The Road Less Traveled
עַם קוֹדֶשׁ: holy nation
שַׁבָּת קוֹדֶשׁ: Shabbos Kodesh
קִדוּשִׁין:engagement, invitation, designated
אֶרֶץ הַקֹּדֶשׁ: the Holy Land
בֵּית הַמִקְדָשׁ: the Temple
קוֹדֶשׁ קְדָשִׁים: the Holy of Holies
InParshas Emorit says regarding the kohanim:קְדֹשִׁים יִהְיוּ לֵ-א-לֹהֵיהֶם/they will be holy to their G-d.1
And in Parshas Kedoshim, it says: קְדֹשִׁים תִּהְיוּ כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אֲנִי ה’אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם/you shall be holy because I, your G-d, am holy.2
עַם קוֹדֶשׁ: Holy Nation
What exactly does it mean to be holy? Rashi says it means to separate oneself from forbidden relationships and idol worship. The Ramban goes a stage further, applying holiness to even separating oneself from what is permitted, e.g., to limiting relations with one’s wife, limiting one’s food intake, and not being a glutton.
But more than separation, קְדֹשִׁיםmeans unique and special. When we separate something, we make it special; we elevate it from being ordinary to being something special. When weמְקַדֵשׁ/engage a woman, we are in fact separating her from all other women and saying that she is special. She is now off-limits to all other men and is unique to her groom.
This is what Hashem is saying to us: “You are a holy nation, you are special to me; I am separating you from the rest of the nations to be unique only to me, because I am unique.” We are therefore off-limits to all of the other nations in that we cannot marry out, we cannot worship their avodah zarah, we cannot follow their practices וְלֹא תֵלְכוּ בְּחֻקֹּת הַגּוֹי)), but rather are meant to be separate from them in the way we look, in the way we speak, in the way we eat, and in the way we conduct our lives. All of this makes us special.
The commentaries tell us that we were redeemed from Egypt because we were distinguished in our dress, we kept our Jewish names, we had Shabbos, and we had brismilah.3Those Jews who did not segregate themselves from the Egyptians were not redeemed, as the Sages say that only one-fifth of us were redeemed. We have a tradition that we will be redeemed from the current exile in the same way as we were redeemed in Egypt, so whoever does not identify with being a Jew will not be redeemed. Once we begin to walk and talk and look like Egyptians, we are no longer special, and we lose our uniqueness.
לֹא תִהְיֶה קְדֵשָׁה מִבְּנוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל/there shall not be a prostitute among the daughters of Israel.4
Rashi says that a prostitute is called a kadeishahbecause she has designated herself for promiscuity. She is in fact the opposite of being holy; instead of being special, she has made herself specifically un-special.
When we make Kiddush on Shabbos, we mention זֵכֶר לִיצִיאַת מִצְרַיִם/a remembrance of the exodus from Egypt when we first became a nation, and we mention זֵכֶר לְמַעֲשֵׂה בְרֵאשִׁית/a remembrance of Bereshis, the beginning.בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱ-לֹהִים/in the beginning Hashem created the world,on which Rashi quotes the pasukin Yirmiyahu:קֹדֶשׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל לַה’רֵאשִׁית תְּבוּאָתֹה/Israel are kodeshto Hashem because they are the first of His produce. So thereforeבְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱ-לֹהִיםmeans because of Israel the רֵאשִׁית/the first, Hashem created the world.
The head is the most elevated part of the body and we are born head first, the רֹאשׁborn out from רֵאשִׁית/the beginning, symbolizing to us that just like everything follows the head, so too everything follows on from the beginning. Beginnings are therefore very important.
There is something special about being first: the first time we give birth and become a parent, the first time the tree blossoms and produces fruit. These are special times when Hashem wants us to remember Him and thank Him for the blessings, in order to forge a stronger relationship with Him. For this reason, we are commanded to קַדֵשׁ לִי כָּל בְּכוֹר/bemekadeshthe firstborn, to bring the בִּכּוּרִים/the first fruits to the Beis HaMikdash, to take terumahand separate the first of our grain, to take challahand separate the first of the dough, to say kiddush and remember our beginnings.
שַׁבָּת קוֹדֶשׁ: Shabbos Kodesh
It is said that more than the Jews keep the Shabbos, it is the Shabbos that has kept the Jews.
If we were to give seven eggs to a child and tell him to make one of them special, he would probably get his felt tips out and start coloring it with beautiful colors, etc. This is Shabbos. Hashem has taken one day out of seven and made it beautiful. On all of the other days we go to work and do our ordinary things, where יוֹם חוֹל means an ordinary day. Come Shabbos, we leave our ordinary lives behind and we step into the special time zone of Shabbos. We beautify Shabbos by wearing special clothing, eating delicious delicacies, spending quality time with Hashem, our wives, and our children. By beautifying the Shabbos and making it kadosh, Shabbos in turn elevates us to the point where we are able to draw closer to the One who is kulo kadosh, HaKadosh Baruch Hu.
