The pursuit of the Holy is our central mission


The essence of Hashem’s purpose in gifting the Torah to the Jewish people is imparted immediately prior to the Revelation at Mount Sinai: 

And now, if you obey Me and keep My covenant, you shall be to Me a treasure out of all peoples, for Mine is the entire earth. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of princes and a holy nation (goy kadosh). (Sefer Shemot 19:5-6)

The obligation to attain this sanctified status is writ large in two pasukim in our parasha: “For I am the L-rd your G-d, and you shall sanctify yourselves and be holy, because I am holy, and you shall not defile yourselves through any creeping creature that crawls on the ground. For I am the L-rd Who has brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your G-d. Thus, you shall be holy, because I am holy.” (Sefer Vayikra 11:44-45)

In these verses, ki kadosh Ani (because I am holy) emerges as the basis of Hashem’s command to us to pursue kedushah (holiness). The expression, “Thus, you shall be holy, ki kadosh Ani,” however, does not seem to fit a standard “if x then y” kind of model. This is especially the case, since the Master of the Universe is omnipotent, infinite and eternal, and we are finite and “like a passing shadow.” (Rosh Hashanah liturgy) What, then, does Hashem’s kedushah have to do with our kedushah? 

Rabbeinu Shimshon Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) helps us formulate an answer to our question. He explains that “the source of the possibility that you can be holy and the reason why you should be holy, lies in the fact that kadosh Ani Hashem Elokeichem — that I, Who am Hashem Elokeichem — am kadosh.

“The holiness to which you are to strive with all the force of your moral free will is, in its absolute purity, an attribute of Me Myself, and as Hashem have I given you with My Breath, participation in this freedom, and continue giving you constantly strength and assistance for everything which is good. In kadosh Ani Hashem lies the source of your ability for kedushah.”

• • •

Rav Hirsch’s interpretation of how and why we can and should be kadosh is an exegetical tour de force. In his view, the potential to attain kedushah is an attribute of the Almighty that He bestows upon us at the moment of our creation. As such, ki kadosh Ani, and all that it entails, is the source of our ability to pursue kedushah and actualize it in our lives.

Rav Hirsch’s analysis is congruent with a statement of the Midrash Sifra on the above-cited pasukim in our parasha:

“Just like I am holy, so, too, should you be holy. Just like I am separate [from all that is antithetical to kedushah], so, too, should you be separate.” The pursuit of kedushah, therefore, is inextricably linked to the mitzvah of v’halachta b’drachov (walking in Hashem’s ways).

This idea is also given powerful voice by Rabbi Ovadia Seforno (1475-1550) in his Commentary on the Torah on our verses: “I [Hashem] desire that you will sanctify and prepare yourselves for kedushah. It is fitting that you will be holy and ever successful in your recognition of your Creator and emulate His actions, for this is what I desire — that you should model yourselves after Me.”

With Hashem’s help and our heartfelt desire, may we ever endeavor to emulate Him in our pursuit of kedushah. May this enable us to live lives that bring honor to the Jewish people, and glory to His holy name. V’chane yihi ratzon.