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Be Holy

By: SFW Students & Alumna

Compiled by Adena Muskin. Special thanks to those who contributed to this week’s dvar torah, including: Judy Bernstein, Naamah Jacobs, Reba Rosen, Tziporah Leah Shapiro, Sarah Schwartz, Lauren Sherman, Denise Zami, Malkie Ziegler, and Anonymous.

This week’s parsha opens with the command to Bnei Yisrael to be kadosh.


“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Speak to the entire congregation of the Children of Israel, and tell them: You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy.’” (Vayikra 19:1-2)

The introduction to this command is worded interestingly. Why does the Torah find the need to write “Speak to the entire assembly of Bnei Yisrael” instead of just “Speak to Bnei Yisrael” like it generally does?


Rashi explains that this perek, which deals mostly with mitzvot between one and his fellow man, was said on Succot at hakhel when the entire nation gathered in Yerushalaim for the holiday. At hakhel the king would read from the Sefer Torah before all the Jewish People. According to Rashi this section was chosen as the text of hakhel because the Torah observance is dependent upon these laws.


The Ibn Ezra suggests that the seemingly extra words are written to include the converts. It is written here, sandwiched between the two perakim which discuss the arayot as a warning. They may only be a part of Am Yisrael if they observe the entire Torah, specifically refraining from the arayot – the forbidden marital relations. One may add to the Ibn Ezra’s idea to include the converts by saying that the “extra” words include those who might otherwise be overlooked, i.e. the women, children, and orphans.


Chizkuni quoting the Midrash Tanchuma claims that this perek contains within it a reference to each of the Aseret HaDibrot (The 10 Commandments). Therefore, it must be commanded before the entire congregation of Bnei Yisrael. He adds that this perek follows the prohibition of the arayot because a transgression of the arayot will result in exile from Eretz Yisrael, and that is the only land where Bnei Yisrael can truly be an Am Kadosh.


The Ohr HaChaim asserts that usually Moshe spoke only to the men, but for these mitzvot the women and children also had to be included. The reasoning behind this was to create a similar experience to that of Har Sinai, for there are many parallels between this perek and Matan Torah.


Nechama Leibowitz maintains that all of Bnei Yisrael needed to hear the command to be kadosh at the same time. According to the Rambam, when Moshe would relay the mitzvot to the peoplele he would first tell Aharon, then his sons, the zekainim (elders), and finally Bnei Yisrael. This mitzvah is so central to Judaism that the entire nation needed to hear it together, proving that everyone is equally obligated and that we all must strive to our fullest potential.


Another possibility may be that the mitzvah to be kadosh is an all-enveloping, fundamental principle of Judaism. This is not meant merely for certain members of Bnei Yisrael, nor is it meant just for specific generations. Rather it is meant for everyone, from those listening to the actual commandment to those and onward.


Another answer, based on writings from Rav Soloveitchik and others, may be that the Eidah (congregation) and the command to be kadosh are interconnected. Perhaps the Torah is stressing that one can only become kadosh if s/he is a part of the Eidah, the greater klal of Am Yisrael. This mitzvah is commanded to the nation as a whole, not to individuals. Thus, it may only be achieved as a klal when the entire nation works together. Had the Torah only written “Bnei Yisrael” and left out “Kol Adat” – “The entire congregation” – it would not have the same effect. Bnei Yisrael suggests a lack of unity; the many Children of Yisrael. Specifying that the Jewish People are an Eidah unifies them into one cohesive unit all striving for the same goal. One may ask: If this is the case, why write the command “kedoshim tehiyu” in plural? Because a Jew must achieve kedusha as an individual, but if s/he does not also obtain it as part of the klal, then his/her individual kedusha is insignificant. The Jewish People are described as an Am Kadosh. This implies that we must, first and foremost, as a whole, reach a national level of kedusha, and only then can we achieve our individual kedusha status.



Categorized under: 1: Parshat Shavua > Kedoshim