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Torah Portion

Home > Torah Portion > Summary for Parshas Ki Sisa

Rabbi Stephen M Wylen
May 4, 2001 11 Iyar, 5761

Speak to the entire community of Israel and tell them: You shall be holy, for I Ad-nai your God am holy. ... You shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am Ad-nai. (Lev.19)

This portion of the Torah, the "Holiness Code", was given by God to the assembled community of Israel. True community can exist only when each member of the community practices suppression of egoism before each other member of the community. The majority of the commandments in this Torah portion deal with human relationships, the commandments between man and his fellow, and not the commandments between man and God, but the constant refrain of these commandments is "You shall be holy, for I Ad-nai your God am holy." - for it is by uniting as a community that Israel become holy before God.

The concept of community holds also within each person, for each person is a community of various parts. The 248 bones of the body (note: by Aristotle's count) correspond to the 248 "thou shalt!" mitzvot. When we do the appropriate mitzvot with each part of our body [note: eg:no lashon hara with the tongue, tsedakah with the hand, etc.] then our body becomes holy.

The holiness of the community is higher than the holiness of the individual. That is why our Sages taught (Pirke Avot) that " any community which exists for the sake of heaven shall persevere." When the people were disunited the Holy Temple was destroyed, for God's holiness can reside only in the presence of unity.

(Safat Emet, loosely translated by Stephen Wylen, from Art Green ed. "The Language of Truth") LESSON
It is a given of the post-Enlightenment world that the primary purpose of religion is to teach and promote ethical behavior. Accepted - but what is the purpose of ethical behavior? I was taught from childhood on in all of my religious and secular education that the purpose of ethical behavior is to be a good person. Each person should strive to be good.

I have never seen this presumption challenged until I read the above comment by the Gerer Rebbe. He does teach that ethical behavior (the commandments between man and his fellow) leads to goodness (described here in the Kabbalistic manner, wisely I think, as integrity). But that is secondary. The primary purpose of ethical behavior is to create a genuine community. Community is our goal.

If one needs absolute integrity to be personally ethical and therefore holy, the quality that one needs to participate in community is to be without ego. How many boards of organizations are torn apart because individuals place the fulfillment of their individual ego needs above the good of the whole. If there are egos present, the egos will not be able to suppress themselves for the common good. The only solution is that the board should be made up of people who have suppressed their egos in advance. If no egos are present, there can be no ego conflict.

Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, is largely about suppression of the ego. We let God into our lives, and into the world, whenever we make room for God by shrinking our own ego.



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