Holiness of Person, Time and Place
Rabbi Noah Farkas
As we close out the book of Leviticus, the third book of the Torah, we can take a moment to reflect on its central theme - holiness. No other book in the Torah focuses as much on the idea of becoming holy as this priestley book. The reason d'etre of being an Israelite is found in the pasuk, “You shall be holy because I, the LORD am Holy” (Lev.19:2)
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, a Hasidic Master know for his greatest book “Kedushat Levi” approaches this topic in the most tender of ways. He says that for Jew to become holy, each of us must seek holiness in three categories: Person, Time and Place.
Personhood - Holiness inures to each and everyone of us, he says, by the actions we take for ourselves and for other people. How we choose to live our lives, especially when we think no one else is looking, says more about our personal character than anything we say. It is our actions, more than our speech, say the Kedushat Levi, that determines if we are on the path to holiness. Think about it this way: In world that does not value truth, moral courage and kindness each of us can choose to act with veracity, conscientiously, and lovingly. In Leviticus, “Love your neighbor as yourself” is as powerful a commandment as “do not take the LORD’s name in vain.” Each of these commandments are initialed by the divine signature, found only in the book of Leviticus, “For I am the LORD your God.” The teaching here is that holiness is something we do, not just something we are.
Time - When do you become holy? When we act in a way that creates holiness we sensitize ourselves to find and sanctify our most precious moments. A smile can be a holy moment. A baby’s first steps can be a holy moment. The last hug before a journey. The last breath one takes before they die. Millions of opportunities can inspire holiness in our lives. In the Holiness of Time we can find everyday at any moment if we are awake enough to experience the deep wonder that underlies all of experience. God gave to Israel a key to unlocking the Holiness of Time. As the Torah says, “God created the seventh day and sanctified it” and “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.” Shabbat is a day that was meant to sensitize our souls to the possibility of holiness in the everyday. It is a day were we are valued not for the value of our bank accounts or our grade point average but for being invaluable ourselves as created by God. Shabbat gives us the time and the structure to practice making every moment in our lives holy.
Place - The Kedushat Levi’s final idea, Holiness of Place is found in Parashat Behar. Here, on Mt. Sinai, the Israelites are given the laws concerning shmita or resting the land. Just as each of us needs to rest once in seven days, the Land of Israel must rest once in seven years. But why give the laws that are only tied to the Land of Israel at Mt. Sinai? Why not wait until they can see the Land to get that instruction? The answer lies in what the Land of Israel means to every Jew. It is a holy place and place that needs holiness. The Land of Israel for all of us is a place given to us millenia ago, a place that God chose to make the Holy Presence known to us, a place that we seek and a place that love. It is a also a place that needs our partnership to make it holy - through our holy and ethical behavior. The laws of shmita teach us just that. We are the land’s stewards not its owners. The land belongs to God. It is our duty to care for it, to protect it, and live holy lives upon it. This is the double promise at Mt. Sinai. The Land is holy and needs us to be holy upon it.
As Israelites pack up their bags and tents and prepare to leave Mt. Sinai and enter the wilderness, Leviticus enjoins upon us the idea that holiness is not who we are but what we can become if we take the time to act with holiness, to reflect on how to become holy, and to steward our precious land with holiness. This is the enduring message of Leviticus as it lives in our hearts.