Parashat Kedoshim begins with the command of “Kedoshim Tiheyu” – “You shall be holy.” In the very next verse, the Torah admonishes us to respect our parents: “Each person among you shall revere his mother and his father…” What connection might there be between these two commands? Why would the Torah juxtapose the Misva of “Kedusha” – “holiness” – with the command to respect one’s parents?
One answer that has been given is based upon the famous episode of Yosef and Potifar’s wife. As we read in the Book of Bereshit (chapter 39), Yosef was sold as a slave and served a nobleman in Egypt named Potifar. Yosef was seventeen years old and very attractive, and Potifar’s wife attempted to seduce him. Each day, she spoke to him and lured him, but he resisted her efforts. Finally, at one point, his passions nearly overcame him, and he was prepared to succumb to temptation. The Sages tell us that at that moment, he saw an image of his saintly father, Yaakob. As soon as Yosef saw this image, he withdrew and ran out of Potifar’s home.
It is hard for us to imagine how difficult a test this was for Yosef. He was a teenage boy, all alone in a foreign country, without his family and without any Jewish community. There was nothing to stop him from committing this act of immorality. But he received strength to withstand temptation from the image of his father. When he saw Yaakob, he immediately came to his senses and recoiled. At that moment, he could not see himself betraying his upbringing, going against what his father taught him and represented, by committing an act of adultery. That image saved Yosef from a grave transgression that would have left an eternal stain on his soul.
This may very well be the basis of the connection indicated by the Torah between “Kedoshim Tiheyu” and respecting parents. If children grow with respect for their parents, then this respect will help ensure their “Kedusha,” their ability to achieve and maintain holiness. When parents conduct themselves in a respectable, becoming manner, serving as role models of dignity, discipline and religious commitment, then the children will have this image before them throughout their lives. And this image will serve as a model for them to follow even in the face of the lures and temptations that they will inevitably confront. In order to remain “Kedoshim,” children must be given an “image” that they respect and admire. As in the case of Yosef, this image will continue to guide and inspire them even long after they become adults and move away from their parents’ home.
Thus, the obligation and challenge of “Kedoshim Tiheyu” very closely relates to our obligation and challenge as parents. We must be models of “Kedusha” for our children, so that when they are put to the test, they will have an image of holiness to protect them and direct them toward the proper choices in life.