The middle section of the Book of Vayikra (Chapters 11-20) is devoted to the sanctity (Kedushah) of the people of Israel. The Jewish nation’s distinctive way of life is expressed in every area: from self-discipline in eating, hygiene and sexual behavior to human interactions and comportment in the Sanctuaries of space and time, Israel is to strive for holiness.
This section ends with a kind of summary: And you shall observe/guard all My decrees and all My laws, and you shall do them; then the land to which I am bringing you to dwell will not disgorge you. Nor shall you follow the customs of the nation that I am driving out from before you, since all these have they done, and I was disgusted with them. Thus I said to you, “You shall possess their land. And I will give it to you to inherit it – a land flowing with milk and honey – I am Hashem your G-d, Who has separated you from the nations. So must you separate between the clean animals and the unclean, and between the unclean birds and the clean; do not make your souls repulsive through the animals and the birds, and all that teems on the earth, which I have separated for you as unclean. Then you shall be sanctified to Me, for I Hashem am Holy, and I have separated you from the nations to be Mine.”
And any man or woman who will be among them a medium or an oracle shall surely be put to death: with stones shall they stone them; their blood is upon them (Vayikra 20:22-27).
According to Haamek Davar (R. Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, the Netziv, 1817-1893), this is far more than a reiteration of ideas stated earlier. Rather, the Torah develops the concept of kedushah (sanctity), indicating just how much it can achieve. Furthermore, as explained by the Netziv, this closing passage has resounding contemporary relevance.
And you shall observe/guard all My decrees and all My laws, and you shall do them; then the land to which I am bringing you will not disgorge you. Earlier (18:28), the Torah said that sexual immorality would lead to expulsion from the Land of Israel. There (on 18:26), the Netziv defined “guarding the laws” as the study of the Torah in depth, which can protect one from falling prey to such sins. Now the Torah adds, even if some succumb, the continuous study of the Torah will give them the merit to prevent their being exiled. Instead, they will be punished in their land. This notion is found in Nedarim 81a and Eichah Rabbati on the verse, Why was the land lost (Yirmiya 9:11): despite the cardinal sins of immorality, murder and idolatry at the time of the First Temple, had they not also forsaken the study of the Torah, the destruction would not have been as great. Nor shall you follow the customs of the nation that I am driving out from before you, since all these have they done, and I was disgusted with them.
Even though there will be those whose sexual desires will lead them to sin, these practices should not become acceptable, or expected, social norms; that would be far worse. Rather, one’s involvement in the Torah keeps the mind thinking straight: The light that is in it will return them to the right path” (Yerushalmi Chagigah 1:7). People will recognize improper sexual desire for what it is: a challenge to be overcome, rather than a legitimate lifestyle choice. Thus I said to you, “You shall possess their land … This works, however, only for you, because your connect ion to the Land of Israel is integral, and was promised to the Patriarchs. This would not work for the other nations, who only lived on the land provisionally.
And I will give it to you to inherit it – a land flowing with milk and honey – I am Hashem your G-d, Who has separated you from the nations.
Therefore, even though they are driven into exile, Israel must know that they are meant to return to the Land, which is uniquely, and at all times, under Hashem’s Providence. The Land’s fruitfulness is a manifestation of their relationship with Him.
So must you separate between the clean animals and the unclean … Just as Hashem distinguished you from other nations, so must you distinguish yourself by your way of life, beginning with the most basic of endeavors. Then you shall be sanctified (KEDOSHIM) to Me, for I Hashem am Holy, and I have separated (VA’AVDIL) you from the nations to be Mine.”
There is a difference between kedushah and separation (havdalah): Kedushah occurs within parameters that only Hashem’s command could have established; havdalah is separation that renders the mind clear and unburdened.
Practicing restraint regarding all that teems on the earth results in kedushah, even in those realms not obvious to the human mind. Consequently Israel, different from the other nations, will be reserved for Hashem. The goal is piety (chasidut), in which every aspect of living is for the sake Heaven.
And any man or woman who will be among them a medium or an oracle shall surely be put to death: with stones shall they stone them; their blood is upon them.
Elsewhere (19:31; 20:6) we learned that these kinds of communication with the dead or predicting the future are forbidden; they are punishable by death from Heaven (karet) if there is insufficient basis to convict. Here, says Rashi, we learn that if there are witnesses and warning, the penalty is death by stoning.
The Netziv explains this concluding verse: The separation of which we have spoken is thoroughgoing self-discipline, not the kind practiced by so-called oracles and mediums. The goal, in short, is not to search for truth in other plains, but to sanctify this life.