The great saint, R. Yisrael of Ruzhin, and several of his chassidim stopped at an inn to spend the night. On the following day, one of the followers noticed that the innkeeper was busying himself with various chores before reciting his morning prayers.

“Perhaps you should pray?” one of the chassidim ventured.

“There are great Rebbes who also pray late,” the innkeeper responded.

The chassid responded with a parable: “When your wife serves supper late, you get upset. If, however, she serves you a special meal, meat and vegetables sumptuously prepared, you’re willing to forgive her for the delay. If, however, all she serves is simple borsht, you’ll feel justified in becoming angry.”

The innkeeper retorted quickly: “When you really love your wife and she loves you, you’re never upset, no matter what or when she feeds you.”

There are commentaries that interpret the verse from this week’s Torah reading, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” as referring to G‑d. Implied is that G‑d is like a beloved friend with whom we share a deep and all-encompassing relationship, a bond that encompasses not only the way we pray and study, but also the manner in which we carry out all aspects of our lives.

Parshas Kedoshim

Our Torah reading begins with the charge “Be holy,” but it continues with a variety of commandments including prohibitions against theft, lying, gossip, intermingling species of animals, eating produce before the plants which bear it mature, and giving the guidelines for marital relations and the foods we eat.

Implied is that the holiness the Torah asks of us is not otherworldly, but instead anchored in the day-to-day routines of life. Judaism does not want us to be angels, but rather holy men and women, people who live in touch with material reality and control their involvement with it, rather than letting it control them.

Within every element of existence, there is a G‑dly spark. Being holy means seeking to tap that G‑dly energy instead of becoming involved with the entity’s material nature.

We have a natural tendency to polarities: either to seek gratification through indulgence in material pleasures or to renounce them and search for spiritual fulfillment in an ascetic lifestyle.

In the long run, however, neither of these approaches is satisfactory, not for man, nor for G‑d. G‑d certainly does not appreciate material indulgence. And ultimately, man is also not satisfied with that. Deep inside, man wants something more from life than having his desires gratified. Eating, drinking, and other sensual pleasures cannot provide him with the lasting and meaningful satisfaction he is looking for.

On the other hand, asceticism is also not an answer. First of all, from man’s perspective, it denies natural instincts. Every one of us has a gut feeling that if G‑d did not want these instincts to be expressed at all He would not have given them to us. If He wanted us to be angels, He would have made us that way. If He made us with physical bodies and material tendencies, it seems obvious that they are also part of His intent.

That’s why asceticism is not acceptable for G‑d either. Our Sages say that He created the world because He desired a dwelling in the lower realms. In other words, the material dimension of our existence is an integral element of His will to create.

On the other hand, He did not create material existence for the sake of indulgence. He invested Himself in the material realm, infusing sparks of holiness into every material entity. What He desires is that we uncover those sparks by using the material entities for His intent.

But how can man know G‑d’s intent? Using his own intuition alone, it is a difficult and perhaps impossible task. For we are mortals and cannot really be expected to know how to appreciate and tap the spiritual energy He endowed to all entities.

For that reason, He gave us the Torah. The very name Torah comes from the word horaah meaning “instruction.” The Torah is a guidebook showing us which material entities can be elevated and how they can be refined. The mitzvos and prohibitions it contains provide us with advice and direction in our efforts to tap the G‑dliness present within the world around us. In particular, the wide range of subjects discussed in Parshas Kedoshim offer guidance in how to reveal the holiness present in a broad spectrum of material activities.

Looking to the Horizon

The ultimate fusion of the material and the spiritual will come in the era of the Redemption. At present, we know that every material entity contains sparks of G‑dliness, but that knowledge is merely intellectual. When we look at the material entity, we see only its bodily form. In the era of the Redemption, that will change as Maimonides says: “The sole occupation of the entire world will be to know G‑dliness.” Material reality will continue to exist — we are not speaking of a world of souls without bodies — but its connection to the spiritual will be readily apparent. We will be able to appreciate the G‑dly energy that grants life to every creation.

Describing the nature of the reality that will prevail during the era of the Redemption is not intended merely to arouse our desire for the advent of that era. Instead, it gives us the potential to anticipate that era by living our lives in that spirit in the present age.

That endeavor will precipitate the blossoming forth of this truth into manifest reality. For when man turns his attention to the G‑dliness embedded into creation, that G‑dliness becomes more evident and overtly recognizable.