Shabbat Parashat Acharei Mot| 5763
Our second parasha opens with the instruction to be holy (“kedoshim t’hiyu”), for Hashem is holy (Vayikra 19:2). The disagreement between Rashi, who explains that this refers to refraining from sin, and the Ramban, who understands that it refers to avoiding overindulgence in permitted activities, is well known. Let us, though, examine some possible ramifications of the Ramban’s approach.
The most obvious question on the Ramban’s approach to refrain from certain permitted activities is that if the activities were bad, the Torah should have forbidden them. The contrapositive conclusion is that if the Torah did not forbid them, then they must not be bad. So, why should we refrain from these activities?
There are at least two complementary approaches to this issue. Firstly, we should note that when the Torah outright forbids something, it is forbidden across the board, in any quantity, and almost without exception. The Ramban’s examples of “naval birshut hatorah” (disgusting with the Torah’s permission) include eating meat and drinking wine. These are not only permitted activities, but are generally positive ones when done in the right setting with moderation and should not be forbidden. Of course, moderation and the proper setting are highly subjective concepts, making it impractical to give clear cut, binding guidelines. One must also consider that the Ramban does not deal with one standard level of observance. He refers to extreme overindulgence as naval but also urges the pious to refrain from even moderate levels of these pleasures to be holy. Yet, the Torah was not written to be viable for only particularly pious and/or ascetic people.
The other approach is more positive. The Torah’s rules and regulations are indeed detailed and uniform. It is not sufficient to generally follow the “spirit of the law” and be “good, upstanding people.” We must be disciplined and conform. Yet, concepts such as “kedoshim t’hiyu” give us the opportunity to find proper modes of godly behavior beyond the Torah’s specifications in line with our personalities and backgrounds. Sometimes Chazal accepted a higher level of observance on behalf of the entire nation (see Ramban, ad loc.) and sometimes the individual uses his G-d given wisdom to fine-tune the level and mode of Divine service in a manner appropriate for him.
“Kedoshim t’hiyu” helps us develop a personal relationship with our Maker. In any relationship, certain basic rules of etiquette must be followed. Yet every significant relationship has certain added, personal factors which make it unique and exciting. This applies even to our relationship with Hashem.
Top of page
Print this page
Send to friend
This edition of Hemdat Yamim is