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  • Writer's pictureZecharya Michelsohn

Beyond Rules: The Heart of Holiness

דבר אל כל עדת בני ישראל ואמרת אלהם קדשים תהיו כי קדוש אני ד' אלקיכם (ויקרא י"ט:ב)
Speak to the entire congregation of Bnei Yisroel and say to them ‘You shall be holy, because I Hashem am Holy'.

What does 'being holy' mean? According to Rashi, holiness refers to areas of morality, specifically avoiding immoral behavior.


Ramban sees in this verse a global, all-encompassing concept. Kedoshim, in this context, does not mean 'holiness' per se, but rather abstaining from excesses. The Ramban explains that theoretically, a person can follow Halacha to the letter: keeping the highest standards of kashrus, following all the rules of family purity, and generally ensuring that every activity he engages in is technically permissible.


However, indulging in all lusts and desires, speaking in an unrefined manner, can leave a person 'unchanged'.


Such a person might be keeping the 'letter of the law' while missing the 'spirit' of the Torah, seeing the trees but missing the forest—the bigger picture. The mitzvos of the Torah are designed to create a whole, refined person with higher values and priorities. After all the mitzvos listed in the previous parshios, the Torah is reminding us of the goal: that we shall be holy. We should be in control of ourselves and control our excesses, such as indulging in lusts and desires.


We should partake of all the world has to offer but as a means to an end, not as an end unto itself. This implies that our actions should serve a higher purpose, rather than being solely self-serving.


The Ramban cites another example of this; after the Torah teaches monetary laws, it sums it up with "ועשית הישר והטוב" (you shall be straightforward and good). Here again, the Torah is reminding us that the monetary mitzvos are not just a list of 'do's and don'ts' but rather a value system that we should strive to internalize.


In essence, then, the Torah is commanding us to allow ourselves to be transformed. We should allow the values of the Torah to penetrate and uplift us, shaping our outlook and goals, and establishing a new set of priorities.


Perhaps the same can be said for actual Torah learning as well; as we continue to learn our Holy Torah, we should allow our way of thinking to be molded and shaped by the Torah, incorporating its values into our thought process.


How fortunate we are for this priceless gift! אשרנו מה טוב חלקנו !


Have a wonderful Shabbos!

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