Torah Portion of the Week – Acharei Mos – Kedoshim – How Incremental Growth Can Help You Change – Become a Holy Person – A Powerful Parable about Working for the Government – A Great Story about Rav Shach and Peace in Your Home – Peace Verses the Truth
Torah Podcast Transcript
053 The Torah Podcast – How Incremental Growth Can Help You Change – Become a Holy Person
Torah Portion of the Week – Parshas Acharei Mos – Kedoshim
The first verse in Kedoshim says, “Hashem spoke to Moses saying, speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for holy am I, Hashem your God.’” The Ohr haChayim and other meforshim, commentators have a kasha, a difficulty. He says, “What kind of reason is this – because Hashem is holy, we have to be holy? How can human beings expect to be like the Creator? God has many, many more attributes much greater than man. So, why because God is holy, man has to be holy? That shouldn’t obligate us.” The Ohr haChayim brings the Toras Kohanim which answers like this. “If you sanctify yourselves, I will count it to you as if you sanctified me.” In other words, if you make yourselves holy, it’s like you’re making Me more holy, that’s what God’s saying. That’s the answer according to the Toras Kohanim.
But the Malbim wants to explain it in a different way. He says that Hashem has two different ways that He interacts with the world, either al pi teva, according to nature, or al pi nes, according to miracles. So too when Hashem made man, he gave him two possibilities of how to operate. He can go according to his nature, his teva, or he can rise above his nature. He could work on himself and sanctify himself to work above his natural desires. So, he explains what it means, “Be holy because I am holy.” If man works above his nature, so God will also work above nature. He’ll treat man al pi nes, according to miracles. But if man stays in his nature and doesn’t overcome his desires, so God too will treat man al pi teva, according to nature. And man won’t see God.
But the Chassam Sofer wants to give a third pshat, explanation. He says, “If you look in the verse it says, “You should be holy for holy am I. Hashem your God.” So you see, you have two different names of God, Hashem, yud kay vov kay, and Elokeichem, your God. He wants to explain that just because a person decides to become holy, it doesn’t mean that he should separate himself from everybody else. It’s not a Jewish concept. And that’s why God said this commandment to the entire kehilla, the entire assembly together. In other words, you should still stay together. Don’t think that you’re going to become holy and go off on your own. Just like there are two aspects of Hashem’s name, yud kay vov kay represents Hashem way above, not connected to the world. And Elokim represents Hashem connected to the world. So, even though Hashem towers way above the world but He is still connected. He’s still involved with our daily lives. So too we, if we want to become holy, it doesn’t mean we should separate ourselves from the community. We have to continue to serve the community. And this was always the way of the Chachamim, wise men, even though they were holy people in private in public they mingled with the people. They weren’t aloof. So the question now is, what is holiness?, what does it mean to become holy? I’m going to bring the Ramban.
He says, “The idea of this commandment is that the Torah warned against forbidden sexual relationships, and the forbidden foods, but permitted the cohabitation of man with his wife, and the consumption of meat and wine.” So, there are certain sexual things that are forbidden, and there’s certain sexual things that are permitted. There are certain foods that are forbidden, and there’s certain foods that are permitted. Since this is true, it could be, that even within the laws of the Torah, a man could become too sexual with his wife. Or he could become “the guzzler of wine”, or those who eat meat all day. And he can speak any way he wants. And he’ll wind up to be a manuval bereshus HaTorah, a degenerate within the parameters of the Torah, of what is permitted. Since the Torah permitted us to be like human beings – we have wives and families, we eat and we drink. And of course, God doesn’t want us not to do those things, not like in other religions which try to remove themselves from those things. But the Jewish religion says, you have to do it in the right way. Therefore, comes along the Torah in general, to tell us not to be a manuval bereshus HaTorah, that we should remove ourselves from the excess of the permitted acts, that we should work on ourselves with what’s permitted to us. Because everything has to be in balance. The person has to be a mentsch, and do things with class. Everything in its proper place. And according to the Ramban, that’s what it means that you should be holy, to have the sensitivity to know when something is right and wrong.
Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch goes on to explain that we all must be holy. That’s why it was said to the entire Jewish people at one time. Every Jew has to be holy. He says, “Self-mastery is the highest art a man can practice. Self-mastery does not mean neglecting, stunting, killing, or destroying anyone’s powers or faculties. In and of themselves, these faculties from the most spiritual to the most sensual, are neither good nor bad, because they’ve all been given to us for a special purpose, and that’s to do God’s will with them. And that’s why God put limitations on them, that we should use our kochos, our energies, our desires, for the right purpose. But when it starts to exceed those limits, then the coarseness and evil starts to set in. This is a beautiful thing, this is the basis of Judaism. God created us the way that we are, and he gave a place for everything, for eating, for drinking, for sexuality. Everything has its place. But if you start to go over the border, that’s the problem. That’s where things become coarse, without adinus, sensitivity.
