What Does it Mean to be a Holy Person?
By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim
In the beginning of Parshat Kedoshim the Torah instructs us “Be holy, for I am holy the Lord your God.” Clearly the fulfillment of this instruction requires a definition of the expression “Be holy.”
Rashi (11th century) explains that the Torah is instructing us to separate from transgressions in general and sexual immorality in particular. Maharal (16th century) explains that sexual immorality is considered animalistic. One who engages in such activity is considered to be sunken in physicality. The Torah is commanding us to separate from this type of animalistic physicality.
Ramban (13th century) has a different explanation from Rashi . Ramban explains that the Torah is instructing us here to separate from certain activity that the Torah permitted. For example, although the Torah permits eating kosher food, one’s eating should be with moderation and refinement. Even physical activity that the Torah permits us to engage in should be done in a refined and moderate way. Ramban goes so far as to say that, were it not for this command, it would be possible for a person to fulfill all the Torah’s commands and still be a despicable person.
According to both Rashi and Ramban the Torah is commanding us here to avoid sinking into animalistic physicality. To put it simply, being holy means to be a Mensch – to speak and behave in a refined way befitting human beings. Whilst enjoying the permitted pleasures of life, one should maintain human spiritual dignity – for God, who created humans with a divine soul in His image, is above and beyond all physical existence.