06 May 2016

'‘You shall be holy, for I, G-D, your G-D, am holy.’ ” Vayikra 19:2 Parshas Kedoshim

We have just left the Oasis of Pesach, the Zman of our Cheirus, Freedom. But what is this freedom? What does it entail for us? What does G-D want from us? Today is "thirteen days, which are one week and six days, of the Omer," "the Yesod of Gevurah, the Bonding in Discipline" in our counting of the Omer. And with this Shabbat we are completing the Sefira of Gevurah: Justice, Discipline, Restraint, Awe. And so this Parsha is Kedoshim.

Speak to the entire congregation of the Children of Israel, and say to them, 
‘You shall be holy, for I, G-D, your G-D, am holy. 
Vayikra 19:2

A Rabbi Pinchas Winston Shlit"a so eloquently elucidates:

The Mishnah says:

“The tablets were made by G-D, and the writing was G-D’s writing, engraved—charus—on the tablets” (Shemos 32:16). "Do not read charus—engraved—but chairus—freedom, because there is no free person except one who occupies himself with Torah." (Pirkei Avos 6:2)

As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions — sights, sounds, textures, tastes — are an accurate portrayal of the real world . . . The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.

It is the most natural, and dangerous, assumption to make that *what we see is what there is. Even though we are told that we don’t see with our eyes, only receive data through them, and that vision takes place in the dark recesses of our brain, we assume that the bottom line is accurate. We know and accept that mistakes occur, but assume that they are rarely dangerous.

Not so, says Donald D. Hoffman, a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine . . . His conclusion is a dramatic one: The world presented to us by our perceptions is nothing like reality.

[...] It was inevitable that science would eventually question the very fabric of reality. It was the likely result of trying to understand what the world is and how it works just to make life easier. The longer you look at something the more you notice things you previously overlooked, and the more things stop seeming as simple as they do on the surface.

[...] The discoveries and conclusions of scientists are startling and fascinating. They leave mankind however like astronauts floating through space without a tether: self-aware but aimless and lacking control. It’s enough to make the average person look the other way and simply go with the flow. All of it sheds an interesting light on Torah. Just as man, for the longest time, assumed that his perception of reality was accurate, so too did Torah observant Jews assume that Torah was an accurate response to that assumed reality. If our perception of reality is not true, then what does that say about Torah and mitzvos?

A lot more than ever before. Torah is not merely a response to reality, it is reality itself. The mitzvos are not just a way to act within reality, they create it. The Torah is the very construct of reality,
guiding those who follow it in order to create reality as it needs to be. Now, more than ever before, we can understand what it means to be a partner with G-D in the perfection of Creation.

This is only possible because Torah is the work of reality, the Ultimate Reality, G-D Himself. Through Torah G-D has conveyed what He wants reality to look like, which He has made dependent upon the actions of man. Scientists have come to notice this, but their rejection of G-D and Torah has left them in the dark about what to do about it.

They do this because religion is ancient. It was there when man was intellectually unsophisticated and without much knowledge about the fabric of reality. In the beginning, the focus was only on what to do, not understanding Creation on such deep philosophical levels, and therefore the assumption was that such levels did not exist.

Torah, being from G-D, can speak to man on any level. As man advances, Torah advances as well, in order to keep pace with the language of the day. Torah came from timelessness and therefore is timeless itself. Man can never go beyond Torah, no matter how sophisticated he becomes because his world and consciousness are always from within Torah. This is what it means that Torah was the “blueprint” for Creation.

This is also the deeper meaning of the opening words of this week’s parshah. G-D says:

“Speak to the entire congregation of the Children of Israel, and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I, G-D, your G-D, am holy.’ ” (Vayikra 19:1-2)

G-D is not only telling us to be holy. He is informing us about the ideal nature of Creation, and how best to go about constructing it. He is holy so the world is meant to be holy as well. By living according to Torah and pursuing a holy lifestyle we give rise to elements of Creation that make it holy as well. We do this not by imbuing that which objectively exists with holiness, but by creating reality in a holy manner.

This is what the rabbis meant with their statement from Pirkei Avos mentioned at the beginning. They are saying that, just as the tablets were like a blank slate until G-D engraved them with His will, so too is reality until we “engrave” it with our will. And, just as the [Will of] G-D results in the freedom to be who we truly are, likewise if we engrave life with the proper will we empower ourselves to accomplish meaningful things.

This is not the end of the story. This world is not the only thing you build. As a person constructs this world through his Torah learning and mitzvah performance he simultaneously builds his portion in the World-to-Come.

It’s not that we live a life of righteousness and then later receive reward that always existed but which is given to the person who earned it. It didn’t yet exist until we did something to cause it to exist. With each moment of Torah learning or mitzvah performance a person increases and enhances his portion because he himself adds to it.

So, while non-believers grapple with the very fabric of reality and drift aimlessly through the unknown, a Jew can use the Torah to construct true reality in the void. Torah has always been mystical. This makes it magical as well.

*"what we see is what there is" – This also refers to what we think we see in outer space. We make assumptions as to what we are witnessing, but what is the true reality? It is, that HaShem is orchestrating everything for the benefit of Am Yisrael, to do Teshuva and bring the Geula.

Rabbi Winston Pinchas Shlit"a, ShaarNun Productions.

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