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From Rabbi Miller Acharei Mot/Kedoshim | אחרי מות/קדושים
May 5th, 2017 9 Iyar 5777
To My Dear Students,
The title of our Torah Portion, Kedoshim, “Holy Ones,” is well known through its cognates, kaddish., a memorial prayer, kiddush, the prayer extolling the fruit of the vine, and kedusha, a prayer referring to G-d as “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
The Hebrew antonym of kedoshim may not be as recognizable. That word is “chol,” “common.” During the Havdala ceremony marking the close of Shabbat, we recite, “hamavdil bein kodesh l’chol,” G-d distinguishes between kodesh, the holy, and chol, the common.
While chol is usually translated as “common,” its literal meaning is “sand.” Of course, sand is common, but more importantly, sand is unable to stay in one place. It is subject to wind and tides, and therefore is an apt metaphor for what holy is not.
For to be kadosh, holy, is to be firmly set, while to be chol, like sand, is to shift this way and that.
A life of chol strains to hear the voice of contemporaries. Young people tend to listen exclusively to their peers and politicians slavishly adhere to today’s public opinion.
Harry Truman, whose presidency included momentous decisions, once said: “I wonder how far Moses would have gone if he had taken a poll in Egypt.”
Some people are so bereft of a core that their identity reflects only what others think and say of them. They so need affirmation that they shift like sand in response to critiques. Where is holiness in preferring popularity to principle?
How can we be holy? A life of holiness is firmly set because it is centered on G-d. It asks: what does G-d want of me in this situation? Am I inviting G-d into my life to influence my decisions? Will G-d approve of my next choice and action? Am I placing G-d’s will above my own desires? Do I fixate on pursuing the material things of society or do I focus on attaining spiritual development? Am I attached to truth or do I believe the lies of this world?
In Bob Dylan’s song, “Forever Young,” he counsels his child, “May you have a strong foundation as the winds of changes shift.”
Hamavdil bein kodesh l’chol, may we attain the wisdom to distinguish between what is chol, sand that is here today and over there tomorrow, and kodesh, a foundation in holiness that stands firm when the winds of changes shift.