Parashat Kedoshim’s verse, “And the L-rd spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the entire congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them, “You shall be holy (kedoshim), for I, the L-rd, your G-d, am holy”,” is celebrated for its powerful call to the Jewish people to live lives invested with holiness (Vayikra19:1-2). Rashi, basing himself upon a variety of midrashic sources, explains the phrases, “entire congregation of Israel” and “you shall be holy,” as follows:
•Entire Congregation of Israel: [This] teaches us that this passage was stated in the assembly [of the entire congregation of Israel] because most of the fundamental teachings of the Torah are dependent on it.
•You shall be holy: Separate yourselves from illicit relations and from sin, for wherever one finds a barrier against illicit relations, one finds holiness.
The great mid-18th century Chasidic master, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Halevi Epstein, known to the world as the holy Me’or Vashemesh after the title of his most famous work, raises a key question regarding Rashi’s explication of our verse: “What do we learn by being told that this [specific] parasha was taught in the assembly of Israel — is it not logical to assume that all mitzvot that are universally practiced by the Jewish people were stated before our entire nation?”
The Me’or Vashemesh’s answer offers a deeper understanding of the connection that obtains between the phrases, “entire congregation of Israel” and “you shall be holy,” and informs our comprehension of the pasuk in an entirely new fashion:
“And this is the proper explanation of our pasuk: ‘And the L-rd spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the entire congregation of the children of Israel”.”
As Rashi elucidates, “[This] teaches us that this passage was stated in the assembly [of the entire congregation of Israel].” This means that this parasha’s statement “and you shall be holy” was specifically said amongst the entire Jewish people, since it is impossible for a person to merit the highest heights of kedushah unless they will be joined together in a gathering of the overall community in the service of Hashem. Why is this the case? As Rashi teaches us, “because most of the fundamental teachings of the Torah are dependent on it” — tefilah b’tzibur (public prayer) and mitzvot which are similar in kind (that require a community for their fulfillment).
Clearly, for the Me’or Vashemesh, kedushah can only be achieved in the context of the tzibur. As such, any notion of ascetic withdrawal from the community is anathema to the authentic Torah way of life — a concept that he crystalizes in the following passage:
“The text concludes and states: ‘You shall be holy,’ which Rashi interprets as ‘and you shall be separate.’ To clarify: This parasha was commanded to the Jewish people in order for them to be holy [as a corporate entity]; a person could mistakenly believe, however, that the correct exposition of ‘and you shall be holy’ is that individuals should remove and separate themselves from the tzibur — and only then will they achieve authentic kedushah.”
The deeply insightful analysis of the Me’or Vashemesh is consonant with Hillel’s well-known statement in Pirkei Avot: “Al tifrosh min hatzibur” (“Do not separate yourself from the community,” II:4). In his discursive analysis of this phrase, Rabbi Israel Lipschitz (1782–1860), known as the Tiferet Yisrael after the name of his classic commentary on the Mishnah, challenges us to recognize Hillel’s aphorism for what it truly is, namely, a directive to engage in all aspects of communal activity for the betterment of the tzibur and, ultimately for the benefit of the entire Jewish people.
With Hashem’s help and guidance, may each of us strive to implement Hillel’s stirring words in our lives, and may we thereby be zocheh (merit) to see the fulfillment of the pasuk:
“I shall be sanctified amidst the children of Israel. I am the L-rd Who sanctifies you” (Vayikra 22:32). May this time come soon and in our days. V’chane yihi ratzon.