Parshas Kedoshim - I'm Ready When You Are!

By Rabbi Zvi Teichman
Posted on 05/09/19

קדושים תהיו כי קדוש אני ד' אלקיכם - ויקרא יט ב, You shall be holy, for holy am I, Hashem, your Lord

G-d seems to be demanding from us to be holy simply because He is. Can our holiness approximate that of G-d? Why does G-d’s holiness compel us to be holy?

The root word קדש, which normally translates as holy, alternatively can mean to prepare oneself, as when before the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai the nation was instructed, וקדשתם היום ומחר (יט י), You shall prepare yourselves today and tomorrow for the upcoming Revelation.

Rabbeinu Ephraim, one of the Rishonim, renders this verse in this light as follows:

You shall prepare yourselves (to fulfill My mitzvos) for I too am prepared to hear your voices.

This interpretation certainly modifies the prior implication and seems to be simply encouraging us to be prepared to perform His will so that He too will be ready to hear our pleas and respond to them.

But what is the exact nature of this ‘preparation’? Is it just a positive attitude that suffices or is there a specific act of preparation that must be implemented to affect a reciprocal response from G-d?

The traditional understanding of this verse, in the context of holiness, we are taught refers to sanctifying ourselves through refraining from even those activities that are not specifically restricted by the Torah but nevertheless are worthy of restraint. Whether it is regarding the levels of indulgence in our relationship to food, intimacy, or manner of speech, one who sanctifies that which is otherwise permitted to him, embodies the objective of this command.

Perhaps the notion of preparation for mitzvos and this call for chasteness are two sides of the same coin.

We are summoned to create a סיג לתורה, ‘fences for the Torah’. (פרקי אבות א א)

This is not just a directive to the sages in each generation to implement additional rabbinic restrictions that will help deter the violation of strict Torah law. A classic example would be the laws of Muktzeh where certain items, e.g. a hammer, are not to be handled lest one inadvertently come to utilize them in performing a prohibited work activity. It is incumbent upon everyone to apply whatever strategies vital to avoiding compromising situations.

The Talmud quotes the prophet Yeshayahu who extols one who closes his eyes from seeing evil (ישעיהו לג טו). This refers to one who when passing by washwomen, who often in the course of their arduous work bend and stretch, exposing parts of their bodies, firmly ‘closes his eyes’ so as not to be aroused. The Talmud adds that certainly this doesn’t refer to one who has the option to take an alternate route and avoid these women entirely, because if he had another option and didn’t select it, even if he succeeded in deflecting his eyes, he is classified as a רשע, a wicked sinner. It pertains only to an individual who had no recourse and found himself in this circumstance not by choice. (בבא בתרא נז: ורשב"ם)

Why is this so? If a person had the inner strength to overcome temptation, why is he faulted?

In life we will each inevitably face myriad of challenges that are orchestrated by providence, and we are expected to rise to the challenge in overcoming our urges to succumb. But at times the odds seem so insurmountable. How can we be expected to succeed in the face of such powerful forces?

That answer is that we know G-d never puts us to a test we cannot withstand. In fact the Talmud states that the evil inclination is so all consuming that if not for G-d’s divine help we couldn’t resist. (סוכה נב:)

The problem is that this divinely assured assistance is only guaranteed if our challenges are G-d inspired, but not if we have created them or entered willingly into the arena of challenge.

It is for that reason one who chooses not to avoid the territory of test is deemed an evil person, for eventually he will falter in his battle against the evil inclination since he enters alone, unaided by G-d, against a formidable foe he cannot possibly overcome.(מבוסס על ספר אוצר הזהב)

Perhaps this is exactly what we are being taught here.

Prepare yourself; get ready; be on guard, because only then will G-d see how committed you are in avoiding the pitfalls of sin.

G-d then adds - ‘for I too am prepared’ and ready to be at your side as you valiantly conquer your challenges, which are devised by G-d Himself to prod greatness from within you, against an otherwise unconquerable enemy.

This is not merely an expression of the measure for measure reward for fulfilling His will, it is the sum total of the only game plan that can achieve success in meeting the trials we must inevitably face in our journey towards eternity and spiritual growth.

The Sifra on this verse that charges man to be akin to G-d, questions, יכול כמוני, perhaps G-d is expecting us to be equal to Him, and concludes that the words כי קדוש אני, for I alone am holy, negate that possibility, as G-d asserts קדושתי למעלה מקדושתכם, my holiness is beyond yours.

Could one contemplate even the doubt that G-d expected of us to be on the level of His holiness?

Perhaps continuing the theme, we can suggest:

G-d beckons us to be prepared to serve Him as He is prepared to hear us. I might have thought He expects us to be so equipped as to overpower the evil inclination alone without His assistance, as indeed He is so capable. G-d addresses that notion clarifying:  קדושתי למעלה - My ability from above is what infuses you with strength to defeat your archenemy, you can’t do it alone, but realize that it is contingent, מקדושתכם - from you preparing yourself, by implementing strategies to avoid as much as is within your ability from being ensnared by his nefarious clutches.

One of the early Chassidic leaders, Reb Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, once found himself in the great city of Minsk on Parshas Kedoshim. The townsfolk were accustomed to the many maggidim, itinerant preachers, who would frequent their city and castigate them for their deficiencies, depicting vividly before them how unless they improve their ways the fires of Gehenna will consume them.

Reb Menachem Mendel observing how downcast they were, feeling defeated, dejected and doomed to failure, rose to the podium and took a very different tack, in the tradition of the Baal Shem Tov.

“Kedoshim Tihyu, you will all be holy”, he appealed, “is not simply a demand from G-d to change your ways and become holy, but rather a loving promise that you will all reach the heights of that which is inherent within each one of you, you will each realize the greatness and beauty that emanates from your precious souls, for you are all so holy!”

He is waiting to assist us in actualizing that reality. He is ready! All we need to do is display a willingness to strive, a semblance of caution in avoiding that which is within our ability to deflect, and He will do the rest in guiding us through the dangerous road towards our ultimate success.

He is ready when we are!


צבי יהודה טייכמאן