HASHEM spoke to Moshe saying, “Speak to the entire assembly of the Children
of Israel and say to them, “You shall be holy, for holy am I, HASHEM, your
G-d.”” (Vayikra 19:1)
“You shall be holy!” is not a separate Mitzvah in the Torah. What is it
then? What does it mean to be holy? How exactly do we do it?
The Chovos HaLevavos sheds light this hugely important subject. He informs
us that theoretically all activities in life fall into one of three
categories. 1)Mitzvos 2) Avieros-sins 3)Rishus- Permissible. Ultimately,
however, everything is either a Mitzvah or an Aveira. How so? The Mitzvos of
a given day take up a finite portion of time, while involvement in Aveiros
we hope are nil. That’s a successful day! Can one do better? Let’s see!
Where does eating for example fit in? Let’s say the pizza was Kosher. Does
that make it holy? Is eating six slices of Kosher Pizza holy? Why or why not?
Being holy is what we wish the Mitzvos would make out of us. By crowning
HASHEM with the performance of a Mitzvah we hope that that would promote
dominion of our G-dly soul over our baser animal instincts. It’s the general
focus of all Mitzvos to become holy and not a specific deed. It’s like a
teacher saying to a class, “Become wise!” Which assignment in particular
makes the good student wise? It’s the goal of the entire educational
process. What is to be written in the comment box on the report card of the
competent student that passes all exams, does all the requisite work but
fails to become wise?
The Chovos HaLevavos paints a detailed portrait in words of such a holy
man, one who succeeded to gain mastery over his passions even in, especially
in areas of permissibility: “This individual is cheerful of countenance even
while his heart is troubled. He is exceedingly magnanimous, and his soul is
most humble. He neither bears a grudge nor slanders nor gossips about
anyone. He abhors prominence and hates lordship. He is composed of mind, and
remembers and expresses gratitude. He is most diffident and of little harm.
If he laughs, it is not to excess; if he is angry, he is not enraged. His
laughter is only a smile. When he asks a question his purpose is to learn.
His knowledge is vast but his humility is great. His resolution is firm, but
he is not hasty of foolish in his actions. He argues courteously and
His friendship is genuine, his attachment is strong, his pledge steadfast.
He accepts the Creator’s judgment; he rules over his passion. He does not
speak harshly of one that does him harm. He does not occupy himself with
what is not useful. He does not rejoice at the calamity of another and
speaks no evil of anyone. He does not impose upon others but is of great
help to them. He expresses deep gratitude at a time of misfortune; he
endures patiently at a time of ruin. If solicited he gives; if defrauded he
forgives. Though he is refused he is generous, though he is shunned he
remains friendly. He is softer than butter and sweeter than honey. He urges
others to the truth and speaks the truth. He forgoes his desires and looks
ahead to the day of his death. He keeps his word. He is wise, vigorous, a
noble soul, and pleasant toward others. He is a hero on earth and above all
reproach, a help to the poor and a salvation to the oppressed. He does not
uncover what is hidden and reveal a secret. Though his troubles are many his
complaint is little…
He is esteemed and pure, intelligent and G-d fearing. His company is a joy;
his absence a sorrow. Wisdom has refined him, humility has adorned him. He
reminds the learned and teaches the ignorant. Any deed of another he deems
nobler than his own deed; any other soul he regards as purer than his own
soul. He knows his faults and is mindful of his sins. He loves G-d and
strives to do His will. He does not avenge himself or persist in his anger.
He is close with those who remember G-d. He sits with the poor. He is a
friend to devotees of righteousness, faithful to devotees of truth. He is an
aid to the needy, a father to the orphan, a husband to the widow, and he
shows respect to the poor.”