קִדוּשִׁין: Engagement, Invitation, Designated
We can only really enjoy Shabbos if we have made the correct preparations — meaning that we do all our shopping and cooking, our washing and cleaning, so that when Shabbos comes, everything is ready and all we have to do is enjoy Shabbos. Similarly, when we all stood at Har Sinai, Hashem told Moshe to prepare the people for three days before the giving of the Torah, using the lashonof וְקִדַשְׁתָּם, where Rashi explains this to mean an invitation/הַזְמָנָה. An invitation is more than just a request to be in attendance — it is a request to prepare oneself to be ready. Before giving the Torah, Hashem gave us time to wash our clothing and be in a state of purity so that we could receive the Torah.
The period of kiddushinbefore marriage is for this very reason: in order to prepare for the wedding, for the bride to have time to buy jewellery and fine clothing to beautify herself for her husband.
In the same way, we are Hashem’s bride, Hashem’s designated one. We each have been given a period of time in order to prepare ourselves, as it says in Pirkei Avosthat first we must prepare ourselves in the corridor in order to enter the banquet hall.5We are preparing for the day that is יוֹם שֶׁכֻּלוֹ שַׁבָּת/the day that is eternally Shabbos. Life is a period of kiddushin, an engagement period, where we need to beautify ourselves for our husband, Hashem. Just like the bride adorns herself with jewellery and fine clothing, we too clothe ourselves with mitzvos and good deeds that make us beautiful.
אֶרֶץ הַקֹּדֶשׁ: The Holy Land
הכֹּל מַעַלִין לְאֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל/everyone goes up to Eretz Yisrael, which is why we call it aliyah/to go up.6Hashem has elevated the Land of Israel from all the other lands and has raised it up from being ordinary to kadosh. This seems to contradict our general knowledge that Mount Everest is the tallest mountain in the world. However, if we were to suspend a ball on a piece of string, the most elevated part of the ball is where the string joins the ball at the most central tip; in this way, Eretz Yisrael is the center of the world, making it the most elevated of places.7The fact that all the eyes of the world look to Israel bears testimony to this point. The land of Eretz Yisrael is known as אֶרֶץ צְבִי/the land of desire, because all the goyimdesire a piece of the action, since this is the land where the Divine Presence is found.8
The Holy Land is also the most spiritually elevated of all the lands. It is the place where the Shechinah, the Divine Presence, chooses to rest. It is where, unlike all the other nations — which have an intermediary angel who ministers their daily affairs — there is a direct connection, where Hashem alone oversees and administers all affairs.
בֵּית הַמִקְדָשׁ: The Temple
Yerushalayim (עִיר הַקֹּדֶשׁ) is the most beautiful city in the world. The Gemara says that out of ten portions of beauty that descended to the world, nine were given to Yerushalayim.9The most beautiful place of all, the centerpiece, was the בֵּית הַמִקְדָשׁ. The Beis HaMikdash stood on theאֶבֶן שְׁתִיָה/the foundation stone from where the Earth was first created and from which it spread out. This is the very point where heaven and earth meet, the hot spot of the whole world, the most sought-after place, which has made it the most contested point of all world conflicts to this very day.
קֹדֶשׁ הַקָּדָשִׁים: The Holy of Holies
The holiest moment of the whole year is when the Kohen Gadolenters the קֹדֶשׁ הַקָּדָשִׁים on Yom Kippur. Here we have the most holy of men, the Kohen Gadol, entering the most holy of places, the Kodesh HaKadashim, on the most holy of days, Shabbos Shabbason, Yom Kippur. The degree of holiness is relevant to how much we separate something, elevating it more and more, making it more unique and special. The High Holy Days are the high point of the whole year, the point when the Kohen Gadolsteps into the Holy of Holies and is misyached/together with Hashem.
To become one with Hashem is the goal of holiness. The meaning ofקְדֹשִים תִּהְיוּ כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אַנִי ה’אֶ-לֹהֵיכֶם/you shall be holy because I, your G-d, am holy, is that Hashem wants us to be kadoshso that we can be together with Him.
אֵלֶה מועַדֵי ה’מִקרָאֵי קֹדֶש/these are the appointed times of Hashem, the holy festivals.10How we spend our holidays, our “holy days,” reveals a lot about who we are. Do we use them as a time to run away and escape from the world, or do we use the time as an opportunity to draw closer?
Hashem gives us a command of aliyah l’regel/to go up to the Beis HaMikdash on Pesach, Shavuos, and Succos. Not to come empty handed, but rather to come bearing gifts that throughout the year we have made הֶקְדֵשׁ/designated for a higher purpose. We bring with us our offerings, our first fruits, and our ma’aser sheini,and we are commanded to be happy before Hashem.
True happiness is born out of closeness and deveikus/joining with Hakadosh Baruch Hu. The more kadoshwe become, the more we draw close to Hashem. After the period ofkiddushinis over and we have made all of our preparations, we are then ready to be misyached/ alonewith our husband in the cheder yichud. When we finally fall into the arms of our loved one, there will be no greater simchah.
