עשר קדושות הן. ישראל מקודשת מכל הארצות. ומה היא קדושתה. שמביאים ממנה האומר והביקורים ושתי הלחם. מה שאין מביאין כן מכל הארצות: עירות המקפות חומה מקודשות ממנה. שמשלחין מתוכן את המצורעים. ומסבבין לתוכן מת עד שירצו. יצא אין מחזירין אותו. לפנים מן החומה מקודש מהם. שאוכלין שם קדשים קלים ומעשר שני. הר הבית מקודש ממנו. שאין זבים וזבות נידות יולדות נכנסים שם:
חיל מקודש ממני. שאין הגוים וטמאי מתים נכנסים לשם. עזרת נשים מקודשת ממנו. שאין טבול יום נכנס לשם. וחיבין עליה חטאת: עזרת ישראל מקודשת ממנה שאין מחוסר כיפורים נכנס לשם. וחייבין עליה חטאת: עזרת הכהנים מקודשת ממנה. שאין ישראלים נכנסים לשם. אלא בשעת צרכיהם לסמיכה, לשחיטה ולתנופה:
בין האולם למזבח מקודש ממנו. שאין בעלי מומין ופרועי ראש נכנסים לשם: ההיכל מקודש ממנו. שאין נכנס לשם שלא רחוץ ידים ורגלים. קדש הקדשים מקודש מהן. שאין נכנס לשם אלא כהן גדול ביום הכיפורים בשעת העבודה.
אמר רבי יוסי בחמישה דברים בין האולם ולמזבח שוה להיכל. שאין בעלי מומין ופרועי ראש ושתויי יין ושלא רחוץ ידיים ורגלים נכנסים לשם ופרושין מבין האולם ולמזבח בשעת הקטרה

(Mishna 1, Tractate Kelim, chapter 1)


The Mishna speaks about the concept of "kedusha", by enunciating the ten different aspects of holiness both qualitatively, as well as quantitatively ("kedusha", meaning literally "that which is separated from matter" ). The Mishna's account of the different "holinesses" that exist in the work is arranged in ascending order.

The first verse in our Mishna says: "The Land of Israel is holier than all other lands". And it goes on to ask not an esoteric question, not a halachic question, but a very pragmatic question: "How is the holiness of the Land of Israel reflected in action?"

There are twelve agricultural products that grow in the land of Israel, which are said to have "kedusha". The first of these products, the first barley which is brought to the Temple at Pessach, the first wheat, the לחם הפנים is brought to the Temple at Shavuot and the first of the seven species are brought to the Temple from Pessach to Succot. In bringing these products within this frame of time, what are we really saying to God?

The source of life embedded in the produce of the world is yours". Without your life giving force these products couldn't have grown from the earth. It is the produce of Eretz Israel which is brought to the Temple and not the produce from all the other lands. This is what makes the Land of Israel different from all the other lands. It is the "kedusha" embedded in the produce of Eretz Israel that makes it fit to be offered to God on the altar in Jerusalem.

And the next question implied in the Mishna is: "How does the notion of "kedusha" manifest in Eretz Israel"?

The Mishna goes on to describe other entities that are holy. It says that cities which were surrounded by walls from the time of Yehoshuah Bin Nun have an added level of "kedusha". And how do we deal with this level of "kedusha"?
Lepers (whose bodies have somehow deteriorated -- having been plagued by a certain kind of death), are banned from staying in walled cities. In a non-walled city, the lepers are free to come and go. Or when someone passes away within the walled city, the body can be taken to all kinds of different places within the city. The deceased may be brought to the house where he lived with his family and to many other places and milestones that marked the course of his life. But once the body has left town, it cannot be brought back. In the case of a non-walled city, the deceased can be brought back to the city, even if the funeral left the city.

The Mishna takes us to a further and higher level of "kedusha" and says:
"The area comprised within the walls surrounding Jerusalem is holier than that of any other walled city" .
In what way?
Certain sacrifices that were not burnt completely in the Temple, were partaken not only by the Cohanim and by the priests, but even by me, the lowly Israel could sit down at the table and enjoy certain parts of the sacrifice. One example of this is the "korban Pessach", the pascal lamb shared to commemorate the holiday that marks the Exodus from Egypt. It was also customary to bring a "korban toda" a sacrifice of gratitude, upon recovering from an illness or having been saved from death. Part of these sacrifices were burnt on the altar and given to God, other parts were given to the priests and the rest were partaken by Israel. These were called " Korban Shalmim"; they made us all whole. We shared them with God (who literally "sat at our table"), we shared them with the priests, who were not separate from us. But all this could only transpire inside the walls of Jerusalem.

