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A Unifying Separation

Friday, 1 May, 2015 - 7:29 am

We are still reeling with shock at the loss of life and devastation in Nepal.  The earthquake has claimed at least 6000 lives.  Many Israeli tourists frequent Nepal and there is still one missing Israeli.  Chabad of Nepal – the only Jewish organization in the country – has been at the forefront of the disaster relief efforts. President of Israel Reuven Rivlin hosted the airlifted children of Rabbi and Rebbetzin Chezki and Chani Lifshitz (no relation) of Kathmandu.

Click here to see the amazing relief work of Chabad in Nepal.

Click here to donate to the Chabad of Nepal Disaster Relief Fund.

Our thoughts and prayers are with those who have lost loved ones, the families of the missing and the injured.

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Nepal is a country known for magnificent mountains and Buddhist and Hindu religious sites.

Many Westerners head to Nepal in search of peace and spirituality.  Trekking the Himalayas and visiting Buddhist sacred shrines are the perfect mix that conjures the image of spirituality for many people. The opportunity for the raw and majestic beauty of G-d’s creations along with the devotional practices of ritual create an unmistakable allure. 

Divesting oneself of the commercial chaos, consumerism and indulgences of the Western world seems to be the perfect fix to connect with one’s inner spirit and our Creator.

But what does the Torah say about finding holiness? I doubt it talks about Nepalese temples (except to state that such temples are idolatrous), but where does it suggest we turn to seek holiness?

Interestingly, the Hebrew word for holiness is kedusha, as in the commandment in this week’s parsha (double-header of Acharei-Kedoshim), “Kedoshim teehiyu,” you shall be holy. The root word means apart. In English we also employ the notion of separation when using the term holy or sacred. If a space or time is sacred it is set apart from other places and moments. It’s in a league of its own.

That would make lots of sense if we simply took the meaning of Kedoshim and implemented it by escaping the commotion and hitting the Himalayas, as well as spending time in deep meditation at a religious sacred site.

Yet, the Torah suggests nothing of the sort. Instead of telling us to live a monastic life apart from the world, it offers a host of commandments relating to our everyday lives.  The Torah’s definition of sanctity includes the prohibition against idolatry, the mitzvah of charity, the laws of prohibited fruit of the tree, Shabbat, sexual morality, honesty in business, honor and awe of one’s parents and elders, and the sacredness of human life.  Quite an eclectic mix.  There doesn’t seem to be any thread that unites this odd mix of mitzvahs. Yet, this is how the Torah defines holiness. Why?

And how can we reconcile all of this with the word for holiness – kedusha – which means apart?

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What the Torah is clarifying here lies at the core of the definition of Jewish spirituality. While others maintain that touching the Divine is achieved when we are apart from physical distractions, Judaism teaches that the Divine is to be found when we elevate the physical into the Divine.

Holiness can be found both in the oasis in time of Shabbat, as well as the mundane efforts to run a business with integrity.

What, you may ask, about the ‘apart’ meaning of sanctity? How is running a business apart from our regular lives?

Herein lies the secret of Jewish spirituality.

Holiness is not found outside of our regular lives. It is found when we turn our normal activities into divine acts. When we eat food that the Torah deems kosher and infuse the act of eating with the mindfulness of a blessing, we have transported our physical bodies and the very fiber of the food we eat to a different place, to a plane apart from the crude material world in which we live.

Our interactions with others, our intimate life, our sacred festivals, our charitable giving and our moral decency all deserve an infusion of holiness. When we do them for a higher purpose, they all can become sacred.

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On the surface, distributing water to devastated Nepalese might be seen as an act of generosity. But, if we choose, it can also be an act of holiness, an act whose inner dimension is Divine, and thus set apart from others.

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