How do we perfect this art? He says, “We have to practice. But we don’t practice in things that are forbidden to us. We practice with things that are permitted to us, rather the moral reserve must be tested and strengthened in the realm of the permitted. He should train quietly in the matter known only to himself.” And he gives a fourth answer to our original question, and he says, “I have breathed the breath into you of My breath, and endowed you with a share of my freedom. And I continually strengthen you and assist you to do what’s good.” In other words, because Hashem gave us holiness, since Hashem Himself is holy. And because Hashem is holy, therefore we could also be holy, because He created us.
The Ramchal also says like this. He brings the Gemara in Yoma 39A that says, “One who comes to purify himself is given divine assistance.” In other words, Hashem is helping us. He goes on to say, “The only way a person is able to sanctify himself is by observing Hashem’s commandments, which is the embodiment of kedusha.” In other words, the mitzvos themselves have inside them holiness, and that’s the way we become holy. He says, “Not through self-infliction.” These practices serve no practical purpose, are simply a waste of time and energy, and can result in a person’s premature death. Don’t go in the way of the nations. He continues, “By performing mitzvos they are able to draw kedusha upon themselves.” The mitzvos bring holiness upon a person. “I am Hashem your God, I am poised and ready to shower you with holiness. The way to achieve this is not through self-infliction. Hashem desires for man to live, not to destroy himself. The Torah is a guide for us how to live, not how to die. All we have to do is the mitzvos, no self-infliction required,” he says. He says, “That’s for one day a year, Yom Kippur. By adhering to the commandments of Hashem, one is able to attain kedusha, holiness. There is no need to live a life of pain and misery. It’s such a beautiful religion. It’s built for the nature of man, it’s not extreme it’s balanced. It’s the healthy way that a man should live, in holiness, in purity.”
Rav Moshe Feinstein says, “We should learn to desire holy things. This trait only comes when one has immersed himself in the study of Torah. When one has diligently learned the Torah, the whole physical self and his attitudes and desires change.” By learning we change ourselves. By doing mitzvos we change ourselves. Our thoughts start to change. Our attitudes start to change, because the holiness starts to come down into us. And he adds, “Since it was given as a general commandment, how do we know specifically what to do? It just says, ‘be holy,’ what does that mean?” He answers that, “Once we start to attune ourselves to holiness, we’ll find our way. Our senses and intellect are attuned to an innate understanding of what holiness entails.” And it couldn’t be given in particular. Why? Because the practice of holiness stems from this sensitivity, and each circumstance varies. There are no particulars, you have to see in the moment. You have to feel in the moment, you have to be attuned to it. Everybody inside of himself intuitively knows when he’s going too far. And the more he learns and the more he does mitzvos, the more holy he’ll become. It’s not a question of beating yourself up. It’s a question of doing everything in the right time, with the right amount.
I just want to end off with Rav Wolbe, who explains that it’s really small actions which are the key to holiness. It’s all the mitzvos in the Parsha that continue, that make a man holy – not to steal, to keep Shabbos, to separate tithes. All these mitzvos make a man holy. He says, “You might think the obligation to leave a small portion of one’s crop for the poor to be inconsequential. But really, it’s a starting point for holiness.” He brings the Raavid. The Raavid said, “Instead of fasting for those who want to repent, better to leave off a little portion of food on his plate.” He said, “This small little action is going to lead a person to holiness.” Why? Because a person didn’t give in to his desires. He left a little bit. So, this is the chiddush, this is how it works. He explains that all the heavenly bodies in the shemayim, in heaven, have a magnetic field. When a star passes through the magnetic field of the sun for example, the gravitational force causes it to move. So too, spiritual forces also have a magnetic field that surround them. The yetzer hara has a powerful pull on us. In other words, our animal nature is pulling us, with magnetism. But our neshama, our soul and our intelligence also has a type of magnetism. When a person resists his desires, he pulls away from the magnetism of his body and moves in the direction of the seichel, of his intelligence, of his soul. And that’s how he starts to become holy. In other words, when we want to become holy, it’s mitzvah goreres mitzvah, one mitzvah leads to another, by doing small little things of holiness, we start to get out of the gravitational pull of our yetzer haras, our evil inclinations, and move into the gravitational pull of holiness. It’s unbelievable.
A person has to realize that holiness is not out of our reach, it’s within our reach. It’s all these small little things that we do on a daily basis that’s going to change our orbit. It’s going to change our direction, and lead us to greater levels of spirituality.
