Let My People Know

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Overfamiliarity is ruinous to the person himself.”

Overfamiliarity is ruinous to the person himself, and it leads to even greater ruin for others.

Those who live in the midst of it can no longer discern what they are doing, but to others it appears to be unpardonable coarseness.

While the Priest may experience the deterioration of his inner life, the layman looking on from afar experiences the fracture of his whole spiritual essence, because for him the Priest is the ultimate spiritual role model.

Those who sit in the beit midrash are not so outraged, because they are already aware that not everyone who sits there is supremely holy.

But for those for whom the Priest represents a kind of spiritual perfection, to see such a person acting disrespectfully is a desecration not only of his personal essence but of the whole cause that he represents.

The Talmud states that “a careless error in [Torah] study is considered deliberate” (Avot 4:13), and “credit is not extended in the desecration of God’s name” (Kiddushin 40a).

In the case of the desecration of God’s name, God grants man no extensions, and he is punished whether he acted deliberately or inadvertently, and perhaps even whether he acted willfully or under duress:

“For God will bring to judgment every deed concerning every hidden thing” (Eccl. 12:14).

In light of this, “I will be sanctified through those near to Me” is a warning directed precisely at those who are close and have been drawn near, who are constantly in the inner sanctum.

They must always be aware that they stand before the holy.

In their case, the penalties must be far more severe, so that “I will be honored before the entire people.”

They must remember why the Holy of Holies bears that name, and that the partition that separates the earthly realm and the holy realm must remain in place, even if they cross that boundary several times a day.

To be sure, this presents a great challenge; it is much more difficult for a physician to feel the pain of others, and it is much more difficult for a gravedigger to maintain a high level of respect for the dead.

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz