Shavuot:The Gift of Kedusha

Nov 17, 2014

Rabbi Menachem Farber, senior lecturer, Darche Noam/Shapell’s

[Note: Rabbi Farber prefers not to translate the words Kadosh, Kedusha or Kedoshim into English, but its meaning is developed early in the article.]

I had two opportunities this month to speak publicly about the mitzva of “Kedoshim Tih’yu.” One talk focused on what we need to do to fulfill the Mitzvah, and the second on what we are when we reach the level of kedoshim. I would like now to complete the topic by explaining the unique way in which we acquire this trait of Kedusha. Let us start at the beginning.

A. Shabbat, the Source of Kedusha
We have a tradition that if we wish to discover a concept’s meaning, we should look at the first time it is mentioned in the Torah. Kedusha is first mentioned in connection with Shabbat in the creation story (Bereishis 2:3). “Vayevarech Elokim es yom hashevi’i vayekadesh oto . . .” – “Hashem blessed the Seventh day and made it Kadosh . . .” We see that the source of Kedusha is Shabbat. What is the Kedusha of Shabbat? What did Hashem do when He was “Mekadesh” Shabbat?

While the world was being created during the six days of creation its purpose was hidden. On Shabbat Hashem revealed the purpose. On Shabbat the natural world was refined to the point where its essence and purpose surfaced and was perceptible to man, the one the world was created for. During the week the physical world is opaque, hiding its essence; on Shabbat the physical becomes refined, permitting its essence and purpose to rise to the surface. That is what Kedusha means. When it is clear that the natural world is only the means to achieve Hashem’s ideal, and that its sole purpose is to express that ideal, the world is Kadosh. Anything that represents or expresses the Divine ideal is Kadosh.

Shabbat is “Meein Olam Haba”. Shabbat is a microcosm of what the real world will ultimately be like. That is why it is the source of all Kedusha. Shabbat reveals the goal, what the world will be like when creation is complete and it will be the perfect environment for “Man” to receive the good that Hashem wishes to bestow upon him. Ultimately all there will be is Shabbat. As the Mishnah says, “On Shabbat we say mizmor shir leyom shekulo Shabbat” – “A song to the day that is all Shabbat.” That is what Kedusha is. When one’s life and his very being is an expression of the Divine ideal for which the world was created, he is said to be Kadosh.

B. Acquiring Kedusha
But Kedusha is different than other attributes we attempt to aquire. The Mesilas Yesharim, who sees Kedusha as the highest rung on the ladder of growth, explains the difference. The Ramchal opens his chapter on Kedusha (Mesilat Yesharim Chapter 26) with, “The issue of Kedusha is twofold. It begins with service and ends with reward, its beginning is toil, and its end is a gift. That is to say, Man must first sanctify himself, and then they sanctify him from the heavens.” We sanctify ourselves by living the ideal, but it is granted from heaven that one’s physical being becomes an expression of the ideal. The achievement of Kedusha is a heavenly gift. Even though a person can live a life of Kedusha, to become an expression of Kedusha is a gift from heaven.

The source for this we also find in Shabbat. The Gemara explains the difference between the ending of the Bracha we say in the Amidah on Shabbat and the Bracha we say in the Amidah on Yom Tov. On Shabbat we say Mekadesh HaShabbat, and on Yom Tov we say Mekadesh Yisrael Vehazmanim. The Kedusha of Shabbat was created exclusively by Hashem. “Blessed is Hashem that sanctified the Shabbat”. The seventh day is a result of the creation cycle of seven days. Hashem’s goal in creation was Shabbat. “Sof Maaseh bemachshavah techilah” – “The thought that motivated creation was the final act of creation”. Hashem wanted Shabbat, but needed the six days to create the Shabbat. On Yom Tov, however, the bracha ends, “Mekadesh Yisrael Vehazmanim,” Hashem is Mekadesh Yisrael and we are Mekadesh Yom Tov. Yom Tov is a result of Bet din’s being Mekadesh Rosh Chodesh. We create Kedushas Yom Tov. Kedushas Shabbat is a gift from heaven. Kedushas Yom tov is the result of human effort.

The Maharal tells us that Shabbat is “Mei’ein Olam Haba” and Yom Tov is “Meiein Yemot Hamashiach.” Just as Mashiach is a preparation for Olam Haba, so is Yom Tov a preparation for Shabbat. The source of Kedusha is Shabbat, and therefore the ultimate Kedusha is a gift, just as the Shabbat is a gift. The Gemara tells us, “Hashem told Moshe, ‘Go tell my people I have a precious gift I am bestowing upon them and Shabbat is its name.’” With all the effort we exert we cannot create a Shabbat, but we can live our six days of the week in away that merits the great gift of Shabbat.

C. Shavuot, the Shabbat-like Yom Tov
There is one Yom Tov that in some degree shares the quality of Shabbat, and that is Shavuot. The Gemara tells us that even though there is an argument about what calendar date the Torah was given, the sixth or the seventh of Sivan, everyone agrees it was given on Shabbat. What connects Shavuot to Shabbat? Shavuot is the only Yom Tov that the Torah does not connect to a calendar date. It is the fiftieth day after the first day of Pesach. That day did not become Yom Tov because the Bet Din was Mekadesh Rosh Chodesh Sivan, but because Klal Yisrael counted forty-nine days. Great effort was needed to merit that fiftieth day. It wasn’t simply counting, it was achieving, each day, through great effort and toil, the level that day represented. Level by level we came closer to the fiftieth day. But, alas, we did not count the fiftieth day. We entered into that day by the Grace of Hashem, the ultimate heavenly gift, the Torah. All human effort cannot create a Torah, but it can make us worthy of receiving the Torah. Our Kedusha is our Torah. It, and only it, can bring us to the ultimate goal and gift, the eternal world with all the “Heavenly Good” destined for us, “Olam Haba”.

The Mesilat Yesharim ends the chapter on Kedusha by saying the real heights of Kedusha are not reached by refraining from or avoiding contact with the physical aspects of our world. On the contrary, it is achieved by converting that world itself into a true expression of the ideal. That is the heavenly gift, the creation of a new world with all the beauty of Hashem’s Divine Ideal.

As we approach Shavuot let us do what is incumbent upon us, to strengthen our commitment to Torah; learning it and implementing it in every aspect of our lives. Then, with Hashem’s help we will merit that greatest of all gifts, to receive the Torah once again on Shavuot, with all its beauty, newness and freshness. Chag Sameach!!!!

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