Holiness—the theme of one of the two parshiyot, we will read this Shabbat—is one of the objectives of virtually all religions. Yet is the way holiness is defined that sets the Jewish view of it apart from other systems of religious thought.
The section dealing with holiness, entitled Kedoshim, exemplifies the Jewish definition of being holy. Immediately after exhorting us to be holy, the Torah continues with the commandment to revere one’s parents and to observe the Sabbath.
What is it about these two commandments—respecting parents and observing the Sabbath—that defines the Torah’s view of holiness?
Before we can explain the connection between holiness and the Mitzvah to respect parents and observe the Sabbath, we must find a more precise definition of the Hebrew word for holiness—Kedusha
Conventional wisdom tells us that a person who engages in spiritual and G-dly matters is a holy person. However, that would not be a totally accurate description of the word. The basis for this statement is the way the theme of kedusha is introduced at the end of this parsha that connects it with the Hebrew word: havdalah, which means “separation.” Hence we know that kedusha is really the type of behavior that demonstrates that one is different and apart. And thus the commandment for us to be holy is to be different.
But the question can be raised: If by being different the Torah means we should observe the commandments that were given exclusively for the Jewish people, that would be redundant. The Torah has already commanded us to fulfill all these Mitzvot and there is no need to merely repeat them by saying we should be different. It is obvious that if we follow the Torah’s laws to observe all of the commandments given to the Jewish people, that we will be different.
In truth, what the Torah means when it says that we should be holy and different,. Is that even those aspects of life that would not distinguish us form any other person, nevertheless, because we were commanded to be different. This we do by performing all those similar activates in a totally different fashion.
For example, when a Jew eats, sleeps, engages in business, there might not be any inherent difference between the way a Jew who follows the Torah does this and any other person.
And it is precisely here is where the Torah comes to tell us to be different even where there seems to be no difference.
Eat, sleep and do business in a manner that reflects one’s Jewish perspective on life. Perform all these mundane activities because they are vehicles to be a better person and a better Jew. Live every day of your life in a way that pays tribute to our Creator. Do not limit your devotion to G-d in the hours spent praying, studying Torah and performing Mitzvot. Those are a given. Go beyond that which is mandated by the Torah, find ways of “surrendering” all that you have to G-d. This does not mean that one should become an ascetic, but that in all our indulgences—permissible ones to be sure—we should find a G-dly message and mission.
To understand how it is possible for a human being to make G-d a part of our lives, the Torah therefore states: “Be holy for I am holy.” Whoever we are, and in whichever state we may find ourselves, we are connected to G-d. Our true identities are G-dly. And we therefore have the ability to make every aspect of our lives G-dly.
We cannot, however, be content with living this life for oneself, but we must be prepared to impart this message of holiness, to be different even in areas where we are the same as others, to our children. Hence the commandment to be holy is followed by the establishing of the role of a child to respect his or her parents who are the first role models that a child will have.
Now that the Torah has commanded us to instill holiness into every aspect of our lives and impart this message to our children, the Torah proceeds to explain to us that one can accomplish this goal by observing the Shabbat.
When the Book of Genesis describes how G-d created the world in six days, the name Elokim is used exclusively. The name Elokim is numerically equivalent to the word hateva, which means nature. Hence our ability to connect to G-d through our observation of G-d’s role as a Creator is limited. Moreover, from the vantage point of Elokim, there is an intrinsic separation between the Creator and the creation. At best one can realize that there is a Creator and follow His commandments, but to make the entire life of a person G-dly would appear to negate the very independent nature of one’s natural existence.
Shabbat, by contrast, is the day that connects us to the dimension of G-dly energy that transcends nature, from which we derive the energy to transcend ourselves and thereby make every aspect of our lives G-dly and holy.
Our ability to transform the weekday into Shabbat cannot be complete, though, as long as we are in exile. Only when the Messianic Age will be ushered in by Moshiach will we experience a perpetual Shabbat as the Talmud states. It does not suggest that we will have to refrain from work all seven days of the week. Rather it means that all the ordinary days of the week, will cease to be ordinary. We will enjoy each and every day because we will see the G-dly energy clearly revealed in everything we do or see. No more barriers will exist that separate between the Creator.