For G‑d’s Sake!

In the portion of Shemini, the Torah prohibits eating the lower forms of terrestrial life so that a person will “not make himself disgusting.”1 The Rambam2 lists many other loathsome and unhygienic things that the Sages prohibited for the same reason. At the conclusion of these laws, the Rambam states: “Whoever scrupulously observes these things brings about within his soul a great measure of holiness and purity, and cleanses his soul for the sake of G‑d, as the verse states:3 ‘You shall sanctify yourselves and be holy.’ ”

Since, as the Rambam himself states,4 these prohibitions involve things that “most people find loathsome,” why was it necessary for our Sages to prohibit them?

The Rambam addresses this question by stating: “Whoever scrupulously observes these things brings about within his soul a great measure of holiness and purity, and cleanses it for the sake of G‑d,” i.e., that Jews should observe these prohibitions not only because doing so comes naturally, but because it affects the holiness and purity of the soul.

Although physical cleanliness is seemingly secondary to spiritual purity, the two are related, and so physical cleanliness also brings about within the soul “a great measure of holiness and purity.” For physical cleanliness makes a person more fit to receive the spirituality and refinement that emanates from his soul.5

While the overall reason for this law is now understandable, we must still learn why the Rambam states: “Whoever scrupulously observes these things… cleanses his soul for the sake of G‑d.” What is the meaning of the words “for the sake of G‑d”?

By adding this phrase, the Rambam indicates the special measure of spiritual elevation that is gained by a person who is scrupulously observant in keeping these laws. When he avoids foods not only out of his natural sense of loathing, but because the Sages have prohibited them, he shows that his manner of spiritual service is such that it is “for the sake of G‑d alone” — entirely without ulterior motive.

When a person serves G‑d by performing other mitzvos, doing so because G‑d has so commanded, there is no proof that he is doing so entirely “for G‑d’s sake,” without any personal motive. Perhaps he is performing a mitzvah “for the sake of G‑d alone,” simply because he has not yet attained an understanding of the mitzvah’ s importance. Thus, for want of proper understanding, he performs the commandment “for the sake of G‑d alone.”

It is only when a person observes laws that he surely would have observed in any case, yet does so only from a desire to fulfill G‑d’s will — for “so have the Sages declared” — that we are sure he is entirely dedicated to G‑d’s will, and that all his spiritual service is “for the sake of G‑d alone.”

The Rambam alludes to this as well, when he states: “and cleanses his soul for the sake of G‑d.” The Rambam’ s intent in these words is not that the person cleanses his soul from any evil and impurity that may have adhered to it. Rather, coming as this does after the person has already “brought about within his soul a great measure of holiness and purity,” the Rambam is speaking about the ultimate spiritual cleansing, whereby we cleanse ourselves from all feelings of ego and sense of self, so that our spiritual service is “for the sake of G‑d alone.”

The Rambam implies as much when he says: “Whoever scrupulously observes these things brings about within his soul a great measure of holiness and purity, and cleanses his soul for the sake of G‑d.” That is, the closer a person comes to G‑d, the more he realizes the dire need to remove from himself every vestige of selfishness in spiritual service, so that he may attain such a degree of spirituality that his entire spiritual service is “for the sake of G‑d.”

Based on Likkutei Sichos Shemini, 5749