June 2018, Message from Rabbi Grunstein, Parshat Korach

Mundane that Became Holy: Rabbi Yehoshua Grunstein

Looking around the shule at the ARK Center this Shabbat morning, I stood, as I did more than a few times in the past, on the Bima to deliver a sermon, in the FAMILIAR place, with the blue Chumash in front of me, and [as usual] no notes, as my forgetfulness and the prohibition of “carrying” on Shabbat blended together for me to forget them [again] in my room.

And yet, looking around the room, there was some UNFAMILIAR about it.

During Shacharit and laining, and especially during the time I was honored to read the Haftorah, was trying to put my finger on why is it the same, yet different, why is it both familiar and yet not.

Indeed, after finishing the Haftorah, it hit me. As we blessed the new month of Tamuz [that begins today,] requesting that G-d give us a “life filled with the love of Torah and awe of heaven,” the image of my late Rebbe & Mentor, Rabbi Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein זצ”ל, appeared before me [for obvious reasons as his life indeed was the story of these after mentioned quoted words,] and specifically, a saying he used to mention[1];

” I hope that one day, you will get to know and learn the following Talmudic phrase: “חולין על טהרת הקודש”/”Mundane [food] that elevated itself to become pure in sanctity[2].”

While this literally means mundane food [like your BBQ meat] who’s owners decided to treat it as “pure” food [i.e.- like a sacrifice, for instance], with all the restrictions involved[3], R’ Lichtenstein [homiletically] explained that he hopes that, in our entire lives, we will constantly turn all “mundane” into “pure” & “sanctified” not just in the confines of the Temple and Jerusalem, but rather at home, in the office and everywhere else a Jew either finds oneself or touches.
Indeed, the very SAME object or occurrence can be terrible, mundane, or pure:

•    10 spies in last week’s parsha of Shelach return with a slanderous report about Israel, while 2, seeing [almost] the same very land, said the very opposite, as did the 2 in last week’s Haftorah. 10 saw it as mundane and even worse, while 2 saw it as the Holy Land, with G-d’s presence that would protect the Jews
•    In the very same Parsha, a mixture of dough can easily be made into mundane bread, and yet, taking off just a bit for the Mitzva of “Challa” [giving to the Kohen or discarded carefully] turns that flour and water into…something holy and pure… you actually make a Bracha/blessing before removing, saying “…you have sanctified us with your Mitzvot”.
•    A four-cornered garment, ending last week’s parsha, can just be clothing [i.e.-mundane.] And yet, when you put the proper fringes [i.e.-Tzizit] on these corners, it turns into a holy garment…you actually make a Bracha/blessing on wearing it, saying one again “…you have sanctified us with your Mitzvot…”

This week is no exception to the above as read the Parsha of Korach:
•    The very “sticks” used by every tribe to show that “Aharon [the Grand-Kohen] is not holier than me, let alone picked by G-d” that are called “מחתות החטאים”/The sticks of Sin, are then used as decorations for the Alter. Same sticks just used differently: one for the mundane, 1 for holiness.
•    Fruit and vegetables, growing in the holy-land of Israel, can be 100% forbidden to eat [knows as טבל], and yet, after removing the proper tithes, become 100% permitted to be used for our most holiest meals.

Life can easily be just mundane: we wake up, work, have a proper relationship with our spouses and children, and try not to hurt anyone on the way. But after seeing the above, we can ELEVATE it ALL into something holy.

For example, let’s take a “necktie”- it probably a business that, if you never saw it before, you would be a fool to invest it. Imagine someone coming to you and saying: “I have an idea for a great business! You take a Shemate/cloth, and put it around your neck.” You would then probably ask: “What does it do?” The answer: “Nothing! It just sits there!” A shirt covers your body as to pant, a jacket keeps you warm but a tie…serves absolutely no purpose.

And yet, if you put on this tie on Friday night or Shabbat, and say: “I am wearing this in honor of Shabbat” [Code of Jewish Law, OC, 262/2-3 dictating to “dress up” for Shabbat] you have elevated a tie to a much higher level: it’s now a “tie for Shabbat, a means to show all that today is a special day, expressed by the way you dress.

Looking around the room, I saw so many faces of precious Jews that have taken the “mundane” and turned it “holy” in the past few years; becoming observant Jews and not just eating, but have strictly kosher homes, not just celebrating the “onset of the weekend” each Friday night and Saturday, but have successfully turned them both into Shabbat, not just eating but prefacing and proceeding it with a blessing.

It’s rather easy to just accept the “mundane” as such: the ARK Center can boast today of many people who have turned the “mundane” into “holiness”.

May this trend continue and become contagious, so many more can indeed both pray and implement a “life filled with the love of Torah and awe of heaven!”

[1] Heard by this author on the 10th of Sivan 5775/29th of May 2015, at the memorial at Yeshivat Har Etzion, commemorating a bit more than 30 days since his passing. The text can be found here:http://etzion.haretzion.org/images/stories/YHE/pdf/RALztl/RALztl-ArielRosenbergShloshim.pdf.
[2] Tractate Pesachim 33b Chullin 2a.
[3] See Rambam’s Code, Hilchot Shar Avot HaTuma, Chapter 12.