Parshat Achrei Mot - Kedoshim
G-d instructs the kohanim to exercise extreme care when they enter the Mishkan. On Yom Kippur, the kohen gadol is to approach the holiest part of the Mishkan after special preparations and wearing special clothing. He brings offerings unique to Yom Kippur, including two identical goats that are designated by lottery. One is "for G-d" and is offered in the Temple, while the other is "for Azazel" in the desert. The Torah states the individual's obligations on Yom Kippur: On the 10th day of the seventh month, one must afflict oneself. We abstain from eating and drinking, anointing, wearing leather footwear, washing, and marital relations.
Consumption of blood is prohibited. The blood of slaughtered birds and undomesticated beasts must be covered. The people are warned against engaging in the wicked practices that were common in Egypt. Incest is defined and prohibited. Marital relations are forbidden during a woman's monthly cycle. Homosexuality, bestiality and child sacrifice are prohibited.
The nation is enjoined to be holy. Many prohibitions and positive commandments are taught:
Prohibitions: Idolatry; eating offerings after their time-limit; theft and robbery; denial of theft; false oaths; retention of someone's property; delaying payment to an employee; hating or cursing a fellow Jew (especially one's parents); gossip; placing physical and spiritual stumbling blocks; perversion of justice; inaction when others are in danger; embarrassing; revenge; bearing a grudge; cross-breeding; wearing a garment of wool and linen; harvesting a tree during its first three years; gluttony and intoxication; witchcraft; shaving the beard and sideburns; tattooing.
Positive: Awe for parents and respect for the elderly; leaving part of the harvest for the poor; loving others (especially a convert); eating in Jerusalem the fruits from a tree's 4th year; awe for the Temple; respect for Torah scholars, the blind and the deaf.
It always struck me whenever I had the privilege to meet a great Torah Sage how normal he seemed. It was, in fact, as if he defined the yardstick of normalcy. After meeting this person, others seemed somewhat less than normal.
The Alshich explains that God instructed Moshe to call all the people together when giving them the commandment to be holy in order that it would be clear that holiness is not something achievable by only the few. Every Jew has the potential to be holy, and thus it follows that if every Jew has the potential to be holy, so holiness is not a voluntary affair but an obligation.
Holiness does not consist of the mortifying the flesh or of extreme abstinence. Holiness does not mean rolling in ice or lying on a bed of nails. Holiness means being more and more normal. Holy Jews live normal married lives. They eat normally. They breathe normally. However, everything they do is with consideration and within measure.
Holiness means being normal even under the most abnormal situations. It means never compromising with our lower desires, but at the same time recognizing that we are part physical beings. Being holy means resisting that extra spoonful of cholent, even if the kashrut is top-drawer. Above all, holiness means going beyond the technical fulfillment of the mitzvot. It means sanctifying the permitted. When something is forbidden outright, it’s much easier to steer clear of it; there’s no room for negotiation with our lower personas. However when something is permitted there is always the temptation to push the edge of the envelope, and even though technically one could stay within the letter of the law, the commandment to be holy tells us that there is more to mitzvah observance than the letter of the law. Observing the spirit of the law is a mitzvah in itself. That’s what it means to be normal.
- Based on the Ramban