1997Mixed in with all the dos and don'ts of the Torah are sporadic declarations of how we are supposed to be. This parsha enjoins us to be "Kedoshim" which an impoverished English language translates as "holy".
Are Rules Subject to Our Values or Are Values Subject to Our Rules?
The parsha begins "...Kedoshim are you to be, for Kadosh am I the Lord your God." Immediately following this declaration we are given obligations which have already become familiar: being awe struck of parents, keeping shabbat, not making idols, no leftovers from certain sacrifices, leaving the corners of the field, no stealing, lying or cheating, no gossip, no slander, no grudges, no vengeance etc.
One way to read this passage is to assume that if we do all the enumerated commandments, then we will be considered "Kedoshim". It would then be our task to define what "Kadosh" is by seeing what all these commandments had in common. Or, one may say that all these mitzvot must have an informing value and that is to be Kadosh. Implicit in this understanding is the possibility that one could perform the commandments in a fashion that would not be Kadosh at all.
Nachmanides understands that to be Kadosh is to be aware that decent behavior cannot ultimately be legislated. In fact, he says a person can still be a licentious character and still be monogamous, you could be a kosher glutton, or a kosher drunk, or as he says, "a sleezebag with the Torah's permission." The parsha opens with an admission. Unscrupulous desires can always find a way to obey the law's letter while violating the spirit.
A rule book alone will not bring one to the pathway of goodness anymore than a world without rules will. The rules need to be tempered with the informing values. Here, the Torah tells us to be Kadosh and Nachmanides understands that to mean that we should partake from the world with restraint. We should engage in the physical and the material, but we should also distance ourselves from it, just as God does.
By restraining our own desires, we also make room for others. God gives us room to choose, to create and to falter. The Holy One is the provider of sacred opportunity and also the provider of enough rope with which to hang ourselves. To imitate God by being Kadosh is to never lose sight of the informing values that the rules were created to promote.
For those who reckon with the commandments as a guidepost in their lives, there is one question which should accompany each mitzvah performed. "How can I perform this task in a way that makes me more Kadosh?" Without "Kedusha", a mitzvah is an empty vessel, from which no one may drink.
Prepared by Rabbi Avi Weinstein, The Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel