|This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, my uncle Reuven Nachum Ben Moshe & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein.
It should also be in Zechus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandfather Moshe Ben Breindel, and my grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-Chaya Rochel Ettel Bas Shulamis
-Nechama Hinda Bas Tzirel Leah
-Amitai Dovid Ben Rivka Shprintze
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
קְדֹשִׁים ● Kedoshim
● What does it mean to “be holy”? ●
“Holiness—the G-dly Mentality”
Parshas Kedoshim is marked by the unique instruction issued to the B’nei Yisrael, a most famous Torah slogan, “Kedoshim Tihiyu”-“You shall be holy.”1 As it would seem, this directive is not merely a command, but a mission statement, implying larger than life ramifications that these words ought to have on our lives.
On its face, this mission of “Kedoshim Tihiyu” sounds beautiful, but what does it mean practically speaking? What specific action or perhaps lifestyle does the charge of “Kedoshim Tihiyu” entail?
TRIP PLAN: Quest for Holiness
Although various interpretations of this command are offered by the M’forshim—and we’ll address some of them shortly—without knowing anything at all, a simple approach to understanding how to practically fulfill this abstract mission would be to look at the laws and topics in passages surrounding the command of “Kedoshim Tihiyu.” Indeed, this approach is taken up by Rashbam who implies that the instruction of “Kedoshim Tihiyu” is an umbrella for the many Mitzvos discussed in the Sidrah. That would make sense in light of the text of our blessings upon performing Mitzvos, in which we describe Hashem as, “Asheir Kidishanu B’Mitzvosav”-“[He] Who sanctified us (alt., made us holy) with His commandments.” Once we’ve given some attention to those laws and topics we can better understand the practical meaning of the command to attain holiness.
But, we do not need do that blindly. Before we venture forward into the Mitzvos of Kedoshim, let us first do some free association and simple research into the meaning of Kedushah or holiness as it most naturally resonates in our minds and as it is presented in the words of the commentators.
Starting with us, what might we suggest “Kedushah” or the concept of “holiness” means to us? At least in its loose, English translation which the Torah is certainly not necessarily beholden to, “holiness” or “sanctity” would seem to have connotations of transcendence, elevation, and spiritual significance. To “be holy” might mean to be on a higher, almost otherworldly level of existence. When G-d commands the B’nei Yisrael to be holy, He adds “Ki Kadosh Ani”-“for I am holy”1 which would seem to indicate that to “be holy” is, indeed, an elevated, G-dly quality. Thus, these connotations would seem to be accepted by virtually everyone.
CHOOSE YOUR PATH: Roads to Kedushah
Now, let us refer to a couple of the classical interpretations offered by the commentators.
- Rashi: The “Perishus” Approach
In his comments on our verse, Rashi explains that being holy entails being “separate” or abstinent in some fashion.2 More specifically, Rashi suggests that being holy refers to “Perishus” or “abstinence” from illicit relationships, quoting various verses in Scripture where Kedushah is, in fact, associated with such abstinence.
In our context, the charge to “be holy,” according to this approach, might be a reference to the section of the Arayos, or the forbidden relationships which were listed in the previous Sidrah or which will be repeated later in our Sidrah (when the Torah enumerates the penalties for violating them). Or HaChaim explains that “Kedoshim Tihiyu,” according to Rashi’s read, means to include a Mitzvas Aseih, or a positive commandment, in refraining from the Arayos.
- Ramban: A Call for “Higher Living”
Ramban acknowledges that while Rashi’s main source does associate Kedushah with Perishus, and even highlights abstinence from Arayos, we find that Kedushah has connotations of abstinence from even more wider spectrum of matters. Accordingly, Ramban invokes his own sources, explaining that “Kedoshim Tihiyu” means to be holy “concerning that which is permissible to you,”3 in other words, to abstain from even the material aspects of life which the Torah did not explicitly forbid one from engaging in.
