Parshas Kedoshim: Consecration Through Congregation
וידבר ה אל משה לאמר דבר אל כל עדת בני ישראל ואמרת אליהם קדושים תהיו כי קדוש אני ה’ אלקיכם – And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying: ‘speak to the entire Community of Israel and tell them you must be holy, for I Hashem your G-d am Holy.'” (Vayikra 19:1-2)
The Medrash ( Vayikra Rabbah 24:5) on this pasuk remarks, that this was said “b’Hakhel,” that is, it was said to all the Jewish people together as opposed to most of the Torah which was taught by Hashem to Moshe and then Moshe repeated what he learned to Aharon, who in turn taught his sons, who subsequently taught it to the Elders, etc. However, the commandments of this parsha were announced by Moshe to all of Israel from the very first.
What is so extraordinary about this parsha? The Medrash concludes that this parsha is different because many of the fundamentals of Torah are reliant on this specific parsha, of “Kedoshim Tihiyu — You shall be Holy.”
The basic understanding of this Medrash is that since there are so many important laws that are contained in this section, it was therefore said in everyone’s presence. However, the Medrash might also be alluding to the fact that the command ‘You shall be Holy’ is indeed so important, and so many of the fundamentals of the Torah depend upon it, that it was necessary to present this Mitzvah to the entire nation at once.
According to the Ramba”n (Rav Moshe ben Nachman 1194-1270), this Mitzvah is the one which tells us how to live and act as Jews. The Ramban says that it means one should restrain oneself from overindulging even in permissible pleasures. His famous statement is that a person might be a naval bereshus haTorah, a degenerate person who is technically observant of all 613 mitzvos. Thus, were it not for this Mitzvah, a person could conceivably be an observant Jew living within the parameters of the Torah, and simultaneously a glutton. He could indulge in a decadent lifestyle, denying himself none of the physical pleasures of life; and it might all be ‘kosher l’mihadrin.’
If not for this mitzvah, such a person might have been considered a Tzadik [righteous person]. However, the Torah tells us, “You shall be Holy” — you need to abstain. You need to act with abstinence, with restraint, with holiness. Do not be a glutton. That is what the mitzvah of Kedoshim Tihiyu is all about; above all the commandments mentioned in Parshas Kedoshim it is paramount. This lesson is so vital that it was necessary to be said to the entire nation together.
Furthermore, it goes without saying that it is extremely difficult for a person to be Holy unto himself, swimming against the tide of communal influences. If one lives in a society which is decadent, it becomes very difficult for that individual to remain a ‘Kadosh’ (holy person). When everyone is involved in conspicuous consumption, it becomes almost impossible for the individual to act with restraint. This is something that we unfortunately are very aware of living in today’s society. The widespread hedonism that we see today — the indulgence in every whim and the desire for immediate gratification — surrounds us. We live in a society that has zero concept of what kedusha [holiness] is about. Virtually the only way we can achieve this mitzvah of “You shall be holy,” is if we not only work on our personal spiritual growth, but we elevate others and endeavor to live among people who share our ideals, namely the ideal of Kedsohim Tihiyu.
The Gemarah (Taanis 23A) relates that Choni HaMagal pleaded for ”either companionship or death”. This might be understood as follows: “Chaim” – life – is synonymous with Torah and Mitzvohs. “Maves” – death – corresponds to the opposite. This is what Choni HaMagal meant to say, if I have good friends then my existence could be considered as “living”. If however, I am unfortunately lacking a society of peers who share my values, then I am spiritually dead, for surely it would be impossible for me to maintain my spiritual level alone.
[May I suggest that even when a person finds himself amongst immoral people and he cannot find even one person who to befriend, he is not doomed to join society in debauchery., Dovid Hamelech says in Tehillim (97:10) “ Ohavei Hashem Sinu Ra” …” Lovers of Hashem (should) hate evil”. Part of loving Hashem is being opposed to anything that opposes Hashem’s presence in this world. Therefore, such a person has to constantly be vigilant and never let down his guard when he sees immorality. In that way he might be immune to negative influences.]
It therefore follows that although this particular mitzvah of Kedsohim Tihiyu is given to the individual, nonetheless the individual needs society’s support in order to achieve the goal of “You shall be holy”. He requires the cooperation of his close relatives, his neighbors, and his nation. It is for this reason that this parsha needed to be presented to the entire nation together as one.
Alternatively, we might understand why it was necessary for this Mitzvah to be presented to the congregation as a whole, in the following fashion: The Zohar Hakadosh teaches us that Hashem, Torah, and Yisroel are one. It therefore follows that the love for Hashem, the love for Torah, and Ahavas Yisrael are one. Since the essence of Hashem, Torah and Israel is one, and an essence is indivisible, therefore, when one grasps a part of the essence one has the whole essence. We now understand that Ahavas Yisrael (loving our fellow Jew) is a barometer so to say, of Ahavas HaShem (love of Hashem). This means that if a person is lacking in Ahavas Yisrael, he is correspondingly lacking Ahavas HaShem, for one who loves our heavenly Father should surely love His people. More so, in Ahavas Yisrael lies Ahavas HaShem, i.e., Ahavas Yisrael is a demonstration of Ahavas HaShem. The neshama of a Jew is literally a “part of the Divine”, therefore when one loves the Divine within the Jew, he is, by definition, loving Hashem.”
The pasuk (Vayikra 19-18) later says ואהבת לרעיך כמוך אני ה׳ – “and you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am Hashem. This can now be understood as saying that you shall love your neighbor because Hashem says “I am Hashem”, and through loving your neighbor you love Me, Hashem.
We can understand the pasuk at the beginning of the parsha the same way. Hashem says “you must be Holy, for I Hashem your G-d am Holy”. Since we are One with Hashem it is incumbent on us to be holy just as he is. If heaven forbid we are not holy then it is as if we figuratively caused Hashem to appear less holy.
This is why the Medrash says that this Mitzvah should be be’Hakhel,” to all the Jewish people together. Not only is this Mitzvah so important since laxity in its observance causes a great chilul Hashem. But even more so, it is through the unity of Klal Yisroel that we gain greater understanding of the importance of keeping ourselves holy. Just as we understand that loving our fellow brethren is an extension of our love for Hashem, so too, conducting ourselves in a sacred maner is also an extension of sanctifying Hashem’s name.