the most famous Lag Ba’Omer song called, “Bar Yochai.” This song was written by Rebbi Shimon Levi, who was exiled with the Spanish Jews in 1492 when he was a child. Rebbi Shimon Levi was the author of a book called Kesem Paz, and he passed away in 1588 in Tripoli, Libya.

In the second stanza of that song it says, “Bar Yochai, it was a good dwelling that you resided in, on the day you escaped, on the day that you ran away, in a cave of rocks you stood, there you acquired your splendor and your radiance.”

The “splendor and radiance” mentioned in this song refers to his knowledge of Toras Nistar. Once again, we see that Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai became proficient in Toras Nistar from his experience in that cave.

The Shvilei Pinchas suggests that since Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai was not knowledgeable in Toras Nistar prior to dwelling in that cave, he could not maintain the balance between being a Kadosh while simultaneously living amongst the people in Hakheil.

That was why Hashem orchestrated events in such a way which propelled the Rashb”I to run away to that cave. In the cave, he would be isolated from all other people and could therefore focus on being a Kadosh without interference from the kehillah (congregation; community) of people.

However, once the Rashb”I matered Toras Nistar from Eliyahu Hanavi during his stay in the cave, he was ready to live up to the Kadosh – Hakheil expectation. Therefore, Hashem arranged that Cezar died, which abolished his death sentence against the Rashb”I. In this way, Rebbi Shimon would be able to leave the cave and mix amongst the people and teach them the secrets of Torah. Then, he and they would be able to fulfil “Kedoshim Tihiyu” in “Hakheil,” which means to circulate amongst the people and still maintain a deep Deveikus with Hashem.

One practical application of this teaching would be that once a day before learning Torah say, “Speak to the entire assembly of the Jewish people and say to them, ‘Be holy,’” and keep in mind that we must try to become even greater students’ of Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai and try to strike a balance between holiness and being involved in the needs of others.

In this way, we will slowly succeed, even more so, to maintain this tightrope walk we are supposed to preserve during our journey through life.

So, may we all be blessed to be even more dedicated talmidim of Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai and master the art of balancing holiness and involvement with others through the study of Toras Nistar, in order that the entire congregation of Israel will be able to gather together in the holiest place on Earth, serving God with such incredible happiness at the site of the Beis Hamikdash, Bimheira Biyameinu, Amen!