Mordechai Silverstein

Shaping a Livable Jewish Future

Parshat Kedoshim is demanding. It obliges us to be holy by commanding a panoply of mitzvot. These commandments, known as the “Holiness Code” represent the essence of the Torah’s plan for creating a just and worthy society. What gives these commandments their warrant? Judging from the midrashic tradition, this seems to have been a pressing question for the sages, one which they sought to resolve for the believer, turning to the opening verse of the parasha for support:

And the Lord spoke to Moshe, saying: “Speak to all of the community of the children of Israel (kol Adat bnai Yisrael), and you shall say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.’” (Leviticus 19:1)

These words, in and of themselves, would seem to have been enough justification, but the rabbinic tradition builds on this verse to reinforce its significance:

Rabbi Hiyya taught [in a Baraita]:[This verse comes] to teach that this parashah was said in “Hakhel – assembly”. And why was it said in assembly? Because most of the basic laws of the Torah (rov gufei Torah) are associated with it. Rabbi Levi said: Because the Ten Commandments are included in it… [The midrash goes on at this point to illustrate at length how and where in this parasha one can find the Ten Commandments.] (Vayikra Rabbah 24:5, Margulies ed. pp 557-8)

This midrash offers two forms of justification to ratify the acceptance of these mitzvot. The first, taught by Rabbi Hiyya, an important sage, who was a contemporary of Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi, the compiler of the Mishnah.  Rabbi Avraham ben David (Provence 12th century) explains the significance of his teaching:

Unlike other parshiyot where Aharon entered first and afterwards the elders and afterwards Israel; rather [in this case], everyone heard it all at once because most of the basic laws of the Torah are contained in it. (Commentary on Sifra Kedoshim 1)

In other words, this parsha which contains “rov gufei Torah” laid out explicitly, needed the imprimatur and consensus of the entire nation in an event which might be described as a second Mount Sinai!

Two generations after Rabbi Hiyya’s formulation, Rabbi Levi offered an additional validation of this parasha’s significance. Whereas Rabbi Hiyya acclaimed the affirmation of these laws through communal acceptance, Rabbi Levi addressed the question differently. He asserts that the content of Parshat Kedoshim deserves acceptance because it embodies the content of the revelation at Mount Sinai in its legislation.

Taken together, these two ideas, communal consensus and worthy content, bond the Jewish people to laws which mark the foundation of creating a holy nation, one in which the citizenry is united in building a goodly society, a society worthy of God dwelling therein. (For this idea, Sfat Emet Kedoshim 5643, Or Etzion ed. p. 148)

This same notion should act as a guide for how we shape a livable Jewish society in our day!

About the Author
Mordechai Silverstein is a teacher of Torah who has lived in Jerusalem for over 30 years. He specializes in helping people build personalized Torah study programs.
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