Thus, Ramban understands the charge of “Kedoshim Tihiyu” as a calling to approach all matters in life with moderation. In this vein, Ramban proceeds to suggest that included in “Kedoshim Tihiyu” is a warning that one should not display the conduct of what he famously refers to as a “Naval B’Reshus HaTorah,” or a lowlife within theoretical jurisdiction of the Torah. In other words, the commandment suggests that one not focus solely on adhering to the strict letter of the law, but strive to a higher way of living so as to refine his character traits, for without the reinforcement of “Kedoshim Tihiyu,” the Torah risks the impression of possible tolerance for one to live as a gluttonous or immodest degenerate under its own technical sanctions.
- R’ Hirsch: A Convenient Combination?
Indeed, despite apparent variation, both Rashi and Ramban subscribe to the association between Perishus and Kedushah, and as such their approaches, although practically different, have similar underlying meanings. It could be in this light that R’ Shimshon Raphael Hirsch offers an approach which might serve somewhat as either a combination or advanced version of the two.
R’ Hirsch explains that although Perishus is a necessary measure, it is actually only a preparation for Kedushah, an even higher level of existence.4 In his summation, he understands Perishus as the negative side of the loftier goal of Kedushah, so that if Perishus is to abstain from that which is earthly, Kedushah is to engage or “indulge” in that which is elevated and otherworldly (which perhaps relates back to the connotations of “holiness” as we described earlier).
OBSTACLES & ROADBLOCKS: Challenging Our Definitions
While the above ideas serve as fair explanations as to the meaning of “Kedushah” as a life goal, we have to wonder if they actually explain the role of “Kedushah” is it pertains to our context in Parshas Kedoshim. Indeed, because if we assume the way Rashbam does, that “Kedoshim Tihiyu” is the headline for the Mitzvos that follow—and granted, perhaps the other commentators are not making this assumption—we should be able to find the theme of Kedushah, however one defines it, within those Mitzvos.
In all of the above approaches, we have found the concept of “Perishus” as a component in the goal of attaining Kedushah. Specifically speaking, Rashi highlighted Arayos and Ramban went further to highlight all areas of life, even beyond the letter of the law.
Then, according to Rashi’s read, the command of “Kedoshim Tihiyu” should probably be followed directly by the laws pertaining to Arayos. In Parshas Kedoshim though, the Arayos do not appear until the end of the Sidrah. And should one argue that “Kedoshim Tihiyu” is not aiming at the end of this Sidrah, but is reflecting back on the end of the previous Sidrah, Parshas Acharei Mos, perhaps the command of “Kedoshim Tihiyu” ought to have been left at the end of Acharei Mos before the new Sidrah. Clearly though, even if its connotation is that of refraining from Arayos, “Kedoshim Tihiyu” is the beginning of a new section which appears to introduce topics unrelated to Arayos.
Considering the larger Sidrah, Ramban’s read does not seem particular lucid either. Ramban highlighted the fulfillment of the abstract command to be holy as a broader sense of abstinence, going beyond the letter of the technical law. Not only are the obligatory Mitzvos that follow the command of “Kedoshim Tihiyu,” indeed, obligatory—in other words, they are the letter of the law—but, many of them do not seem to have anything to do with abstinence. In fact, a fair amount of them, as we will see, are positive commandments urging one to proactively engage.
And although R’ Hirsch’s broader explanation of what it means to proactively “be holy” seems generic enough to read “innocently” and soundly into the context of Parshas Kedoshim, when we get to the Mitzvos themselves, we will see that his read too, is not completely in the safe zone. We will come back to his approach soon.
YOU MAY PROCEED: A Way Out
As was mentioned, these M’forshim are not bound by the approach taken up by Rashbam that the Mitzvos in the Sidrah are emcompassed by the command of “Kedoshim Tihiyu,” though that approach is compelling.5 It seems that Ramban explicitly does not take such an approach as he goes on to suggest that the Torah specifically prefaces with “Kedoshim Tihiyu” before lisiting the rest of the Mitzvos so as to intimate that even after one has become mindful of that which he is obligated to specifically, by the pre-defined letter of the law, one is certainly not limited to those laws. “Kedoshim Tihiyu,” according to Ramban, is a disclaimer urging one to further sanctify himself in that which would be otherwise “permissable.” We can argue that R’ Hirsch might take up this approach as well.
