Parshat Kedoshim, with its myriad of mitzvot, opens in an unusual fashion: “Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and say to them, ‘Holy shall you be, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy…’”
Chazal point out that, typically, Moshe is commanded to “speak to the Children of Israel” regarding the mitzvot. Why here is he commanded with the unusual terminology of “speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel?” The Midrash answers that Hashem commanded Moshe to teach the laws of Parshat Kedoshim in an exceptional way. Normally, the Torah was taught in a “hierarchical fashion” described in the Gemara: Moshe first taught the mitzvah to Aharon, then to Aharon’s sons, then to the Elders, and finally to the entire nation. When it came to the laws of Parshat Kedoshim, however, the regular method was not employed. Rather, the laws of kedoshim were taught in “full assembly,” directly by Moshe to the entire nation at once. Thus, Moshe is commanded here to “speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel”—because of the unusual way that these mitzvot were relayed to Am Yisrael.
This Midrash answers our initial question, but it raises another: namely, why? Why specifically here did God require Moshe to veer from the typical method of transmission to an entirely new method? If the usual method is the best way to teach the Torah, certainly it should have been employed in the transmission of this all-important parsha as well. And, conversely, if “full assembly” is a better method, why didn’t Hashem command Moshe to teach the entire Torah in this fashion?
The Alshich offers a powerful answer to this question. He suggests that Parshat Kedoshim is specifically taught in “full assembly” in order to convey to each and every person that they have the ability to live a life of holiness. The nation stands together, as equals, when hearing the command “Kedoshim tihiyu” to emphasize that achieving holiness is not only for the elite, but for each and every Jew.
My father, in his book “Unlocking the Torah Text: Vayikra,” pgs. 147-8, builds upon this important explanation of the Alshich. He distinguishes between two different aspects of our Jewish identity: role and relationship. “In the realm of role, we clearly are not all created equal…many life positions within Jewish experience are automatically assigned at birth. Men and women, for example, are obligated differently under Jewish law. Specific leadership roles, such as the priesthood and the monarchy, are inherited…these birth roles are not open to personal choice.
“In the realm of ‘relationship’ with our Creator, however, we are all potentially equal. Every relationship within human experience is unique, a product of the participants and their singular personalities. Our relationship with God is no exception. … In the realm of this relationship, the only yardstick by which we are judged is ourselves. Whatever our life role may be, the strength of our connection to God is determined by how well we fulfill that role and by the personal qualities we demonstrate as we fulfill it.”
When it comes to many aspects of our lives, the details are beyond our control and are “assigned” to us. Our natural strengths and weaknesses, characteristics and personalities, are all inborn. So much of the environment and era into which we are born is beyond our control. In light of these inborn and pre-determined differences, we are each challenged to find the specific role that is ours, alone, within the greater Jewish community, and to embrace that role and fulfill it to the best of our ability.
When it comes to our relationship with Hashem and our ability to achieve holiness in this world, however, the role differences fall away. In the realm of kedusha, we are all potentially equal. If we strive to live a life of kedusha and Torah, if we make room for God’s presence within our lives, we each have the opportunity to forge a relationship with Hashem. It is for this reason that God insisted that our parsha’s opening commandment, “Kedoshim tihyu,” be commanded to the entire nation all together—to emphasize this crucial point.
This is an important point for us to convey to our children as they grow up. It is natural for kids to be envious of their peers in many areas related to role: their physical appearance, certain talents or characteristics, family and social makeup, etc. Of course, none of this can be changed—and on one level, our job is to try and help our children appreciate their uniqueness and focus on the wonderful characteristics with which they each have been blessed.
But perhaps even more importantly, we must ingrain within our kids, from a young age, the knowledge that each of them has the ability and opportunity to forge a deep and meaningful relationship with Hashem. That regardless of the specific details of their lives, or the particular role they may play within the Jewish people, they each have the capacity to live a life of meaning, fused with spirituality and kedusha. Every single person can have a deep and profound relationship with Hashem as long as we search for it and work toward it.
Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom!!
Rav Yossi Goldin is the menahel tichon at Yeshivas Pe’er HaTorah, rebbe at Midreshet Tehilla, and placement adviser/internship coordinator for the YU/RIETS Kollel. He lives with his family in Shaalvim and can be reached at [email protected]