Parshat Kedoshim opens with the famous call, challenge, and command to the Jewish people: Kedoshim tehiyu. The Alshich Hakadosh explains that to be holy is not to be in prayer all day, or to be alone in our study of Torah day in and day out without implementing the lessons we are learning into the world we are living in. This week’s parsha of kedusha teaches us the profound lesson that to be a holy people and to be a holy person is not to avoid the chol or the mundane but instead uplift the mundane to a higher spiritual purpose and existence. In our parsha we learn to what extent the call for purification and elevated must permeate our lifestyles.
As part of the command to sanctify ourselves (20:7), we find the prohibitions that fit in the category of gilui arayot – forbidden relations. Most notably, this section ends with the command to keep these laws so that the land “will not vomit you out” (20:22). Why is it that of all the laws in this parsha it is this set of laws that is associated with the permission to remain in the land of Israel?
Rabbi David Aaron explains that the land of Israel is like the body of the Jewish nation. And, the Jewish people are the soul of the land of Israel. He explains that what makes the promise-land so promising is that the land provides the opportunity for the Jewish people to imbue all aspects of life with the light of Torah. The land of Israel allows the Jewish nation to show the rest of the world how to have an economic, political and legal system and an army (or a Defense Force, as Israel so fittingly calls it) that can be moral and just. In essence, when the Jews have their own land we are able to show the world how to permeate this world-every part of it-with Torah values.
In a similar vein, Rabbi Grebenau explains that our body is like a vehicle for our soul in this world – and the soul is what drives our physical body. In other words, our spiritual, moral compass should guide our physical drives. An individual who transgresses the laws of gilui arayot is an individual who gives into his most base, primitive, physical desire. This person clearly loses sight of what the point of his body is. He has disconnected the physical from the spiritual. Such a person cannot be in the land of Israel – as he is clearly not capable of using the physical land for the right reasons – and that is essentially the purpose of living in the land of Israel.
This notion that eretz Yisrael is about connecting the physical and the spiritual is further elucidated in Pasrshat Kedoshim, where we also introduced to the laws of orla that pertain only to the fruits of Israel:
When you come to the Land and you plant any food tree, you shall surely block its fruit [from use]; it shall be blocked from you [from use] for three years, not to be eaten.
The word orla, used to label the forbidden/blocked fruit, is the same word used to describe the foreskin of a baby boy before his circumcision. In drawing the connection between these two laws, Rabbi Osher Chaim Levene suggests that orla symblizes spiritual blockage – by cutting the foreskin of the baby boy, the most physical part of the body is being used for a spiritual purpose – this principle should guide the child throughout his lifetime.
Likewise, when we wait for several years to reap the literal fruits of our labor, we are reminded that there is a higher purpose and that life is not simply about fulfilling our physical desires and appetites. It is no surprise that this law applies specifically to the land of Israel, where the physical is spiritual!
The laws of orla thus serve to remind us that even the land, the most physical part of this world – is inherently holy – and that it is holiest and highest when we, the Jewish people, rest inside of it. Perhaps this is why the notion of a promised land is such an essential part of the Jewish tradition – it is what keeps us grounded so to speak – reminding us that all aspects of our life can be made holy.
What makes us distinct, or holy, is our ability to rise above the physical – to be a part of the world but to still be distinct and distanced from it to some degree. What makes the land of Israel so essential to our existence and what makes this Holy Land so holy, is that it allows us to do this in every aspect of our lives. We know that Hashem promised the land to zera Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov – the descendents of our forefathers. The word zera translates both to the descendent and seeds – what makes us a unique People of Israel is the ability to plant ourselves in the land, and root ourselves in our beliefs and Torah values – and that is what lets us continue to thrive as a people. May we all be able to answer the call of kedoshim tehiyu on our own levels as we continue to root ourselves in Torah values and traditions in all aspects of our lives. Shabbat Shalom, Taly