From HaGaon Rav Zevadia HaCohen Shlit”a, The Head of the Batei Din in Tel Aviv
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
[Why our Barometer for Holiness is Hashem and not Our Fellow Jew]
This Shabbat we shall read Hashem’s command to Bnei Yisrael, “You shall be holy for I Hashem your G-d am holy” (Vayikra 19:2). This means to say that Am Yisrael are commanded to observe all the mitzvot of the Torah and through this they will become holy. As we say in our berachot, “who sanctified us with His mitzvot,” through every mitzva that a person observes he forges the spirit within him and through that he sanctifies himself.
Reb Yaakov of Dubno z”l (1741-1804,The Dubno Maggid on the Torah) asks that the essential command to be holy is understood, however, the reason that the Torah gives that you shall be holy, “for I Hashem your G-d am holy”, isn’t understood. For how can we sanctify ourselves and attain the level of Hashem’s holiness? How is it therefore relevant to say that “you shall be holy for I Hashem your G-d am holy,” for can we attain, as it were, the level of the Creator of the world’s holiness? So how are we to understand this command that we must sanctify ourselves, as it were, to His level of holiness?
In order to fathom this, the Dubno Maggid cites an analogy. In a distant village lived farmers who reared sheep and cattle. Amongst them lived a G-d-fearing farmer, who was wealthy and owned property. He had a single daughter, unique in her wisdom, beauty and wealth. When she reached marriageable age, her father sought a suitable chatan (groom) who would be a ben Torah and G-d-fearing. Her father knew that he won’t find what he is looking for in the village, so he travelled to a large city that had a large yeshiva with fine yeshiva students who studied Torah day and night. He approached the Rosh Yeshiva and explained to him that he has a most virtuous and beautiful daughter, and asked if he would recommend for him a yeshiva student of good character, talented and befitting for her. Someone who really wants to grow spiritually and is destined for greatness, and then I will take him as a chatan. The father said, “I am prepared for him to come to the village and for him to study Torah day and night until he is great in Torah. I am willing to support and provide for him for a period of for five years until he completes his studying.” The Rosh Yeshiva heard this and immediately suggested a student who studies for the longest periods and is the most unique in the yeshiva, who sits and studies Torah day and night uninterrupted, and about whom he is certain that he will become in the future one of the greatest in the generation. The villager was thrilled that this wonderful chatan had come his way. He quickly signed on the document of commitment to marry them (known as a “shtar tanaim”), and a date was fixed for the chuppah and kiddushin.
After the wedding was held with all its splendour, the young couple received a beautiful apartment in the village. The young chatan studied Torah uninterrupted except to eat and drink. The father of the bride saw this and rejoiced that he had merited to this, to receive into his family a learned chatan and a G-d-fearing person. After about half a year had passed, one day the chatan walked from his place of study to his home, he momentarily strayed to observe the sheep and cattle and to benefit from the clean village air, which was located at the foot of the mountains. But the chatan was tempted to do this even more, and so each day he spent a little bit longer walking and studying less Torah. Eventually it became the village gossip.
His father-in-law heard about this and immediately summoned his son-in-law and said to him, “You assured me that you would study Torah uninterrupted, why are you not studying?” The chatan replied, “What are you talking about? I study every morning for two hours after prayers, which is more than the villagers who never open a book. And I am better than they!” His father-in-law was furious, “Did I take you as a chatan to support you financially so that you would be simply better than my fellow villagers? I took you as a chatan because you were the most assiduous learner in the whole yeshiva in the great city. Therefore you must compare yourself to your fellow yeshiva students and not to my fellow villagers!” The chatan heard this and took it upon himself to revert to his studies as he had previously done.
The analogy is that Hashem is the One commanding us to be holy, fulfil my mitzvot and be holy. Now should a Jew say, it’s enough the few mitzvot that I observe, since compared to my friend or neighbour who is completely wicked, I am better than him and more righteous than him, and therefore what I do is enough. Therefore the Torah cautions us, you shall be holy “for I Hashem your G-d am holy!” The attitude to fulfil the mitzvot and for holiness isn’t to compare to the mitzva observance of a simple Jew, since then a little observance would suffice. But rather, holiness should also be an attitude to yearn to be as holy as possible and to fulfil the mitzvot so that we may be sanctified with all our strength and ability, and that we may feel as much as possible close to Hashem. This will be achieved through observing the mitzvot, with a desire to do as much as possible giving nachat to our Creator and to fulfil the will of our Creator. Amen.