Parshat Achrei Mot / Kedoshim: Living Kedusha

26 04 2012

Based on a shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles

In Parshat Kedoshim the Torah tells us, “Kedoshim tiheyu ki kadosh ani.” You shall be holy, for I am holy. How do we define kedusha (sanctity)?

The Mikdash Halevi notes that at the beginning of the parsha it says, “Daber el kol adat bnei Yisrael.” Speak to the entire assemblage. This is to emphasize that each and every one of us is commanded to be holy. We are all enjoined to strive towards kedusha by doing mitzvot. We don’t have to do something above and beyond the extraordinary. Specifically through our everyday encounters and interaction with Hashem and other people we can reach holiness.

At the end of the parsha it says, “Ushemartem et chukotai ani Hashem mikadeshchem.” If you keep my ordinances and do them, then I will sanctify you. The process begins with a person’s own efforts and culminates with Hashem lifting him up.

The Ramban maintains that the concept of holiness is not limited to the observance of any specific category of commandments. Rather, it’s an admonition that one’s approach to all aspects of life be governed by moderation, particularly with things that are permitted. Someone who only observes the letter of the law can easily become a naval b’reshut haTorah, a degenerate with the permission of the Torah. Such a person can observe the technical requirements of the Torah while surrendering to self-indulgence and gluttony. The commandment to be holy tells us, “Kadesh azmecha b’mutar lach.” Sanctify yourself by refraining from too much of what is permitted. Kedusha is about living a life of moderation.

The sefer Sam Derech notes that the end of the Ramban gives us a deeper understanding of kedusha. The Torah often gives us specifics and then a general statement. In Devarim there are many different prohibitions of interacting with people. The Torah then says, “V’asita hayashar v’hatov.” You shall do deeds that are upright and good in the eyes of Hashem. Kedusha is about looking at the totality, the larger scheme. Our actions should be guided by a sense of what is fair and good in Hashem‘s eyes. How to do so in any given situation depends on the sensitivity of the individual, for it is impossible to spell out all alternatives and situations. “V’asita hasher v’hatov” means investigating and trying to understand what the Torah is really asking of us. Being holy means having an understanding of what Hashem wants from us. It’s easy to go through life following the strict letter of the law, but kedusha demands that we ask ourselves about the larger picture, the background, the sensitivity that Hashem wants us to develop.

The Torah is not just teaching us do’s and don’ts. It gives us a rubric on how to transform ourselves as individuals.




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