The beginning of the parasha
vayedabber Hashem el Moseh lemor
dabber el kol adat bene Yisrael veamarta alehem
ki kadosh ani Hashem Elohekhem
ish immo veaviv tirau
veet shabetotai tishmoru
ani Hashem Elohekhem
And Hashem spoke unto Moshe
speak unto all the congregation of the children
of Israel and say unto them: Ye shall be holy;
for I Hashem your God am holy.
Ye shall fear every man his mother and his father,
and ye shall keep my shabbats:
I am Hashem your God
This parasha is very short but contains 49 mitzvot (212
Following the study method of the Shla, with which we
are now becoming familiar, we must seek to identify the
common point and the message they impart. We shall therefore
examine their order, the way they are connected and their
main content. Here are some of the mitzvot:
respect your mother and father
the prohibition against idolatrous thoughts and against
the construction of idols,
the prohibition against consumption of sacrificial remains
at times other than those authorized (see also Shemot
the prohibition against reaping the corner of one's filed,
vineyard (19, 9-10),
the obligation to care for the poor (19,10),
the prohibition against stealing, dealing falsely, profaning
God's name, delaying the payment of wages, pronouncing
unjust verdicts, slandering others, giving ill counsel,
cursing, failing to give aid to victims or fellowmen in
the obligation to rebuke a fellowmen (19,17), and to love
every member of Israel like oneself (19,18),
the prohibition against taking vengeance (19, 18),
the prohibition against eating fruits less than five years'old, nor eat or drink with gluttony (19, 18-24),
the prohibition against practicing divination and soothsaying
(19,26), against following customs connected with heathen
worship and practice (20,23),
the obligation to honor the elderly (19,32),
the obligation to have correct scales (19,36) and to be
honest and righteous in business.
All these precepts can be
summarized in two commandments:
be holy, kedoshim,
do not live according to the laws and customs of other
The overall meaning is that:
Jewish morality and ethics extend to every dimension of
life: relationships, conduct, time and space,
the source of this humanistic code is in the Creator,
in the fact that He is kadosh, holy.
This theme is developed in
the haftara (Amos 9, 7-15 [for Ashkenazim], Ezekiel 20,
1-20 [for Sephardim]). Even though Jewish morality and
humanism appears to be that which the world has adopted
and similar to the code of human rights, it has nothing
to do with modern humanism or how other nations define
morality. This is because it stems solely from one source:
the kedusha of He who is Kadosh, holy.
Those who wish to study further the meaning of these mitzvot
should refer to Sefer Hamitzvot (30), to Tractate Avoda
Zara by the Rambam (11,10), and to Tractate Yore Dea in
the Shulkhan Arokh (178,1).
of study in order to understand the meaning of the text
After having identified the main thread, we now go to
the second rule. In traditional Jewish study, the meaning
of the Torah is discovered by examining the form of the
text, then by asking questions (third rule).
When a Torah student (the viewer) has carried out these
three rules, he will then be able to understand the commentaries
and the teachings handed down since Moshe Rabbenu.
1. First observation of the
As the Yalkut Shimoni points out, this is the only parasha
which begins with a commandment to gather "all"
the children of Israel. It was therefore read to all the
people, what is called the hekhel. Rashi writes: "melammed
sheneemera farasha zo bekhel, this verse teaches s that
this chapter was read in a congregation." This is
based on the Middrash Vayikra Rabba 24, 5.
The parasha indeed summarizes the ten commandments and
the whole of the Torahs. Rashi states: "mipne she
rov gufei tora teluyim ba, because most of the fundamental
laws of the Torah depend on it."
2. Second observation of the
The parasha begins with the commandment "ye shall
be holy" - kedoshim, which is also its title. What
does this mean?
Rashi, as always, will give us the answer and open up
new horizons. He writes:
kedoshim tiyu (ye shall be holy);
hevu ferushim min haarayot
(abstain from prohibited
sexual relations and sins),
she kol makom sheata motze geder erva, ata motse kedusha,
(for in every place in the Torah where you find a barrier
against unlawful sexual relations, you find "holiness,
kedusha"). And he gives an example: "a prostitute
or dishonored woman thou shalt not marry
I am Hashem
who sanctifies you."
