KEDOSHIM (19:1-20:27) — “How to be Holy”

1) Be Normal…

This Torah Portion opens with a tall order:

Be holy, because I, your G-d, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2)

When the people talk about living a life of holiness, the tendency is to envision a life of asceticism and separation.  We picture people living lives of self-deprivation and non-indulgence in the pleasures of the world.

What could be holier than climbing some remote Tibetan mountain and living as a celibate hermit; meditating in solitary contemplation of the sublime?

Actually the Torah lays out for us a description of holiness that differs considerably from what one might think:

Revere your parents…observe the Sabbath…don’t worship idols…When you harvest your field, leave some over for the poor. … Don’t steal, don’t lie, and don’t swear falsely….  Pay your workers on time. … Don’t curse the deaf or mislead the blind….  Don’t pervert justice. … Give someone the benefit of the doubt…don’t gossip…love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.  (Leviticus 16:3-18)

In other words, be normal.  Be responsible. Don’t take advantage of people.  Anyone can join a monastery and hide from the world.  Get married; have children and raise them with proper values.  True holiness comes when we emulate G-d and try to make the world a better place.

2) …But Not TOO Normal:

Living in the orthodox community of Monsey, New York, I see obviously religious Jews in all walks of life.  One can see beards and Payos in the drug store, the gas station, even behind the cash register in Pathmark.  There is also Hatzalah, an emergency ambulance corps.  It never ceases to amaze me when I see religious Jews behind the wheels of their cars on Shabbos afternoons as they rush to respond to medical emergencies.

You will observe My decrees and laws, which man shall carry out, AND LIVE BY THEM“. (Leviticus 18:5)

This Biblical statement, “AND LIVE BY THEM“, is the source for the Commandment to violate the Sabbath, (or any of 610 out of the 613 Commandments) in order to save a life.  “Live by them,” says the Torah.  “Don’t die by them.”

However, there are exceptions to the rule.  Our history is stained with the blood of countless martyrs who gave up their lives rather than accept another faith.  The requirement to violate the Torah rather than endanger a life has three exceptions.  One may not worship other gods.  One may not commit murder to save his own life.  (For example, “Kill him or I’ll kill you.” In such a case the Torah would require you to give up your life.  You may, however, kill the person making the threat in self-defense.)

The third exception is mentioned in the next verse.  Immediately after the Torah gives us dispensation to violate MOST commandments to save a life, we find a list of forbidden intimate relationships.  Chapter 18 tells us to avoid incest, adultery, and other deviant behavior.  The Torah goes on to tell us that sins such as these were the cause of the expulsion of the Canaanites from the Land of Israel and to warn us that the Holy Land will not tolerate promiscuity.

The fact that a particular attraction may be “normal” and “natural” doesn’t mean that it should be acceptable.  One must be prepared to give up one’s life rather than engage in forbidden intimate relationships.  Such behavior, says the Torah, is so repulsive to G-d, and is so far beyond the bounds of acceptable behavior that it defeats the purpose of living!

Decadent behavior is defined by today’s society as an “alternative lifestyle.” Adultery is tolerated in our elected officials and celebrated in movies and on television.  Fully one third of the babies being born in Americatoday have parents who aren’t married.  In the words of former New York Senator Moynihan, “we have defined deviancy down!”

The Torah tells us that there are three partners in creation: G-d, the father, and the mother.  Intimacy exists as a partnership with G-d in bringing holiness to the world.  Behavior forbidden in this week’s Torah reading and endorsed and accepted by today’s society is the antithesis of that holiness.

Celibacy is not a virtue.  Self-control is.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.



Some years the two Torah Portions of Acharei Mos and Kedoshim are read together, and some years they are read on two separate Sabbaths.  For your convenience, here are links to both Portions:

Links to Acharei Mos:

“Our Man in the Holy-of-Holies” (2011)

The High Priest had a daunting task.

Once a year, on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, the High Priest was required to enter the Holy-of-Holies…. According to Tradition, if his thoughts were not totally pure during his visit to the Holy of Holies, he would be struck down on the spot, and would have to be removed via a rope that was attached to his leg…It must have been a very lonely time for the High Priest…

One day, each one of us will have to take our leave from this world…

We will be ushered into the Holy-of-Holies.  We will, after a lifetime of hopefully doing the right thing, be called upon to meet our Maker.  On that final Day of Judgment, we will enter G-d’s Presence, and we will be very much alone…There will be no Kohain to bring incense and sin offerings on our behalf.  It will just be us, G-d, and our deeds…

When we go before G-d to stand in judgment, each one of us goes, all alone, as his own High Priest.  AND THERE IS NO ROPE!…

Read more.


