I lived through the 1960s and 1970s counter-culture movement. Even today many people think conscious altering substances lead to holiness. So people express skepticism when I assert I never used them. If you have any lingering doubts, this week’s parsha, Kedoshim, should clear them up:
. . . you will be holy, for holy am I your G-d. (Vayikra/Leviticus 19:2)
After the opening line above, this week’s parsha launches into a long list of mitzvahs, ways of creating a relationship with G-d. They range from religious to ethical. Respect parents and elders. Give charity to the poor. Be honest in business. Observe the Sabbath. Don't dabble in the occult. Follow the famous “Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself.” Don't take revenge or engage forbidden relationships.
Who is holy?
Is it the mystic on the mountain, the monk in the monastery, or the guru in the grotto? The eternal search for spirituality continues today unabated. The Jewish system of mysticism, Kabbalah, is in vogue. But are elevated consciousness and holiness the same?
You probably would not associate the practices in Kedoshim with being spiritual. Yet, rather than ethereal or otherworldly, the road to holiness is practical and pragmatic. You experience it more frequently in everyday activities than in mantras and metaphysics. Self-restraint, discipline, honesty, decency are the qualities that lead you to holiness. You do not need séances, incense, or even long, flowing robes. Just be a mentsch: control your passions, and behave correctly.
How Do You Achieve Holiness?
The Almighty wants you to be different from those around you. Whether it was the Egyptians and Canaanites of old or the hedonists and sensualists of today. The message is the same. Holiness means distinctiveness. You march to the Eternal’s beat. Disregard what the rest of the world is doing. Be a person apart.
How so? Celebrate the Sabbath, keep honest weights and measures in your business, refrain from lying, pay your employees on time, and don't gossip. Or do your best to love your fellow like yourself. But keep your amorous attention for your spouse.
Holiness exists when a young couple exercises self-discipline and waits patiently until their wedding to engage in marital relations. They show character and nobility. So too Married couples who work hard to keep their marriages and family life intact express holiness.
There are many paths to G-d. But spirituality divorced from honesty, integrity, respect, honor, dignity and discipline is not one of them. Now my abstention from mind-altering materials makes sense. They lead away from holiness. A little wine or single-malt whiskey helps me relax and enhances my joy. The rest of the time, the search for holiness takes a clear mind and a steadfast purpose.
Do you have a process or activity that helps you feel holy?
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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.
Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!