"You Shall Be Holy"

  • Harav Yehuda Amital

Sicha for Shabbat from the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion






"You Shall Be Holy"

Adapted by Dov Karoll


God spoke to Moshe, telling him to speak the following to the entire community of Israel, saying to them: "Kedoshim tihyu, You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy." (Vayikra 19:1-2)


Rashi (19:2, s.v. dabber), based on a midrash (Torat Kohanim, Kedoshim 1:1), explains that this parasha was taught in front of the entire community, "since most essentials of the Torah are dependent on it." The Ramban (19:4, s.v. ve-amar ve-elohei massekha) cites a midrash (Vayikra Rabba 24:5) that this parasha is crucial because it contains details fleshing out the Ten Commandments.


What is the basic message delivered in this parasha? Kedoshim tihyu, you shall be holy. What does the word "kedoshim" mean? Rashi (19:2, s.v. kedoshim) explains that it means separated from forbidden relations. He is building off the connection to the end of last week’s parasha (chapter 18), which discusses the forbidden relations. That parasha warns the children of Israel not to "follow the practices of the land of Egypt" as well as "the practices of the land of Canaan," and then details the list of prohibited relations (18:1-6). According to this approach, the background against which this parasha comes is that the Jewish people need to separate themselves from Egyptian and Canaanite culture, particularly by avoiding their corrupt sexual practices.


In its conclusion, our verse explains why the Jewish people are to be holy: "For I, the Lord your God, am holy." How is this comparison to be understood? God is totally removed from the world, entirely separate. Are we to understand the imperative, "You shall be separated," in this all-encompassing sense? It is impossible for human beings to be so totally separate from the physical world. Therefore, the Rambam (introduction to Sefer Ha-mitzvot, shoresh 4) explains that this means, "You shall separate yourself from all negative things from which I have told you to separate."


While we are not meant to isolate ourselves from the world, there would seem to be a need for a certain amount of isolation when learning Torah. The Gemara in Shabbat (88a) tells of an apostate who saw Rava so engrossed in his studies that his hands were under his feet, and he ground his hands, and did not even notice that they were bleeding. This is a form of detachment from the world deriving from involvement in learning.


If one is to be detached from the world, it must certainly be within the context of learning Torah and performing mitzvot, but there is no value to detachment in itself. Some people think that they can do whatever they want, as long as it is motivated by spiritual goals. I was at a wedding recently where I noticed someone off to the side, dancing all by himself. Dancing in order to celebrate together with the bride and groom is certainly a proper thing to do. But this person was not dancing with the groom; he was in a world all to himself.


This is not what is meant by the command to be holy, and this is not Jewish spirituality. Judaism is meant to be lived in a community, and the Torah and Chazal consistently emphasize the importance of community to Jewish life. God wants us to be involved with our fellow Jews and our fellow humans, and not to isolate ourselves in a little self-contained world.


[This sicha was delivered on leil Shabbat, Parashat Kedoshim, 5763 (2003).]


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