ROLE MODELS OF HOLINESS

WHAT IS HOLINESS?

Adapted from "The Search for the Sacred", Rabbi David Paskin


קדוש “kadosh” is most commonly translated as “holy.” It is found almost 900 times in the Bible, making it a fairly common word. Of these almost 900 occurrences, about 150 of them are found in the book of Leviticus – more than in any other book of the Bible. Traditional understandings of the word קדושinclude: set apart, sacred, hallowed, honored, dedicated, holy, and consecrated. From my students, I have learned still other understandings of קדושה​ including: worthy of respect, special, blessed, different in a meaningful way, God-like, rich, sanctified, Godly, on a higher level, blessed for all time, prayerful, very important, awesome, elevated, and of great respect.

A quick Google search of the word “holy” tells us that something is holy if it is “sacred, hallowed refer to something that is the object of worship or veneration. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “holy” can mean, (1) of God, (2) consecrated, sacred, (3) devoted to the service of God. In other words, something is קדוש if it is connected to God. On the other hand Rashi, the 11th century commentator and Ramban, from the 13th century, comment on Leviticus 19:2 and define קדושה​ (another form of the word “holy”) in terms of self-restraint, specifically in the realm of the physical. Rashi explains that קדשים תהיו (“you shall be holy”) as it is found in Leviticus means, “to be removed from arayot and from sins of a sexual nature.” Nachmanides builds upon Rashi’s teaching when he suggests that, “this abstinence does not refer only to restraint from acts of immorality as the Rabbi (Rashi) wrote, but it is rather the self-control mentioned throughout the Talmud, which confers upon those who practice it the name of P’rushim (Pharisees,) (literally: ‘those who are separated’ from self-indulgence or those who practice self-restraint).”

So, on the one hand, from our dictionary references, we have the impression that something is holy if it is connected or in relation with the Divine. On the other hand, to the rabbinic mind, we may understand קדושה as something that is separated from everyday indulgences. So it seems that קדושה is both separation and connection: Separation from the mundane for the sake of the connecting to and being in relationship with the Divine.

Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzato (1707-1746), teaches that sanctifying oneself “consists in one completely separating and removing himself from earthiness and clinging always, at all periods and times, to his God.” (The Path of the Just, pg. 329)

So if prophets were "role models of holiness" and holiness is "separation from the mundane for the sake of the connecting to and being in relationship with the Divine" let's see how that plays out in the texts. 

​Chose one of the two prophets below and read the sources with your chevruta partner. After each source are some questions to discuss.

ירמיהו - JEREMIAH

ירמיהו א:ה

בְּטֶ֨רֶם אצורך [אֶצָּרְךָ֤] בַבֶּ֙טֶן֙ יְדַעְתִּ֔יךָ וּבְטֶ֛רֶם תֵּצֵ֥א מֵרֶ֖חֶם הִקְדַּשְׁתִּ֑יךָ נָבִ֥יא לַגּוֹיִ֖ם נְתַתִּֽיךָ׃

Before I formed you in the belly I knew you, And before you came forth out of the womb I sanctified you; I have appointed you a prophet unto the nations.

  • When does Jeremiah's relationship with God begin?

  • Does Jeremiah have a choice in the forming of this relationship? Should he?

ירמיהו א:יט

וְנִלְחֲמ֥וּ אֵלֶ֖יךָ וְלֹא־י֣וּכְלוּ לָ֑ךְ כִּֽי־אִתְּךָ֥ אֲנִ֛י נְאֻם־יְהוָ֖ה לְהַצִּילֶֽךָ׃

And they (the people) shall fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you; For I (God) am with you, said the LORD, to deliver you.’

  • What challenges will Jeremiah face as he fulfills his calling?

  • How does God comfort Jeremiah in the face of these challenges?

ירמיהו טו:י

​אֽוֹי־לִ֣י אִמִּ֔י כִּ֣י יְלִדְתִּ֗נִי אִ֥ישׁ רִ֛יב וְאִ֥ישׁ מָד֖וֹן לְכָל־הָאָ֑רֶץ לֹֽא־נָשִׁ֥יתִי וְלֹא־נָֽשׁוּ־בִ֖י כֻּלֹּ֥ה מְקַלְלַֽונִי׃

Woe is me, my mother, that thou hast borne me. A man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth! I have not lent, neither have men lent to me; Yet every one of them doth curse me.

  • How is Jeremiah feeling with his lot in life?

  • To whom do you think Jeremiah is crying out in this verse?

יחזקאל - EZEKIEL

יחזקאל ג:כד-כה

וַתָּבֹא־בִ֣י ר֔וּחַ וַתַּעֲמִדֵ֖נִי עַל־רַגְלָ֑י וַיְדַבֵּ֤ר אֹתִי֙ וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֵלַ֔י בֹּ֥א הִסָּגֵ֖ר בְּת֥וֹךְ בֵּיתֶֽךָ׃ וְאַתָּ֣ה בֶן־אָדָ֗ם הִנֵּ֨ה נָתְנ֤וּ עָלֶ֙יךָ֙ עֲבוֹתִ֔ים וַאֲסָר֖וּךָ בָּהֶ֑ם וְלֹ֥א תֵצֵ֖א בְּתוֹכָֽם׃

Then spirit entered into me, and set me upon my feet; and God spoke with me, and said to me: ‘Go, shut yourself within your house. But you, son of man, behold, bands shall be put upon you, and you shall be bound with them, and you shall not go out among them;

  • What do you think it means that "the spirit entered" Ezekiel? How is this different from God simply speaking to him?

  • Why do you think Ezekiel is warned not to go out amongst the people?

יחזקאל לג:יא

אֱמֹ֨ר אֲלֵיהֶ֜ם חַי־אָ֣נִי ׀ נְאֻ֣ם ׀ אֲדֹנָ֣י יְהוִ֗ה אִם־אֶחְפֹּץ֙ בְּמ֣וֹת הָרָשָׁ֔ע כִּ֣י אִם־בְּשׁ֥וּב רָשָׁ֛ע מִדַּרְכּ֖וֹ וְחָיָ֑ה שׁ֣וּבוּ שׁ֜וּבוּ מִדַּרְכֵיכֶ֧ם הָרָעִ֛ים וְלָ֥מָּה תָמ֖וּתוּ בֵּ֥ית יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ 

Say unto them: As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn, turn from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?

  • To whom does God want the people to turn?

  • What does God really want from the wicked?

BACK TO THE BEGINNING

Our Essential Questions:

  • What are the unique skills and characteristics of a prophet?

  • Who can become a prophet?

  • What are the steps that one must take to embody the role of a prophet?

  • How is the prophet a paradigm of holiness?

© 2016 by Rabbi David Paskin

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