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The never-ending journey to holiness

This week, Rabbi Professor David FrankelAssociate Professor of Bible at The Schechter Institute of Jewish Studiesshares insight on Parashat Shelach and next week’s parasha, Korach. He states that they “teach us an essential and important lesson; we must always strive for holiness and we must never feel that it is in our pocket. We must always judge ourselves with harshness and with expectance for greater levels of spiritual attainment that are always beyond our final reach”.

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This week’s parasha is Parashat Shelach. At the end of this week’s parasha we find the law of the tzitzit, of the fringes which one is supposed to put on the corners of one’s garment. The tzitzit have a special purpose, the Torah tells usלְמַ֣עַן תִּזְכְּר֔וּ וַעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֶת־כָּל־מִצְוֺתָ֑י וִהְיִיתֶ֥ם קְדֹשִׁ֖ים לֵֽאלֹהֵיכֶֽם ׃ “So that you remember all My commandments and are holy to God(Num. 15:40).” Interestingly, the very next parasha also brings up this issue of sanctity, of holiness. Korach is the leader of a rebellion against the leadership of Moses and Aaron and his claim against the leadership of Moses and Aaron is “כִּ֤י כָל־הָֽעֵדָה֙ כֻּלָּ֣ם קְדֹשִׁ֔ים וּבְתוֹכָ֖ם יְהוָ֑ה וּמַדּ֥וּעַ תִּֽתְנַשְּׂא֖וּ עַל־קְהַ֥ל יְהוָֽה׃” “The entire community, the entire congregation is holy so why do you Moses and Aaron lift yourselves up against the people of God? (Num. 16:3)”

This juxtaposition raises a question. One would tend to think that the argument of Korach is accurate. After all, the people are holy! We just read at the end of our parasha that the tzitzit are meant to remind us of holiness. The question is what was Korach’s mistake and how is it different than what we are taught in our parasha?

I would suggest that there is a fundamental difference between the two conceptions of holiness. The holiness that our parasha teaches us is holiness as a goal, holiness as a destination which is always beyond reach. It is our job to strive for holiness but never to think that we have achieved it. True holiness is only held by God and it is our attempt to emulate God which is encapsulated in the Jewish way, the striving for holiness. The mistake of Korach in next week’s parasha is the assumption that the Jewish people have attained that, that we are there, that we are by nature a holy people. That is a dangerous concept in which we can feel privileged and somehow spiritually superior and therefore entitled to something which is not the entitlement of other people. The combination of this week’s parasha and next week’s parasha teaches us an essential and important lesson; we must always strive for holiness and we must never feel that it is in our pocket. We must always judge ourselves with harshness and with expectance for greater levels of spiritual attainment that are always beyond our final reach.

Shavua Tov From Schechter

**Beginning immediately after Pesach and until August, Parashat Hashavua in the Diaspora is one week ‘behind’ the Parasha in Israel. Shavua Tov@Schechter will follow the Diaspora schedule.

David Frankel has served as a senior Bible lecturer at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies since 1992. He earned his PhD at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem under the direction of Prof. Moshe Weinfeld. His publications include “The Murmuring Stories of the Priestly School: and “The Land of Canaan and the Destiny of Israel.”  From 1991 to 1996, Rabbi Dr. Frankel was rabbi of Congregation Shevet Achim in Gilo, Jerusalem.

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