This week’s parsha begins with and exhortation to be holy, “קְדֹשִׁים תִּהְיוּ/Be holy.” We live in a very physical world and we ourselves are very physical beings limited and governed to a large extent by the needs of our bodies. We are so removed from holiness which implies a separation from the physical. How, then, can we become holy?
The answer, the Sfas Emes says, is based on the realization that everything physical is only a façade for the spiritual. Even the mitzvos which we conventionally think of as holy, are fundamentally only physical activities. What makes them holy? They are holy only because God, through the Torah, commanded us to perform them. They are mentioned in the Torah and all holiness in this world derives from the Torah.
Holiness is not that apparent in this world. But God wants us to be aware that holiness is hidden within the physical world. The mitzvos are God’s hints to us that there is holiness here in this world. The prophet Yirmiyahu makes this point when he says, “הַצִיבִי לָךְ צִיֻנִים/Place signposts for yourself.” Chazal explain that the signposts to which Yirmiyahu is referring are the mitzvos. They are signposts in that they point us in the direction of holiness. They hint to us that there is something more to the physical world than meets the eye.
We find this differentiation between the mitzvos as signposts and the Torah as the source of holiness in a Midrash explaining “קְדֹשִׁים תִּהְיוּ/Be holy.” The Midrash cites a pasuk in Tehillim, “יִשְׁלַח־עֶזְרְךָ מִקֹּדֶשׁ וּמִצִּיּוֹן יִסְעָדֶךָּ/He will send your help from the holy (sanctuary) and support you from
The Midrash understands the word “from” in this pasuk as meaning “because of” or “as a result of.” צִיוֹן/Zion, can be read, “צִיוּן/signpost.” The pasuk can thus be translated as, “He will send your help because of the holiness within your actions and will support you because of your signposts.” As we’ve said, all holiness derives from the Torah. This includes the holiness within our actions. The signposts are the mitzvos. The Midrash is therefore teaching us that the way to get help from God is by recognizing that there is holiness within the mitzvos that we fulfill. Getting help from God, of course, is another way of saying God’s revelation, or revealing holiness in the physical world.
In fact, the Zohar calls the mitzvos advice. The mitzvos are God’s advice to us as to how to draw the holiness of the Torah into this world. By performing the mitzvos with the understanding that they “contain” the holiness of the Torah and with the desire to reveal that holiness, we attach to the holiness and become holy ourselves.