F or I am Hashem Who has brought you up from the land of Mitzrayim to be your G-d. Thus, you shall be holy, because I am holy.” (Vayikra 11:45) 

The Gemara (Bava Metzia 61b) asks: Why does the pasuk say, “I brought you up from Mitzrayim” and not, “I took you out of Mitzrayim,” as it usually says? Rashi explains that Hashem is saying, “I took you up from Mitzrayim in order for you to elevate yourselves by accepting my mitzvos.” 

Still, why specifically here does it need to emphasize this? (Rav Shalom Noach Berezovsky, Nesivos Shalom)

“I’d love to take you and the kids out to eat.”

Helen, an old family friend, was in from America, and we were discussing plans to meet. “Why not come for supper?”

“Not enough time. Can we meet in Yerushalayim?”

“Then let’s meet at the zoo. The kids don’t need a restaurant.” Personally I hoped to avoid riding herd on my progeny around a swanky restaurant table.

“How about pizza? I want to save you from making supper, and I want them to enjoy.”

Her voice sounded so wistful, I gave in simply to give her the pleasure.

Helen was an active septuagenarian who’d never married. She loved my kids, and tried to slot in as many Israel visits as she could in her extensive travels.

I ordered an iced coffee, then sat back at the table in the pizza parlor to let Helen spoil my kids.

The topic preceding the above pasuk discusses forbidden foods. Immediately afterward, the pasuk says, “Be holy because I am holy.” That juxtaposition of holiness and forbidden foods is not random.

The Ramban explains that at the root of the mitzvah of being holy is making yourself holy with what’s permitted. After the Torah lists all the forbidden foods, it adds an admonition that a person be holy. A person should not be a naval b’reshus haTorah — a glutton with the permission of the Torah. One shouldn’t overindulge simply because these foods are permitted. For a Jew, the act of eating should infused with holiness and purity.

“Who wants French fries? How many pies?” Helen was in her element, and my boys were in gastronomic heaven as they watched the pies descend onto their table.

“But what are you having?” Binyamin turned to Helen. “Did you order yourself pizza?”

“I’m having a salad.”

“A salad?” Avi almost snorted his Coke up his nose. “You can have salad at home. Here you can have pizza with all the toppings!”

Pausing in the act of eating olives off his slice one at a time, Yitzi asked Helen, “Are you on a diet?” As one of the youngest, he was used to females of all ages trying one diet or another.

Helen wasn’t fazed. “Pizza doesn’t agree with me.”

Yitzi nodded solemnly. “Avi never agrees with me.”

But Avi didn’t rise to the bait; he was too fascinated by the concept of abstinence smack in middle of cholesterol city.

“Why not have just one bite?”

“I have gallstones. Things like pizza and fries cause me pain, so they simply don’t tempt me.”

“You can have surgery to take them out! My friend’s father had that. They even gave him the stones, but he didn’t want them. I would’ve added them to my rock collection!”

To her credit, Helen didn’t wince. “I’d rather avoid surgery if I can.”

“You’d rather not eat pizza? I’d let the doctor take the rocks out so I can eat all the pizza I want.”

Now we understand why the pasuk uses the lashon of “I brought you up from Mitzrayim” after discussing forbidden foods. The purpose of coming up from Mitzrayim was to take on the mitzvos and become holy — to elevate ourselves even within the parameters of what’s permitted.

This entire interrogation was mortifying. I valiantly tried to swing my sons’ interest off Helen’s innards and onto their pizza. Yet Helen waved away my attempts to spare her. “Sometimes,” she said seriously, “it’s better to not have things and take care of yourself. Surgery is painful and risky. Not having pizza isn’t painful at all.”

I glanced at my boys. To them, a scalpel sounded much more enticing than a denial diet. Youth!

Personally, though, I gave my fries to the baby. I’d like to feel as good as Helen when I’m her age. And if that means salad as opposed to surgery, well, I can handle some self-denial. Within limits — I held on to my iced coffee. (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 587)