This week’s Parasha of Kedoshim begins with an overarching call for spirituality: “Kedoshim Tehiyu—You shall be holy, for holy am I, the L-rd, your G-d” (Leviticus 19:2). There is no specific action that is mandated or any sort of deed that is forbidden. Maimonides does not even account for ‘Kedoshim Tehiyu’ in his compilation of the 613 Mitzvos. We are therefore dealt a philosophically troubling question. Can there be any explicit manifestation of the directive that headlines this week’s Torah portion?
According to both Rashi and Ramban, the plea for holiness is directly related to the list of forbidden sexual acts presented at the conclusion of last week’s Torah portion. Ramban maintains that from the juxtaposition of the two matters, we can ascertain that the means for preventing immorality is to be applied to all aspects of life. It is via moderation and not utter asceticism by which we avoid sin. Holiness is achieved through restraint rather than abstinence, and just as we are advised to channel our basest desires into the sanctity of marriage, the general service of G-d and His Torah is best accomplished through a zealous commitment to moderation and a passionate avoidance of extremism. The comfort of simplicity can be found in polarities, but holiness resides in the sophistication of balance and refinement.
“With the firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our Sacred Honor,” concludes the U.S Declaration of Independence. We the people are responsible for one another, and so for centuries the constitutional system of checks and balances has reflected the doctrine that democracy should be governed by a structure of mechanized restraints. The philosophy of balanced governance has served the United States quite well, yet tens of millions of Americans, fed up with the status quo and most probably with themselves, have now pledged to Make America Great Again, which of course is quickly being accomplished by proclamations disparaging the handicapped and those of the Muslim faith, while myriads of others have opted for a Political Revolution that will thankfully relieve us of the vultures on Wall Street who are exploiting the country through the scourge of capitalism. The appeal of radical, bombastic answers to complicated problems has proven to be mysteriously alluring, and if we analyze the Jewish world, I think we will discover a similarly frustrating absence of sanity. How many in our communities gravitate toward the extremes, either forgetting G-d in His entirety or withdrawing into the shelter of righteous piety that shuns the modern advances of civilization and the Jewish people? Where is the happy medium amongst the masses that acknowledges our existence in the modern world, which appreciates the State of Israel, that understands the healthy differences amongst Jews, and which recognizes the eternity of Torah as the unshakable foundation of our existence?
The polarization of both society and faith is a matter that needs to be discussed and understood, for if not confronted, the current immoderate leanings of our population may only exacerbate. We perhaps do live in somewhat disturbing times, but we must not be seduced by the convenient safe havens from intellectually honest contemplation created by extremist doctrines. For the sake of our brothers and sisters and all those who will follow us, we are responsible to foster new and existing bastions of normalcy, true propagators of ‘Kedoshim Tehiyu,’ because it cannot be that sanity shall succumb to those fanatical forces which are so incongruous with the Torah’s life-giving ideals of holiness and moderation.