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All of us are aware of the difficulty of translating lofty values and ideas into practical daily human behavior. We all wish to be kind and gentle, considerate of others and their needs, a holy and good people. But life and its challenges and complexities always interfere and make the achievement of these goals difficult and elusive.
The goal of being a consecrated, good and holy nation, the goal set for the Jewish people at the onset of our history, is one that is agreed upon and revered by Jews in all centuries and locations. How to reach and realize that goal has been a matter of controversy and contention for millennia.
Moshe himself complains to God that “You have commanded me to elevate this people spiritually but You did not tell me how to do it! Explain Your essence to me.” And the Lord responds by stating that this is an impossibility for human beings to comprehend. So to speak, we are left to our own devices when it comes to achieving individual spiritual greatness. Only those who feel themselves spiritually impoverished can attempt to grow spiritually.
Much is left for human beings to accomplish with their own initiative and creativity. As the rabbis so succinctly put it: “Everything is dependent on Heaven but for awe and reverence for Heaven itself!” Achieving that awe and reverence is the path to spiritual growth and enhanced holiness in life. And this is the constant and complex struggle within to find and develop our better qualities and overcome and discard our negative ones.       
But we should not think that Heaven has abandoned us completely in this search for holiness and spiritual greatness, without providing us with the tools that we may employ in accomplishing this lifelong mission.  Hence, the plethora of commandments that make up much of this week’s Torah reading.
There seems to be a commandment that is relevant to every moment and situation in life. These commandments stand independent of any other goal in life except for their mandatory fulfillment. Yet all of Jewish thought and tradition saw them as being the building blocks of spiritual Jewish life, holy attitudes and behavior.
Without these commandments, which translate themselves into daily repetitive human behavior, the road to holiness and spiritual fulfillment for Jews is pretty much blocked. Jewish history has shown us time and again the futility of trying to guarantee Jewish survival, let alone spiritual greatness, with the absence of the observance of the commandments.
The essence of Jewish life is not some mysterious guru-driven pursuit of holiness. Rather it is loyalty to Jewish tradition, as reflected in the necessity for observance of and reverence for the specific commandments described for us in the Torah. Fulfillment of these commandments does not necessarily guarantee the creation of a holy Jew but absent those commandments and the pursuit of the goal of personal and national holiness wanes and soon disappears. Such is the clear lesson of Jewish history.
Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Berel Wein    

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