You are not a human being in search of a spiritual experience. You are a spiritual being immersed in a human experience. -Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
At the very beginning of this week’s Torah reading, God commands us “to be holy, for I, your God, am holy.” The Berdichever tries to dig deeper into what is meant by “holiness” and what are the practical steps for approaching holiness.
He explains that the road to holiness starts with awe of God. Awe of God is the key that leads to the observance and performance of the commandments. One of the more sublime purposes of the commandments is to wean us from our physical and materialistic attachments. As human beings, we are wired with intense physical desires and needs. When we focus too much on satisfying those needs, unconstrained, we diminish the spiritual and divine in ourselves.
The Sages have long stated that the 248 Positive commandments correspond to the 248 limbs of the body, and that the 365 prohibitions correspond to the 365 tendons in the body (caveat: this is not according to modern medical taxonomy). The commandments are meant on one hand to weaken the physicality of our material selves, to diminish our mortal, human element, and on the other hand, to strengthen our spiritual selves, to enhance our immortal, divine soul.
It is a constant and ongoing battle between the physical and the spiritual, between the body and the soul. Without any direction, without commandments, without God in our lives, without awe of God, the body, the physical has the advantage. The end of a life of materiality and pursuing physical gratification, is indeed as the Mishna in Pirkei Avot states, the “dirt and worms” of the grave. However, people who can control themselves, who can restrain themselves, who can follow divine directives, who abide by Godly guidelines, their end will not be underground. They are assured of a permanent, eternal link to the infinite. They are giving up the temporal for the timeless, the ephemeral for the eternal.
Holiness is a constraint of the physical, of realizing we are spiritual, of believing in God and being in awe of Him, of learning and following the guidelines He has given us and of strengthening our natural connection to Him.
May our strengthening spirituality lead to higher levels of holiness.
To the memory of Lori Gilbert-Kaye hy”d, who was killed at the Poway synagogue shooting.