Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Lawful Sleazebags

In Uncategorized on April 30, 2009 at 1:54 am

Nachmanides understands the limitations of law, and legal reasoning. In one of his more popular comments, he gives the following insight:

Being holy means how one approaches that which is permitted to him. The Torah permitted one to eat meat and drink wine as well as to have sexual relations with a husband or wife, but one could fulfill this requirement and still behave in an unseemly way with one’s spouse — which would technically be permitted–or one could be a glutton with kosher meat and kosher wine. He would boast that everything he does, the Torah allows, thus being a “sleazebag” with the Torah’s permission.

Because intent can’t be legislated, all permissible acts have the potential to be distorted. The Parsha begins: Kedoshim Tihiyu You shall be Holy. Nachmanides says this statement is necessary because one’s intent is critical to one’s behavior, just because you’re allowed, doesn’t make it right. Ultimately, the Torah makes good people better, but has the potential to make bad people worse.

The Hasidic master Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Parshischa taught the following lesson:

When a student is learning and hears that his teacher has been preparing the same lesson, this brings the student joy because he knows his teacher will add to the lesson. The verse in this Parsha enjoins us to be Holy, so that God can add His Holiness to ours thereby making us ascend in Kedusha.

We prepare ourselves to be as good as we can and the Holy One will make us better. Ill intentioned behavior also gets reinforced, even if it is covered with a halachic fig leaf. The lesson from this portion is the most important of all, and also the most challenging.

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