In the Torah, God says:

קְדֹשִׁ֣ים תִּהְי֑וּ כִּ֣י קָד֔וֹשׁ אֲנִ֖י יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃ -- You shall be holy, because I, your God יהוה, am holy. [Lev. 19:2]

The Ramban famously explained that this means we should restrain ourselves even with what is permitted:

The meaning of "You shall be holy" is as follows: The Torah has admonished us against immorality and forbidden foods, but permitted sexual intercourse between man and his wife, and the eating of [certain] meat and wine. If so, a man of desire could consider this to be a permission to be passionately addicted to sexual intercourse with his wife or many wives [even in public], and be among winebibbers, among gluttonous eaters of flesh, and speak freely all profanities, since this prohibition has not been [expressly] mentioned in the Torah, and thus he will become a vile, disgusting person with the permission of the Torah!

If so, I don't understand the addition "because I, the Lord your God, am holy." Does God "restrain" Himself with what is "permitted" to Him? What do the words even mean in this context?

  • There are many instances of Hashem restraining Himself. See e.g. sefaria.org/Yoma.69b.14, or when He has His mercy conquer His justice (HaGibbor). If I may add my own: He sits all day long listening to us say stupid things and make stupid damaging conclusions and follow stupid courses of action, and I'm sure He has to "restrain" Himself, so to speak, to stay quiet and let us have our free will... Understand this is not an "answer", just addressing one of your points. I think the question is very interesting. sefaria.org/Numbers.15.40 might be relevant too
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 16:55
  • The Rambam is explaining the p'shat of what new thing "you shall be holy" is introducing. Other commandments deal with forbidden things and this is not a superfluous commandment. Since that is the case it is dealing with making ourselves holy in regards to permitted matters and not over indulging in them.
    – Dude
    Commented Apr 28, 2023 at 13:31
  • Our holiness is nothing like G-d's holiness, but G-d gave us a way to achieve our version of holiness to come close to him to the greatest extent possible.
    – N.T.
    Commented Apr 30, 2023 at 5:42
  • Hashem applies the middas ha'din to the middas ha'chesed to define appropriate boundaries for chesed. Generally speaking we refer to this concept as kedushah. (Adapted from Pachad Yitzchak.)
    – The GRAPKE
    Commented Apr 30, 2023 at 14:26

1 Answer 1


The Ramban at the end of the verse explains the additional phrase:

FOR I THE ETERNAL YOUR G-D AM HOLY. This means to say, that we will merit to cleave unto Him, by being holy.

  • Doesn't seem to follow logically. A mussar master (who?) said it means that when you do something permitted, it must also somehow benefit others, just like when God does anything. Also a bit of a stretch. Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 21:18
  • 1
    @MauriceMizrahi You may disagree with the Ramban's explanation, but I'm pointing out that the Ramban did not ignore the additional phrase and explained it along the lines of his stated exposition. Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 21:28

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