Sunday, March 30, 2008


Holiness or sanctity usually conjures up images of the somber and intimidating . The holy man is characteristically the ascetic, disembodied from the physical gifts and pleasures of life, demanding deprivation and suffering. It is no wonder therefore that the religious term of holiness is not often greeted with interest or appeal.
In Judaism, "Kadosh"-holy-is understood in a radically different way. Needless to say, the notion of holy implies some process of movement away from the mundane toward that which is viewed as godly. There are indeed elements of disciplined behavior, of guidelines that need to be followed. But holiness should not repel by scary associations to punishment and fault-finding. While "Kadesh "suggests the transcendent, that which is beyond the mundane, nonetheless it can be yearned for from a perspective of intimacy and joy, not fear and retreat.
The beginning of the Seder is entered into by reciting a blessing over wine and in this way, the occasion is marked as a sacred moment . The first of four cups of wine is drunk to celebrate the sanctity of the festival. Holiness is arrived at through the taste of wine, that "which gladdens the human heart." I would suggest ,therefore, that the psychological and spiritual state of mind that leads us to holiness and the greater awareness of the divine is joy, an open heart filled with gratitude .
The Talmud conveys this psychological reality quite stunningly when it asserts that "The Schekhina-the Divine Prescence- does not rest on one who is immersed in sorrow-‘atzvut,’... but only when one is engaged in rejoicing while fulfilling a religious act” .
The Festival is termed in the Bible as a "Mikrah Kodeh"- a calling to holiness. Thus the Seder summons us to embrace all that brings joy in our life and in this way proceed along the path of spiritual maturity and holiness.
A "gematria" is an interpretation arrived at or reinforced by the numerical value of a Hebrew word and its relationship to others. (Each letter of the Hebrew alphabet is equivalent to a number: Alef=1, Bet=2, Gimel=3 etc.) If you consider the word to rejoice, "Samoach," the letters "samech"=300, "Mem"=40, "Vav"=6, "Het"=8 for a total of 354. Add the numerical value of "Kol"-all, "chaf"=20,"lamed"=30=50.The numerical total of both words is 404.
Now consider the numerical value of "Kadesh"-sanctify."Kuf"=100,"daled"=4,"shin"=300. The total for "sanctify" is 404.
In other words, one sanctifies one's life, one's time, the occasion of celebration, by gratefully rejoicing in the totality , the "allness" of God's gift of life and the world.
The first step in reaching God awareness, the spiritual purpose of the Seder, is to sanctify-KADESH-by embracinfg the "allness" of life with grateful joy.
"Know that joy is rarer, more difficult than sadness.
Once you make this all-important discovery,
you must embrace joy as a moral obligation."-Andre Gide.

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