This week we have another double parsha of Acharei Mos-Kedoshim. Both parshiyos deal with the kedushah of the Jewish People, the responsibility we hold as the nation of Hashem to maintain a high standard of character and morality. Both parshiyos discuss different mitzvos that center around this idea and help us achieve this high standard. Parshas Kedoshim even says it out right at the very beginning of the parsha. “קְדשִׁ֣ים תִּֽהְי֑וּ כִּ֣י קָד֔וֹשׁ אֲנִ֖י יְהוָֹ֥ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶֽם” “You shall be holy, for holy am I, Hashem, your God” (Vayikra 19:2).
Rashi explains that this statement is following off the end of Acharei Mos where we discussed immoral relationships. The pesukim are telling us that once you separate yourself from immorality and sin, holiness immediately fills the empty space. When Hashem tells us to be holy, all we need to do is follow the instructions He has laid out for us and we are on our way to holiness!
The Ramban asks a strong question on this Rashi. Simply separating from sin does not immediately translate into holiness. Even if we would not sin and only keep to the mitzvos, there are still many ways to not maintain a standard of holiness. For example, we are commanded to celebrate the holidays by eating meat and drinking wine. Just because the food is kosher doesn’t mean that we are automatically dignified in our consumption of it! What if we stuff ourselves sick or drink ourselves silly, where is the holiness in that? The same could be said for many mitzvos in the Torah, even by keeping to the letter of the law a person can be an immoral and inappropriate individual.
Rather, the Ramban explains that there are two stages, first a separation from immorality and then using the mitzvos to raise ourselves up morally and spiritually. At the end of Parshas Acharei Mos, the Torah gives us different laws in an effort to separate us from sin. At the beginning of Kedoshim, we are told to be holy and then given mitzvos that teach us how to achieve that holiness. The first step to holiness is “קְדשִׁ֣ים תִּֽהיוּ”, which means to restrain yourself even from that which is allowed. While it is certainly permissible to drink wine, there are instances where limiting yourself makes you holy, such as by a nazir. We are certainly allowed to talk, but even if don’t speak lashon hara, there is still a benefit and dignity in not speaking idly.
But why must holiness come specifically through limitations and restraint? Many people may look at the mitzvos in the Torah and decide that they are able to keep it, however, they keep it while maintaining a lifestyle of, ethical, but inappropriate and undignified behavior. Obviously, the fact that they can indulge in whatever they want, even on a Torah level, doesn’t keep them on a level we would consider holy. We must practice restraint even on things that are actually allowed by the Torah.
What I have described here may sound to some people as overly restrictive, perhaps controlling and unnecessary. But if we look at the world, we know ourselves that what we consider to be moral, upright people, are those who maintain not just these levels of decency, but of dignity as well. Let us all work to be truly holy, and fulfill our destiny as the Chosen Nation, the Jewish People.
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