On Kedushah, Kedoshim, and Kiddush HaShem

This week, we saw the intersection, of another murder spree at a synagogue in America, Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel, and the weekly Parsha (Torah reading), Kedoshim. This intersectionality brings us the news of the day, the edge of the abyss, and a deep deep learning…

“…Kedoshim Tihiyu – You shall be holy, because Holy (Kadosh) am I, HaShem (literally The Name, i.e. the God of Israel – implying a relationship of mercy) Elokeinu, your God (implying a relationship of restriction),” (Leviticus 19:2).

But what is Kedushah, holiness, sanctity?

On the most fundamental level, it means separation as in “You shall be holy to Me, for I HaShem am holy; and have separated you from the nations to be Mine,” (Leviticus 20:26). Its a restriction, from things forbidden by the God of Israel, in the Torah. The medieval commentator Rashi explains it as, refraining specifically from forbidden sexual relations, such as homosexuality and bestiality (as described in the parsha, Leviticus 20:13, 15-16), and Aveirot – sins in general. The Ramban, another medieval commentator, goes further and says its not limited to any particular Mitzvot (commandments), rather its a mindset of moderation and self-restraint, self-restriction even in what’s permitted, going beyond the letter of the law, out of love for God, and that sanctifies a person.

Rav Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook in his book, Orot HaKodesh (Lights of Holiness), refers to the Talmud, Sukkah 21b, that says, “the everyday conversation between Torah scholars needs learning.” He elucidates, that even when talking about the news of the day, their words are full of Kedushah, because they are concerned about how it effects Am Yisrael (the Jewish people), and Am Yisrael’s goal of bringing holiness to the world, in serving HaShem.

Rav Kook goes further, “Kedushah is a normal lifestyle, just on a higher plane of existence.” He continues, Kedushah, doesn’t mean separating yourself from daily life, but rather uplifting those seemingly mundane activities, and infusing them with deeper spiritual meaning, with the intention of doing good for Am Yisrael. Thus, fulfilling Am Yisrael’s mission, to live as a Torah nation, bringing ethics, morality, and a true understanding of divinity to humankind, through serving God in this world.

Rav Kook then explains, Kedushah is an internal developmental progression, from the individual ego concern, to grow to include, encompass and be part of the Klal (Am Yisrael). The intention of someone infused with Kedushah, is that every thought and action, be for the welfare and benefit, of the whole nation of Israel.

And what are Kedoshim?

“There are Kedoshim, holy individuals, who have sanctified themselves,” Rav Kook continues, “who have connected themselves to the Holy One, Blessed Be He (God), on the one hand, and to all of creation, all of mankind on the other. Through their holy visions, their holy perceptions, they actually go out and do things for the benefit of Am Yisrael, and for the good of mankind. They are the ones who bring blessing, pleasantness, feelings of peace and friendship from the source of all wisdom (God), to the world.”

Rav Kook then says, “These masters of this lofty Kedushah, negate their own personal life, and live a life that transcends and includes everything…the holiness of this person, the definition of this Kedushah, is not that he separates himself and is ascetic [like on a mountain top], because he lives with everybody’s heart. Someone like this, who restricts himself to his own Torah learning and prayer, his own service of God, will suffer, because his Soul which is filled with the entire creation, is being squeezed, like with a pliers.” This type of Kadosh, holy individual, wants to be a giver and not a taker, he sanctifies God’s name through his elevated character and behavior.

But there’s another meaning of Kedoshim…

Those who have been killed for being Jewish, like in the recent synagogue attacks in Pittsburgh and Poway, California, or during the Holocaust. And also, those killed defending the Jewish people, like IDF soldiers in Israel, Jews killed settling the land of Israel (a Mitzvah) in terror attacks, or defending the Jewish people’s way of life, the Torah and Mitzvot.

We call these people Kedoshim, holy ones, who died “Al Kiddush HaShem” (to sanctify God’s Name). There are Kedoshim (individual Jews) who live lives of holiness, and those who even if they hadn’t, died in holiness.

But whereas for an individual Jew, its a Kiddush HaShem dying for God, Torah, the people and land of Israel, the inverse concept is true on the national level. Every attack on Jews, pogrom and holocaust, and war made against Israel, is a Chillul HaShem (as if, an emptying of God’s Name, His presence in the world). From the perspective of the nations, its as if, the God of Israel isn’t strong enough to protect His people. Like the way Nazis abused and killed Jews, laughed, and asked, “Where’s your God, if he’s so powerful, why isn’t he helping you now?”

So too, as it says in Ezekiel 36:20-21, “When they came to the nations, wherever they went, they profaned My Holy Name, for it was said of them, ‘These are the Lord’s people, and yet they have gone out of His land.’ But I had concern for My Holy Name, which the house of Israel profaned among the nations (Chillul HaShem), where they had gone.” It seemed to the nations, as if the God of Israel wasn’t strong enough to keep them in His land.

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My Holy Name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went. I will sanctify My Great Name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am HaShem, says the Lord God, “when I am sanctified through you (Kiddush HaShem), before their eyes. For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you back into your own land,” (Ezekiel 36:22-24). Proving finally to the nations, that the God of Israel exists.

Anger, hatred, vengence, killing and bloodshed, are generally looked down upon, even forbidden in Judaism, and not the purview of elevated character for an individual, as in Leviticus 19:18, “You shall not take revenge…” Yet again, we see the inverse concept, on the national level, the sake of for Am Yisrael.

The Book of Numbers (31:1-3), describes the battle against Midian, after what they did to the Jewish people, “HaShem spoke to Moshe saying: Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Children of Israel. After that, you will be gathered to your people [you will die]. So Moses said to the people: Arm some of your men to go to war against the Midianites so that they may carry out the Lord’s vengeance on them.”

Moshe could have stalled for time, to live longer, but filled with Kedushah, he lusted to see vengence carried out on the Midianites (Kiddush HaShem), and rushed to carry out HaShem’s command.

The rabbis of the midrash (Tanchuma Matot 3) ask: HaShem say’s ‘the Children of Israel’s vengence,’ and yet Moshe tells the Israelites, ‘HaShem’s Vengence?’ They explain that Moshe, then said to God: “if we were uncircumcised idol worshippers, they wouldn’t hate us, but because you gave us Your Torah they hate us,” and the rabbis conclude by teaching, the vengence of Am Yisrael, to eliminate a Chillul HaShem, is God’s Vengence, and a Kiddush HaShem.

So while those individual Jews killed in hate crimes, terror attacks, and the Holocaust, died Al Kiddush HaShem; for the nation of Israel as a nation, its a Chillul HaShem, and needs to be avenged. To avenge the Jewish people’s honor, is to avenge God’s Honor in this world. To see the punishment of the wicked, brings Kiddush HaShem into the world. Then and only then, do the nations really know there is a God of Israel!