This week’s parsha includes the mitzvah of Kedoshim tiheyu, you (the Jewish nation) should be holy. The mefarshim wonder what new mitzvah is being taught with this command? Isn’t the purpose of all mitzvos that we be holy?
Rashi answers that Kedoshim tiheyu is coming to warn Klal Yisrael to be “perushim min ha’arayos,” separate from immorality and forbidden relations. He says that wherever the Torah discusses forbidden relations it uses a language of kadosh.
Why is holiness specifically connected to arayos more than any other mitzvah? And, there is a second question we can ask on the word kadosh. The Torah uses the words kadeisha to describe a woman who is paid for relations. How can the word kadosh be connected to being removed from immorality if it is also used to describe a woman who is steeped in immorality? And, there is another question we can ask. The pasuk ends with the words, ki Ani Hashem, you should be holy because I, Hashem am holy. This is like, l’havdil, a rich man saying you should be rich because I am rich. That advice is not particularly inspiring. How does reminding Klal Yisrael of Hashem’s holiness help us attain such a lofty goal? While it’s true we are created in Hashem’s image, it is hard to understand how we can be expected to be kadosh just because Hashem is.
To answer these questions let’s examine the word kadosh more closely.
There are two stages in the marriage process. The first stage is erusin, in which the woman becomes betrothed. The second stage is nissu’in and that is when the marriage is completed. During the betrothal stage a woman isn’t yet permitted to her husband, but she is forbidden to all other men. The word to describe the act of erusin is kedushin.
Once again we see the word kadosh being used. While it’s true that every marriage is rooted in holiness there is an even more fundamental reason why Chazal chose the word kedushin to describe the first stage in marriage. Tosafos explains (Gemara Kedushin) that the real meaning of the word kadosh isn’t holy but separate. Thus, since erusin separates a woman from all other men, it’s described using the language of kedushin. Similarly, when a person makes an item kadosh he is designating it for use in the Bais HaMikdash and separating it from any mundane use. Now that we understand the true meaning of the word kadosh we can answer our earlier questions.
The bond between a man and a woman is a powerful connection. If a person needs to separate himself from things that aren’t appropriate for him to be connected to, then a forbidden marriage would be one of the most important things to avoid. Since it creates such a bond between the two people, it requires the greatest separation.
Now that we understand why the word kadosh is being used by arayos, we can also understand why the word kadeisha is used to describe such an impure person. A person can be separate for one of two reasons, either because he is elevated above others or because he is beneath them. A kadeisha is also separate, but in a demeaning way.
However, we still need to understand how Hashem’s kedusha can help us become kadosh.
The Ramban has a different approach. He says that a person can live his whole life following the laws of the Torah and still be removed from holiness. If a person is constantly preoccupied with his physical desires and needs he can’t be a spiritual person. Food, sleep, clothing, money, and relaxation are all important avenues to serving, yet there are some people who make the avenues the end goals instead. Kedoshim tiheyu is an admonition to make yourself holy with even your non-mitzvah activities. We should approach the physical with moderation and view our physical acts as secondary to our spiritual deeds. Just as Rashi explains, we are commanded to separate ourselves from the physical.
Yet, how can physical beings separate themselves from the physical?
The answer is, as we said, at the end of the pasuk – because I, Hashem am holy. If we remind ourselves that we were chosen by Hashem Who is holiness and removed from anything physical, we can change our view of ourselves. We separate ourselves from being overly connected to the mundane because it’s not who we are. Even more than being the chosen people, each of us has a piece of G-dliness inside of us. A child will jump up and down in excitement when he nears the ice cream store. An adult won’t do this because it’s beneath his dignity. This is how a Jew should view himself. Good food is enjoyable, but it’s beneath his dignity to be obsessed or preoccupied with it. Likewise for all other physical endeavors. Clothing, cars, decor, sports, and entertainment can all be good outlets and perfectly permitted – up to a point.
May we be zoche to live elevated lives and merit a true connection with Hakadosh Baruch Hu.