Thursday, September 16, 2010

Rambam's Sefer Kedusha and the message of Yom Kippur

Rambam's Sefer Kedusha and the message of Yom Kippur

I mentioned in my extremely long Blog Post on whisky that the pesak of the London Beis Din was based on Rambam. After I wrote this I decided that it would be a good idea to look the relevant seifim up.

Now, I'm gradually (I mean very gradually, like 6 volumes in the past 15 years) collecting Rav Eliyahu Touger's English/Hebrew edition of Rambam's Mishne Torah and this was an excellent excuse to purchase the volume which was relevant to our discussion on whisky. I knew that the perek was called "Hilchas Ma'achalos Asuros" – "Laws of Forbidden Food and Drink", so a few days before Rosh Hashana, I went to Manni's Book Store in Mear Shaaarim and found this perek in the volume of Mishne Torah entitled Sefer Kedusha – "The Book of Holiness".

Edited by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger
Published by Moznaim

The most relevant seif I found regarding the inyan of whisky from Hilchas Ma'achalos Asuros was:

טז. ומותר ליתן לתוכן שכר או ציר או מורייס מיד ואין צריך לכלום ומותר ליתן היין לתוכן אחר שנותן הציר או המוריס שהמלח שורפן:

11:16 And it is permitted to put spirits [whisky, beer etc] or Muryas [fish fat in brine] immediately [into a barrel that had previously contained yayin stam], without any other (preparation) and it is permitted to put in wine after [putting in] muryas because the salt (in the fish fat mixture) burns it [the taste of the yayin stam] away.

Actually Rambam's Sefer Kedusha consists of three sections:

Hilchas Isurei Bi'ah – Forbidden sexual relations
Hilchas Ma'achalos Asuros – Forbidden Food and drink
Hilchas Shechitah – Prohibitions of the use of animals

Why call it The Book of Holiness ?

I wondered at the time why it was that Rambam decided to call his volume on forbidden sexual relations, forbidden food and drink and laws of shechting animals "The book of Holiness" ?

If you would have asked me what I thought would be in a book entitled "Sefer Kedusha" then I would have guessed a discussion on the spiritual heights of Shabbos and Yom Tov or perhaps meditation techniques of tephila (prayer)! In fact Rambam's Sefer Kedusha deals with the most earthly everyday physical subjects you could possibly imagine. Ie Sex, Food, Drink and Killing animals.

I filed this question away in the back of my brain.
However, this week I was listening to some shiurim by Rav Zev Leff on the subject of Yom Kippur and to my astonishment, Rav Leff, (unbeknownst to him), answered my question regarding Sefer Kedusha.

In the first shiur on the halachos and minhagim of Yom Kippur, Rav Zev Leff states that the main isurim of the day are:

Asur to engage in Marital Relations.
Asur to Eat
Asur to Drink
Asur to wear leather shoes.

(It is also forbidden to wash for pleasure or apply oil to the skin for pleasure on Yom Kippur).

Listening to the shiur, it suddenly dawned on me that this list is exactly the same as the subject matter in Sefer Kedusha. In other words, the things that were forbidden on the holiest day of the year – Yom Kippur – were exactly the same things covered in Rambam's Book of Holiness.

I listened next to a Yom Kippur drasha by Rav Zev Leff.

In his drasha, Rav Zev Leff defines what kedusha really is.

Rav Zev Leff first explains what Kedusha is NOT!
For 364 days of the year we succumb to the evils of the physical world. We eat, drink and give in and enjoy physical pleasures. But one day of the year, we afflict ourselves and abstain from all these things in order to show what it really means to be holy.

Many Jews, mainly from Western countries, unfortunately believe that the above explanation is what Yom Kippur is all about but Rav Zev Leff explains that this is actually a Xstian concept of holiness, completely alien to Judaism.

Hashem created this world and everything in it for us to use and enjoy
Hashem created this world and everything in it for us to use and enjoy within the framework of mitzvos. Chazal say that if something could have been enjoyed and appreciated and wasn’t then Hashem will punish us in Olam Haba.

Our task in this world is to use the every day things in our lives and raise them up in the service of Hashem. By recognising that they came from Hashem, to appreciate the intrinsic beauty in them. To use the physical world to perform Hashem's positive mitzvos. This way of looking at the world and its contents, turns the mundane into KEDUSHA.

Of course, if by doing certain practices we would be breaking one of the mitzvos lo-ta-aseh – that is, it would lead to abusing or corrupting ourselves, others or this world, then we must avoid doing that thing.

The Nazir

This is the reason why a Nazir has to bring a korban chatat after his 30 days of avoiding any grapes. He separates himself in order to avoid corrupting himself by abusing the use of wine but at the same time realizes that wine should be used for many mitzvos which he is neglecting to do because of his nazerut. However, that 30 day period brings him a greater appreciation and understanding of the power of wine so that he can start drinking again but without abusing it.


The most powerful example is a Jewish marriage.

There are many isurim connected with our sexual drive. Forbidden practices, forbidden partners etc, Yet the joining together of husband and wife in order to get pleasure from their physical bodies whilst in the process of creating a new life is called Kedushin!

Marital relations is not a compromise or giving into our evil carnal inclinations but the greatest expression of kedushah in this world.

However, the things in this world that have the greatest potential for kedusha also carry with them the greatest danger for abuse. Therefore Hashem gives us many mitzvos lo taaseh so that we can avoid these dangers.

On Yom Kippur we don’t eat or drink or indulge in many of the physical pleasures of this world.

Yom Kippur is a Shabbos, where we are commanded to take a rest from the physical world in order to look at the world from the outside and gain a greater appreciation of it.

I suppose that we should also take a step back on this day and look to see if we are abusing the world.

Abuse can come from
1. Unhealthy sexual relations or practices
2. Eating unhealthy foods (spiritual or physical damage)
3. Drinking to intoxication.
4. Abuse of the things put in this world for our own use such as using or killing animals in a non proscribed way.

Rambam's Sefer Kedusha contains all the laws that guide us towards kedusha and away from abusing ourselves, others and the world around us. That's why it's called Sefer Kedusha !

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