A Powerful Parable
The Chofetz Chaim would always teach his talmidim that in order to reach the levels of holiness, one must strive to do all of his deeds for the sake of heaven, to do things leshem shamayim. Everything you do, you have to do it for God. And he would bring the possuk from Tehillim that says, “My heart is astir with a noble theme. I say my actions are for the King.” He brings a moshul, parable like this. You have one individual who was a retailer. He sells small quantities of things to individuals, but he can’t become as wealthy as a wholesaler who sells a large quantity of things to stores. And then you even have a greater level, which is somebody who sells to the government – someone who sells to the government or from country to country can make huge profits.
One time, there was a man who used to transport his stuff from country to country, to sell to the government of the second country. So, most times when you bring things from country to country you have to pay taxes. You have to pay taxes on all imported goods. But this businessman was exempt from tax. Why? Because he had stamped all over his stuff, government merchandise. He was selling to the government of the other country. So of course, he made a huge fortune. This is what Dovid haMelech meant, ‘My actions are for the King.’ If your actions are for the King and you do everything leshem shemayim for the sake of God, then you’re appealing in the eyes of all. Everybody will find favor in you, and everybody trusts you. You will surely enjoy the greatest wealth in this world and the next.
Great Stories – Rav Shach
In this week’s Parsha you have a verse that says, “You should not place a stumbling block in front of a blind person.” One time there was a Torah scholar who was very close to Rav Shach. He was offered a very important position in a different city, but he refused to the offer. He said, “This is going to interfere with my Torah learning. I don’t want to go there.” What happened? The members of the committee of the other city who wanted him to teach in their city, called up Rav Shach. Rav Shach encouraged them, he said, “a Torah scholar like that is surely going to bring a big blessing to your city”. They said, “Yeah, but the man refuses.” Rav Shach told them, “Do not give up.” They said, “We’re not going to give up, but we just wanted to know if the Rav would speak to him. Surely the man’s going to listen to the Rav?” Rav Shach said, “I’m sorry, I can’t speak with him. When I talk to you, I consider what’s the best thing for you. So, the best thing for you is that this man would come to your city and become a Rebbe there. But when I speak to him, I consider what’s the best for him. And I’m not so sure it’s a good idea for him to come to your city.”
Peace in Your Home
Rav Simcha Cohen speaks on truth versus peace. We know that Hashem, the Creator, hates lies. The Gemara says, “Truth is the seal of the Holy One, Blessed be He.” But still there’s another verse in Zecharia that says, “Love both truth and peace.” He explains, the Torah permits us and even instructs us to say things that do not entirely confirm with the facts, if this is the only way to preserve peace. It’s also called truth.
He brings Rav Dessler who says, “It follows that the truth is whatever leads to the good and the fulfillment of the Creator’s will, and lies are whatever brings success to the ultimate lie – the element of evil in the world.” In other words, truth is what God desires, that’s truth. And just the opposite, if truth is told with bad intent, it beats out all the lies. It’s the biggest lie that could exist. You’re destroying with it. So we know, we have an example of this in Gemara Kesubos 17A. The sages asked, “How does one dance before the bride? The disciples of Beis Shammai say, ‘A bride as she is,’ but Beis Hillel says, ‘A pleasant and attractive bride.’ Beis Shammai said to Beis Hillel, ‘But what if she’s lame or blind? Should you say she’s an attractive and pleasant bride? The Torah says, keep far from falsehood.’ What does Hillel answer, ‘According to your opinion, if a person makes a bad deal in the marketplace, should one praise it to him or condemn it to him? Surely you agree that he should praise it to him.’” What he’s referring to is that we know that if a guy buys something and the market already closed, and the other guy asked him, ‘What do you think about this,’ you say to the guy, ‘It’s a great thing,’ because it’s too late. The guy bought it, the guy thought it was a good thing, so it’s a good thing and he’s stuck with it. So, why speak bad about it?
It says, “A person’s mind should always be intermingled with other people’s.” And Rashi explains, “Do for each person what that person would prefer. Tell the person what they want to hear. That’s the truth. That’s the Torah way. It leads to the greater good.” The Maharal explains, “It’s not a lie at all. It’s the truth as he sees it. He married this girl. We praise her from his viewpoint. Since she is pleasing to him so we say, ‘Yes, she is pleasing.’”
What does it have to do with us? Because most people don’t want to give compliments to their wives, because they’re afraid they’re going to be lying. Or the wife doesn’t want to praise her husband because she’ll say, “It’s a lie.” But that’s not the Torah way. Tell the other person what they want to hear. You’ll say that’s called flattery, chanifa, which is a negative commandment of the Torah. Chanifa only means when you want to do bad to somebody. In other words, you flatter him to get something out of the guy. That’s not what you’re doing in this case. You’re flattering your wife for the sake of peace. You’re praising your husband for the sake of peace. This is the Torah way.
