Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Kdoshim
To dedicate this lesson

Holiness As a Formula


Rabbi Berel Wein

Among the many commandments and values that are represented in this week’s double parsha special attention seems to being paid to the intimate and marital relationships between people. The Torah lists for us those relationships which are considered to be incestuous, immoral and forbidden. There is perhaps no area of human behavior so sensitive and yet so dissolute and dangerously self-destructive as these liaisons and relationships are. According to the popularization of Freudian psychology it is the sexual drive more than anything else that is the energy source for human behavior. The Torah looks not to deny this basic drive, it never preaches celibacy, but rather it looks to channel and control this activity, turning it from something potentially illicit and harmful to something that is holy and creative. In order to accomplish this, the Torah imposes a set of limitations, inhibitions and rules to govern and sanctify such human behavior. In effect the Torah teaches us that our sexual drive is a neutral commodity. It is rather the circumstances and structure that surround the use of this drive that determine its probity, correctness and holiness. That is the key idea that lies behind all of the commandments that appear in these parshiyot - discipline, sensitivity, correctness of behavior and a sense of positive purpose. Be holy and sanctified the Torah tells us - that is our goal. How to arrive there is what the commandments, individually and collectively, come to teach us. And the road is paved with self-discipline, self-control and a devotion to duty and responsibility.

The parshiyot also emphasize to us the Torah’s view regarding the treatment of other human beings. The Torah bids us to love others, to respect others, to tolerate others, and to therefore become a holier person. Piety in matters that are so to speak between man and God are of prime importance in Jewish life. But of equal importance is the correct relationship between humans and their fellow human beings. One cannot be a holy person through ritual piety and scholarship alone. Ramban advances the idea that the possibility of being obnoxious and disgusting even within the confines of the Torah, so to speak, exists. How we deal with other human beings is a crucial part of being a holy person. It is far easier to deal with an unseen and inscrutable Divinity than to have to deal with a real human being standing face to face before us. Other people differ with us, oftentimes are not cognizant of our needs and desires, and can prove to be annoying and difficult. How are we to deal with such people? The Torah prescribes the same formula for dealing with others as it did for dealing with our innate drives as described above - patience, sensitivity, self-discipline and retention of the goal of being holy. An awareness of circumstances and situations that govern all of the commandments of the Torah also govern our interpersonal behavior one with another. The Torah is always to be viewed as a unity, as something whole and inseparable. That is the way to embark on the road to holiness.
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