Parshat Kedoshim, with its myriad of mitzvot, opens in an unusual fashion- as G-d commands Moshe, “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, Hashem commands Moshe 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”- to highlight 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 G-d 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 not command Moshe to teach the entire Torah in this fashion?
The commentary 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 for 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 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 G-d’s presence within our lives, we each have the opportunity to forge a relationship with Hashem. It is for this reason that G-d insisted that our parsha’s opening commandment, “Kedoshim tihyu”, be commanded to the entire nation altogether- to emphasize this crucial point.
This is an important point for us to convey to our children. It is natural for kids to be envious of their peers in many areas related to role- others’ 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 own 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 deep 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 that 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 towards it. If we are able to pass this message onto our children, their lives will gain an amazing sense of purpose and meaning, as the grow in their connection to the Almighty.
Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom!!