Monday, June 17, 2013


Holy or Separate?

by Reb Gutman Locks @ Mystical Paths


     How can the way you define a single word radically change your life?

     I asked a yeshiva student, “What should our intention be when we do a mitzvah?” We agreed that we do mitzvahs because G-d commanded us to do them, but I wanted him to consider what actually happens when we do a mitzvah.

     He tried to come up with some good ideas as to why he does a mitzvah (besides the obvious reason that G-d commanded us), but he did not succeed.

     I told him to look at the meaning of the words in the blessing and he would change his life. After some discussion I told him to translate the word “kidshanu.

     He said, “Sanctified us.”

     I asked what sanctified us means. He answered, “Separated us.”

     The blessing is, “Blessed art You, L-rd our G-d, King of the universe, who has kidshanu with His commandments, and commanded us to do this mitzvah.”

     I tried to explain that the root of the word kidshanu is kadosh, which means holy. The mitzvahs make us holy. He insisted that they separate us.

     He wouldn’t listen. He totally rejected what I said. He walked away extremely upset with me because of my lack of Torah understanding. Apparently, his way of translating “sanctify” (kadosh) as “separate” is very common in the religious world.

     What is the ongoing, daily difference in your life if you believe that the objective of a mitzvah is either to separate you from those who do not do mitzvahs, or if you believe that the objective of a mitzvah is to make you holy?  

     Vast! If you believe that the objective of spiritual life is to separate, this will become your focus. Every time you say a blessing you will be looking down, remembering what you are separating from. You will come to disdain those who do not do mitzvahs. You will measure your success by others’ failures.

     But, if you see that the ongoing purpose in fulfilling G-d’s commandments is to become holy, then you will strive to do holy things, to be with holy people, in holy places. Your thoughts will be of holiness. You intention will be to try to reach up to the Higher instead of pushing away from the lower.

     Where do they get the idea that kadosh means to separate? Holiness moves toward G-d’s ways in the world, and the unholy moves away from G-d’s ways in the world. Separation is a result of holiness; it is not the holiness itself. When we immerse in a mikvah (pool of water) should our focus be on becoming spiritually clean, or to separate ourselves from the spiritually unclean? The focus of a mitzvah is toward the holy.

     “Kadosh kadosh kadosh the whole earth is filled with His glory”[i] The prophet was told, “Holy, holy, holy, is the L-rd of hosts, the whole world is filled with His glory.” He was shown that G-d’s holiness fills and surrounds all. He was not being taught that G-d is separate, separate, separate.     

[i] Isaiah 6:3


  1. Shalom Rav Gutman!

    You do such beautiful work, and your book is very fine.

    Kadosh in Tanakh indeed implies being separated, as in the marriage ceremony (kiddushin). Then the question is: separated for what? In Chumash, when Hashem creates the mitzvote that make us "kodosh", the point is to make it possible for God's presence to dwell among his nation of Israel, first in the Mishkan and then next in Eretz Yisrael in the Mikdash.

    You can learn a bit more about it from Rav Menachem Leibtag (of Alon Shvut)in this shiur:,_Tumah_and_Shechina_in_Sefer_Vayikra

    Len Moskowitz

  2. Len, but isn't the purpose of Kiddushin to bring/unite three (hassan, Kalla and HaShem) together via one act of Kedusha in order to bring another neshoma into this world (to complete his/her tikkun)? I think Kabbala explains it in way.

    Rav Gutman, isnt this so?

  3. The first explanation in the lexicon puts it this way; "to be holy, spoken of a man who devotes himself to G-d, and thus separates himself from the rest of the people." Holiness is the acquired spiritual state of relevant to G-d and separation from the mundane is the result. This is the point of the article. Look up not down when you do a mitzvah. When you wash before the mikvah you are trying to get rid of something (dirt). When you go into the mikvah (the holy mitzvah) you are trying to acquire something (an improved state of spiritual cleanliness.) We should look up when we do a mitzvah, up at the source of holiness and the direction we are moving in, not down at what we are leaving.
    be well


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