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Sanctifying oneself with the permitted-Its importance & connection to the future redemption
(Based on Likkutei Sichos Kedoshim Vol. 1 Sicha 1)
In this week’s Parsha, Parshas Kedoshim, we are commanded with the Mitzvah of “Kedoshim Tihiyu/Be Holy.” Some Rishonim learn that it is a positive commandment, which is listed as one of the 613 Mitzvos, to sanctify oneself with what is permitted. In this talk the Rebbe delves into the exact definition of this command and what it is instructing us to do. After all, does not the performance of Torah and Mitzvah suffice to consider us as holy? What furthermore must be done so we are considered holy and why does the regular fulfillment of Torah and Mitzvos not suffice? The Poskim rule that this Mitzvah of being holy is accomplished and fulfilled specifically through sanctifying oneself with the permitted. It does not suffice for a Jew to simply keep the restrictions set forth by the Torah, and he must also set restrictions for himself in his mundane activities so that they all be performed with a G-dly intent and purpose. This concept and idea is one of the greatest fundamentals of the Chassidic teachings as likewise expounded in the ancient teachings of Mussar. In Chassidic terminology, borrowed from the words of the Zohar, this concept is known as Iskafya. Chassidim would state, “that which is forbidden is forbidden and that which is permitted is superfluous.” All of the great Chassidic masters and their students, beginning with the Alter Rebbe and his disciples, preached and practiced this concept of Iskafya, and sanctifying oneself with the permitted, as an unbreakable principal of the Chassidic teachings without which one cannot accomplish the spiritual elevations that are aspired to be achieved according to Chassidic philosophy. This subject was one of the main topics of discussion by Chassidic gatherings in which the Mashpia would press upon his subjects the necessity to practice Iskafya and how it is not possible for one to be a true Oved Hashem and feel proper love and fear for G-d if the service of Iskafya is lacking. However, some people erroneously think that in today’s generation this form of Avoda is no longer really relevant. In this talk, not only does the Rebbe disavow this position, but takes it a step further and states that it is specifically this Divine service that will usher in the future redemption. Now, what is so unique about restricting and sanctifying even those matters that the Torah did not restrict, and what special relationship does it have with the future redemption will be explored in the paragraphs below.
| Explorations of the Sicha:
1. What is the intent of the command to be holy? Why does the simple observance of the commands of the Torah not suffice to achieve the title of being holy?
2. How do we accomplish becoming a distinguished nation from amongst the Gentiles, and a unique people on the earth?
3. Is it an actual obligation for one to sanctify himself with the permitted? Can I really not eat Kosher ice cream just for the sake of pleasure?
4. How is the service of sanctifying oneself with the permitted more advantageous then even regular observance of the commands and how can specifically this Divine service usher the future redemption?
1. The command to be holy:
The verse states “Speak to all of Bnei Yisrael and tell them: You shall be holy, as I am holy, Hashem your G-d.” What does it mean when it says that one should be holy? What are the practical things that one should do, and is instructed to do, in order so he be considered holy? The term Holy is subjective and can mean many different things and be interpreted in different ways. Also, to be considered holy, why does it not simply suffice for a Jew to be properly observant of the laws of the Torah, which is itself not the easiest of tasks? Why do we need a special command to be holy in addition to all the commands of the Torah which already make us holy? So, we will now explain what the term holiness in this verse refers to.
2. Holiness means separation and distinguishment:
The intent of the term holy in the above verse is separation or distinguishment and uniqueness. So is understood from the verse in the end of the Parsha which states, “And you shall be holy, and I will separate you from the nations,” which means that through our efforts in being holy and distinguished, G-d will indeed separate us from the nations and make us unique, so we are not just considered like another nation on earth. Hence, the intent of the above command is for the Jewish people to act in a way that distinguishes them from the Gentile nations. Now, how is this fulfilled? It is not fulfilled simply through the observance of the Torah by the Jewish people, as regarding this matter, there is no similarity at all with the Gentiles, being that the Gentiles have no place in Torah observance, as G-d only gave the Torah to the Jewish people. Separation can only be requested in matters that we share in common with the Gentiles, and through us nonetheless behaving in a different way than them. You don’t need to ask for separation regarding two matters that are already uniquely different. [Furthermore, the mere fact that we have specific commands that we keep does not suffice as a true distinguishing factor between us and the Gentile nations, as every nation has its religion and culture that it follows, and hence while the religion and culture of each nation may be unique, the fact that it has a unique religion and culture is not unique at all, and hence the Jewish religion does not serve as a reason for them to be viewed by the Gentile nations as unique.]
