In the opening verse of this week’s Parsha, Parshat Kedoshim, Hashem commands Moshe “Daber El Kol Adat Bnai Yisrael Viamarta Aleihem Kedoshim Tihiyu,” “Speak to the children of Israel and say to them ‘You shall be holy…’”
This commandment appears to be very ambiguous. One can easily obey a commandment to do something such as eating Matza or blowing Shofar. How does one fulfill a commandment to be something, to be holy?
One might think that that in order to be holy, one must obey Hashem’s commandments. The Rambam, however, writes that one’s life should be governed by moderation, and that one can easily become “Navel Birshut Hatorah,” “a degenerate with the permission of the Torah,” if one observes only the letter of the law. A person can enjoy self-indulgence and gluttony if he is one to weasel out of things, i.e. cheating the tax system, etc. because it is not technically wrong. But there is one commandment that is being violated: the commandment to be holy.
The Ramban also offers an explanation as to what it means to be holy. His idea is similar to that of the Rambam. The Torah permits one to drink wine and eat meat, but with these privileges the Torah does not mention any restrictions. Accordingly, without the commandment to be holy, one would be permitted to involve oneself in gluttonous behavior. But there is this commandment, the commandment to be holy, which prohibits such behaviors.
Sadly, there are many people who fail to keep this as the most important of Mitzvot. This is wrong both morally and ethically! Many Chilulei Hashem are committed because we do not pay enough attention to this commandment. As role models for the world, we must treat this commandment with high regard.
Furthermore, we should all strive for holiness, for if we are set on keeping this most important of virtues, then sinning will not come to us, and countless Mitzvot will.
The person who is truly holy is the one who need not strive for this virtue, the one whose nature and character does not permit him to be otherwise (refer to the Rambam (introduction to Pirkei Avot) for more depth on this matter). Of course, not many people are born without the inclination to be unholy, but we must do our best, as role models to the rest of the world, to be holy not in regard to Halacha (to better ourselves and to insure our place in Olam Habah) but on business and everyday mundane activities to make a Kiddush Hashem and make sure the world respects us and look at us in admiration.