Kadosh, the Hebrew word for “holy,” also means separate. Yet kiddushin, the word for the sanctification of marriage, comes from the same root. How can togetherness come from separateness?
All love, wrote Buber, requires detachment. Without some spaces in togetherness, to paraphrase Gibran, you cannot see the other or truly be yourself. In the Talmud, Rabbi Akiba’s wife sends him off to study for years; he returns to her a different man, but one better able to love her. Kedusha, the separateness that permits closeness, has been achieved through Torah. Kedusha is the dancing master of the heart: encouraging intimacy, insisting on distance, drawing close again.
When God is called kadosh it can mean far away, transcendent, as in Isaiah’s famous vision, “Holy, holy holy is the Lord of hosts.” But when we are told to be holy to God, the Torah is teaching us to draw close. One word, containing everything and its opposite: like faith, like love, holy is not only our reach to grasp the Divine; it is also charged with all the paradoxes and passion of human hearts.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow his teachings at www.facebook.com/RabbiWolpe.