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The Intrinsic Holiness of the Jewish Soul

By Rabbi Yaacov Haber

About six years ago I took my family on a trip to the outback of Australia. We drove hours away from civilization to visit a friend of mine, an artist, who lived alone on 700 acres of what they call Down Under, the bush. After driving without a road and eventually almost without a car we arrived at the site. We were in the presence of untouched nature and beauty that defied all imagination.

For the first time we saw huge Kangaroos jumping wild and birds with colors I never knew existed. We were humbled by Hashem’s creation. Our host took us for a walk. As we were walking one of my children moved a fallen branch out of the way so that we would all be able to pass. Our host protested and this is what he said. “ When you live in this world you have to make a decision. Are you going to do the maintenance or are you going to leave it to HaShem? Every branch falls exactly where it has to. There is an ecosystem here which when left alone works like a charm. If you decide to take over, that can be done, but it will require trucks, equipment and powerful men to do the job.”

Today we read Parshas Kedoshim. There are 52 Mitzvos in Parshas Kedoshim. They range from not cursing deaf people, farming with generosity, to not giving bad advice. Yet, the main Mitzva, Kedoshim Tihyu to be holy, the title of the Parsha, is not listed among the Mitzvos of this Parsha. We are told to be holy but we are not told how or why to achieve this status and we don’t even get any points for getting there!

The answer is simple. Moshe explained to the Jewish people what they may not have realized. The Jewish people are already holy, naturally. They were born that way. We don’t have to fast, exile, immerse or even pray to become holy - that would be like silver plating sterling silver. All we need is to do is protect our souls from things that will tarnish it. We begin with kedusha and must be sure to maintain it.

The Parsha of Kedoshim reads like an instruction manual for proper kedusha maintenance. Read it carefully. By not disgracing our parents, by not abusing our bodies and by not convoluting our minds we can maintain a pristine level of holiness.

The great artist and sculpturer Michelangelo commented that he has never created anything new. He simply finds a rock that appears to the untrained eye as ordinary. He studies the rock and finds a beauty hidden within it. He then takes the beauty that is in the stone and with the tools and ability available to him he brings out the beauty for the entire world to see. The stone, before Michelangelo, is just a stone, after Michelangelo, it is a priceless piece of art.

After years in Egypt we were heavily tarnished. We were covered with impurities. We forgot what we were. Moshe stood before the people and told them what they were. By staying away from future grit and grime they could maintain a brilliance which would be the envy of the entire world.

It’s ironic that so many decisions we make in life that are made to advance ourselves actually set us way back. Consider the person who acts with arrogance because he wants everyone to respect him and like him. But is there anyone more unlikable than an arrogant person?

All the Mitzvos in this Parsha represent what one might do to advance ones position in this world. One might tattoo ones skin to become more attractive, disrespect ones parents to become more independent, give bad advice to have more control, and farm selfishly to have more wealth. The Torah says, “Kedoshim Tihyu” just leave your Neshama alone, don’t touch it and you will have everything.

When silver is shined it looks nice on the table - when we shine people will love us, G-d will love us, we will be empowered, we will be powerful, comfortable, popular, secure, happy, wealthy, wise and even prophetic. Holy people are beautiful.

The message of the Parsha is that every Jew starts off Kodosh. Don’t silver plate what is already sterling. Don’t mess up the beautiful Neshama you have.

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