5773 - #41



            Most people are introduced to the concept through the words of Ramban, Vakiyra 19:2. While Rashi, in explaining this verse, maintains that one attains kedusha [generally translated as holiness1] through the observance of the mitzvot -- the actual Biblical laws -- which place limitations on human appetites, Ramban asserts that the key to this attainment is actually found in how one goes beyond these rules and relates to that which is permitted. He contends that it is in how we conduct ourselves in the realm of the permitted that kedusha is fostered. It is, as such, for example, in how one can dine without becoming a glutton that one finds the basis of this value.2 The statement in T.B. Yevamot 20a of kadesh atzmecha b’mutar lach [sanctify yourself in that which is permitted to you] would seem to be most on point and supportive of Ramban’s position.2 How, though, would Rashi understand these words?

            Rashi, Yevamot 20a, d.h. Af actually explains the phrase in a manner consistent with his approach describing kedusha as inherent in the observance of the Biblical mitzvot themselves. He states that the phrase is referring to the observance of Rabbinic commandments created to provide a fence to the Torah laws. What this gemara seems to be saying, according to Rashi, is that additional actions undertaken to further ensure the observance of actual Torah laws – and, thereby, enhance the possibility of reaching the goal of kedusha through this observance – are deemed to be praiseworthy. According to Ramban, the observance of further restrictions in the realm of what is generally permitted is the essence of kedusha. To Rashi, this is not so; kedusha is specifically found solely in the observance of the actual mitzvot. Other restrictive behaviour in the realm of what is permitted, though, is still deemed praiseworthy for it assists in reaching the goal of kedusha through further securing the actual observance of the mitzvot. One should clearly sanctify oneself through further limitations in the realm of what is permitted. The question is whether this has value in itself or only as a means to another end.

            What could be the possible basis of this disagreement? From the language that we generally find surrounding the term, kedusha is clearly tied to the control and lessening of physical desire. As such, according to Ramban, while the mitzvot may form the base for the development of this type of control, it would be understandable for kedusha to be furthered as one extends one’s control over one’s appetites. Why does Rashi, indeed, limit this definition of control to that demanded by the actual Biblical law? In that the section dealing with the laws of forbidden sexual encounters and forbidden food in Rambam, Mishneh Torah is entitled Kedusha, many contend that Rambam actually shared the same view of the term as did Rashi. This could be most significant in further understanding this position. Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot De’ot 1:4 maintains that the highest goal for which we should strive in relating to our human appetites is that of the middle path. By extension, it would thus seem that this middle path is also the essence of kedusha. What Rashi and Rambam thus may be articulating is that the Biblical commands actually reflect this middle path and that is why they specifically define kedusha. The gemara is still informing us, though, that, as a means of meeting this goal, restrictive behaviour in the realm of what is permitted is still praiseworthy.4 

            Rashi, Devarim 14:21, building on the words of Sifri, Re’eh 102, however, takes a different approach in explaining this phrase which may also offer a completely different approach to kedusha itself. He states that pursuant to the instruction of this phrase, if one finds oneself in the presence of individuals who are applying restrictive behaviour to something which is actually permitted, it is incorrect to adopt this permitted behaviour in front of them. This sensitivity, we are being informed, is also part of kedusha. When someone is undertaking a specific action in order to bolster one’s goal of achieving kedusha, while we may not feel that such behaviour is necessary for us in our personal quest for this goal, it is still important to be respectful and assist the other in this undertaking. As such, if individuals choose to refrain from certain behaviour, which is really permitted, as a means of attaining kedusha, it reflects positively on our own level of kedusha to also adopt such behaviour in their presence. This is the case of acting with kedusha in the realm of the permitted.

            Torah Temima, Devarim 14:21, note 35, however, places a strong caveat on this. He states that this is only appropriate, and demanded, when the others who are adopting this restrictive behaviour are only doing so for this reason. They know that the behaviour from which they are refraining is actually permitted but, for the advancement of their own level of kedusha, have chosen to adopt the restriction. If, however, they are doing so because they believe that it is the demanded halachic requirement, there is no reason for others to adopt this behaviour in their presence. In fact, Torah Temima contends, it would actually be inappropriate to adopt this restrictive behaviour for, by not adopting this behaviour, you would be teaching them the Torah truth that this behaviour is actually permitted. It is one thing to assist someone in their personal journey towards righteousness through acting in a similar manner in their presence. It is another matter to do so if the person believes his/her behaviour is the demanded law for everyone for, thereby, you would only be further fostering this misperception.

            Given the diverse reality of the halachic spectrum within our present world, this idea has practical significance for us. This issue, obviously, extends beyond this one concept being introduced in this Insight yet this idea of kedusha must also be considered. At its essence would seem to be the importance of understanding the very nature of the spectrum and the Divine reality inherent in this divergence. Motivation, however, would seem to be a most important factor to consider. We must correctly know why we differ.

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht



1 Even when a word within one language is generally assumed to be the proper translation of a word from another language, it is often not exactly so. There are subtle distinctions within any word that may make its full meaning unique to its language of origin. Such is the case with the term kedusha. In translation, its distinct, untranslatable meaning must still always be noted.

2 Of course, Rashi is not disagreeing with Ramban in regard to the general value of this behaviour. The issue solely regards the exact definition of kedusha. Is such behaviour a specific manifestation of the value of kedusha or, albeit correct, does it reflect a different value? Alternatively, if kedusha is found precisely in the observance of the law, how can we understand its nature?

3 It may be of interest to note that, while many apply this phrase to the words of Ramban, he does not actually quote this statement.

4 This would be somewhat similar to the permitted corrective deviation from the middle path presented in Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot De’ot 2:1.

Nishma 2013   

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