“You Shall Be Holy” In Joy and Righteousness
Our parsha states, “You shall be holy, for I the L-RD your G-d am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). Rashi says in the name of the Sages, “ ‘You shall be holy’ – abstain from forbidden sexual relationships and from [other] sin.” All the same, we must ask how a person can truly elevate himself and enter the realm of holiness. If he sanctifies himself by abstaining from sexual immorality, and if he also sanctifies himself in what is permitted, as the Sages have said (Yebamot 20a), how and when will he know that he has reached the level of a holy man?
We shall attempt to answer these questions. When a person wants to perform a mitzvah, he will encounter obstacles stemming from his instincts, obstacles that will discourage him from performing that mitzvah. As the Sages have said, “Man’s evil inclination gathers strength against him daily and seeks to kill him” (Kiddushin 30b). However when a person controls his instincts and actually performs the mitzvah despite such obstacles, he will experience joy and gladness in his heart, and at that point a feeling of relief and happiness will erupt within him, as if he found a great treasure.
As a result, it seems to me that the joy that erupts in a person’s heart is the very proof that he is holy. In fact because he performs the Creator’s will and has cleaved to Him by performing His mitzvot, he has merited to sanctify himself and be called a holy man.
This idea is alluded to in the verse, “You shall be holy, for I the L-RD your G-d am holy.” In other words: When you accomplish Torah mitzvot and this gives you great, immense joy that springs from your heart, you will then know that your are holy and that you are attached to Me, “for I the L-RD your G-d am holy.” The satisfaction that you feel in performing a mitzvah is what sanctifies your body to the point that joy erupts within you. Now we already know that the goal of serving Hashem must be joy and contentment, and in this way we will attain holiness. All the reprimands directed at the Jewish people are because “you did not serve the L-RD your G-d amid gladness and goodness of heart” (Deuteronomy 28:47).
Some may ask, “How can I truly attain holiness? How can I feel satisfaction in serving Hashem, to the point that I will know that I am actually holy?” The answer is that, insofar as sexual immorality is concerned, there is the deed and there is also the thought and imagination behind the deed. Consequently, when a person erases all harmful thoughts of sexual immorality from his heart, when he uproots them and repents completely, he will feel satisfaction, joy, and happiness in his heart. It is precisely there – in the place where those deeds or harmful thoughts could have dwelled – that holiness will come and reside.
We must realize, however, that everything relating to a person coming closer to G-d must come from the person himself. It is the individual who must find a way to approach G-d, at which point the Holy One, blessed be He, will help him to become holy, but solely where he has the right to approach. If someone tries to approach in areas that are not meant for him, areas not made for him, he is liable to pay dearly for it.
This idea is found in Parsha Acharei Mot: “After the death of Aaron’s two sons, when they approached before the L-RD and they died” (Leviticus 16:1). Nadav and Avihu, Aaron’s two sons, also wanted to add to the holiness of the Jewish people. They wanted to bring mundane fire to the altar, something they had not been commanded to do, which is why they died. From here we learn that every person should realize when he is to come closer and when he is to keep his distance, all to teach us the principle: “Seek not things that are above your strength” (Hagigah 13a).
However if someone refrains from seeking holiness, this will turn against him “after [his] death.” After a person dies, he will see how he distanced holiness from himself, bringing him tremendous shame, for there he will be, sitting apart with neither Torah nor holiness. The Sages have said with regards to this, “Woe to us in the Day of Judgment, and woe to us in the day of rebuke” (Bereshith Rabba 93:11). In fact even a person who learned a great deal of Torah in this world – yet did not conduct himself with holiness and has nobody to reprimand him in the World to Come – should still reprimand himself when he sees the truth revealing itself to him. He will then understand everything that he lost, for he could have acquired more, much more merit, in this world while he was still alive.
From all this, a person should learn to strengthen himself in holiness, for holiness leads to joy. As for one who lacks holiness, he goes around looking distraught, depressed, and sad all day long, for he is still far from the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.
This is what our Sages said concerning Nadav and Avihu, Aaron’s two sons (Yalkut Shimoni, Shemini 524). According to one opinion, their sin lay in the fact that they did not marry. Hence Hashem punished them and they died.
This is something that needs to be explained. Joseph merited royalty because he controlled his instincts and did not yield to them, to the point that he was called “the righteous one, the everlasting foundation” (Zohar I:186a). That being the case, why were Nadav and Avihu punished because they did not marry? On the contrary, they should have been considered great tzaddikim, since they controlled their instincts and conquered their desires!
The only problem is, not getting married is considered a sin. In fact for a man to arrive at perfection and holiness, he is obligated to unite with his wife to become a single body. By marrying a woman he completes G-d’s Name within himself, since the letter yud in the word ish (“man”) and the letter hei in the word isha (“woman”) unite to form the Name Y–H, which helps a person feel holiness within the union of marriage. Yet Nadav and Avihu did not want to arrive at this level of holiness, for they apparently thought that they had already attained perfection. Hence they sought nothing more in this world.
It is of paramount importance for a person to work on himself in order to achieve holiness. The initials of the expression kedoshim tehiyu ki kadosh (“You shall be holy, for holy [am I]”) have the same numerical value as the word keter (“crown”). This means that when a person controls himself through holiness, he is considered as a king with a crown on his head, and he will merit arriving at perfection and royalty. This is because a king lacking a crown is not really a king. If he is crowned with one, his holiness hovers above him, and such a man is called holy, “the righteous one, the everlasting foundation.”