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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Kedoshim

Be holy, for I your G-d am holy. (19:2)

Hashem commands us to be holy because He is holy. This is enigmatic. How can we compare ourselves to Hashem? Just because He is holy, does that mean that it is so easy for us to become holy? Imagine a poor man standing in front of a bank begging for alms from the people that come out of the bank. A wealthy man comes along and asks him, "Why don't you go inside the bank and withdraw a few thousand dollars to tide you over?" The poor man looks back at him incredulously and says, "From what should I make the withdrawal? I do not have an account in the bank. If I did, I would not be standing out here begging." The same notion applies to kedushah, holiness. Hashem tells us to be holy because He is holy. Can we even dream of approaching kedushah from Hashem's perspective?

Obviously, if Hashem demands kedushah of us, it is within our reach. As our Creator, He knows our capabilities and potential. Consequently, He makes only those demands that are feasible for us to achieve. In this parsha, Hashem offers the method for attaining kedushah. Rashi defines kedushah as separation from immorality. The illicit relationships which the Torah forbids are to be avoided at all costs. The Ramban contends that kedushah is more of an attitude towards mitzvos than an observance of any particular segment of the Torah. He feels that one's approach towards all aspects of life should be one of temperance and moderation, especially in relation to permissible behaviors.

Now that we have the definition of kedushah, an ingredient seems to be missing. What is the missing key to attainment of kedushah? Horav Dovid Schneur, Shlita, cites Rashi at the end of the parsha who adds one word in his explanation of the pasuk (20:26) "You shall be holy for Me, for I Hashem am holy; and I have separated you from the peoples to be Mine." Rashi says is not sufficient to simply stay away from forbidden foods because one detests them. Rather, one should proudly say that while he would desire to eat non-kosher food, but he cannot because Hashem has forbidden its consumption. Hashem has demanded that our observance be "hnak", for "My Name." All of our observance must have one focus -- Hashem. This is the true definition of kedushah. Man acts in accordance with Hashem's will because it is Hashem's will and for no other reason. One only achieves sanctity when he performs as a servant of the Almighty, not out of personal vested interest.

A person can go through the day performing many mitzvos, being meticulous not to transgress any sin. If he does not act out of a sense of sublimation to the Almighty, if he does not serve "Lishmi," "for My Name," then he worships himself, he is not worshipping Hashem.

Be holy! For I, your G-d, am holy. (19:2)

The Torah's exhortation to "Be holy" is more than good advice; it constitutes the cornerstone of Judaism. This mitzvah defines the Jews' ultimate goal. We strive not simply to attain holiness for ourselves; rather, we strive to be Holy - because Hashem is holy. Hashem is not simply to be worshipped; He is to be emulated! Everything we do, every endeavor in which we are involved, must mirror Hashem's ways. We must strive to be like Him. The Torah details the prescription for G-d-like living: Follow the mitzvos! Parashas Kedoshim provides a sampling of the Torah's code. It focuses on social, ethical, and moral issues, while it gives equal time to the ritualistic observances that characterize man's relationship with the Almighty. We must embrace all of the mitzvos if we are to be holy.

An attempt to preserve the Torah's ethical and moral standards, while ignoring its halachic codes and ritual laws, is as ridiculous as emphasizing man's relationship with the Almighty, while brushing aside the Torah's ethical and moral ideals. A fragmented form of religious observance has been synonymous with the breakdown of Judaism. We are to be holy because Hashem is holy. Our goal in life is to emulate Hashem as much as possible.

Indeed, at the end of one's journey on this earth, when we measure his success or failure, we determine to what extent he has mirrored the Almighty. Furthermore, to cite Horav Moshe Swift, zl, we ask, "How much kedushah did he leave behind?" How much of Hashem did he emulate and transmit to his children? How much joy and harmony did he bring to the world? How much Torah did he study and disseminate? How much chesed, kindness, did he perform, and how much mercy did he show? In other words--how much did he emulate Hashem?

Every man, his father and mother shall you revere and My Sabbaths shall you observe. (19:3)

One might think that the respect one owes his parents overrides the observance of Shabbos. The Torah teaches us that the mitzvah of Shabbos or, in other words, listening to the command of Hashem takes precedence. We may suggest a novel idea. The Torah tells us that to desecrate Shabbos in order to fulfill a parent's request does not really constitute respect. The definition of respect for one's parents is the performance of activity that is in accordance with the will of Hashem. An action that runs counter to Hashem's Torah, albeit upon instruction from one's parents, is not considered kavod, respect.

The Dubno Maggid in his inimitable manner uses a parable to emphasize the distinction between listening to Hashem over one's parents. There were three people who had each studied and excelled in a specific field. One had studied optics and made a powerful telescope. The second had mastered the science of locomotion and mechanics. He had created a vehicle that could travel very fast, enabling him to traverse far distances in a short period of time. The third went into the field of medicine. After much study and research, he discovered a drug that had remarkable healing properties. Indeed, he was the proud master of the cure-all drug. These three people met together one day to share their individual talents with each other. In the course of the conversation, the creator of the powerful telescope peered through his scope and saw that in a distant country the king's daughter lay deathly ill. The distraught king was searching for anyone who would find a cure for his child. After sharing this information with his two friends, the three decided that together they would hop into the second man's amazing vehicle and travel to the country to save the princess using the third man's cure.

