Parashat Aharei Mot/ Kedoshim
by Rabbi Yosef Farhi
There are five choices that we can make that will decide if and how much we are productive, especially when bouncing back during times of crisis and challenge. Choice no. 1: Act on the Important; Don’t react to the urgent. Choice no. 2: Go for extraordinary; Don’t settle for the ordinary. Choice 3: Schedule the most important first; Leave the less important for later. Choice 4: Rule your technology; Don’t let it rule you. Choice 5: Fuel your heart and soul; Don’t burn out.
Choice 2 is the lesson of this week’s Parasha: Go for extraordinary; Don’t settle for the ordinary. There is nothing wrong about being ordinary, living a normal and peaceful life. But living extraordinary lives means living a life in which you feel deeply satisfied, accomplishing those things that you feel are of genuine value and have the most importance. What are the extraordinary accomplishments/achievements that will make you feel satisfied when you go to bed at the end of each day?
Parashat Kedoshim, with all its Mitzvoth, was said by Moshe in Hakhel, the gathering of the entire nation. The reason is that it is the most pivotal Parasha. (Sifra; Rashi) In what way is Parashat Kedoshim a pivotal Parasha?
In the introduction of Kedoshim, G-d commands each one of us, even the simplest Jew who attends Hakhel, to be Kadosh. There is no proper English translation to the word Kadosh. Kadosh is loosely translated as holy. But, holy, in the English dictionary, means exalted, perfect, sacred. Most Jews cannot relate to becoming exalted, perfect, or sacred. And that is fine, because “Holy” is not an accurate translation of the word Kadosh. When we redefine our terms and the words we use, we redefine our thinking, we redefine ourselves and become extraordinary. So, what is Kadosh?
The word Kadosh means separate, set aside. The Beit Hamikdash was divided into three separate areas: the courtyard, the Kodesh, and the Kodesh Hakodoshim; each one was separate from the one before it. Kiddushin is the process of setting a woman aside for no man other than her husband. Ironically, a harlot is referred to as a Kedesha, a word that shares the root “kadosh” – for she is separated from civilization, set aside because of her immoral behavior. (see Rashi Breshit 38;21) When the angels join with the Jewish nation each day and refer to G-d as Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh, the meaning is that G-d is separated, in every conceivable way, from the grasp of the highest angels and humanity. He is above nature and any other confining measurement. When we make Kiddush, we are testifying how the day of Shabbat is different and separate from Chol, which is ordinary. When we circumcise our children, we are letting them know, for the rest of their lives, that they are different than the gentile.
Rashi comments that the way to become Kadosh and separate is specifically through refraining from immoral relations and behavior. Separation from immorality makes us an Am Kadosh, a Separate Nation, an extraordinary nation, more than anything else. More than refraining from stealing or murder. Why?
It is part of human nature for there to be an attraction between opposite genders. Jews are commanded to rise above their nature. That is what Kedusha means: to separate ourselves from the ordinary and transcend to the extraordinary. Refraining from stealing or committing murder is not something that will make you Kadosh, because it is not extraordinary, nor is it raising above your nature.
You cannot be a complete Jew, who aspires to observe all 613, if you are an ordinary person. The pivot of our Parasha, the uniqueness of it, is the many mitzvoth that demand you to be extraordinary! Not only in our relationship between Man and G-d, but between Man and his friend, and Man and himself. Allow me to give you just a few examples.
We are commanded in the Parasha to judge others favorably. If the person in question is one who is considered righteous, if there exists only a slim chance to justify what he has done, the Torah commands us to judge him favorably. (See Chafetz Chaim LH Asin, 3) But how can the Torah command me how to think? Chances are, ninety-nine out of a hundred, that he sinned and acted immorally!!?! If you heard Lashona Hara – even from a reliable source – you are not allowed to believe it! You are only allowed to take caution and suspect, but not to believe! You are not allowed to think the way you naturally think! You are expected to rise above the way you think!
Not only is revenge forbidden, but even your feelings toward the person who wronged you are dictated by the Torah. When a person asks you to do him a favor, and you do it, even though he once denied your request, you are forbidden to feel, in your heart, that you are better than he is! G-d commands you to love your friend, as you love yourself – that same “friend” that it would be only natural for you to hate. You are commanded to rise above the way you naturally feel.
How can the Torah command me to think differently from how I think or feel differently from how I feel? How is it even in my control? The only way is to transcend, to leave ordinariness behind me, and become extraordinary!
Judaism even expects you to rise above your nature, your personality, your values, and your perspectives. Run away from honor, but honor everyone else. Live within your means and practice frugality, but support your wife and kids above your standards. Forget the good things you did for others, but remember the good they did for you. When a person abuses me verbally or physically, Judaism expects me to believe that it was G-d who sent this person as a messenger, and it was not his choice. But when I hurt someone else, Judaism expects me to take responsibility, to recognize that it was my bad choice, and I need to repent!
Life is like a wheel. Not any wheel, but like the annoying wheel of a shopping cart that is not going in the direction you want it to go. When life changes on you, you need to rise above your nature. Above all your limitations, above the way you think, feel, believe, behave, above your version of your life story, above the rat race, and even above your education. Today, to survive, we need to be supersonic learners and adapters, and not rely on the outdated information we learned at school or the outset of our careers. Extroverts are challenged to become introverted, and vice versa. Rabbis and Morahs are challenged to become tech-savvy in a kosher way and learn and control technology to redefine Torah education. Merchants are challenged to build brands, sell on Amazon/eBay, and become online marketing gurus. You can’t afford to succumb to your natural thoughts, feeling, or even nature.
Adapters to change recommend those who wish to rise above their limiting beliefs, to alter their inner lexicon. Say “I won’t” instead of “I can’t.” Thoughts like “I can’t learn a new job,” “I can’t downsize my business,” “I can’t lower my budget,” are not your friends. Learn how you can make better choices. Even if it is just your inner lexicon, your choice of words. We have so many choices to make, even when it seems as if there are almost none. Victor Frankl taught about dealing with challenge and change: You always have control over one thing: the meaning you give to an event and your response to it.
Selfie Steps to rise above your nature.
- Shift perspective. See the events of today through the lens of tomorrow, of what really matters. Learn to see things from someone else’s shoes.
- Widen your options of how you can respond to an event and what meaning you can give it. If you are angry or hurt or jealous, it is because you chose to be.
- Understand that your emotions work within a closed cycle. Self-control helps us make better choices. Better choices increase one’s self-esteem. Healthy self-esteem automatically deflates the ego. A smaller ego means a greater perspective. A greater perspective makes it easier to gain self- control. Self-control helps us make better changes. Etc. Etc.
- Adapt the belief, “Nothing in my life will change for the better unless I change.”
- Plan ahead, live with a schedule and long-term perspective. When you live with meaningful goals and move toward your goals with integrity, it is much easier to have self-discipline.
- Learn Torah; open your mind to wisdom. Lust for immorality only resides in a heart that is devoid of wisdom. (Rambam Issurei Bi’ah 22;21)
- Believe in G-d and that He created you in His Image. Your biggest enemy is helplessness. You can overcome anything if you just believe in G-d and yourself long enough.
- Realize that the difficulties you face, the difficult people you encounter, are all part of your unique and custom-tailored spiritual journey of rectification and soul perfection. The same challenges will keep coming back in different forms until you learn how to rise above.