How then is this uniqueness of the Jewish people fulfilled? It is fulfilled through them sanctifying themselves with even the mundane activities which are practiced by both Jew and Gentile alike.
3. Sanctifying oneself with the permitted:
The mundane matters of the world such as eating, drinking, and doing business, are basic necessities for all humans, in which there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile. In these matters, it seems that the Jew and the Gentile are the same, and hence it is precisely in these matters that distinction is required. When the Jewish people act differently than the Gentiles even in these matters, it really emphasizes our select status.
How does one fulfill the command to sanctify himself with the permitted?
The command is fulfilled very simply by avoiding doing the permitted actions for mere gratification. It is a general command that one should separate himself from unnecessary permitted matters. That he should not be overindulged in eating Kosher foods, and overindulged in intimacy with his wife, and speaking freely without limit. He should limit his intake of alcohol. He should guard himself from ritual impurity. It also includes the cleanliness of one’s hands and body. The main spirit of this Mitzvah is for one to distinguish himself from the common folk which are entrenched in pursuance of physical pleasures and desires.
4. Is the command an actual obligation?
From the verses of, “Kedoshim Tihiyu/Be Holy” and “Vihiskadeshtem Veheyisem Kedoshim,” some Rishonim learn that it is a positive commandment (listed as one of the 613 Mitzvos) to sanctify oneself with the permitted. All Poskim agree that at the very least there is a Rabbinical requirement to sanctify oneself with the permitted. The accepted ruling of Chassidus, as is evident from various talks of the Chabad Rabbeim, is that it is a Biblical commandment, and so is the Rebbe’s conclusion in the above talk.
5. Specifically the Mitzvah of sanctifying oneself with the permitted will usher the future redemption:
In the Chassidic teachings it is explained that the service of sanctifying oneself with the permitted has special connection with the future redemption, and it is in the merit of this specific Avoda that the future redemption will arrive. Meaning, that the mere fulfillment of Mitzvos and learning Torah alone does not suffice to usher in the redemption, and in addition one must also sanctify himself with the permitted. Why is this the case, and how can observing the permitted be even higher then following the obligatory commands? The explanation is as follows:
6. The greater the revelation the greater the need of refinement:
The greater the revelation that one desires to receive the greater of refinement that he needs. The form and quality of revelation that we will receive in the future is of such sublime and high light, that the refinement that the mere abstaining from the forbidden provides, does not suffice in preparing us to become proper receptacles for it. Rather, we must go up an even higher level and abstain even from the permitted, in order to properly refine our spirit. We find a similar analogy to this in the Mitzvah of circumcision. The Mitzvah of circumcision contains two parts, one which is the removal of the thick membrane known as the Milah, and the second which is the removal of the thin membrane known as the Periah. Now, when Avraham was originally commanded the Mitzvah of circumcision, he was only given the first part of the command, to remove the thick membrane of the Mila, and it was only later on after the giving of the Torah that we were also commanded to remove the second part known as the Periah. The reason for this is because in the times of Avraham, the level of revelation of G-d that could be experienced by an individual was limited, and for that level the 1st degree of circumcision sufficed. However, once the Torah was given and we now have access to experience a much higher level of G-dliness, it became required to also remove the thinner membrane known as the Periah.
Now, why is it that specifically abstaining from the permitted provides this higher level of refinement for the soul? This is due to an advantage that it holds in respect to the soul of the Jew and his Divine service.