But the question remains: For those who clearly assume that the Mitzvos are, indeed, are included in the rubric and fulfillment of “Kedoshim Tihiyu,” what do these specific Mitzvos have to do with the goal of “Kedoshim Tihiyu”? And according to this approach, what is the practical meaning of the mission statement of “Kedoshim Tihiyu”?
MISDIRECTED: Holiness or Decency?
Finally, we arrive at the actual Mitzvos of Parshas Kedoshim. There are many of them—too many address all of them here, but we will take note of some as they pertain to our discussion of the true challenge in defining the mission of “Kedoshim Tihiyu.”
As we’ve explained, holiness appears to imply some kind of transcendence. The M’forshim we cited added the key ingredient of “Perishus,” separating oneself in that process. Indeed, to be holy, in some sense, means to be different, uniquely above the typical standard. Intuitively then, most would envision holiness in practice to refer to engaging in the kinds of laws that demonstrate that higher living such as Kashrus, those of Tumah and Taharah, those of the Korbanos and Avodah SheB’Mikdash.
Ironically though, all of these laws were addressed from the beginning of Vayikra all the way until this point. It is only after discussing these various laws which highlight the sensitive relationship that the B’nei Yisrael have, “Bein Adam LaMakom”-“between man and the Omnipresent” that we arrive at the command to “be holy.” And although there are many Mitzvos in Kedoshim which too highlight this relationship, for example, Shabbos, some laws pertaining to Korbanos, revering Hashem’s Mikdash, the laws forbidding the customs of the pagan nations or attempting to communicate with the dead, this Sidrah invests much time and space to laws that not only focus on the relationship shared “Bein Adam LaChaveiro”-“between man and his friend,” but seemingly obvious laws which a functioning society cannot exist without.
In other words, we could make the argument that Mitzvos that highlight the values of charity and lovingkindness in Kedoshim, such as the ones that require us to leave over produce for the poor or to love one’s peers as he loves himself, are a part of this “holy,” higher order of living. But, the Parshas Kedoshim features a whole passage describing the laws of honesty and integrity in business, reminding us not to steal and lie. Kedoshim goes out of its way to address the topic of social tyranny, commanding us not to take advantage of our employees by withholding wages and not to place a “stumbling block before the blind”—offering ill advice to a novice. In Kedoshim, the Torah apparently even felt the need to remind the judge not to pervert justice in the court room.
When looking at these Mitzvos, one has to wonder: Is Parshas Kedoshim really advocating for “holiness” or is just advocating for human decency? It doesn’t take “abstinence” or the proactive pursuit of “Kedushah” to obligate man to conduct himself with moral, human decency. One does not need the call to “transcendence” to know not to rob his neighbor. Thus, the more we delve into the Mitzvos of Kedoshim, the less it seems Kedoshim has to do with holiness and living according to an elevated lifestyle. Meanwhile, Ramban’s alternative interpretation of “Kedoshim Tihiyu” as the step above the law and above human decency is beginning to sound all the more compelling.
The burden lies on the position of Rashbam. If these Mitzvos are the means by which we fulfill our obligation of being holy, what exactly is their connection to that goal? What do these obvious, civil Mitzvos have to do with the mission statement of “Kedoshim Tihiyu”?
OUR COMPASS: “I am Hashem”
At the end of virtually each set or subset of topics in Kedoshim, the verses conclude with the post script of “Ani Hashem”-“I am Hashem” or “Ani Hashem Elokeichem”-“I am Hashem your G-d.” It is somewhat odd that Hashem would need to place His seal at the end of each passage like that. It is almost as if He feels a need to remind us Who the “Commander” is. But, where would that need stem from? Why do we need to be reminded that “I am Hashem, and I approve of this message”?