We learn from this that
holiness is not some vague moral or spiritual quality,
holiness is linked to strictly defined limits,
holiness demarcates what is pure from what is impure,
particularly in sexual relations,
holiness is linked to the relationship between husband
The Shla writes that the preceding parasha constituted
a warning against doing evil, while this parasha defines
the limits one must adhere to in order to do good.
3. Third observation of the
The parasha begins with the future tense (ye shall be
holy, kedoshim tihiyu) instead of the imperative "be
holy." In contrast, it ends (20,26) with an imperative:
"be for me holy, viheyitem li kedoshim." The
Sages deduce from these two tenses that by being holy
and good in this world, we will attain holiness in the
world above. This is the privilege of man, as opposed
to other creatures and even the angels. Man participates
in two worlds, and he has two crowns. He alone decides.
The commentators attribute man's greatness in this respect
to the fact that Israel existed before the creation of
the world. This also explains Rashi's first commentary
on the Torah which:
gives Israel a central place,
stresses that the land of Israel was given as an unconditional
gift by God to the Jewish people.
it remains a gift even if other nations wish to possess
Indeed, writes the Shla, the first two letters of Israel
(yud, shin) correspond to yesh, the emergence of a being.
This is not a privilege: it is an obligation whose source
is up High. This is why it is written: "be holy..for
I am holy."
The emphasis is very important, for the Torah does not
say "you are holy or the best" but "it
is because I am holy that you are holy."
Three types of holiness
We can now understand why the Shla organizes the mitzvot
of this parasha in categories, according to carnal, spatial
and temporal holiness.
carnal holiness comprises everything that is physical,
or related to the soul and the heart. "The duties
of the heart" are described in Rabbenu Bahya's book
hovot halevavot, which is studied particularly prior to
the beginning of the year and in the period of self-examination
which precedes Rosh Hashana. Physical and carnal holiness
are very important in Judaism and relate to food, sexual
relations, washing of hands and to how the skin is viewed,
as light or as an armor.
spatial holiness relates to everything that takes place
in the confines of the Temple and "before Hashem."
It is Avraham who developed the concept of holy places.
temporal holiness is found in the concept of Shabbat,
which is not just one of the days of the week. Indeed
in Judaism, the days of the week do not have names of
planets or gods as in many cultures (Tuesday = day of
Tiw, the god of war; Wednesday = day of Woden, god of
the ancient Germans; Saturday = day of Saturn), but are
named instead by a number: the first day following the
Sabbath, etc. Thus every day of the week is a co-participant
in the holiness of Shabbat and should be lived as such.
The Shla notes that the aim of "extra soul"
(neshama yetera) which we acquire on Shabbat, is to help
us during the rest of the week.
of each mitzva
Each mitzva in this parasha can now be reviewed, studied
and understood according to these different perspectives.
We can see that the practice
of holiness in daily life, as commanded in this parasha,
is linked to the view of death as defined in the preceding
parasha. Death is presented there as a process and a stage
in human development. The fact that we live in two worlds
simultaneously, whose invisible thread is kedusha, inspires
us to live every aspect of our lives in holiness. This
is why this parasha gives us so many examples and separates
them in three categories of holiness: carnal, spatial
1. Examine how you spend Shabbat
and time and space are made holy on this day: through
beautiful garments, holy conversation, reading of the
2. How do we make our bodies holy, as individuals, as
married couples and as members of a community?
3. Do the garments we wear symbolize the beauty of kedusha,
or is their function simply utilitarian, a source of personal
pleasure or a societal rule?
4. Do we define the spatial limitations of Shabbat in
accordance with the view of kedusha as described in this
parasha, which is to confine and protect the state of
5. Discuss the subject with others in order to formulate
other questions pertaining to this parasha.
6. Then re-read the parasha.
Now that we have studied the Jewish concept of humanism,
and what defines a Jew, the Jewish nation, and the state
of kedusha which characterizes it, we need to study the
terms associated with holiness. These are terms which
are very current among Jews and in Jewish study and prayer,
but their meaning needs to be precisely understood.