7. One’s nullification to G-d is only complete when he sanctifies and restricts the permitted:
Torah and Mitzvos don’t completely nullify the person and only relate to the person externally. However, the service of sanctifying oneself with the permitted completely permeates the essence of the person and brings him to a complete state of Bittul. It is possible for a person to be an observant Jew who does not transgress any of the Torah commands and tries to fulfill everything that is demanded of him, to still retain a great level of independence from G-d. Although he may force himself to follow G-d’s will whenever G-d explicitly states so in the Torah, in all other extracurricular matters that the Torah does not discuss, he can choose to live a life that is very much focused on himself and his pleasures. Hence, his nullification to G-d is only at times that G-d asks for it and is not something that takes over the entire essence and being of the individual. However, when one sanctifies himself with the permitted, then he gives up everything for G-d, and even his extracurricular activities are measured and done only for a G-dly purpose. He hence divests himself completely from his own self pleasures and benefits, and totally gives himself up for G-d. It is specifically this type of service of G-d that touches the essence of the soul of the individual, as he in essence has given up his self-identity for Hashem’s sake.
Based on this we can now explain why there is a special relationship between serving G-d with the permitted and the future redemption.
8. The reason that the service of sanctifying the permitted is responsible for drawing down the great revelations of the redemption:
The Zohar states that the connection between the Jewish people and G-d contains a both conscious and subconscious level. The conscious level connection is with the Torah and Mitzvos. This means that when a Jew learns Torah and fulfills the commands of G-d he connects to G-d in a revealed way. This, however, also means that he connects specifically to the revealed aspects of G-d, to His revelations and light. However, there is a deeper level connection to the essence of G-d that is not achievable through Torah and Mitzvos, and remains on the subconscious level. This however is not experienced until the time of the redemption when this subconscious level connection will become conscious. Now, what merits the Jew to be able to consciously experience this most infinite, once subconscious, connection, in which he connects with the essence of G-d himself? It is through him serving G-d in a way that conquers even the most subconscious and essential aspects of his own soul, which is accomplished specifically through the service of sanctifying oneself with the permitted as we explained above. It is only when one dedicates everything of his life to G-d that his essence is truly handed over to Him, which can merit him in the future to be a proper receptacle to unite with the essence of G-d and consciously experience the once subconscious connection.
9. Parents educating their children in the above command to sanctify oneself with the permitted:
It does not suffice for an individual to personally practice sanctification with the permitted, but he must also spread it to others, beginning with his own children. Parents must educate their children in the fulfillment of all commands and to be Torah observant Jews. This likewise includes the above instruction of being holy, that even children are to be educated to be holy and to sanctify themselves with the permitted. It is for this reason that immediately after the command to be holy, follows the command of fearing one’s father and mother, to hint to this idea that the parents must likewise educate their children in this matter. Mainly, the parents need to educate their children that they are part of a unique nation from amongst the Gentile nations. Being that the mother is the main one at home with the children, therefore this responsibility mainly falls on her, and therefore the verse first mentions the mother and then the father in the command of fearing one’s parents.
| The Divine lesson:
The above talk really summarizes the focal difference between a regular Torah observant Jew, and one who chooses to follow the Chassidic form of life. A Jew can truly get away with being “only observant,” which means that while he makes sure to observe all the commands to the best of his ability, he leaves plenty of space in his lifestyle for self-pleasures and self-gratifications. He serves G-d when G-d requests, and serves himself by all other times. His focus in life can be to live the American dream and enjoy life while at the same time be an observant Jew. This is not the Chassidic form of life. Hasidism emphasizes the necessity for one to give himself up totally for the sake of G-d and that his observance of Torah and his relationship with G-d take up his entire essence so that he does not leave any space in his lifestyle for self-pleasures and self-gratifications. This is accomplished through the Mitzvah of sanctifying oneself with the permitted. The rewards for such practice will be reaped in the future era, as such a Jew’s soul is much more refined and susceptible for Divine revelation than the soul of the Jew who was only observant upon direct request and spent much of his life dedicated to self-pleasures. Now, even Chassidim, especially in today’s generation, mostly no longer live up to this ideal, which is a steadfast Chassidic principal. Nonetheless, it is important for Hassidim to at least be aware of the truth and of the necessity to dedicate all of one’s life to G-d, and to aspire to one day reach this. Furthermore, G-d does not expect perfection, especially not right away, and hence even if one only begins with small steps of Iskafya, in abstaining from only some of the extra pleasures that he would like to have, that itself is already a big step in the right direction. Just because one is not on a level to dedicate his entire life to G-d and never do anything for self-pleasure, does not mean that he cannot choose to practice Iskafya with at least something. Accordingly, it is proper that each individual choose one thing that is permitted according to Torah, but which he does for self-pleasure, that he will now practice restraint for the sake of fulfilling the Mitzvah of Kedoshim Tihiyu and hence make his soul a receptacle for the great revelation of the future era.
