Holiness and independence: reflections on Kedoshim

By Debbie Meyer and Michelle Sint

דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־כָּל־עֲדַ֧ת בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל וְאָמַרְתָּ֥ אֲלֵהֶ֖ם קְדֹשִׁ֣ים תִּהְי֑וּ כִּ֣י קָד֔וֹשׁ אֲנִ֖י ה אֱלֹקיכֶֽם

“Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy.” (Vayikra 19:2)

Kedoshim begins with this famous yet strange statement. As the Sifrei points out – “Might one think (that this infers to be holy) as Me? The verse (thus) states: ‘for I… am holy,’ My sanctity is elevated above yours.”

Rambam does not count it as one of the mitzvot but as an aspirational state brought on by doing mitzvot. It is what separates us from animals.

In his commentary on the Torah Meor Vashemesh, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Epstein, a disciple of Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk, divides the pasuk into three parts:

‏כל עדת בני ישראל – “all the congregation of the children of Israel”

‏קידושים תהיו – “you shall be holy” (the commandment itself)

‏כי קדוש השם – “for I the Lord your God am holy”

He makes the point that the usual chain of transmission of commandments is as follows: Hashem speaks to Moshe, who tells Aaron, then Moshe relays the commandment in the presence of Aaron but now to Elazar and Itamar. While Aaron, Elazar and Itamar are still with Moshe, Moshe would proceed to teach the elders, and finally Moshe would teach all  B’nei  Yisrael with Aaron, Elazar, Itamar and the elders present, as we learn from Rashi’s comment on Shemot 34:32.

This is not the case here. Hashem tells Moshe to tell all of Bnei Yisrael immediately and directly. They hear and accept this commandment together. There is no difference between the greatest person and the most simple – all have an equal opportunity to be holy.

One might think that to be holy like God one needs to cut oneself off from the rest of the people. But only God is.one.

If a person wants to be holy – Kadosh – he needs to be part of the whole. We can only attain holiness by congregating together. Thus we need a minyan as part of a community to reach holiness when we pray. Separation is fine as a temporary status in order to meditate or cure a troubled mind, but one cannot reach a higher level of holiness alone.

In the week of Yom Ha’atzmaut it is worth remembering how Rav Kook applied this idea to supporting the state of Israel, beginning with his first essay on Zionism.  Rav Kook taught that it is through us all participating in the process of building the state that we can bring about full redemption. Together, united, we elevate the level of holiness of the whole.

 

Since completing the Bradfield course, both Debbie Meyer and Michelle Sint have totally changed direction. From practising as a lawyer, Debbie has now become a Tanach teacher, while Michelle has combined her publishing and literature background to create a course for adults to learn Rashi. They both enjoy teaching at LSJS as well as running Bat Mitzvah programmes for mothers and daughters. They also learn together at the Midrasha at LSJS each week.

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