Monday, May 8, 2017

The Third Dimension

Parshas Emor

The first part of Parshas Emor discuses many laws that have to do with the kedusha, or holiness, of the kohanim, as well as laws pertaining to the bringing of sacrifices in the mishkan. The latter half of the parsha deals with the laws of the various festivals. Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, in his Torah commentary, writes that these two areas of halacha deal with two separate realms of holiness. The laws dealing with the kohanim and the sacrifices, he says, deal with holiness in the realm of space, while the halachos dealing with the festivals deal with holiness in the realm of time. He offers an interesting explanation of how certain laws dealing with the sacrifices, those which pertain to the time frame within which the sacrifices must be brought, serve as a link between these two different realms of holiness. Interestingly, he does not comment, in this regard, on the laws that directly precede the laws of the festivals, namely, the prohibition of profaning God's name in this world and the imperative to sanctify His name (Vayikra, 22:33). Although he does provide us with a very enlightening exposition on these laws, he does not explain why they appear where they do, between the two main sections of halacha that are discussed in our parsha. I would like to suggest how the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem does, in fact, serve as a link between these two sections, based on Rav Hirsch's remarks about the two sections, as well as another source which he does not mention. 

The kabalistic work Sefer Yertzirah, or Book of Creation, begins with three words - olam, shanah, nefesh, or, world, year, soul. These three words correspond to the three dimensions of creation - space, time and soul, or man. Holiness is manifested in all three of these areas. The Beis HaMikdash, and, since the time of the Second Temple, the entire land of Israel by extension, manifest holiness in the realm of space, and Shabbos and the festivals manifest holiness in the realm of time. As Rav Hirsch pointed out, these two realms of holiness constitute the bulk of the material in the beginning and the end of Parshas Emor. How is holiness manifested in the realm of the soul of man? I believe that this is what the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem, of sanctifying God's name, is a guide to realizing holiness in this realm, as well. The ultimate fulfillment of this mitzvah is usually associated, in our minds with the act of mesirus nefesh, giving up one's life to avoid committing one of the three cardinal sins, of idolatry, murder, or forbidden sexual unions. The capacity to make this ultimate sacrifice, which is found even in Jews who are not generally observant, was implanted in the Jewish soul, according to Rav Chaim of Volozhin in his commentary to Pirkei Avos, by our patriarch Avraham, when he went to sacrifice his son Yitzchak in obedience to God's command. In this respect, the element of kedusha in the realm of the soul is something inherently there. However, there is another kind of holiness in the realm of the soul that man needs to develop on his own, as the Rambam points out in the fifth chapter of his Laws of the foundations of the Torah. He writes there that a person also sanctifies God's name whenever he does a mitzvah or avoids a transgression totally for God's sake. He also writes that one sanctifies God's name when he comports himself in way that is pleasing to people and leads them to praise God. In short, this is a way of sanctifying God's name, not through dying for His sake, but through living for His sake. 

How does one develop his capacity to sanctify God's name through the way in which he lives? I believe that this is what the laws in the beginning and the end of parishes Emor come to teach us. Contact with the Temple, the kohen and the sacrificial service, by which one demonstrates his willingness to sacrifice his life to God, constitutes the use of the realm of space to achieve holiness, and observing Shabbos and the festivals constitutes the use of the realm of space for this purpose. Taken together, a dedication to service of God in both of these realms has the effect of imbuing a person with a sense of holiness that he carries with him throughout the year, even when he is not in the Temple and even during a regular day of the week, and, in turn, motivates him to live a life of holiness, thus sanctifying God's name on a constant basis. Thus, the verse which commands us to sanctify God's name is a connecting link between the two sets of laws in Parshas Emor, charging us to use the holiness manifested in the realms of space and time to achieve holiness in the realm of our soul, as well.