The Torah introduces this week’s Parsha with a command: “You shall be holy.” After such an introduction, one would expect the Torah to write a novel concept in order to reach this level of “you shall be holy”. Perhaps, the Torah will introduce some great stringency? However, the Torah doesn’t do that. The Torah defines “you shall be holy” in terms of very obvious Mitzvos: Fear your parents, keep the Shabbos, don’t worship idols, eat your sacrifices at their proper times, leave some produce from your fields for the poor, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t withhold wages, and more along these lines. This is a list of the basic needs in a society. How is this fulfilling being holy?
Perhaps the Torah is teaching us that in order to be considered holy, we don’t have to do anything extraordinary. Rather, we just have to behave in a manner that is beneficial for the Jewish people and for society. We just have to do what the Torah demands of us. That does not mean that it is easy to follow every single commandment in the Torah. Rather, it is a very difficult task. (I had a rebbe who once said that it is difficult enough to follow the Shulchan Aruch without attaching any Chumros - stringencies.) But, we all can try to do our best, to benefit the Jewish world and society as a whole.
The Ramban - Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman - gives another explanation for “you shall be holy” - separating from self-indulgence. The Torah addresses “you shall be holy” to those who exploit the Halacha by observing the letter of the law, but not the spirit of the Law. They trample on the fundamental values of the Torah. For example, the Torah prohibits certain foods. Yet, many remain permissible. Does that mean you have to eat every type of food? Certainly not! The permissible has to have bounds. Even with permissible foods, one can clog spiritual arteries.
To rise in holiness, one must practice moderation even in matters that are permitted. We must observe the specifics of the Halacha. However, we are also obligated to act in a manner that is consistent with the Torah’s values and goals. Then we will have fulfilled “you shall be holy”.