Not only that, but sometimes you should praise yourself,” he says. Because anything that’s going to put you in a greater light for your spouse, that’s permitted. Obviously it should be done in a humble way, but the greater goal is to bring peace and love into your house. But this shouldn’t go out of the house. You shouldn’t praise your husband to some other women, or a man shouldn’t praise his wife to other men. Why? Because that’s going to make trouble in their house. If a woman listens to two or three of her friends bragging about their husbands, she’s going to get this idea of that “ideal husband”. Then she’s going to think her husband’s a bum. It says in the Sefer Shevet Mussar, “My son, do you not praise your wife before your friend, least he come to hate his own wife, God-forbid. And don’t say, ‘I don’t want to praise my wife, because they’re going to turn up their nose.’ It’s true the first time, the second time, maybe she’ll turn up her nose. But little by little, things are going to warm up in the house. Because when your spouse feels you’re sincere, little by little it sinks into their hearts.”
He brings down Aaron haCohen. Avos de Rabbi Nosson said about Aaron haCohen, “Several thousand Jews in those days were called Aaron, since if not for him they wouldn’t have come into the world. For he made peace between man and wife, and they would call the next child by his name.” What would Aaron do? It says, “When two people quarrel, Aaron would go and sit with them and tell them, “My son, look at what a state your friend is in. His heart is breaking. He’s tearing his clothes and saying, ‘Woe is me.’ How can I lift up my eyes to look at my friend? I am ashamed before him, for I was in the wrong.” That’s what he’d tell one friend. Then he’d go back to the other friend and say the same thing. When the two met next time they would embrace each other and kiss each other. Is that a lie? No, that’s the way of the Torah. You’re telling the other person what they want to hear.
And we see it even by Hashem himself with Sara Imenu, I’ve said this before. Because Sara said to Hashem, “My husband is old. There’s no way for us to have children,” and when God told Avraham he switched it. He said, “Why did Sara laugh saying, ‘Shall I give birth? No, I’m old.” In other words, Hashem himself switched it that Sara said that she was old, not that she said that Avraham was old. Is that a lie? Does Hashem lies? Truth has to do with Hashem’s will and Hashem’s will is to make peace between people, that there should be love between the couples.
The advice is to give compliments regularly, consciously, without evaluating whether the praise is deserved or not. Ignore your spouse’s indifference. Ignore the fact that they’re going to turn up their nose. And continue this for a little while you’ll see everything will change in your house.
Okay, that’s it for this week’s podcast, I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it with your friends, and please do me a personal favor. Go to iTunes and leave a rating and a comment.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff
Stephan Sundkvist says
What a wonderful lecture. I have realized how important it is with this balance of mitzvos in our daily life and still be living in this world with all its complexities. In my life this has always been a dilemma. In Judaism though the Torah we get the guidance to be able to be tuned into holiness. That is also why the words of King David´s prayer in Psalm 139 has become one of my innermost prayers.
23 Search me out, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. כגחָקְרֵנִי אֵל וְדַע לְבָבִי בְּחָנֵנִי וְדַע שַׂרְעַפָּי:
24 And see whether there is any vexatious way about me, and lead me in the way of the world.
It shows how even a righteous and sanctified person has to question himself and always strive to find the way of Hashem, Blessed be He.
This psalm has also one of most fantastic inspirational words about G-d.
12 Even darkness will not obscure [anything] from You, and the night will light up like day; as darkness so is the light.
These words have followed me over the years, although I have made many misstakes. May He forgive my transgressions.
G-d, King of the Universe, is the only One who is the beacon and redeemer and my hope for every day and for the future in the World to come.
I have also learnt that I need to overcome the “gravitational pull” of the yetzer haras by letting a mitzvah goreres mitzva. And to do it for the sake of the King.
There are so many gems of wisdom in the Tanakh. Even in a very difficult situation we are led by G-d´s wisdom, like Job when he says in chapter 28:
6 Its stones [were] a place of sapphire, and it had gold dust. ומְקוֹם סַפִּיר אֲבָנֶיהָ וְעַפְרֹת זָהָב לוֹ:
7 A path unknown to brigands and which the eye of a vulture did not see. זנָתִיב לֹא יְדָעוֹ עָיִט וְלֹא שְׁזָפַתּוּ עֵין אַיָּה:
8Proud beasts did not tread it, neither did a lion pass by it.
This chapter is an example of the goldmines where we understand G-d´s miraculous wisdom. Blessed be He.
G-d bless you Rabbi.