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Jewish World Review
May 2, 2008
/ 27 Nissan 5768
Rabbi Berel Wein
How the discipline of mitzvos -- commandments -- creates an opportunity for spiritual growth and greatness
The Torah's demand this week to be kdoshim holy, pious, dedicated and sanctified seems at first glance to be quite a tall order. Is it not unrealistic for the Bible to ask people immersed in trying to get through the day, make a living for themselves and their families, fight illnesses and the difficulties of society and life generally, to raise themselves somehow to a level of being kdoshim?
This week's reading contains many varied and different mitzvos (religious duties) which deal with all areas of human life and experience. In fact, the portion contains the greatest number of mitzvos in the Torah. It is not coincidental that this plethora of mitzvos occurs in the parsha of kdoshim.
The Torah intends to point out to us that mitzvos are the building blocks -- the stepping stones to achieving the goal of kdoshim. However, the mitzvos therefore are not to be seen as being an end in themselves.
The true and intended end and goal is kdoshim. The mitzvos are the Torah's description of the means available to achieve that end goal. We pay great attention to the mitzvos, their Halacha and minutiae, and correctly and necessarily so.
But many times people become bogged down in the mitzvos without realizing the goal of kdoshim that lies at the heart and purpose of mitzvos. The Talmud compares mitzvos to silver, money, wealth. Just as wealth is only a means to do good and achieve a better life and should never be viewed as the end and final goal itself, so too the mitzvos are the beginning of the process of human elevation and not the end goal all in itself.
Judaism emphasizes the means and not just the goal. Both the means and goal are prescribed to us by heavenly fiat. For Jews, attainment of kdoshim is an elusive target.
All of Jewish history has shown that those who attempted to achieve kdoshim without the means of mitzvos, in the main have failed. But even punctilious observance of mitzvos does not always guarantee kdoshim.
Ramban in his famous comment states that one can be a 'naval' an objectionable, obnoxious, even obscene person within the parameters of seeming Torah observance.
The entire thrust of the famed Mussar movement in nineteenth century Lithuania and of the Chassidic revolution was to rectify this matter. G-d wants not only our mechanical observance of mitzvos, as important as that is, but also our heartfelt commitment to be a morally better person.
Thus the Torah's demand is not an unreasonable one for it describes the only way to achieve true humanity and immortality. By using the mitzvos as our guide in life's behavior and by remembering that behind the mitzvos, so to speak, stands G-d to Whom we are eventually responsible for our actions, thoughts and deeds, we have an opportunity to reach that sublime goal of being kdoshim.
The discipline of mitzvos creates an opportunity for spiritual growth and greatness. But it is up to us to truly exploit that opportunity to its fullest.
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JWR contributor Rabbi Berel Wein --- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and
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© 2007, Rabbi Berel Wein