“From the Summit to the Gutter” (2003)

… Does the Torah really have to address such behavior on Yom Kippur? We are fasting. We are depriving ourselves of creature comforts and spending the day immersed in thoughts of holiness and devotion. We have confessed our transgressions of the past year and promised to avoid the pitfalls of sin in the coming year. We have witnessed the purity of the High Priest coming out of the Holy of Holies. We are on a spiritual high. Is this the time to talk about resisting X-rated temptations??!!…

Read more.


“Cardiac Judaism” (2002)

… The Torah describes in great detail the very busy schedule of the Kohain Gadol, the High Priest, on Yom Kippur… By the end of the day, the High Priest succeeded in achieving forgiveness for the sins of his People.

What a system!  You can sin with impunity!  Do whatever your heart desires!  The Torah is telling us that once the Kohain performs the requisite ceremonies on Yom Kippur, all is forgiven!  … Is this what Judaism is all about?!  Do whatever you want, just make sure the High Priest gets you forgiven for it on Yom Kippur?! …

Read more.


Links to Kedoshim:

“How to be Holy” (2011)

1) Be  Normal…   2) …But  Not  TOO Normal …

Read more.


“Honor Thy Father’s General” (2010)

… Michael embraced the religious values of his mother.  However, the court had granted ample visitation with his Dad, who was antagonistic toward his ex-wife’s Judaism.  Leslie argued that Mark’s hostility toward religion was detrimental to Michael’s well being, but the court would not get involved.

Mark insisted that Michael come with him in the car on Saturday.  …Leslie was in a quandary.  Should she tell Michael to fight his father?  If Michael refuses to ride on Saturday, his father will drag him, kicking and screaming, into the car.  Should she tell him to ride in the car with his father?  If she would tell Michael to ride on Saturday in his father’s car, she would undermine the very Judaism that she was trying to teach him!  What should she do?

What she did was turn to Rabbi Shimon Schwab, of Blessed Memory… Rabbi Schwab came up with an insightful solution to this problem…

Read more.


“A Torah Crash Course” (2006)

A Torah lifestyle is very complex.  We are required to fulfill 613 Biblical Commandments.  Then there are rabbinic injunctions, and countless customs that have developed over the centuries.  It is impossible for one person to fathom it all.

The Talmud (Shabbos, 31a) tells us about one person who tried.

“Shammai,” called out the Gentile to the famous rabbi, “I will convert to Judaism if you will teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one foot.”

Shammai, great scholar and righteous man that he was, was not a man who was known for tolerating mockery.  He threw the guy out.  The questioner decided to try to bring his challenge to Hillel instead…

Read more.


“Exodus from Belarus” (2005)

In 1904, an 18-year old boy from Postavy, a Russian/Polish/Lithuanian town in what is now Belarus, got on a boat and went to America.  He married, settled in Connecticut, and went into the cattle and chicken farming business.  By the time the Second World War began, his family was well-settled in its pursuit of the American Dream.  His family never experienced the Holocaust.

That farmer raised a family of nine children.  One of his sons had four children.   I am one of those children.

That farmer’s name was Rachmiel Tzeplyevitch (Zeplowitz at Ellis Island; Seplowitz in Connecticut).  I, Yerachmiel Seplowitz, am his grandson…

Read more.


“Hanging Out on the Corner” (2003)

As the story goes, a secular Jew got on a subway in New York City.  This fellow, who had come to America from Poland, shuddered when he found himself face to face with two VERY Jewish looking fellows with long beards and big black hats…

He was repulsed.  He could barely hold back the venom in his voice.  “What’s the matter with you Chassidim?” he demanded in his still-Yiddish-accented English.  “Why must you call attention to yourselves in front of the Goyim?  This is America, not Poland!  I’m embarrassed to be seen with you!”

The two “Chassidim” looked at each other and then at him with confusion.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said one of them.  “What’s a ‘Goyim?’  We’re not from Poland.  We’re from Pennsylvania Dutch Country.  We’re Amish.”…

Read more.


This is the weekly message at   Copyright © 2000-2012 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.


Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (  and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.


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Published on April 28, 2011 at 7:52 am  Leave a Comment  

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