In the Footsteps of our Fathers Pirkei Avos – Perek 6 Mishna 8
In the Footsteps of our Fathers
Pirkei Avos – Perek 6 Mishna 8
By Rabbi Yitzchak Reuven Rubin
We have many heroes in our faith, some of which have acquired unique status. They have been given descriptive names so that we, the later generations, can understand what their greatness hinged upon. Usually they are known by the titles of sefarim they authored, or by special attributes.
There is one descriptive grouping that has always intrigued me. We have all heard of “The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh,” the “Baal Shem HaKadosh,” the “Yid HaKadosh” and more. These giants of the spirit were so unique that they are known as “HaKadosh,” “The Holy.” This is a word that vexes me continuously. I try to understand its true meaning, and what it designates to me.
Firstly we should understand where the word kadosh comes from. The Torah uses this word in many places and the normative translation is “holy”. Unfortunately this still leaves a huge gap in our understanding. Holiness can be very subjective. One man’s holiness can be the next ones mishegas. Careful contemplation of the word’s roots shows that it actually means “separate.” Holiness therefore intonates being separate from the rest, a step away from the crowd.
For a Jew there is yet another facet to all this. The Torah tells us, “You must be holy, since I am G-d your L-rd and I am holy.” Hashem is describing what our holiness must entail. Somehow we are meant to become holy because Hashem is holy and we are His children. How can this be done? We become holy in a G-dly manner. What may that be? Well, Hashem is part of this world, in fact He is omnipotent and nowhere is free of His presence, yet He is separate, beyond all material finite understanding. If Hashem is of this world yet not part of it, then perhaps that is what he wants from us. Our understanding of holiness isn’t the “Ivory Tower” scenario. The Jewish holiness will come when one is involved with the world yet able to stand apart from it. Gutte Yidden used to say, “One must fast whilst eating,” this is the balance that a holy person must attain – to be of this world but not to be completely consumed subsumed by it.
Our generation is faced with a difficult dilemma; there is more stuff in today’s world, and it is being pushed into our lives ruthlessly. The most vulnerable are our young, because unlike previous times, the young are targeted by commercialism just as much as we are. Young people are no longer allowed to grow and mature; they are part of the commercial feeding chain and are seen as a market as soon as they can talk. People are no longer human units, they are commercial targets, and everyone is expected to join in this new world order. Children are given mobile phones, credit cards, in fact all the paraphernalia of grown ups. This has taken away the parental role in the family.
Torah homes are inflicted by this madness as well, and for many, the basic guidelines of who or what is good have become blurred beyond recognition. What should we have, how much do we need, who sets the standards, all these questions must be addressed. If not, we will be threatened by a creeping secularism of the Torah lifestyle. For some this tragedy is already knocking at the door, for others, it may well seem too late; however, for all of us we can learn from our ancestors, and reinstate the meaning of what Yiddishe kadosh is in our own lives.
This mishna comes along to teach us how a Yid can be a kadosh amidst all the stuff of a material life.
“Beauty, strength, wealth, honor, wisdom, old age, hoary age, and children – these are becoming in the righteous and are becoming in the world …”
Gutte Yidden explain that these attributes are becoming in the world, but only when they are in the hands of spiritually positive people. Every one of these gifts can be dangerous when not utilized in the proper fashion. Beauty, strength, all this can be a recipe for disaster in the hands of those who think only about self gratification and not the greater good. Each one of these attributes can be an ingredient forever growing strife and chaos.
However, the kadosh, the sage, knows that these very same gifts can become the pieces that fit together to create a world of illumination. The Torah is teaching us that being spiritually positive means taking that which could be used for the bad and using it to bring light.
The Torah reading of “kadosh” was read in the midst of all the congregation of Israel, to show that when we stay bonded together, and raise each other to higher levels of spirituality, that is when we can hope to attain holiness.
The world screams for us to use all its new fangled stuff. We worry;, we tremble;, what is good, and what is poison? The Holy Jew shows us through his example; some gifts can be used in the very making of what we aspire to, and the rest must be turned away without a qualm. Wisdom gained through working towards Hashem’s reality will help us discern the truth.
The mishna tells us all this, marking each statement with proof from our holy Scriptures. Then it goes even further and tells us:
“Rabbi Shimon Ben Menasya says: These seven attributes were all realized in Rebbe (Yehuda HaNasi) and in his sons.”
Rebbe was the most affluent, aristocratic leader we had. In his time he stood before the entire world as the paragon of what a Torah kadosh Jew stood for. He had all those attributes we mentioned – all the money, the honor, all of it, yet he wrote the entirety of the Mishna and created generations that followed in his footsteps. We are worried, and rightfully so. We have youngsters who are being tempted with goodies we never thought of. But they, our young have us as parents. We can show in our own way that all the gifts we have are here to be used in a holy fashion. Our homes, our cars, the phones, they are there in front of us, we can use them for good, or they can become the problem. This is what we must act upon, and then, our children, raised in the homes as were Rebbe’s children, will follow in our footsteps, and hopefully lead us all to the Moshiach.