Can we really be holy?

Thursday, 30 April, 2015 - 2:33 pm

As you well know, the Torah does not have any vowels or punctuation. Oral tradition is therefore imperative to determining how the text is intended to be understood.

In this week’s Parshah (the second of the double header), G-d says “Kedoshim Tihiyu – you shall be holy, Ki Kadosh Ani – for I am holy.” At least that is the most obvious understanding of the verse…

However, the commentators discuss two ways to punctuate the verse. One is with a question mark – as a question that is then strengthened with the follow up? This would be loosely read as, “Can you really be holy as I am?” The other is with a period – as a statement, with an explanation. This would be loosely read as, “You can be holy because I am.”

The Chassidic masters explain that these are not contradictory interpretations, but rather two stages in the development of a person into a holy being.

To achieve holiness a person must first question the ability of a human being to be “like G-d.” How can a finite being aspire to the level of the infinite? If holy means being like G-d, then it seems beyond human reach. Once the big question mark is in place then we can begin resolving the challenge with stage two. How can we be holy? Because G-d is holy. And He imparted some of that holiness to us.

Where do we see that this is the case? Let us examine the text of the blessing we recite before performing a Mitzvah. After the standard introductory “Blessed are You…” we then recite, “Asher Kidishanu B’Mitzvotav – who has made us holy with His commandments.” In Tanya this word Kidishanu is associated with the act of marriage which is called Kiddushin. It is as if Hashem imparts to us an element of Self, of His infiniteness, by giving us the Mitzvah. When we do the Mitzvah we are Mekudeshet (consecrated, married, united).

Now that person has been endowed with the infinite power of a Mitzvah, indeed it is clear that “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” For we are now (in a micro sense) just like Him. Now the task that remains is to guard and maintain that holiness and G-dliness. For that we have all of the instructions in the Parshah of how to live a life of holiness.

Mazel Tov to Dr. David and Nechama Kaufmann upon the birth of a granddaughter, Rosa Malka, to Yosef and Chani Kaufmann.

Mazel Tov to Dr. Charles and Sandra Brum upon the birth of a grandson to Yaakov and Chaya Brum.

Our condolences to Chezky Binkowitz upon the sudden passing of his mother, Donna Griffin Binkowitz.

Please see below about the amazing work of Chabad in Nepal in the aftermath of the horrific earthquake. Take a moment to support those efforts at

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


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