The Mountain of G-d
וַיֹּאמֶר אַל תִּקְרַב הֲלֹם שַׁל נְעָלֶיךָ מֵעַל רַגְלֶיךָ כִּי הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה עוֹמֵד עָלָיו אַדְמַת קֹדֶשׁ הוּא
The first reference to land being קֹדֶשׁoccurs when Moshe approaches the burning bush on Har Sinai, the mountain of G-d. Hashem tells Moshe to take off his shoes because the land isאַדְמַת קֹדֶשׁ/holy land.11The commentaries explain that the presence of the Shechinah resting there made it holy. Unlike today, where we have paved roads, people then would walk along dusty paths that were sometimes full of mud, so it would be highly disrespectful to draw close to the Shechinah with dirty shoes. For this same reason the kohanimin the Beis HaMikdash served Hashem barefoot. In addition, it was also so that there should be nothing חוֹצֵץ/separating them from the holy ground.
In the Mishkan, the Shechinah rested in the אֹהֵל מוֹעֵד/the Tent of Meeting, so called because that is where Hashem would meet with Moshe. Like a king who has designated times to speak with his servant, Hashem would מְדַבֵּר/speak from the דְבִיר/the Holy of Holies, where a voice would come out from between thekeruvim/angels above the Ark, a voice that only Moshe could hear, as it says:וְנוֹעַדְתִּי לְךָ שָׁם וְדִבַּרְתִּי אִתְּךָ מֵעַל הַכַּפֹּרֶת.12. Likewise, Hashem has given us the מוֹעַדִים/designated times where we are able to draw close to Hashem.
Holiness, in the form of the Shechinah, can thus attach itself to places, times, and people — places in the form of the Beis HaMikdash, times in the form of Shabbos and the festivals, and people in the form of the kohanim. It is not just the kohanimwho are holy, though. We all have the capability of drawing close and becoming holy. Although today we don’t have prophecy, we do have the potential for רוּחַ הַקוֹדֶשׁ. In מְסִילַת יְשָׁרִים it says that one of the highest levels that can be reached is רוּחַ הַקוֹדֶשׁ, but first one has to ascend the ladder of righteousness through progressively refining his character by being careful and watchful of his actions, separating from the material world, and going through a process of cleansing and purification. This process draws down the Shechinah, allowing the spirit of kedushahto rest upon the person, giving him רוּחַ הַקוֹדֶשׁ.
David HaMelech wrote: “Who can climb the mountain of G-d, and who can stand in His holy place? נְקִי כַפַּיִם וּבַר לֵבָב/someone whose hands are clean and who has a pure heart.” The more we separate, the higher we go. We are aiming for perfection. Anyone with an imperfection is not allowed to serve in the Beis HaMikdash. Aפְּגַם/blemish in the body is a sign of a spiritual defect within. Just like akorbanmust be תָּמִים/pure to be brought to Hashem so too we, His servants, must be free of imperfections as well.
Even though the mountain of G-d may seem like a tall order, we cannot become complacent and give up hope. In Pirkei Avosit says that the task is not for us to finish, but we must nonetheless start the process. There is a mashalof a king who seeks a suitor to marry his daughter. He places the princess at the top of a very tall tower and challenges that whoever can climb the ten thousand steps within the duration of a day will marry his daughter. Day in and day out, suitors come and start to climb the many thousands of steps. They pass one thousand steps, two thousand steps, three thousand steps, three thousand five hundred, three thousand eight hundred, but by the time they reach four thousand steps, over half the day has passed and they feel there is no way they cancomplete the task, and thus they give up. However, one man says to himself that if the king is making this challenge, there must be a way to achieve it; there is no way the king would make a task that was impossible to achieve. With this thought in mind, he persevered beyond the four thousand steps, and even though half the day had already passed and it seemed impossible to reach the top, still he persevered until he reached five thousand. At the halfway mark, a strange thing happened — the steps started to get easier to climb! He easily continued on to six thousand, seven thousand, eight thousand, nine thousand, and just as the sun was setting, he made it to the top. The secret to his success was that since he went against the force of gravity and broke his nature and persevered past the halfway point, the pull of gravity started to have less of an effect on him, which made things easier and easier.
So too, Hashem sets down a challenge to us: Who can climb the mountain of G-d? The answer is that it’s the one who breaks himself and starts the process of purification. In the period of Sefiras Ha’Omer, when this parshahis normally read, we have begun the process of climbing the fifty steps in preparation to receiving the Torah. Once we have started the process, Hashem helps us along the rest of the way, until we find ourselves standing in His holy place.
They say that it is a lonely place at the top, and this road that we are on is by far the road less travelled, but if you would ask Moshe Rabbeinu what it was like to be at the top of the mountain, I am sure he would say that it was far from lonely.
3See Baal HaTurimto Shemos 1:1.
7Maharal, Be’er HaGolah 6.
8See Rashi to Devarim 33:17.