Friday, 10 May, 2024 - 5:34 am

Have you ever achieved a state of numinousness?

If you don’t know what that means, I will feel a bit better about myself.

I too did not know what it meant .

Until very recently that is.

Moshe, a young man in his seventies who has a passion for studying philosophy, asked me if I had ever experienced a feeling of the numinous.

He then explained to me that in simple English numinous means something along the lines of ‘holy’, ‘divine’ or ‘spiritual’.

Moshe S. made an appointment to see me. He told me something was bothering him, and he was seeking my advice.

I was assuming that the meeting was to ask for my advice or help in mundane matters of life. It is no secret that many ‘farangs’ who live in Thailand struggle to make ends meet. The Torah value of Tzedakah teaches us to help those in need.  I assumed it was a request for assistance.

I was so happy to learn that Moshe is not in need of material help thank G-d. I was delighted to learn that the consultation was about religious and spiritual matters. This was music to my ears.

Moshe felt that he was missing out on something. He confided to me that while he has become much more observant of the Mitzvahs through his coming often to the Shul, he doesn’t get the feeling of the numinous. For example, he doesn’t feel the holiness and aura of putting on tefillin. This bothers him. He knows intellectually that rituals and mitzvahs are the very basics of Judaism. Thus, he is bothered by the lack of feeling of the Divine.

Moshe wanted to hear about my experience with the numinous.

I had to admit to Moshe that I too don’t live in a constant state of feeling the Divine.

However, I am blessed to have studied Torah since I am a child, and therefore I know that the connection with the ‘numinous’ is not defined by our own perception. Connection to G-d is defined based on the criteria that Hashem sets forth.

Holiness means closeness to Hashem and it is Hashem who defines what brings one close.

This week’s Parsha is called ‘Kedoshim’ – ‘Holy’. The Torah starts off by saying ‘You shall be holy’.

What does that mean?

The Torah makes it clear. Firstly, it means something very basic. To stay away from sinful relationships. Forbidden unions, incest, adultery etc are the antithesis of holiness. By staying away from that kind of boundary-breaking immorality, one is already on the way to being holy.

The higher level of being holy is going beyond the letter of the law. Doing even more than required by the Torah. If the Torah says that you can eat food if its kosher, the way of holiness is to eat only what is required. Even when it comes to kosher food, indulgence should be avoided. Indulgence, even in permissible things, is a recipe for unholiness.

A few verses later the Torah lays out the central theme of the Torah.

‘Love your fellow as yourself’.

This is where holiness takes a fascinating counterintuitive twist.

If I overpamper myself with material excess, I am unholy and indulgent.

When I pamper someone else with an abundance of material bounty, I am doing something holy.

For example, choosing the most expensive item on the menu for myself, may be indulgent.

Treating my friend to the best item on the menu is an act of selfless giving.

It is a great rule of thumb.

When catering to my own material needs I should be analytical as they may be self-centered and should be treated with caution not to overdo it.

(I am not advocating an ascetic lifestyle. It is excessiveness that I am referring to as being something one should be wary of).

When it comes, however, to the material needs of my fellow, those should be treated as equivalent to spirituality.

Therefore, one should do their best to provide amply and generously without the meticulous examination one would employ for oneself.

Clearly, when it comes to feelings, things get a little more complex.

Let us try to reframe what ‘feeling holy’ can mean.

When do you feel more holy?

When you feed a hungry person a satisfying meal?

Or at the end of Yom Kippur when you haven’t eaten for twenty-six hours and you cry out ‘Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokenu Hashem Echad’?

Here is a classic story of when doing something holy and feeling holy may not align.

When a birthing woman was in danger and no one was at home to provide her with warm nourishment on Yom Kippur, the great Rebbe Shneur Zalman left his place at the Shul and unobtrusively went to make a fire and heat up some food for her.

Imagine that. On the holiest day of the year, the holiest man of the community went to do activities that are un-Yom Kippur like.

How would you feel if you had to ‘violate’ Yom Kippur to save a life?

I am sure you can relate intellectually that even if you didn’t feel holy, you would recognize that are doing a truly ‘holy’ act by saving someone life.

Saving a life is true holiness.

Whether or not you feel it.

The sanctity and decorum of synagogues all across Israel was shattered on Yom Kippur 1973 when Israel faced an unprecedented attack that threatened its very survival. Men were hauled out of shul, removing their talitot and closing their prayer books to go and defend our people.

Fifty years and twelve days later, on Simchas Torah of this year, we had a tragic repeat of history when hordes of ruthless murderous terrorists came to wage a war of annihilation against the people of Israel.

Once again, reservists were called up for army duty, plucked from the holiness and peacefulness of this most joyous holiday to the front lines of fierce battle.

What does it feel like when instead of swaying in the Synagogue to the chant of the chazzan, you are standing holding a machine gun and shooting at the enemy?

Regardless of what it feels like, fighting in defense of our people is truly holy.

The soldiers who stand in protection of our people are holy.

The medics who dedicate their lives to healing people are holy.

Those who fall in the line of duty are called ‘kedoshim’ ‘holy ones’. They soar to the highest levels of holiness as a result of their absolute selflessness and sacrifice.

Holiness is not meditating in the mountains and reaching ecstasy.

Holiness is doing what Hashem wants you to do.

We now know how to ‘be holy’. How does one also achieve ‘feeling holy’?

Or does one not necessarily ever ‘feel’ holy?

Sometimes Hashem gifts us with a feeling and aura of holiness when we engage with doing the right thing.

At other times, the ‘reward’ and ‘aura’ and ‘feeling’ of holiness is waiting for us for when we enter a more pristine space.

Those who have passed away meet up with their ‘cache’ of holiness in the Garden of Eden. They get to enjoy the fruits of their work in the next world.

We look forward to unlocking our spiritual ‘treasure chest’ here in this world, when Mashiach comes.

The accumulation of spiritual G-dly energy that is generated by us doing the right thing will be the source of divine pleasure in which our souls will bask and radiate.

The determination of what is ‘holy’ can only be sourced in one place.

In the book of Hashem’s communication to humanity – the Torah.

The books of generic and secular philosophy lead down the dangerous path that emerges from time to time in the bastions of ‘culture’ and ‘higher learning’. It ends up in misguided notions of morality which turn out to be twisted and immoral.

There is only one source for defining holiness.

One source for morality.

It comes from the One G-d to the One people of Israel and we are empowered to communicate it to the entire world.

Train yourself to recognize true acts of holiness. To the discerning Jew, acts of mitzvah and righteousness are perceived as holy acts even if they may feel mundane as they engage with the physical objects of this world.

The Kohen Gadol had to be a married man when he entered the holy of holies on the holiest day of the year of Yom Kippur.

In Judaism the act of marriage, when done in the way of ‘Taharat Hamishpacha’ is a holy act. Counterintuitive.

Money, when used as a tool of tzedakah and social benefit becomes a vehicle for the divine.

Be ‘holy’ my friend.

Don’t run away and hide.

Stand up and shine.

Celebrate being a Jew.

Revel in your mundane acts of living life according to G-d’s instructions.

Keep your spirits high and fulfil the commandment of serving G-d with joy.

Simcha – joy – breaks down the barriers internal and external.

Our enemies would love to see us disillusioned, depressed, dispirited and ready to ‘throw in the towel’.

We are G-d’s Holy people. He is with us. In His presence there is strength and joy.

The happy outcome is so close. The darkness in the world is a prelude to the great light that is about to come.

Mashiach is on his way.

If you have discerning eyes, you can see the rays of light poised to drive away the darkness.


Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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