Those are the first three levels of holiness: The holiness of Eretz Israel, the holiness of walled cities, the holiness of Jerusalem.
Where's the highest level of holiness?
Between the building which houses the Temple and the altar, which is just outside. People who had disabilities couldn't go there. The building that was built by King Solomon was even holier. Priests who hadn't washed their hands were not allowed to go there. And, finally, the holy of holies was the holiest place. It was visited once a year on Yom Kippur by the High Priest and nobody else could go in there, ever.

And the Mishna connects the aspect of the "kedusha" of Eretz Israel to the "kedusha" of the dwelling place of God. In other words, the Mishna seeks to make a link between the Land of Israel and the fact that God, the source of life, dwells within the Land of Israel but his presence is even more palpable within the holy of holies, in the Temple in Jerusalem. How does the Mishna describe this connection?

We acknowledge this connection by approaching the Temple of God with sacrifices ("korbanot" is derived from the verb "lekarev", meaning to come close), by bringing gifts, by "redeeming the first-born" of the produce of the harvest back to God, in recognition for the life force that made this miracle possible, in recognition for the fact that everything belongs to God. This is how we come closer to God. This is how we connect our mundane life to the holiest place on earth. It is a physical link, created around a table, where food is partaken in a joyous spirit, inside the walls of Jerusalem. Close enough to the Temple, at a distance where one can feel the presence of the Temple. And one creates a connection by eating, by partaking food at God's table, in the company of priests and at walking distance from the Temple.

On the other hand, there are other levels and dimensions of holiness that seem to require separation. Like keeping the lepers out. If it's holy, the lepers can't be there. If it's holy, death can't be there. If there's holiness here, this is not a place of death. If somebody dies, you may honor him, eulogize him, praise him for his actions and character. But once he leaves the town, he's outside. There's certain things that have to be separated from "holiness". The lepers are just sick people. But they represent the absence of the life giving force of God in their bodies. The presence of God is weakened in their body. In a way, they are an image of death.

There's something critical about these levels of holiness. As we ascend the order of the holy, there are warning signs. It is a paradox: we are called to come closer to God, to create a physical connection with God and to maintain a line of sight with the Temple of Jerusalem. On the other, we must observe our physicality and our interiority to determine whether we are fit to approach the realm of the infinite.

The holy of holies is the holiest place in the world. It is the center of the world and it is an exclusive and prohibited zone. Jews are supposed to refrain from glancing at the site of the Temple Mount because some say the "Schehinah" has never abandoned its dwelling place. The holy of holies is taboo. Who wouldn't want to take a glance at the holy of holies, even just one time? Who would'nt want to take a look at that beautiful place, at those ethereal angels that voiced the word of God, why only the high priest on Yom Kippur? . No, no, It's the holy of holies and what makes it holy is fear, submission, distance, taboo. Don't come too close. There's fire there, there's energy there. It might destroy you. And on the other hand, there are certain levels of kedusha that say: "come close". You want to experience the holiness of Jerusalem? Go to the Temple. Bring your korban, sit and eat. Celebrate. Sit around with your family and have a good meal. And while you're having a good meal, be in physical proximity to the Temple. And the act of proximity itself will connect your own physicality to the Temple. So what is kedusha? Come closer and stay far away. Separate yourself, separate certain parts of yourself and come close. The separation of the leper and the dead is very clear.

וידבר ה' אל משה לאמור

צו את בני ישראל וישלחו מן המחנה כל צרוע וכל זו וכל טמא לנפש.

מזכר ועד נקבה תשלחו אל מחוץ למחנה תשלחום ולא יטאמו אל מחניהם

אשר אני שוכן בתוכם. במדבר, פרק 5, פסוקים א', ב', ג'.

Send every leper, man or woman who has an uncontrollable physical discharge from the sexual organs and everyone who has come in contact with a dead person out of the encampment. Whatever the defilement, the physical deterioration or the representation of physicality that embodies the defilement and the deterioration of life should be separated from the presence of God . That's why before you return to God you must go to the mikvah, to the renewal of the source of life. That's how it was done in former times; today physical defilement is niddah. This subject became in vogue after Anat Seruyah produced a documentary in which religious women were asked to express their views on the meaning of ritual purification, on the meaning of the mikvah. It was meaningless for most. Perhaps it is as meaningless as it is for many men to go to the synagogue. Praying in a congregation is supposed to be a meeting with God. The mikvah is supposed to generate the renewal of life after the power to give life has been temporarily lost. A woman has the power of giving life about once a month. She loses the power of giving life after that time. There's טומא She goes to the mikvah, to the womb of the waters of the world and she has the gift of life once again. That's today. In former times, men and women were in this together. Before they went to the Temple which was the source of life, they had to go to the mikavh. That's why in the south of the Temple there are all these mikvaot. To separate yourself from death, to purify yourself from being in touch with the dead, or from the defilement of niddah, or of זב or זבה.

