by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues
Parashas KedoshimVayikra 19; 2
Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, because holy am I, Hashem, your G-d.
You shall be holy : Rashi: Separate yourself from illicit relations and from sins of sexual immorality, for wherever you find the restriction of sexual immorality you also find [the concept] of holiness (e.g.) "a woman who is a prostitute and one forbidden to the priests", etc. then "I am Hashem who sanctifies you'; and "[a priest] should not profane his offspring" and then: "I am Hashem Who sanctifies him'.
WHAT IS RASHI SAYING?
Rashi claims that holiness means being holy specifically by not engaging in illicit sexual conduct. Why Rashi only cites examples from priests is a question. See our book "What's Bothering Rashi?' on Vayikra ' in the original series for an answer.
Here let us look at the Ramban on this verse.
WHAT DOES THE RAMBAN SAY?
Ramban disagrees with Rashi and says the holiness here is not restricted just to sexual holiness. It is more general concept and refers to separating oneself from excesses of any kind; excesses of those behaviors that are actually permitted by the Torah. The Torah permits eating foods, as long as they are kosher and permits sexual relations as long as they are kosher. The Torah does not require an ascetic life style. But says the Ramban, while sexual relations are permitted and even are a mitzvah; likewise with eating certain foods. Nevertheless, the Torah sets a standard of holiness as a goal to reach for. That means that we are to be holy in the sense that we do not "over do" it. We should restrict our eating and other bodily lusts. While we are permitted to indulge, we should strive to be holy, we should act in a more restrained way. Then the Ramban gives us central message. A person, he points out, can even be a "perverse person" within the confines on the Torah! That is one can apparently keep all the mitzvot of the Torah "perfectly" and yet be a rotten scoundrel. That is because, while the Torah tells us specific mitzvot to keep, it can't possibly mention everything that a person must do. Therefore, in addition to the specific mitzvot, the Torah has certain broad, all encompassing, verses like ours: "Be holy" and like "You shall do the right and the good" (Devarim 6:18). These verses give us the general direction of G-d's way for us to live in this world.
We should not limit ourselves to the specifics; we must understand not just the letter of the Torah but the spirit of the Torah as well.
The Ramban's surprising statement is that not only are we not good enough if we only keep the specifics - we can be worse than bad, we can become "perverse"! This is so because a soul that doesn't grasp the Torah's main message may use and abuse the Torah for his own self-centered desires. This is perverse.
The Talmud has conveyed the same message many times. This is what they mean when they said: The Temple was destroyed because the people kept the law ! - but they didn't go beyond the letter of the law. (Baba Metzia 32). And when they said: "Anyone who is only engaged in Torah, is as one who has no G-d!" (Avoda Zara 17).
We must see the forest and the trees. We must see and keep the mitzvos and grasp the larger picture as well - that G-d wants us to be holy, to be straight and to be good over and beyond the specific mitzvos He has given us.
Avigdor Bonchek has published a new book on Rashi called "Rashi: The Magic and the Mystery" published by Gefen. Look for it at Jewish book stores.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
For information on subscriptions, archives, and