Rabbi Nachman of Breslov was a man devoted to inner spiritual growth, his and others. He is ubiquitously known for his method of hitbodedut: “making oneself alone.” At the same time, he liked to dress in the clothes of the average person and would spend time with the non-religious, sound familiar?
Every Bible student knows that separation is part of the key concept of holiness. Maybe we use separation as a euphemism because “holy” is not exactly a trendy or even friendly term. Can we even talk about it without sounding way too religious?
The story of Nadav and Avihu is one of the most troubling in the Torah, but it provides a vital insight into the real meaning of separation and the related term holiness.
I have always thought that cheshbon hanefesh, literally a reckoning with one’s own soul, was a practice most appropriate at the beginning of Elul, the month that precedes Rosh Hashanah. To this end Rabbi Israel Salanter, founder of the nineteenth century Mussar revival, undertook a forty day period of silence annually, from the beginning of Elul through Yom Kippur, to review his past year’s patterns of speech, to atone for wrongful speech, and to recapture the awe and sacredness of each word uttered.
The contents of the siddur powerfully address the reality of uniqueness in the world. God is unique. The Jewish people are unique. Shabbat is unique. Holy days are unique. Different types of fruit are unique…the list goes on.
Once the shochet of Salant came to see R. Israel. He proposed giving up shechitah [slaughter], because the heavy responsibility involved in kosher slaughtering was too onerous for him to bear.
"What do you intend to take up?" R. Israel asked him.
"I shall go into business", the shochet answered, "and open a store."
R. Israel looked at him in surprise. "You are concerned about shechitah which involves only one negative commandment, the prohibition against carrion. How much more so should you worry about shopkeeping, in which many admonitions and prohibitions are involved: 'You shall not rob, you shall not covet, you shall not defraud, you shall not overcharge, you shall not deal falsely, you shall not lie, as well as the positive and negative commandments applying to weights and measures, to keep away from falsehood, etc., etc.'"
--From The Mussar Movement, Volume 1, Part 2, pages 204 - 205
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."
--Robert Frost, Mending Wall
Separation begins within, as Messiah taught in one of his most famous—and challenging—sayings: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matt. 5:27–28). Likewise, Cheshbon Ha-nefesh instructs us, “Strengthen yourself so that you can stop lewd thoughts,” because defilement begins in the mind.
Rav Shaul is very clear in his assertion that those members of the body of Messiah are to remain separate from a sexual world-view disconnected from that of Torah:
For this is the will of God, that you should be consecrated (separated and set apart for pure and holy living): that you should abstain and shrink from all sexual vice, that each one of you should know how to possess (control, manage) his own body in consecration (purity, separated from things profane) and honor, not [to be used] in the passion of lust… — 1 Thessalonians 4:3–5, Amplified Bible
When the ever-unfolding drama of the last chapters of Genesis comes to a climax, Joseph has drawn his father and entire family down to Egypt to weather the remainder of the famine. This wasn’t exactly what Jacob had in mind after all the years he spent in Padan Aram with Laban, building his family. But, this seems to be the story of the Jewish people. Exile upon exile has befallen us since our departure from the Garden of Eden.