Have you ever felt like losing your temper but at the last moment you managed to restrain yourself? Inner battles of this kind are often associated with traffic wardens and similar representatives of officialdom. Sometimes they are found in encounters on the domestic front as well...

The Parshah of Kedoshim (Leviticus chapters 19-20) starts with the idea that we should be holy. What exactly does this mean? The commenter Rashi explains that the term "holy" implies self-restraint. There are many temptations in life. To be holy means to have the ability to control one's immediate impulses.

Another commentator, Nachmanides, makes the point that this self-restraint may sometimes take a person to a point beyond the simple letter of the law. Jewish law permits a person to eat kosher food: but should one be an out-and-out glutton? According to this view, even if the food is as kosher as could be, restraint is power; it shows that one is truly free as an individual, rather than just being just a slave of one's appetite.

Do you remember the story of Jacob and Esau and the plate of lentils? One way of understanding that story is that Esau was ready to sell his birthright, the most precious thing in his life, for a plate of food. One response might be: "How pathetic!" Others might feel sympathy with someone who is sometimes a slave to his senses. They might say that after all, this is our human situation. Nonetheless, many people would expect a person to aspire to be master of his or her own being: in control. A human being, yes. An animal — no.

Much of the Parshah is devoted to giving guidelines about this kind of self-mastery, in a number of different areas of life. Central is the theme of personal relationships. The keynote to these is the famous teaching "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18). Rabbi Akiva said that this is the great principle of the Torah; it relates to all other aspects of Jewish thought. The Parshah also instructs us not to take revenge, nor even to bear a grudge. This certainly needs self-control: in our actions, our words and even our thoughts.

Imagine such a person! Does he or she actually exist?

We can imagine a very simple, naive or even inspired kind of person, who never sees bad in anyone. Or we can imagine a person of power, who has acquired genuine inner self-mastery.

What is power? For a long time people thought that it means mastery over others. Now we realize, it is mastery over oneself.

Daily life presents us with many instances of the personal battles described in our Parshah: in relationships with our parents, in business dealing, in questions about giving charity, in the borders between men and women, and also regarding our behavior when we are genuinely in power over others, as judges. Thus the portion tells us to be fair in judgment to both rich and poor.

The portion presents the challenge of the power of restraint, building a world of goodness for the future, when the whole world will be filled with holiness.