HOW HOLY ARE YOU?
Take out a minute to answer the following questions: How holy are you? What was the holiest moment you felt in your life? Who was the holiest man you ever met and got to know?
This is the type of question that many of us have never thought about. While I was writing this article, I posed these questions to someone, and this was his reply. “The holiest moment of my life was when I came to ninth grade dormitory yeshiva and experienced great difficulty in the new surroundings. I prayed to G-d with all my heart, and I felt that a certain prayer that I made, with fervor and tears, had pierced the heavens and was answered. When a person reaches a holy point, he comes back to himself, he connects with himself. He reaches out to the person he should be.
“The holiest man I ever met was my ninth grade rabbi. He was not necessarily the smartest or most knowledgeable in Torah, but he was holy. He was holy because he was separated from this world, and had more self control (than other people). He was not only realizing the truth – he was the truth. His התבטלות , self- deprecation, to Hashem in his actions, thoughts and emotions all gave me this holy feeling about him.”
These words struck me. I did not think that common people thought about this question or connected holiness to their life story. Parashat Kedoshim starts off with exactly this topic: the commandment to become holy. However, there is a difference of opinion as to exactly how we understand this and to what it is referring. The Ramban learns that holiness is the act of separating oneself from overindulgence in permissible pleasures. Rashi learns here differently. Rashi understands that when the Torah tells us that one should be holy, it says so right after discussing forbidden marital relations. The way for one to become holy, according to Rashi, is through refraining from such relations and from anything that may bring one to such a position. This includes keeping one’s eyes from seeing things that can lead us astray – refraining from thoughts that may bring one to temptation. According to Rashi, this is what holiness is about- a clear mind from such thoughts and a lifestyle where we do our utmost to avoid being associated in any way with unhealthy, forbidden desires.
The question, though, is obvious. Why is it that only those refraining from this specific transgression merit holiness? When someone does not steal or does not kill and refrains from anything even remotely associated with such behavior – why does that not make him holy? And why, just by refraining from doing what the Torah considers abomination and unholy, does one become holy?
R’ Yerucham Levovitz, zt”l, explains that there is a great difference between refraining from stealing and refraining from forbidden marital pleasures. The desire for marital pleasure is one that every healthy human being has inside him from the minute when he is born; it grows and develops throughout all the stages of life. It is a great thing for a person to overcome this powerful, almost irresistible drive, and therefore, one can merit a level called holiness by the Torah through doing so. Refraining from a desire to steal or kill will not render one holy, for it is something that is not an inborn, human desire. The antonym of lust is holiness!
From here, it is apparent that if a person does not actively, consciously work on restraining himself from these specific things, his natural penchant – that of man – is to be corrupt in these matters.
HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE OURSELVES
A few decades ago, there was an international bestselling book – boasting sales of fifteen million copies – called “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, by Dale Carnegie. This book and other books by Dale Carnegie helped many people from all walks of life to better their lives. According to many rumors, unfortunately and shockingly, Dale Carnegie committed suicide at the age of 66.
Dale Carnegie wrote an amazing “quick fix” book. It is a book where one can learn to be famous, respected and influential. It is not a book that focuses mainly on improving ethics; rather, on how to achieve the respect that everyone deserves, and rightfully so, in the quickest possible way. By respecting people, one is able to be respected by them. This was stated a long time before Dale Carnegie by our Rabbis “איזהו מכובד המכבד את הבריות” Who is respected by people? One who respects others. Dale Carnegie wrote that his whole book was really based on the words of different spiritual leaders of the past who said “Love thy neighbor as thyself”, each one expressing the idea in his own words. This was stated in our Torah far before being said by any spiritual leader of any other nation. Dale may have committed suicide because he got all the honor or dignity he wanted… and then, what? Life is much greater than obtaining honor or feeling good about oneself. The soul knows very well that we are all mortals. The only true honor belongs to G-d. Life is about recognizing that the world we are in now, in the present, does not contain enough of what it takes to make a person feel accomplished or good for an extended period. It is not an end as much as a means. There is another world after the one we are in at the moment – an Eternal World. Only there can the soul, which also has no end, really feel satiated with the “Good”, by being close to G-d.
