We've all seen those blurbs on the covers
of paperbacks that say: "If you read only ONE book this year, let it be
Well, it opens up with an unusual construction: "Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, 'Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for holy am I, Hashem, your G-d." (19, 1-2; Artscroll translation; my emphasis.)
Moshe taught every portion of the Torah
to the entire Jewish people, but it was customarily done in a succession of
smaller groups; there was no Divine command to gather the "entire
assembly" at once to learn together. (One exception is in the
Book of Exodus, parshas Bo, where G-d tells Moshe and Aharon to speak to the
"entire assembly" and tell them to designate lambs for themselves,
which would be slaughtered on the afternoon before the Exodus;
significantly, the pesach-offering was the very first Law which Israel
received, as pointed out by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch in his Torah
Taking note of this fact, the Midrash
offers a few explanations for the departure from normal custom. One is
that the Ten Commandments are included, in a modified form, among the 51 (!)
appear in this portion; since the "Big 10" themselves, according
to many commentaries, are like major subject headings that actually
encompass all the Torah's commandments, this, in effect, is a way of saying
that Kedoshim is a microcosm of the totality of the Torah. Rashi
quotes another opinion in the Midrash that conveys the exact same thought
more explicitly: "
this portion was said before the entire assembly
because the majority of the essentials of the Torah depend on it."
(translation from the Artscroll Rashi)
What exactly is here?
That is what our whole faith is about, and when Hashem first made His offer to us (that we could have, but didn't, refuse), He said as much openly:
"And now, if you hearken well to Me and observe My covenant, you shall be to Me the most beloved treasure of all peoples You shall be to Me a kingdom of Ministers and a holy nation." (Exodus: 19, 5-6; Artscroll translation.)
Every time we utter the standard form of the blessing before doing mitzvos, we are declaring that the ideal of holiness is achieved precisely through (heartfelt) performance of the these mitzvos: "Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His mitzvos and commanded us to "
And let's take note: this Torah portion includes a lengthy section on forbidden sexual relationships, the separation from which most defines what it means to be holy, in the estimation of Rashi (and other commentators).
For Rashi comments on the words, You
shall be holy with the following words-"Separate yourselves from
forbidden sexual relationships, and from sin."
The blessing quoted above is precise in
its language: "Who has sanctified us [not "me"] With His
" The Torah was given to a whole nation, and can
only be fulfilled by a whole nation. This is another reason that
this portion had to be taught in the presence of the whole assembly
together: to teach us that when it comes to holiness (our highest goal), no
man-and certainly, no Jew!-is an island.
NEXT TUESDAY, MAY 9TH, AT 8:00PM AT THE J.E.A.-LECTURE AND VIDEO PRESENTATION BY RABBI YOSEF EDELSTEIN: "The Sights and Sounds and Symbols of the Jewish Wedding." Part of Step's ongoing Life Cycle Series.
Edelstein is Director
of the the Savannah Kollel and the
Savannah Torah Education Project (STEP).
Brought to you with the help of the Ben Portman Computer Center.
This Dvar Torah page created
and hosted courtesy of OU.ORG.