You Can Be Holy

“…Speak to the entire congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them, “you shall be holy”…” – Vayikra 19:2

דַּבֵּר אֶל כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם קְדשִׁים תִּהְיוּ – ויקרא יט, ב

In Parshas Kedoshim, G-d tells Moshe to address the entire congregation of Bnei Yisrael, and instruct them “to be holy.” The commentaries ask, what is the meaning of the command to “be holy,” as a unique obligation? Is not the objective of every mitzvah and, in fact, of the entire Torah for us to be sanctified?

The Ramban (on Vayikra 19:2) answers that the Torah’s directive to “be holy,” or in a broader sense, to set ourselves apart, indeed refers to a distinct effort to sanctify ourselves—independent of the inherent sanctity that we achieve through the observance of the Torah’s other commands and prohibitions. With this directive, says the Ramban, the Torah warns us not to be “a hedonist with the Torah’s permission,” i.e. not to indulge excessively in the pleasures of the world even if they are technically permissible (see also Talmud, Yevamos 20a). “Therefore,” continues the Ramban, “after enumerating the things that it forbids entirely, the Torah came with the general directive: ‘Be holy.’ Constrain yourself and resist even that which is permissible.”

Be Holy

Upon honest self-reckoning, however, one might assume that the Torah’s directive to “be holy,” to sanctify yourself even with that which is permitted to you, is directed at people who are already perfect in their observance of all the Torah’s explicit commands and prohibitions. But he who is still struggling to abstain from what the Torah prohibits (!), can it be that he too is instructed to refrain even from indulging in the permissible?

G-d therefore prefaced this command with the somewhat unusual introduction, “Speak to the entire congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them.” As Rashi explains, this means that Moshe was to give this directive at an assembly of all men, women and children of Bnei Yisrael. With this emphasis, G-d made clear that every Jew, regardless of their particular weaknesses or current spiritual struggles, is expected—and therefore certainly capable—to not only observe the Torah’s laws, but even to sanctify themselves beyond the letter of the law.

—Likutei Sichos, vol. 7, pp. 323-324


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