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Kedoshim-Use, do not abuse; neither abstinence nor excess ever renders a man happy.

In the opening verse of this week’s Parsha, Kedoshim, Hashem commands MosheDaber el kol edat Bnei Yisrael veamarta alayhem kedoshim tihiyu… “Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them ‘You shall be holy…’”

 

This commandment appears to be very indefinite.  One can obey a commandment with clear instructions such as keeping the Sabbath, fasting on Yom Kippur. However, how does one fulfill a commandment to be holy?

 

The Ramban offers an explanation as to what it means to be holy and the basis of his explanation is that one can easily become a naval birshut hatorah (“scoundrel within the way of life  that is permitted by the Torah.”) unless one makes the effort to be “holy” in all one’s ways The Torah permits one to drink wine and eat meat, but with these rights the Torah does not mention any restrictions. Accordingly, without the commandment to be holy, one would be permitted to involve oneself in voracious, gluttonous, rapacious, and ravenous behavior. However, we are commanded to be holy, which prohibits such behavior.  For being Holy requires us to live a life of moderation and control.  One must always obey Hashem’s commandments. Additionally, we must do so in a way that we be holy.  It is not sufficient to observe only the letter of the law. Without the “be holy” commandment, one can easily become a naval birshut hatorah.  A person can keep to the letter of the law, enjoy self-indulgence and gluttony and avoid responsibility, because it is not wrong technically. Yet the person is violating the commandment to be holy.

 

We can illustrate Ramban’s idea with the famous saying of Voltaire, the 18th century philosopher, who often attacked injustice and intolerance, who once said: “Use, do not abuse; neither abstinence nor excess ever renders a man happy.”

 

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