You Shall Be Holy
We are commanded in the Torah about holiness many times, and it is a root for doing all the commandments for the sake of Him Who commanded them.
The author of Reshit Chochmah wrote in the Gate of Holiness, chapter 1:
We are commanded about the matter of holiness many times in the Torah. The first time in Parashat Shemini (VaYikra 11:44): “For I am HaShem your God, and you shall sanctify yourselves and you shall be holy, because I am holy, and you shall not contaminate your souls with all the swarming creatures that swarm on the land.” The second time in Parashat Kedoshim (VaYikra 19:2), “Speak to the entire congregation of the Children of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, because I, HaShem your God, am holy.” The third time in VaYikra 20:7: “And you shall sanctify yourselves and you shall be holy, because I am HaShem your God.” The fourth time in VaYikra 20:26: “And you shall be holy to Me, because I am holy, and I separated you from the nations to be Mine.” The fifth time in VaYikra 22:32: “And you shall not desecrate My holy name, and I will be sanctified in the midst of the Children of Israel. I am HaShem Who sanctifies you,” and this is a positive commandment to sanctify His name in public. And since the command “you shall be holy” appears in the Torah so many times, even though it isn’t part of the main 613 commandments, nevertheless it is a root to doing all the commandments for the sake of the one Who commands them. For once a person is holy and separated from the matters of love of this world, he will truly try to perform the will of his master, and will be connected in the love of God, blessed is He, to perform His commandments willfully and lovingly, because what does he care for this world and its benefits? Therefore this command is repeated in the Torah so many times, because of the great benefit that can be attained from it by the soul.
The author continues there:
HaKadosh Baruch Hu said to Israel: Since you were sanctified for My sake before I created the world, be holy just as I am holy, as it is said: “You shall be holy, because I am holy.”
Thus we find that we have a concrete obligation to sanctify ourselves to God, and the command to sanctify ourselves is not included in the 613 commandments.
Now we have to determine the meaning of the verse “You shall be holy.” What is being holy, and why is such an important commandment not included in the 613 commandments of the Torah?
Now, the Ramban in his commentary to VaYikra 19:2 wrote:
Rashi says: “You shall be holy – be separated (perushim) from forbidden relations and from sin, for wherever you find barriers to forbidden relations, you find holiness.” But in Torat Kohanim, I saw simply: “Be separated.” And this is what they teach there:
“And you shall sanctify yourselves and you shall be holy, because I am holy” – just as I am holy, so too you shall be holy. Just as I am separated, so too you shall be separated.
In my opinion, this separateness (perishut) is not abstinence from forbidden relations as Rashi says, but this is the separateness mentioned all over the Talmud, the ones possessing this attribute being called perushim. The matter is that the Torah warned against forbidden relations and forbidden foods, but permitted sexual relations between a man and his wife and eating meat and wine. If so, a lustful person can still find room to immerse himself in licentiousness with his wife or his many wives, and to be among “those who guzzle wine and devour meat” (Mishlei 23:20) and to speak freely of all despicable things, because none of these are explicitly prohibited by the Torah. He would then be despicable with the Torah’s permission. Therefore, after specifying the prohibitions which were entirely prohibited, the Torah commands generally that we be separated from excesses.
But the truth is that there is no dispute between Rashi and the Ramban, because they spoke of different levels of holiness, because holiness has many levels, as is mentioned in many places in the Torah.
It is stated in the Zohar, Parashat Kedoshim, 3:81a:
Rabbi Abba taught: This section is the principle of the Torah, and the ring’s seal of truth. In this section, supreme secrets of the Torah are newly revealed, in ten supreme sayings, decrees, punishments and commandments, so that when the companions reached this section they rejoiced.
Rabbi Abba said: Why is the section of forbidden relations next to the section of “You shall be holy”? This is what is taught: Whoever recoils from these forbidden relations is certainly made in holiness, and all the more so if he is sanctified in his master’s holiness.