 Vayikra 19:2
 Hayom Yom 25th Adar Sheiyni
 Vayikra 19:2
 Vayikra 20:26
 See Rama E.H. 25:2; Rambam Issureiy Biyah 21:9; Ramban Parshas Kedoshim 19:2, brought in M”B 240:1, “I disagree that the commandment of Kedoshim Tihiyu is coming to tell us to separate from the Arayos. Rather, it is to separate from the superfluous… Meaning that the Torah allowed having relations with one’s wife… which can lead to him becoming engulfed in it… and he will be a Naval Bereshus HaTorah. Therefore, the Torah commanded us… to diminish in intercourse”; Reishis Chochmah Sha’ar Hakedusha 16:2, based Zohar Kedoshim 81a and Shavuos 18b; Chareidim Asei 7:13 and chapter 20 brings Ramban that sanctifying oneself with one’s wife, to not have intercourse so often, is the positive commandment of Kidoshim Tihiyu; Or Torah Bamidbar 2 Hosafos p. 63 “Kadesh Atzmecha… such as separating yourself from the lust of Zivug or eating other than that which is necessary L’sheim Shamayim”
 Ramban ibid
 Vayikra 19:2
 Vayikra 11:44
 Sefer Chareidim 20:13 in name of Rabbeinu Shlomo Ivan Gavriel [Rashbag] that he lists it as one of the 613 Mitzvos; Ramban on Vayikra ibid, “The verse is coming to teach us that one is to separate himself from the permitted, such as to diminish in intercourse.”; Chinuch, brought in Sefer Hama’amarim Kuntreisim 1:83 [Vetzaruch Iyun]; Tanya Chapter 27 and 30; See Sh’lah Parshas Kedoshim; M”B 240:1
Other opinions: The vast majority of Rishonim omit counting this Mitzvah as one of the 613 commandments. [Omitted from Rambam and other Monei Hamitzvos] In the Shulchan Aruch, Chapter 231, the Michaber rules it is a mere act of praise and piety, and one who does not do so is merely not praised, implying that there is no Biblical transgression involved. However, even the Michaber ibid concludes that one is obligated to limit what he does so that it be only for the sake of Heaven.
A negative commandment: Even according to the above Poskim, who rule that there is no Biblical commandment to sanctify oneself with the permitted, some of these Poskim rule that there is a negative commandment against doing that which is permitted simply out of pursuit for pleasure. [Chinuch 387, based on verse, “Lo Sasuru Acharei,” learns it is a negative commandment; Rambam Lo Sasei 47; Mentioned in Kuntrus Eitz HaChaim; Vetzaruch Iyun if they learn that every act of self-indulgence is deemed as a transgression of this negative commandment, or only a constant pursuit of pleasures transgresses this commandment. The wording in the Chinuch is, “One who constantly pursues the pleasures of the world out of pure lust, constantly transgresses this command each time he indulges in the pleasure.”]
 Rava Yevamos 20a, “Kadesh Atzmecha Bemutar Lecha:One is to sanctify himself with that which is permitted.”
 In the Shulchan Aruch, chapter 231, the Michaber concludes that one is obligated to limit what he does so that it be only for the sake of Heaven. The Alter Rebbe rules in Tanya [Chapter 27 and 30] that it is a Biblical commandment, and even according to those who argue this, it is at the very least a Rabbinical commandment.
 See Tanya Chapters 27 and 30 that it is a Biblical commandment; Kuntrus Eitz HaChaim; Sefer Hama’amarim Kuntreisim 1:83; Likkutei Sichos 1:254-256, “The Mitzvah of Kadesh Atzmecha is not just a Hiddur Mitzvah and the like, but a positive commandment in the Torah.”; Igros Kodesh 20:84
 Mamar Shavuos 5717 [printed in Toras Menachem 20:35]