Becoming holy and sanctified is within the reach of each and every one of us. The secret is to enjoy all the material pleasures of this world, but to do so properly and responsibly.
The Torah portion of Kedoshim in Leviticus opens with the words “God spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and say to them: ‘You shall be holy…'” Unlike most of the mitzvot (commandments) of the Torah which were given to Moses alone for him to pass on to the teachers and elders, the commandment “to be holy” was stated to “the entire assembly of Israel.” As one can imagine, the requirement to be holy is a major obligation.
There is a very famous dispute between two of the most famous biblical commentators, Rashi (d. 1105) and Ramban (d. 1270), as to what it means to “be holy.” According to Rashi, being holy means to be far removed from sexual temptation and sin. According to this approach, distancing oneself from the forbidden is the key to becoming holy. The Ramban, however, says it has nothing to do with the sexual dimension, but rather, it means living a life of self-control and enjoying all the permitted pleasures of life in moderation. According to this approach, properly pursuing the permitted is the key to becoming holy.
While there is much to discuss on the differences between Rashi and Ramban, with the former teaching that “running away” is the key to holiness and the latter saying that “running towards” is the key to holiness, there is a common denominator in both interpretations: abstinence. But not entirely. Some religions teach that complete abstinence from worldly pleasures is the key to becoming holy. For example, according to some faiths, not marrying, living alone on some mountaintop or eating minimal foods is the key to becoming holy. Not Judaism. So too, many religions teach that holiness is something that is only within the grasp of a select few. Again, not Judaism. Judaism teaches that there is a permitted outlet for all our desires. So, too, Judaism teaches that “the entire assembly of Israel” has the ability to become holy.
One can be holy within a relationship – just be sure to marry a person who is permitted to you. One can be holy with food – but eat in moderation. One can be holy at work – be honest and truthful in all your dealings. The list goes on and on. Each of the Torah’s mitzvot are recipes to becoming holy.
The Torah was not given to angels. It was given to human beings. Becoming holy and sanctified is within the reach of each and every one of us. The secret is to enjoy all the material pleasures of this world, but to do so properly and responsibly.
To read more insights by Rabbi Ari Enkin on this week’s Torah readings, click on the links below: