You Shall Be Holy
This week's parsha is one of the central parshiot in the Torah. It describes the mitzvot which make Israel a unique nation. (Its location is practically in the middle of the parshiot of the Torah.) We are to be not only kind, just and helpful; we are to be holy!
Sensitivity to Rashi's choice of words is necessary to fully understand his message.
"Speak to the the whole congregation of the Children of Israel, and say to them 'You shall be Holy, because I, Hashem, your God am Holy.' "
You shall be holy - RASHI: Keep separated from the forbidden sexual relations (mentioned above) and from sinful thoughts. Because wherever you find (in the Torah) a command to fence yourself off from sexual immorality you also find mention of 'holiness.' (Some examples) "They shall not take a wife that is a harlot or one who has been desecrated etc." (Lev. 21:7) and the next verse, "for I am Hashem, Who sanctifies you." And "Neither shall he profane his seed ... for I am Hashem Who sanctifies him." (ibid. 15).
WHAT IS RASHI SAYING?
Rashi tells us that "holiness" here means observing the sexual code of forbidden relationships. This he undoubtedly derives from the fact that our verse comes on the heels of the last parsha where the laws of the forbidden incestuous relations are commanded.
He supports this idea by citing several verses where the laws of sexual relations are given and which are immediately followed by God's statement of holiness. We should note that all the cases cited by Rashi are sexual relations that are forbidden only to priests. With this in mind we can ask several questions of Rashi.
A Question: First of all, why does Rashi bring as evidence only cases of priestly restrictions? Certainly the ordinary Israelite also has sexual prohibitions - why aren't these cited? Secondly, there are quite a few places where the Torah forbids sexual relations and yet there is no mention of holiness. The previous parsha, Acharei Mot (Chapter 18), lists over a dozen forbidden sexual relations and yet no mention is made of "holiness." Also in Deuteronomy where the "mamzer" is forbidden, (Deut. 23: 3) there is no mention of holiness.
This is certainly strange and seems to seriously undermine Rashi's point. How can we understand this?
To understand this you must look carefully at Rashi's words.
An Answer: At the outset, I should say that I couldn't find any commentary who relates to this question. The question and answer were given to me by a Jerusalemite by the name of Rav Aaron Moshe Schwartz.
Rashi says "Any place that you find the restrictions of sexual relations ... you find holiness." Note that Rashi doesn't say "sexual prohibitions"; rather, "restrictions of sexual prohibitions." The Hebrew word "geder" (fence) means restrictions beyond the ordinary restrictions, which are intended to fence one off from even approaching a forbidden act. It is only the priest who has these added restrictions; it is only from the laws of sexual purity of the priest that Rashi can bring evidence to the point he wants to make. The Talmud (Kedushin 31a) also says that the Torah placed a stricter code of conduct upon the priests.
It is for this reason that Rashi only uses examples from the priests, because they are particularly commanded to restrict themselves from certain sexual relations, above and beyond those which are required of every Jew.
This is the sign of their holiness.
That is what Rashi means when he says at the beginning of his comment "separate yourselves from sexual sins." Holiness comes not merely from observing the laws regarding the fordidden sexual relations, but rather from keeping clear of any hint of sexual impropriety. That is holiness. This coincides with the basic meaning of the word "Kedusha" (holiness) which translates : "to be separate." Hashem is "Kadosh" because He is separate from anything we can imagine. The Jew becomes Kadosh when he builds a fence around forbidden acts in order to guarantee his separation from them.
We see how precise Rashi is in his choice of words in order to make this important and fundamental point.