The call to kedushah that opens our parshah is so powerful,
that it could dwarf whatever follows. Abruptly, the Torah switches to the
mitzvos of respecting parents and observing Shabbos? Did the Torah simply
move on to the next topic, or can the two be related?
In fact, the mitzvos of kibud av v’aim and Shabbos are
extraordinarily effective gateways towards fully and consistenly living a
life of kedushah. After instructing us to live lives of
kedushah, the Torah immediately offers two efficient ways of how to
The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh makes the connection to the first of
them. Respecting parents is juxtaposed to kedoshim tihiyu, because
one of its hidden powers is its ability to lead us to kedushah.
Citing kabbalistic masters, he writes that a person can bring greater
purity to his private thoughts – an important component of
kedushah – by fixing the visage of his father and mother in his
We could easily extend his observation to Shabbos. Reishis Chochmah
tells us that Shabbos is the root of and path to all kedushah.
(Another way of looking at “G-d blessed the seventh day and sanctified
it”2 is that the blessing He gave to
Shabbos is that vayekadesh oso, that Shabbos is a wellspring from
which kedushah bountifully flows to the person who wishes to
elevate himself.) A Jew who wishes to grow in kedushah should
begin the process with Shabbos.
What gives potency to these two mitzvos in particular? Divrei Moshe of
Rav Moshe (Shoham) of Dolina helps us along the way to understanding. It
is well established to those versed in kabbalah, he notes, that every
mitzvah we perform touches the source of that mitzvah in the Upper Worlds,
and awakens a response from it. This response redounds, in part, to the
one who performed the mitzvah, drawing supernal kedushah upon
When we recite, as part of every berachah on mitvos, asher
kidshanu be-mitzvosav, we refer to this idea. Aside from whatever
particular spiritual goals are served by each individual commandment,
every mitzvah brings with it a dividend of kedushah.
With this notion he explains why the gemara3 insists that it is a greater accomplishment to perform
a mitzvah that one is commanded to perform than to perform without Divine
instruction. The distinction is clear and elegant. Only the person whose
performance is commanded and mandated automatically draws from the
mitzvah’s source. The commandment and the one commanded are linked by
design; kedushah flows between them on a path built into the system.
Many societies promote respect for parents. Non-Jews simply do not take
away the same experience when they treat their parents well. While the
behavior is admirable and positive, they are still not obligated and
commanded in it. This means that they are not linked to the mitzvah in
the same way as Jews are; they can take much from the behavior, but they
will not draw from the kedushah at the source of the mitzvah.
We are but one step removed from understanding the special role that
kibud av v’aim plays in facilitating kedushah. We know a
bit about the spiritual source of this mitzvah. Mekubalim also
speak of an Abba and Ima, referring to the sefiros of
Chochmah and Binah. The Divrei Moshe goes on to
explain that the practice of kibud av v’aim draws from these two
of the loftiest sefiros. (Because Daas combines the two
others, kibud av v’aim in effect draws from the upper triad of
sefiros of Chochmah, Binah, and Da’as.)4 Moreover, all other sefiros are
touched in the process, since Chochmah is the ultimate source for
all the sefiros of chesed, while those of gevurah all
proceed from Binah. (Many of us are more familiar with the way
that Chochmah and Binah ultimately play out in the arena of
human behavior. Simply put, they translate into the two chief forms of
inner emotional response and hence relating to Hashem: ahavah and
yirah – serving Hashem through love and fear. Between the two, we
cover all the affirmative obligations (i.e. ahavah) and
proscriptions (i.e. yirah) of the Torah.
Without understanding more than a smidgeon of these deep concepts, we are
still struck by a powerful image. When we practice kibud av v’aim,
we stand at a portal to all the kedushah channels that HKBH
structured in the system of mitzvos.
Kedoshim tihiyu is not just a command to obey those mitzvos of the
613 that are kedushah-oriented. It does not tell us how to act (or
not to act), but what to be. We are exhorted to transform the totality of
our lives and existence into kedushah. It is impossible to turn
ourselves into kedushah without tools that globally access all the
kedushah that is available. Kibud av v’aim does precisely
that. We understand why it follows kedoshim tihiyu.
With the addition of one more element, we have the answer for which we
have been looking. Shabbos acts similarly to kibud av v’aim; it,
too, is a spiritual mega-mitzvah. Reishis Chochmah maintains that
Shabbos spreads the light of the triad of upper sefiros. (This is
why he argues, as cited above, that Shabbos is the practical root of all
kedushah.) Between the demands of zachor and shamor,
Shabbos addresses both the ahavah and yirah modes of
Hashem’s service. (Additionally, the bride of Knesses Yisrael is
Shabbos itself. This introduces another powerful element of ahavah
into our conception of Shabbos. Even the yirah component of
Shabbos is a mixed bag. Yesod HoAvodah teaches that ahavah
can lead to yirah – a yirah lest one’s actions damage the
ethereal purity of the ahavah relationship, and therefore endanger
One observation threatens to topple our entire conceptual structure. If
these two mitzvos are important precisely because they link to all of
kedushah, then why does the Torah present only half of their
fullness? Kibud av v’aim is actually not mentioned in our
parshah – only its yirah counterpart. Similarly, the
ahavah component of Shabbos is missing. Only shamor is
represented; zachor, the affirmative aspects of Shabbos, is nowhere
to be seen.
Upon further reflection, however, we should not be surprised. Bais
Avrohom stresses that only yirah can stand up to the desires
and lusts that churn within us. In our quest for kedushah, our
major obstacle is not a shortage of inspiration or knowledge, but the
resistance thrown up by our baser desires. It is not surprising in the
least that when the Torah wishes to instruct us in the practical pursuit
of kedushah that it would stress the most important facet of the
two mega-mitzvos that can make it all happen.
1 Based on Nesivos Shalom, pgs. 90-92 22 Bereishis 2:3 3 Kiddushin 31A 4 For a variety of reasons, Keser is seen as so lofty, remote
and undifferentiated that it is often ignored in looking at the
interconnection between the sefiros. Thus, when looking for the practical
source of the observable universe, Chochmah, Binah and Da’as are taken as
the uppermost sefiros.