In this week's parsha, the Torah teaches us about Love Your Neighbor: "You shall not be a gossipmonger among your people, you shall not stand aside while your fellow's blood is shed... You shall not hate your brother in your heart... You shall not take revenge and you shall not bear a grudge..." (Leviticus 19:16-18).
The Torah then follows this with a list of forbidden relationships (adultery, incest, bestiality). The title of this entire section is "holy ones." Yet how is "Don't have sex with an animal" a path to holiness?
All of life contains challenges in different areas of restraint. While not doing something gross like that may be easy for most of us, some people actually do desire to do the wrong thing sometimes. But it's also a message for all of us: Use your mind to direct and control your natural urges. That's the essence of holy behavior.
While society understands the concept of restraint when talking about diet or substance abuse, the general idea of restraint rubs people the wrong way.
"Let's be free and uninhibited" was the slogan of the Sixties. We are not naturally predisposed to restraint. Yet that trait is crucial for spiritual growth.
We restrain the urge to eat by focusing on how much food we eat, and leaning towards a balanced diet. We restrain sexual urges with marriage by committing ourselves to one partner. We control our anger when letting loose on someone if it might cause strife, a broken nose, or a night in jail. We restrain the urge to spend by making a budget for the necessities of life. We restrain ourselves in business by dealing honestly.
Any area of pleasure needs restraint or we'd be in a load of trouble, ill health, messed up relationships, and deep debt.
True holiness doesn't come from denying ourselves pleasure, nor from over-indulging in pleasure, but from the middle path of measured restraint. We are not meant to be hermits, we are meant to enjoy all the wonderful parts of life. That's the challenge, to be a part of this beautiful world, take pleasure in it, and stay connected to God.
THE REAL YOU
Moreover, whenever we exercise control and restraint of our natural urges, we feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. Anyone who has kept to a diet knows the feeling of power this gives you. Expressing inner strength makes us feel like we own ourselves. When we can't control ourselves, it hurts our ego and self-worth.
The fact that self -restraint is pleasurable is one of the indications that we are essentially a soul, not a body. The urge to do something we disagree with is not our true nature. It's part of the body that houses the soul, but it's not the real you. Inside your mind and heart is a place where you have a moral compass that defines your values and true convictions.
That place is the real you and wants to be in control. The more control, the more of the real you. The more of the real you, the more of your soul has power. The more soul power means greater holiness and oneness with the Almighty, who has complete and utter power.
Holiness is a subtle thing that often goes unnoticed. We are distracted by the physical world. When you find a small bit of holiness, hold onto it and make it grow.
Make a list of times in your life that you have been able to restrain a natural urge, and felt good about it. Pick one area of life in which you'd like to have more holiness. Ask yourself what bit of restraint you can exhibit in that area.