Perhaps this signature of “Ani Hashem” is actually meant to inform the various Mitzvos we’ve described earlier, to accentuate a frame of mind which Parshas Kedoshim wants us to have.
We were bothered that the Torah commanded us to be holy and then proceeded to command us not to engage in corrupt and antisocial behavior. It commanded us to be decent people, a seemingly minimalist goal relative to the grand implications of “Kedoshim Tihiyu.” Moreover, these are laws that had Hashem not commanded them, we would have observed anyway. But, at the end of each section, the Torah reminds us that “I am Hashem,” which may be the key to answering our questions. What might these words tell us about the laws preceding them?
Perhaps it doesn’t take an exceedingly upstanding person to follow a commonly accepted societal code of morality. That you may not steal is part of a basic, ethical standard that all humans should live up to. Even the virtue of giving charity, loving fellowman, respecting one’s elders, and not taunting the convert all resonate with a normal, functioning member of society. These Mitzvos and the others that resemble these are so obvious, even self-professed atheists could “observe” them. They are the “right thing” to do. You cannot be a “good person” without them.
However, the Torah throws in the code words that make all the difference—“Ani Hashem”-“I am Hashem.” This reminder and stamp of Hashem’s approval puts the ethical, societal Mitzvos into a whole new perspective which entails a whole new mindset when we observe them. Yes, had Hashem not commanded these Mitzvos, “morality” might have told us to keep them anway. But, our higher goal and approach to life is to act because “I am Hashem”—because Hashem has commanded us, because it is His desire that we act that way.
Indeed, it does not take much to be a liked member of society—to be a “good person,” to avoid being locked up in prison or being uninvited to the neighborhood barbeques. Of course you have to be a “good person.” But one who does deeds with the focus of acting because it is Hashem’s Will stands out from others. This motivation for one’s actions is what separates the “good guys” from the “Kedoshim.” If one keeps to an ethical code because he is inspired primarily by the Will of G-d, he is on someone who will ultimately proceed toward even higher living. Because if G-d so wills it, He will engage in ritualistic Mitzvos even when regular society sees no value to them. Perhaps in line with Rashi, this individual will abstain where society indulges. Perhaps in line with Ramban, he will anticipate G-d’s Will that he go beyond the letter of the law. Perhaps in line with R’ Hirsch, he will proactively pursue an elevated lifestyle. He will transcend and he will soar, because he lives every moment with the holy, G-dly mentality of “Ani Hashem.”
FINAL DESTINATION: The State of Holiness
Whatever it takes to get there, the goal of “Kedoshim Tihiyu” is to become holy people, a mission that necessarily permeates our actions and even our minds. If it means to abstain from various forms of materialism, to take on more spiritual pursuits, or to just do everything we do with the correct mentality, then that is our calling. At the end of the day though, recognizing this G-dly mentality of “Ani Hashem” is the promising route toward true holiness. While we conduct ourselves—whether in purely ethical behavior or in behavior that transcends—let us not forget “Ani Hashem,” but rather elevate ourselves to extraordinary levels of Kedushah through that mindset in fulfillment of that resounding mission statement, “Kedoshim Tihiyu.”
May we all be Zocheh not to ingrain this holy mentality, ultimate live up to our requisite level of holiness, and we should transcend this world to the point of elevating our environment, making the world a suitable for Hashem’s holy Presence and the Geulah in the days of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂
- Vayikra 19:2
- Citing Vayikra Rabbah 24:4-6 and Sefer Zikaron
- Yevamos 20A
- Based on Avodah Zarah 20B
- In both the beginning and the end of Parshas Kedoshim, before the list of Mitzvos and after, the Torah references the concept of “being holy,” the first time in the initial command, and the second time seemingly as a guarantee that they will indeed be holy; See Vayikra 20:26.