In this way, the concept of separation is a consequence of the underlying basis of the mitzvah of holiness, which is recognizable in practice in the ways a person acts. But with insight and the calling of spirituality this mitzvah broadens to include everything a person causes or does even between him and the Omnipresent. In relation to this, this holiness is comparable to the Holiness of the Creator in whatever little similarity. Just as the Act of the Holy One in all of creation, and in each and every moment that He continues to cause the universe to exist; all His actions are sanctified to the good of others, so too it is His Will that our actions be constantly sanctified to the good of the community, and not personal benefit. ועל פי דרך זה ענין מצוה של פרישות הוא תמצית מיסוד מצות קדושה, הנכרת בפועל בדרכי ההנהגה של האדם, אבל ברעיון ושאיפת הרוח מתרחבת מצוד, זו גם על כל מפעליו ומעשיו של האדם גם בינו לבין המקום, וביחס זה מתדמה ענין קדושה זו לקדושת הבורא ית׳ באיזה דמיון קצת, שכמו שבמעשה של הקב״ה בהבריאה כולה, וכן בכל רגע ורגע שהוא מקיים את העולם, כל מעשיו הם מוקדשים לטובת זולתו, כן רצונו ית׳ שיהיו מעשינו תמיד מוקדשים לטובת הכלל ולא להנאת עצמו.
Rav Shimon opened this introduction telling us that our greatest desire should be “להיטיב עם זולתנו, ליחיד ולרבים בהוה ובעתיד בדמות הבורא כביכול — do to good to others, to the individuals and to the masses, now and in the future, in imitation of the Creator (as it were).” What does commitment to doing good for others in the future add over speaking about the present? When we actually get to the point where we can do good to others, it will be because the moment is no longer in the future and became the present?
There is Aesop’s famous fable of The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs. Here is the short version from Joseph Jacobs’ Aesop’s Fables (1894) :
One day a countryman going to the nest of his Goose found there an egg all yellow and glittering. When he took it up it was as heavy as lead and he was going to throw it away, because he thought a trick had been played upon him. But he took it home on second thoughts, and soon found to his delight that it was an egg of pure gold. Every morning the same thing occurred, and he soon became rich by selling his eggs. As he grew rich he grew greedy; and thinking to get at once all the gold the Goose could give, he killed it and opened it only to find nothing.
Greed oft o’er reaches itself.
Self-help gurus discuss the need to balance production and production capacity. If you try too hard to produce in the present, you can destroy your capacity to produce and thus future production — and thus produce less overall. Killing the goose that laid the golden eggs.
This is no less true when what we are trying to produce is good for others. Therefore, considerations about how we will give to others in the future does effect how I act today. And at times that will mean caring for my own development.
In order to participate in bestowing Hashem’s good on others, there are three steps involved:
- Internalizing the definition of good. In order to really be good to others, I need to connect to the Almighty and thus to His Good.
- I need to refine myself, so that I minimize the role of error and self-deception.
- Only then can I fully give what is truly good.
The capacity to produce thus requires a healthy relationship with the Creator and constant attention to self-refinement.
If this is also the attitude one takes to luxury, relaxation and rest, then it too is dedicated to Hashem’s goal for Creation. Or saying the same thing in other words — it too is holy. Enjoying a good steak is holy if one is doing so in order to keep away the doldrums that would make one a less effective giver. (And more directly so if it’s part of a family setting or communal celebration, so that one is sharing happiness and thus increasing the joy of others.)
This is why Rav Shimon expended time explaining that holiness is commitment, which only as a side effect means separation from extraneous purposes. He is saying that the Ramban’s “sanctify yourself with that which is permitted to you” doesn’t mean austerity for its own sake, and can even indeed involve choosing to use the enjoyable and permitted for holy purposes. As long as the pursuit doesn’t become an extraneous end in itself.
Just as Hashem is perpetually sustaining me, I must perpetually be motivated by a desire to help others.
Next, Rav Shimon Shkop will explore the question of Self-Interest. If in it lies the dangers of distraction from our mission in life, why did Hashem make it?