A couple of years ago, when I was in Israel for the semester, I decided that I wanted to learn the recipes of my wife and the Moroccan side of her family. There are many dishes to learn, but I was particularly interested in learning how to prepare the various salads/salatim that are so delicious as an appetizer course. Among these dishes, is the famed matbucha. This is a salad of roasted red peppers and tomatoes that are cooked down with various spices into a delicious dish that some call, “the red stuff.” After the laborious preparations, and after all the ingredients are in the pot, my wife instructed me, pretty seriously I might add, to lower the flame, and KEEP STIRRING every couple of minutes!!
This week, we read a double portion of Aharei Mot and Kedoshim. The opening verse/pasuk of Kedoshim reads, “speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy/דַּבֵּר אֶל-כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם--קְדֹשִׁים תִּהְיוּ כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אֲנִי ה’ אֱלֹקיכֶם (Lev. 19:2).” This is the classic translation of the pasuk. We are holy, because God is holy. The Midrash (Lev. Rab. 24:9) teaches that our holiness is limited, and that God’s holiness is on a higher plane than ours. Holiness starts at the top and flows downward. This makes plenty of sense, in its own right. However, the Meor Einayim* reads this very differently. He teaches (Meor Einayim pg. 236) that the whole world was created for the sake of Israel and the Torah and that the righteous one moves and leads the world through Torah. And God derives great pleasure in this. He compares this to a human king who derives great pleasure in his children who truly know how to lead his kingdom. This is how the righteous one leads, that “through lower stirrings there are upper stirrings/באתערותא דלתתא אתערותה דלעילה.” That is to say, when we move and lead the world towards a state of holiness and redemption, God is moved and delighted. Our holiness activates God’s holiness. So the pasuk does not read, “Israel is holy for I the Lord your God am holy,” rather, it reads “Israel is holy so that I the Lord your God am holy.”**
My wife insists that I stir the matbucha so that the bottom does not burn. When I stir, not only does the bottom not burn, but the flavors that are at the bottom, get dispersed throughout the whole dish and completely fill the sauce all the way up to the top. The matbucha is made better by stirring up what is at the bottom. This is our task. We must lead and be an example to the rest of the world. We are challenged to follow the Torah and fulfil the mitzvot. Our mandate is to act with love and justice so that we may bring about a world of holiness and redemption. May we succeed, and may God smile and delight in our holy lives.
*Rabbi Menachem Nochum Twersky of Chernobyl (born 1730, Norynsk, Volhynia - died 1787, Chernobyl, Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth) was the founder of the Chernobyl Hasidic dynasty. He was a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid of Mezritch, and published one of the first works of Hasidic thought.
**This is a brilliant reading of the pasuk. He ultimately does not translate the word “כי” as “because”, but as “so that” or “in order.”
Rabbi Ezra Balser has been the rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom since July 1, 2016. He received his “smicha” (ordination) in June 2017 from Hebrew College while also earning a Master’s Degree in Jewish Studies. He has also received the iCenter's Certification in Israel Education.