So it was; they came to the king and gave the princess the medicine. Within a few short days, the princess was saved. Out of a sense of gratitude the king said, "You saved my daughter. I will give her to one of you as a wife." When the men heard, they began to argue among themselves regarding who most deserved the reward. Each one felt that without his contribution the princess would certainly have died. The king said to them, "True, you have all participated in saving my child's life. After all is said and done, I am, however, most indebted to the individual who brought the medicine. It was he who saved my child. While in the past all three of you brought about her cure, in the future, it will be the one with the wonder-working medicine to whom I will always turn. He, therefore, will have my daughter as a bride.

The maxim of this parable as it relates to us is apparent. Three partners share in the creation of a person. Hashem, the father, and the mother. While each plays an essential part in a person's formation and development, the "third" partner, Hashem, serves as the only source of sustenance without Whom man would cease to exist. Consequently, while we might think that respect for one's parents overrides Shabbos, it is Hashem to Whom we must render our ultimate allegiance.

You shall not curse the deaf; and you shall not place a stumbling block before a blind man. (19:14)

The Torah concerns itself with our attitude towards the individuals who are unknowing. Although one who is deaf cannot hear our curse, it does not mitigate its evil. We are the ones that are affected by the curse, since we sink to the level of cursing people. We must realize that people are only vehicles. The evil they perpetrate is meant for us to sustain. We would do well to introspect our own deeds and correct them.

Rashi explains that while only a degenerate person would place a stumbling block before the blind, this pasuk also has a metaphorical meaning. We are adjured to take extreme care in giving advice to others. Giving bad advice to the unwary, especially if the advisor stands to benefit, is forbidden. We are obliged to look after the welfare of others and certainly not cause them harm.

What if the advisor has some serious reasons, even calculations l'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven, which would, in his mind, justify giving inappropriate advice? Horav M.D. Soloveitchik, Shlita, comments that regardless of one's cheshbonos, calculations, it is forbidden to give advice to someone which will not benefit the individual. Advice must be tailor-made to fit the individual who seeks help. It is not for the advisor to make decisions based upon what he feels is the best course to take.

Horav Soloveitchik relates that once a great scholar sent a letter to the Brisker Rav, zl, in which he implored the Rav to encourage a certain capable individual to assume a position in the writer's community. Moreover, if this person would accept the leadership of the institution, he would save the school. The Brisker Rav declined to offer any advice that was not in the best interest of the individual who was asking. "If someone comes to me for advice, " replied the Brisker Rav, "it is incumbent upon me to guide him on the course which will be most beneficial to him. If you want him to take the job, then encourage him to seek advice from someone else."

How far have we digressed from that attitude? Are we careful to render advice in accordance with a person's needs, rather than what is best for us? Do we give blanket advice because that is the standard "party line," regardless of the fact that for this person/student it would be detrimental? Perhaps those of us who render advice should rethink our position and focus upon the sake of those who turn to us for help.

You shall not render your souls abominable through such animals and birds...Which I have set apart for you to render unclean. You shall be holy for Me...And I have separated you from the Peoples to be Mine. (20:25,26)

Separation and differentiation are words which are synonymous with Judaism. Indeed, they define the religion. Hashem has set us apart from the nations of the world to be His. From the very beginning His master-plan was that we should be distinct. We are to distinguish ourselves by our observance of the Divine laws, as well as our overall demeanor and virtue. It is evident that the underlying purpose of the Jewish dietary laws is to separate us from the nations. We are elevated from the rest of the world by the food that we eat, the special food that Hashem has chosen for us to eat.

Furthermore, we view the dietary laws as the metaphorical wall that makes it difficult for us to mingle and socialize with others. We are to apply the dietary laws as a model for other forms of separation. Horav Avigdor Miller, Shlita, suggests that since the purpose of this "wall" is separation, we should be sure to erect our own barriers which will shield us from the harmful effect of outside influences.

In contemporary times, we can sit in the privacy of our homes and still be subject to the direct influence of the decadent world around us. Whether it is via the media, periodicals, or various forms of literature, we expose ourselves to the influence from which we are to run away. What good is a kosher home if it lacks a kosher attitude? A kosher home which is open to a non-kosher influence is nothing more than hypocrisy. Children growing up in such a home perceive this hypocrisy and quite often rebel against such a spurious lifestyle. The barriers we erect are not just to keep us in; they are also to keep others out. While the barriers may not initially add to our social acceptance, they will ultimately enhance our image when we demonstrate the beautiful effect that Torah has on our lives.


1. Whom does a child naturally fear more, his father or mother?

2. Does the mitzvah of honoring one's parents give one license to transgress a mitzvah of the Torah?

3. What is the definition of kibud av v'eim?

4. Does the prohibition, "Do not curse a deaf man," apply also to someone who is dead?

5. Where must the fruits of Maaser Sheni be eaten?

6. Does the mitzvah of building the Bais Ha'mikdash override the prohibition of working on Shabbos?


1. Father

2. No

3. Respecting one's parents. This involves the performance of positive deeds, such as feeding them, helping to dress them, etc.

4. No

5. In Yerushalayim

6. No

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