Parashat Kedoshim – How to be holy

This week’s second parasha starts off with the commandment to be holy. Why? Not because it’s logical or moral, but rather, simply because Hashem himself is holy.

דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־כָּל־עֲדַ֧ת בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל וְאָמַרְתָּ֥ אֲלֵהֶ֖ם קְדֹשִׁ֣ים תִּהְי֑וּ כִּ֣י קָד֔וֹשׁ אֲנִ֖י יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃

Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, the LORD your God, am holy.

Leviticus 19, Parasha Kedoshim (1st Aliya), Verse 1

However, we’re just humans made up of flesh and blood, and our escense is not anything close to spirituality, so what does Hashem mean by this commandment?

  1. There are three ways we could look at the statement of “our essence is nowhere close to spirituality”. The first one is a negative causation, used by the Yetzer Hara to entice us to do bad. It is a form of excuse one gives himself to get away with doing wrong things. “I’m no Rabbi, why do I have to learn?” “Let the Rabbi do his thing, and let me live my life with my forbidden actions”. The commandment above, though, isn’t limited to just the Rabbis or the Gedolei Hador. Hashem is commanding *everyone* to be holy, so this excuse is invalid.Of course, we’re humans and humans make mistakes, but we shouldn’t use that as an excuse to limit our potential. Many of the biggest leaders have made tiny mistakes and still became the people that they are, because they tried to overcome their faults and didn’t just accept it and continue to make them with the excuse of before (because again, it’s invalid).
  2. The second way we could look at that statement is as a simple correlation, which motivates us to do more. However, there is a commandment to elevate the physicality into the spirituality, so there’s clearly a causation and it’s not just a simple correlation.
  3. The best way to look at it is in the positivity-bias way of that statement being a positive causation. *Because* our essence is not anywhere close to spirituality, that’s why we need to work on ourselves to do it. We need to become closer to Hashem, in the best way we can. That’s why we have a commandment to be holy, just as Hashem is.

    Unfortunately, many people realize this too late and wait for a wake up call. To see how some react to opportunities, just look at the order of this week’s Parashiot; Acharei Mot and Kedoshim. People rely on “Acharei Mot” to become “Kedoshim”, for a negative experience to occur in order to improve one’s self. Relying on other people’s failure to improve yourself is a recipe for disaster, considering that moment may never come and when it does, it may take a while. During that time frame, you’d be doing thousands of things that aren’t right.

    Also, even those who do place themselves in the right spot place themselves in a situation where they still attach themselves with the wrongdoings. It starts with words like “I was like this and now I’m not”, down to going on things they know is wrong because “I’d be able to overcome my evil inclination”. To that response, we could take a look at the commentary for what being holy even means.

    We need to emulate his actions in the best way we can, combining both the Rambam’s interpretation of this Passuk and Rashi’s. Not only do we need to stay away from forbidden things (such as sexual relationships), but we also need to have our life focus be on the spiritual aspects. Even if something isn’t necessarily forbidden, we should not vere ourselves towards that direction.

קדשים תהיו. הֱווּ פְרוּשִׁים מִן הָעֲרָיוֹת וּמִן הָעֲבֵרָה, שֶׁכָּל מָקוֹם שֶׁאַתָּה מוֹצֵא גֶדֶר עֶרְוָה אַתָּה מוֹצֵא קְדֻשָּׁה, אִשָּׁה זֹנָה וַחֲלָלָה וְגוֹ’ אֲנִי ה’ מְקַדִּשְׁכֶם (ויקרא כ”א), וְלֹא יְחַלֵּל זַרְעוֹ, אֲנִי ה’ מְקַדְּשׁוֹ (שם), קְדֹשִׁים יִהְיוּ, אִשָּׁה זֹנָה וַחֲלָלָה (שם):

קדשים תהיו YE SHALL BE HOLY — This means, keep aloof from the forbidden sexual relations just mentioned and from sinful thoughts. [It is evident that this is the meaning of קדשים תהיו because] wherever you find in the Torah a command to fence yourself in against such relations you also find mention of “holiness”. Examples are: (Leviticus 21:7) “[They shall not take] a wife that is a harlot, or a profane etc.”, and in the next verse “for I, the Lord, who sanctifieth you, [am holy]”; (Leviticus 21:15) “Neither shall he profane his seed (by the forbidden unions mentioned in the preceding verses) for I the Lord do sanctify him”; (Leviticus 21:6) “They shall be holy… followed by (v. 7) “[they shall not take] a wife that is a harlot or a profane” (cf. Vayikra Rabbah 24:4-6).

Rashi on Leviticus 19:2

As for attaching yourself to your old identity, we could learn to avoid that just by looking at a story with Rabbi Twersky, where he was speaking to a former alcoholic who said the following about his past experience: “THE MAN I WAS DRANK, THE MAN I WAS WILL DRINK AGAIN, THANK GD I’M NOT THE MAN I WAS”. The fact was, that he became a new person once he stopped drinking. This is Teshuva in its finest.

If we need a Torah source for this, the Kohen Gadol needs new clothes every year for his Yom Kippur services, even if it’s only worn once. Why? Because the clothes of the previous year were to atone for the Kohen Gadol’s actions at that point in time, but he has become a new person. Therefore, he needs new clothes to represent the new person.

Every day, we have the opportunity to do good or bad. Every day, we become a new person. Don’t be comfortable with where you are and let your guard down, accepting that you are human giving you an excuse to do whatever you want. Of course, mistakes can still happen but try to minimize it. Rather, realize your position of where you are (human, made up of flesh and blood) and try to use that as an excuse to try your hardest and reach the unreachable. Don’t wait for the wakeup call, cause it may never arrive. Rather, seize the opportunity you have right in front of you to do good at this moment.

Shabbat Shalom!

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