Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Shmini
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Yaakov Ben Behora

Parashat Shemini



Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky

The parashah of Shemini closes the section that lists the animals that may be eaten with the verse: "Sanctify yourself and you shall be holy... for I am G-d who elevates you from the land of Egypt" (Vayikra 11:44-45). Holiness is the Jewish mission statement, as God informed Moshe before the giving of the Torah (Shemot 9:6): "You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." And there is a formal commandment which we will read in two weeks, "Kedoshim tiheyu," "be holy" (Vayikra 19:2).

The Kabbalists teach us that creation is composed of olam, shanah, and nefesh - place, time and man. Each of these elements has a manifestation of holiness. Holiness of "time" is manifested in Shabbat, holiness of "man" is manifested in one who rises above his animal drives (even those that are permitted). Holiness of "place" is manifested in the Land of Israel.

Man achieves holiness by separating himself from indulgences that are permitted, thus elevating himself through the control of his physical desires (Yevamot 20a). This is the meaning of being "elevated from...Egypt."

How does holiness manifest itself in time and place? When activities performed in the physical world are motivated by an elevated purpose, they become sanctified. Eating, drinking and wearing fancy clothes in order to demonstrate respect and appreciation for Shabbat Kodesh all take on a dimension of holiness. The Land of Israel has a unique quality, where every physical activity has the potential to be holy, when done to enable Jews to live there according to the Torah. It is the only place in the world where every mundane activity can be imbued with holiness, which is the reason why the mission statement of the Jewish people can truly be implemented only in the Land of Israel.

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