These notions of purity and defilement are not clearly connected with other aspects of losing the power of life which have to do with emotional, not physical factors.

In a way, it is true that sadness, infirmity and sickness are a path to God. But this is up to the individual. It really depends on how a person makes use of them. If I believe that my infirmity and my deterioration, my endangered life and the sadness of my being are not fit to worship God, I must take myself to the mikvah. And I have to understand that passing through an unfortunate and painful experience, or experiencing the fear of death are part of the world where God is continuously giving life. When a person is able to see that this is one of the ways in which God expresses and bestows the gift of life, the experience becomes a powerful one. It is a very radical experience and it is a point of great self- discovery. Perhaps people learn to come close to God in appreciation for having been on ther deathbed. They come to appreciate the gift of life, after having been on the brink of death.

"I dwell in your midst" God describes the conditions in which he dwells in our midst. And to do so, he demands that we become conscious of those aspects of ourselves that must not approach his midst, aspects of our physicality that are banned temporarily from his presence. God rejects human beings, he sends them far away, so that they can, later on -- after they recover and purify themselves, return to the place where He dwells.

In other words, a person leaves the community so that he may re-integrate back into society. A person is "thrown out" of society to return like a boomerang some time later. The further away one is from holiness, the longer the road to travel back to holiness. It is a movement of departure and return, of separation and reunion. And God is present all along the way. God dwells in the different levels of "kedusha": amongst the Jewish People, within the confines of Eretz Israel and in the Temple. All these different levels of holiness are different levels of encountering God. There's an encounter with God in Eretz Israel. There's an encounter with God in Jerusalem. There's an encounter with God in the holy of holies. There are levels of encounter. And the more powerful the encounter, the more we desire to come closer and the more we have to be cautious.

This hierarchy of holiness comprises many levels. And the Mishna describes them in ascending order. One can be in the presence of God in Machtesh Ramon or Kiryat Shmonah. But the intensity of the presence of God is more striking in Jerusalem and even more so on the Temple Mount.

And inwardly there are also these dimensions of ascending and descending order. There are times when I'm closer to God. There are times when I'm far away. The Mishna says: "As you come closer, the power to bring you closer is intensified". But, the Mishna also warns you: "When you feel a strong desire to come close to Hashem, you must exert enormous caution. Beware of how you attempt to come close". Both the sacrifice and its owner must be in a state of "perfection" in order to offer and "be offered" to God. Therefore whoever wishes to bring a sacrifice must do so with the purest motives, after his body has been "re-born" by immersion underneath the waters of the womb of the world.
And yet, the closer he comes, the more dangerous it is.
And this brings us to the receiving of the Torah in Mount Sinai, as described in Parashat Yitro:

ויאמר ה' אל משה לך אל העם וקדשתם היום ומחר וכיבסו שמלתם. והיו נכנים ליום השלישי כי ביום השלישי ירד ה' לעיני כל העם על הר סיני

And God says to Moshe: "Go to the People and sanctify them today and tomorrow. They should wash their clothes (immerse them in the mikvah) and prepare themselves for the third day, when Hashem will sanctify the People at Mount Sinai.

והגבלת את העם סביב לאמור השמרו לכם עלות בהר ונגע בקצהו כל נגע בהר מות יומת. 

And limit the People. Give them a boundary not to come close to the mountain, not to touch its edges. There are limits in the presence of God. Tell them that if they go up the mountain or even touch the mountain…they will die.Tell them they must not come close to a woman for three days prior to their encounter with God….. But when the Shofar blows intermittently, tell them they may go up the mountain.
This is a preparatory measure in anticipation to the receiving the Torah. Before establishing that connection, distance and introspection are called for. The People must interiorize that being in the presence of God requires as much caution as dealing with explosives.