Thus the existence of two levels of holiness is made explicit: the first is the holiness of one who guards himself from forbidden relations and the second is a higher holiness, the holiness of HaKadosh Baruch Hu.
It is further stated in the Zohar, Parashat Emor, 3:88a:
“HaShem said to Mosheh: Speak to the kohanim, the sons of Aharon, and you shall say to them that he should not contaminate himself for a dead person in his nation” (VaYikra 21:1). Rabbi Yosi said: Why is this adjacent to this? It is written above (20:27), “And if a man or woman has ov or yidoni in them, they shall surely be put to death,” and immediately after it, “Speak to the kohanim.” Rather, since he warned Israel to sanctify themselves, he warned the kohanim to sanctify themselves, and so too the leviyyim. From where do we see that he warned the kohanim? As it is written, “Speak to the kohanim.” From where do we see that he warned the leviyyim? As it is written (BaMidbar 18:26), “You shall speak to the leviyyim and say to them,” so that they all be found righteous, holy and pure, “Speak to the kohanim, the sons of Aharon.”
Thus there are two more levels of holiness: the holiness of kohanim and the holiness of leviyyim.
However, the highest level of holiness is the level of holiness of HaShem, which is total separateness from strict judgment and the left side, and this is the holiness of the nazir. Therefore, the Ramban writes that the separateness mentioned all over the Talmud is the one that those having it are called perushim, i.e. separated from excesses, such as wine and meat.
And indeed, in VaYikra Rabbah 24:4 it is stated:
HaKadosh Baruch Hu said to Mosheh, Go say to my children Israel: Just as I am separated, so too you shall be separate. Just as I am holy, so too you shall be holy, as it is said: “You shall be holy.”
And in Sifra Kedoshim 1 it is stated:
“And HaShem spoke to Mosheh saying: Speak to the entire congregation of the Children of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy.” This teaches that this section was said in hakhel. And why was it said in hakhel? Because most of the essential parts of the Torah depend on it. “You shall be holy” – you shall be separated. “You shall be holy, because I, HaShem your God, am holy” – this teaches that if you sanctify yourselves, I count it as if you sanctified Me; and if you don’t sanctify yourselves, I count it as if you didn’t sanctify Me.”
It follows that HaShem’s commandment “You shall be holy” is a directive to be perushim, separated.
The fact that the unmodified term perushim belongs specifically to nezirim follows from what the Sages say in Midrash Tehillim 137:
It is taught: A person should plaster his house but leave a small amount in commemoration of Jerusalem. A woman should don her ornaments but leave a small piece in commemoration of Jerusalem, as it is written (Tehillim 137:5): “If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget itself.” And once the Temple was destroyed, there were many perushim in Israel who wouldn’t eat meat or drink wine.
This is also brought in Yalkut Shimoni, Tehillim 885.
They were certainly nezirim, as it seems from the words of the Sages in BaMidbar Rabbah 10:23: “Even if he only said ‘I am a nazir from wine,’ he is a full nazir.”
On the other hand, in BaMidbar Rabbah 10 it is said:
Nezirut everywhere means perishut, as the verse says (VaYikra 22:2): “They should separate themselves (veyinnazeru) from the holy things of Israel,” and it says (VaYikra 25:5): “The grapes of your private property (nezirecha),” and it says (Hoshea 9:10): “And they separated themselves (vayyinnazeru) to shame,” and it says (Zecharyah 7:3): “Should I weep in the fifth month to separate myself (hinnazer)?” Thus nezirut everywhere means perishut.
The same is found in Rashi, commentary to BaMidbar 6:2:
“The vow of a nazir” – nezirah everywhere means separation, so too here he separates from wine.
“To separate himself to HaShem” – to separate himself from wine for the sake of heaven.
In other words, nezirut and perishut are the same thing, because there is no commandment to separate other than nezirut, and therefore the Sages called nezirim “perushim.”
It follows that the word perushim means nezirim, and the intention of HaShem’s commandment “You shall be holy” is to be nezirim.