Holiness and G-d
By Avi Lazerson
The concept of holiness and G-dliness is a center point of most religions. In Judaism, it is the Jewish people that G-d sets aside to be holy. But what exactly is holiness? We know that G-d is holy, but who can be like Him?
It is the manner of the Chasidic masters to teach a deep concept through a simple story. We will utilize one of their stories to illustrate what is holiness and how it may be achieved.
One time a Chasidic master was walking through the street of his town with one of his devoted disciples. The disciple, in the manner of Chassidim, was wearing the traditional long black coat and a large brimmed black hat. As they walked through the streets the disciple lowered the brim of his hat down very low on his forehead, lest his eyes be draw after one of the women who occasionally past through the street.
Unexpectedly the disciple walked straight into a tree that was in the middle of the sidewalk. With a highly animated recoil, the Chassid sprang back with a yell as if he were attacked by demons and collapsed upon the pavement trembling. The Chasid master, his rebbe, came running to his side calling to him, "Yankle, Yankle, what happened to you?"
Yankle lay there on the sidewalk gasping for air and motioning with his hand towards the tree, "Oy, I was so frightened! I thought that I bumped into a woman! But, thank G-d, it was only a tree."
His rebbe shook his head and replied, "Yankle, I have been trying to teach you how to relate to a woman as if she is a tree, not that you should relate to a tree as if it is a woman!"
This is typical of a Chassidic story. It is short and funny, yet it has a very deep message. We must now try to understand this story and what it has to do with us and holiness.
First let us understand that G-d not only encompasses the entire world, but that the entire world really exists within Him with His constant will that it exist. He existed before the world was created and He is not changed or affected by the world. His existence is completely not affected by the happenings of the world. G-d never changes.
We, on the other hand, are made from worldly components. We are affected by the happenings of this world and we change in accordance to changes in the world around us. We are dependent upon the material and generally totally absorbed in its acquisition.
Materialism is such a part of our lives that we are barely aware that we spend most of our time either in pursuit of it, enjoying it, consuming it, or desiring it. Our thoughts, desires and actions are centered around material acquisition to such a degree that it becomes nearly impossible to be free from its influences.
Yet, there are those who recognize the strong attachment that we have almost in our nature towards the material and physical. They try to go against their inborn material desires by rejecting materialism. They become "anti-materialistic". They spend much of their time fighting against the crass influences of the materialistic world that invades their lives. Some who are religiously oriented become monks of various persuasions. Others who are not so religiously inclined become "beatniks" and try to escape from the society.
In all cases whether they try to flee from materialism by religious isolation or by social escapism, they nevertheless live their lives fighting against the influences of the material in their lives. They, in effect, become hyper-aware of the material world, but in a negative sense.
Similar to our Chasidic story, the Chasidic master was trying to teach his student how to deal with women. The rebbe wanted to teach his Chasid how to relate to women as one relates to a tree. One does not particularly take notice of trees and as he passes a tree in the street is not particularly attracted or affected by one. As we walk down the street we may pass many trees of various sizes, shapes and specie, but we do not become shaken inside by them. Even if we do notice something particularly interesting about them, it is only that particular point that interests only our mind, but not our entire essence to the point of being driven to it, or from it.
The rebbe was the Chasidic master. He knew how to relate to women as if they were trees. He was not draw after them nor rejected by them. They existed in his world but they did not exert a large influence over him.
Unfortunately for the Chasid who became over conscious of women to the point that he developed a phobia regarding them which ruled his feelings. Instead of regarding a woman as a tree, meaning as another person, not as a sexual object, he became hypersensitive to their sexuality to the point that he could not comfortably walk down the street.
Similarly those who chose to escape from the material aspect of life are little better than those who are draw into the material world as if nothing else exists.
Now G-d's holiness has to do with his separation from attachment to anything and everything worldly. He is at the same time totally in the world and yet absolutely removed. He is totally in the world; meaning that He is totally aware of everything that goes on in the world, from the smallest to the greatest event and personage. But he is absolutely removed from the world in that nothing can affect him or cause a change in Him.
In the terms of the Chassidic masters, He is said to "fill" the world completely and at the same time to "transcend" the world.
He fills the world, meaning that all is He and He is all; nothing can exist independently from his will. Unless He wills something, nothing can take place or exist.
Yet He transcends the world since no one can contain Him or affect Him. He is at the same time totally within the world, yet is absolutely unencumbered by it.
From this we may understand what it means to be holy. Holy means that we can live in the world, exist within its material conventions, yet not be affected by the world. But we must realize that our holiness is not the same as His holiness. He is totally unaffected by the world and its actions. We can not achieve that level of being unaffected. But when we realize that the world is not the one true existence; we can enter into the realm of the spiritual. The more we focus on the transcendental aspect of G-d and His relationship to the world, the more we are elevated from being totally submerged in the material and physical aspects of the world.
Living life with a spiritual goal will offset the attraction of the physical side of life. The more we make the goal of our life the "sighting" of G-d in our world, the more we will be canceling out the base effects of the material aspect of this world.
from the June 2006 Edition of the Jewish Magazine