A Member of the Team

“You are holy and Your Name is holy.”

When we proclaim, “You are holy.” We are cheering or rooting for our team. We are admitting we intend to serve our country, and that we are dedicated fans, our allegiance is to Hashem and His will. While fans will prepare for a game wearing their team’s jersey and knowing the stats of each player, we too, prepare in dress and knowledge. In prayer there are specific dress codes, such as a tallis or tefillin, and more broadly, dressing in a respectful manner for greeting the king of the universe.

The knowledge of Hashem, which is required, is an awareness that Hashem is the creator and sustainer of humanity. We should tremble with joy that we have the privilege to proclaim Hashem’s holiness in this world. Our proclamation demands us to become ambassadors of the holy values of the Torah.

But merely being a fan is not the end-all-be-all. I once sat at a Denver Nuggets basketball game in the best seats possible — courtside. Sitting three seats from the basket, I realized that being within arm’s reach of the players cannot be compared to sitting higher up in the stands. Sitting that close completely changes the way you view the game. But as great as those seats are, there is an even better view of the game available — the view of the player.

In Judaism, our goal is not to be committed as a spectator, but, rather, as a player. Our mission is to be on the team, and being a player on the team requires a lifestyle of holiness. If we recognize this truth, how do we undertake to live in a holy manner? What is holiness?

Simply put, holiness is a separation of sorts, or, really, a spot on the team. We set the day of Shabbos aside from the other days of the week as a holy day. The land of Israel is set aside from the other countries of the world to be holy. What should a person do to make himself holy? Running away to live on a mountaintop might be portrayed in some movies as holy, but Judaism offers a different approach.

The Ramban, coined a phrase, navul b’rishus haTorah, “denigrate within the confines of the Torah.” There are activities that are permissible to do but indulging in them lacks a certain refinement.

The root of becoming holy stems from self-control and awareness. There are things that I am allowed to do but holding back from them will help me develop an intentional way of living. Being holy, in a sense, is a balance between starvation and overindulgence. For example, stuffing your face at an all-you-can-eat restaurant would lack a holy refinement but skipping meals might not be the correct approach either. Holiness is finding a balance of sorts whether it be regarding eating, relationships, as well as any other area of life. A stellar educator illustrated this very point to his students one afternoon.

One afternoon in Wickliffe, Ohio, some students of the Telshe Yeshiva were playing basketball. Rav Anshel Helman came into the gym to check in on the boys. With great enthusiasm, one of the boys passed their beloved rebbi the ball, and said, “Rebbi, take a shot!” knowing that he was a great basketball player. From about half court, he put up the ball and turned to walk out. To everyone’s surprise the ball went straight through the net, he had made a swish. Someone ran to get the ball and pass the ball back to Rabbi Helman once more. To their dismay, he said to them, “You have to know when to stop,” and with that he exited the gym.

He left the boys with a very valuable life lesson that afternoon. There is a time and a place for everything, the trick is to figure out the correct balance. Each individual person should make responsible decisions for themselves as to what is too much, and frankly, what is too little. We should pursue this balanced, holy, lifestyle.

Excerpted with permission from Rabbi Tenenbaum's new book, Three Steps Forward, from Mosaica Press.