Come the morning of the third day, when voices are seen amidst a mountain going up in smoke and a shofar blowing in the background… and the People tremble. They are overwhelmed by the power of the presence of God. Paralized by fright, they refuse to come close, despite Moshe's commands. Moshe takes the Israelites out of the encampment towards God. He brings them to meet God face to face. But they were told: "Don't go up the mountain".
So for the Jewish People, coming to meet God means: "Leave the place that is familiar to you, leave the place that "belongs" to you and come closer to God…but be careful. You need to be prepared and you must not come too close".
And they come and they stand at the base of the mountain.

And what happens? They say: "We're going to die. We cannot handle this. This is too much for us. We cannot handle being face to face with the infinite, we feel we are going to lose control of ourselves". Like what happened to the personalities of Ben Zoma and Ben Azzai who couldn't handle entering the Pardes, one committed suicide, the other lost his senses. The People were afraid of losing control of themselves and of falling apart completely. The Jewish People say: "We are overwhelmed. We are going to die". Moshe says to the Jewish people: " Don't be afraid. God did not come to kill you. You are experiencing the revelation of the infinite as a possible death, a loss of your own personality and individuality. But if God wanted to kill you, you would not be here, think about it". But they say: "We do not have the strength to think about it. We are overpowered by fear. You be the intermediate".

And a disappointed God says: "Now, you're going to build the golden calf because you stayed too far away". God gives two conflicting messages: "Don't come too close to the mountain because you will die….but come close when I tell you". And Moshe comes up the mountain and he does not die. Moshe can go even further up. While the shofar is blowing, each person is called to go up to a certain level on the mountain. How high can you go? How high can I go? After a certain line, each one of us must stop because if anyone crosses his own limits, he is going to die. So I am going to come as close as possible. And as I come close to the presence of God, I will be struck with fright and I will say: "This is too much, I will not survive. I am going to retreat back into my rationality, back into my philosophy, back into speaking about God, back into all the safe places that I know".

And God is going to say: "I gave you a boundary. But I want you to be as close to that boundary as you can. I had more to tell you than just the ten commandments. Now I am going to instruct Moshe on Parashat Mishpatim but I really wanted to say it to you, directly just like the ten commandments".

What did we lose when we did not hear how society was to be built directly from God? We only heard it from Moshe. But God did not want to relegate Moshe to instruct the People. He did not want an intermediary.

The great question is how to deal with all these levels of holiness. There is the Land of Israel, there are the walled cities and Jerusalem and the inner and outer altar and the ark. These are all places where people experience the presence of God, at different levels and times. And an explicit and implicit voice is always saying: "Come closer but be careful. Come closer but know what your failures are. Be aware of your disabilities, be aware of your motives, be aware of the entrapments of your pride and the elation of your ego. Be aware of defilement and death within you. Go to the mikvah and then come close".

And beneath my conscious self, a deeper and more daring persona asks: "Do I really know how close I want to come? Do I want to come close at all ? Do I really want to come as close as possible? Or am I hiding behind a multitude of religious and personal safe havens so that I can mask my lack of courage and remain girded in comfort. I am looking at Sinai from a distance. I am witnessing God's gift of the Torah to the Jewish People from a distance. Let the rabbi do the job, let him be the intermediary. Who am I? I am just a humble person, I cannot come so close to God. Some rabbis say that the greatest work of the evil inclination is to preach false humility. Like in the case of a person who prefers to hide behind the image of a simple and God fearing Jew who observes the commandments of the Torah, but refuses to make the effort to risk his own life for Hashem. There is no lack of excuses to remain entrapped in the realm of familiar things and relegate responsibility to others.
On the other hand, we feel something so real, so powerful, so great…we desire to touch it so much that we want to get it right away. We want to be moved by the source of life itself, if we only had the courage.
One has to learn how to live in the presence of Sinai, to define what's too close and what's too far, when one needs to move away and when one needs to come closer. This is the real life of "kedusha". One example concerns the painter Vincent Van Gogh. His brilliance and sensitivity, the power of life that is expressed in the world around led him to a place of no boundaries. In the end, there were no boundaries between him and the world he was painting and he lost it. Or like people who desired very ardently to get closer to God and they learned the Kabbalah of the Ari, which is very structured and the process can be very disciplined. The question is the movement of the individual soul has to have boundaries. Coming close to the thing that you are seeking to grab a hold of enough. Like Ben Zoma and Ben Azzai, two individuals who were extremely analytic. But they were seeking to satisfy their soul, which is the goal of their discipline. There's this fire of life that you want to hold on to. If you try to do so without going to the mikvah on the way in, there's a good chance that if will somehow destroy in one way or another. It will destroy the boundaries between you and other people, between you and yourself.