This commandment of loving others as we love ourselves is not as hard as it sounds. It is harder. Our rabbis tell us that during the weeks of Sefirat HaOmer, we are to live with a sense of mourning. This is to commemorate the loss of the 12,000 “pairs” of R’ Akiva’s students, all of whom perished in the days between Passover and Shavuot. They could not transmit the Torah to future generations in their state of disrespect for one another; therefore, they all died.
How can it be that such great Torah scholars would be able to be less than respectful to each other? R’ Y. Ezrachi, shlita, points out the fact that they learnt in pairs. They did have interpersonal relationships. However, as R’ Akiva stated, ואהבת לרעך כמוך זה כלל גדול בתורה A great principal of Torah is the concept of loving your friend as yourself. There is a deeper level of love for your friend than just “loving” your friend and willing to give him or make him happy. It is loving your friend as yourself.
When someone thinks about loving himself, it means the desire to make sure that you look good in the eyes of people around you. Loving yourself is the drive to make sure that you live a life of pleasure. To love your friend as you love yourself would mean that your prime concern is not for yourself to be “the only you” who looks good in the eyes of others, but that you are equally concerned for your fellow. (see Ramban) If it bothers you that someone else would be just as smart as you or even smarter, just as rich as you or even richer, or just as successful as you or even more successful, it means that you have not yet reached this level of loving others as you love yourself.
It is a great achievement to reach this level of knowing how to feel happiness and security within ourselves, without depending on outside factors such as “feeling number one”. Happiness can’t be determined by comparing ourselves with others and feeling that we are better than they are. Self esteem that comes from within is the source of true well-being which cannot be challenged or discredited by outside influences.
REPROACHING THE SINFUL RIGHTEOUS
A certain psychologist was concerned as to exactly how to respond to a patient who confesses his sin, looking for acceptance and understanding . “On the one hand, if I do a “blame shift” or lighten the severity of the sin, allowing the patient to feel that he could face himself in the mirror, then I may be transgressing the mitzvah of giving rebuke. And if I tell him that he was wrong, then things could get much worse. The solution I found so as not to be sitting by passively while the person is pouring out a litany of his transgressions is to ask him if he thinks that what he did was the right thing to do. Then, I show him genuine respect for coming and telling – admitting – his failures and mistakes. This somehow helps the person feel comfortable and not embarrassed to see me even after therapy.”
Many times we hear about the mitzvah of giving rebuke and wonder: should I be saying something to the child? Should I tell the person just how bad his/her actions are?
The Talmud (Bava Metziah 31a) tells us that the repetition of the words הוכח תוכיח , rebuke and rebuke, comes to teach that one must rebuke even one hundred times! There are different ways to understand this. One approach is that sometimes the person giving the rebuke is not worthy of saying what needs to be said. And at other times, the person who sinned is not ready to hear what he is supposed to hear. It may be that only after one hundred times both prerequisites can be met: that a person can actually say what needs to be said to the person who really needs to and can hear it.
This is an interesting twist on that piece of Talmud. However, I have found the following to be very valuable. The passuk says הוכח תוכיח את עמיתך ולא תשא עליו חטא : Rebuke your friend, and do not bring sin upon yourself because of it. This can be interpreted to mean that if you do not give rebuke, you are guilty of sin. When understood on a basic level, this can seem stressful. However, there is a deeper meaning here. The words ולא תשא עליו חטא also mean “do not put a sin on him”. The Chavot Yair (also see Zohar) explains this to mean that when one gives rebuke, he should not let the person feel that he is a רשע ,a wicked person. Rather, he should say things that can uplift him – “such acts are not befitting either for you or for your level of character”. Do not make him feel as if he is a sinner; rather, that he is a righteous person who has sinned. An external act – ולא תשא עליו חטא – that is not to be identified with the one who performed it. Labeling a person with a title of “sinner” or רשע causes the person to feel disabled, disarmed and depressed.