R’ Eli Munk wrote that in this, the middle parasha of the Torah, the peak of Torah legislation is a call to sanctify our lives. It is an ideal, but with the foundation in the daily practices in relation to food, ritual purity and sexual relationship practices, the conditions for holiness in the domains of ethical and social justice can be proclaimed.
Holiness, a state of moral and spiritual excellence, is an ideal based outside the norms of common sense and rational behaviour. R’ Munk wrote that it is a unique concept which goes beyond nature, with laws which seem to be designed to control human nature. For example, marriage is named “kiddushin” , sanctification, as a symbol of the holiness that man can achieve by overcoming nature. Adin Steinsaltz wrote that the holy is based on the innate desire of the soul to nullify itself before G-d. He wrote that every individual of Israel has a soul that is holy in the sense that it is a spark of the Divine.
Moshe spoke to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel, saying “Be Holy, for I the Lord your G-d am Holy”. R’ Munk quoted Shemot Rabbah, in that the principle of holiness concerns all parts of the community and each person is called upon to work towards this ideal to the best of their means and abilities. The majority of the basic laws depend on the participation of the community. Rashi defined holiness as the duty of keeping away from illicit sexual relationships, and Rambam defined it as self-restraint in the vast range of activities which are not forbidden. Holiness implies temperance, that is moderation of one’s desires and passions. It includes sobriety in the satisfaction of appetites, avoidance of spiritual contamination, and moderation in language. This command to holiness would then be a general commandment meant to imbue all the formal laws with the quality necessary to ensure ethical behaviour.
R’ Munk quoted R’ Moshe Chaim Luzatto who stressed the importance of sociability in the living of a holy life. He wrote that the ultimate holiness for man consists of living in a state of communion with G-d to such a point that whatever the person is doing, he never separates or removes himself from G-d. R’ Munk wrote that G-d’s holiness is a guarantee of man’s potential for holiness. It is obviously of a lower order, so when “kadosh” is written to refer to man it is written without the “vav” but when it is written to refer to G-d, it is written with the “vav”.
R’ Yehuda HaLevi wrote that the adjective “holy” applied to G-d indicates that He is so sublime, that no quality of His creatures can apply to Him. It is only in the figurative sense. Rambam explained that G-d can be described only in terms of what He is not, since G-d is immaterial, in His essence, transcending the dimensions of time and space, even celestial space. R’ Munk explained that this is the sense of the threefold holiness “kadosh,kadosh,kadosh” , “holy, holy, holy”, attributed to the prophet Isaiah, and mentioned in our daily prayer service. In contrast, the holiness of human beings is only relative, but it can be described in the positive sense as the imitation of G-d through His thirteen principles of love, and which would be the outcome of keeping all the positive and negative commands in the Torah.
R’ SR Hirsch taught that respect for parents and observance of Shabbat are two critical factors in training a person for a life of holiness. The connection included the concept that despite honouring your parents, if they tell you to not observe the Shabbat, don’t listen to them. Both you and your parents are equally obliged to “Obey Me”. R’ Munk highlighted the connection in the command to it’s Divine origin, and pointed out that the injunction ending with “I am the Lord your G-d” occurred three times in a row, (and occurs many times throughout the parasha, to emphasise that thee laws are not man-made, but are divine and immutable) . He quoted from the Rebbe of Sadigur who taught that G-d was linking Himself to three categories of Jews, the righteous who live only for the ideal of holiness, the average Jews who observe out of respect for their parents, and even those who are merely content not to worship idols.
Even “love your fellow as yourself” has the connection “I am your G-d”. The detailed laws continue to the end of the parasha, one of the last sentences being “You shall be holy for Me, for I your G-d am holy, and I have separated you from the peoples to be Mine”. R Luzatto saw in this that the laws of holiness would serve as a barrier, keeping the Jewish people separate from the other nations. R’ Munk wrote that the lesson from this is that “your separation from them should be in honour of My Name”. One should separate from sin and accept subservience to the kingdom of Heaven.