Commenting on the Torah's charge "to be holy, since I the Lord your G-d am holy" (Vayikra, 19:2) the Ramban explains that it is not enough to keep the laws of the Torah. One can do so meticulously and still be a "scoundrel with the permission of the Torah". Torah law gives us a framework for life, but one who so desires can technically stay within that framework while nonetheless violating the basic goals of the Torah. What we often call the spirit of the law—observing the intent of the law and not just its letter—is the mark of holiness.
Why were we taken out of Egypt?
Concepts such as freedom, justice, equality, and the recognition of Divine Providence are the themes of the exodus, ideas that the Jewish people are mandated to live by and demonstrate to the world around us. Parshat Acharei Mot (see Vayikra 18:3) teaches that a sexual ethic based on holiness was one of the ways to differentiate Jewish and Egyptian society. And Rashi identifies the opening call of our parsha, Kedoshim tehiyu, as relating to sexual morality.
Knowledge is much more than the accumulation of facts. It is the analysis and application of those facts that is crucial. Underlying factual knowledge is a philosophical outlook on life. Science is not a series of formulas and raw data but a way of looking at the world with each scientific discipline taking a slightly different approach to understanding nature. It is most interesting that until recent times, mathematics and philosophy were considered part of the same department.
A number of years ago we had the pleasure of being the Toronto coordinators of the Torah Ethics Project. Its slogan was “Some of the most obvious mitzvoth are some of the hardest to keep”. Nowhere is this more evident than in parshat kedoshim.
One of the features of the scientific world is classification of different species into their various groupings and subgroupings. The Torah itself introduces the concept of classification of mitzvoth, identifying the categories of edot, chukim, and mishpatim. It is the question of the classification of these three categories of mitzvoth that our Sages identify as that of the chacham.
The line between greatness and failure is so small as to be unrecognizable, often revealing itself only after many years. This is true in the world of business, science, technology and the like, where the results of today's efforts can remain unknown for many years. It is equally true in the world of morality, where it is often most difficult to determine if a particular action is a great mitzvah or its opposite.
One of the cardinal principles of Judaism is the belief in the Divine origin of our Bible. While Moshe Rabbeinu was the greatest of human beings, his input into the wording of the Torah is minimal at best. In this regard, Moshe was not more than a recording secretary, faithfully transcribing the word of G-d.