1. Hakadosh barukh Hu, the
Holy one blessed be He.
Kedosh Yisrael, Holy Israel.
2. Things that are holy
eretz hakodesh, the land of kedusha, the land of Israel
adamat hakodesh, the land of kedusha, the land of Israel
ir hakodesh, the city of kedusha, Jerusalem
har kakodesh, the mountain of kedusha, the Temple Mount
shabbat hakodesh, the sabbath of kedusha, Shabbat
aron hakodesh, the ark of kedusha, holy ark in which the
Torah scrolls are placed
kodesh hakodashim, the heart of the sanctuary, the Holy
ruah hakodesh, the spirit of kedusha, the shekhina which
inspires the prophets
britkodesh, the covenant of kedusha, circumcision which
makes a Jew holy
heikhal hakodesh, the sanctuary of kedusha
bigde hakodesh, the garments of kedusha, those of the
Cohen Gadol, the High Priest
zera hakodesh, the seed of kedusha, the sons of Israel,
the Jewish people
am hakodesh, the people of kedusha, the children of Israel,
the Jewish people
kehilat hakodesh, the congregation of kedusha, an assembly
yom kodesh, a day of kedusha, a festival day
divre kodesh, words of kedusha, words and sermons based
on the Torah
3. People who become holy,
by participation (kedoshim, plural)
Rabbenu hakadosh, the name given Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi,
who wrote the Mishna.
A kadosh, a tzaddik, a righteous man. One also says pe
kadosh, a holy mouth.
Am kedoshim, the holy people, the Jewish people
kahal kadosh, a holy congregation, name given to a group
of Jews who assemble together to study the Torah
mot kedoshim, a holy death
The word for kadosh in Arameic is kaddish, the name of
the prayer for the dead.
4. The act of proclaiming
holiness is kiddush
Kiddush Hashem, the death of a martyr
Kiddush levana, the blessing for the new moon; large letters
are called otiot (letters) kiddush levana.
Kiddush hahodesh, blessing for the new month
Kiddush, blessing for wine on Shabbat or a festival day
Kiddushim or kiddushin, in the plural, expresses the height
of holiness, the act of marriage.
5. The difference ben kodesh
le hol, between what is holy and what is profane.
Rabbi Yaakov Abuhatsera and kedusha
Rabbi Abuhatsera gives us a global understanding of the
Jewish concept of kedusha and helps us to integrate this
concept in feelings, prayer and action.
From the moment he wakes up, man is vulnerable to the
yetser hara (evil instinct) which propels him towards
but man also possesses an instinct which allows him to
man must find a way of ignoring carnal urges,
This is possible, for several reasons;
Hashem is kadosh,
His holiness can reside in us if He wishes,
He gives us the strength to be kedoshim, holy, by acting
on our nefesh, our ruah, and our neshama,
We are not alone in this task, which we are asked to do,
for the shekhina (holy presence) accompanies us and leaves
us if we are not holy,
We can only do this and assume the risks involved if we
know how to recite the prayer of shaharit. Indeed, every
detail of the prayer is constructed in such a way as to
enable us to receive the divine light and rise from level
to level. We can then raise worlds and it is as though
God needed us in order to recreate the world every morning.
Tradition audaciously says that it is as though we raise
God Himself, as though we make Him holy. This is the first
word in the kaddish prayer (yitkadesh). It is also said
that in the process of attaining kedusha, a person always
remains linked to his shoresh, his root but is not imprisoned
by it. This should be the ideal state of the Jewish people
to be linked to the source of holiness,
to connect all aspects of life to holiness,
to never leave it, for ba kedusha, lo yordim be darga
(from kedusha, one does not descend in level).
Commenting on Shemot 34,24,
Rashi and the Sages teach us that when we attain kedusha,
something extraordinary takes place,
we are able to define our borders and they are protected
by the central nucleus of kedusha,
others no longer aspire to our land:
"For I will cast out nations before thee, and enlarge
thy borders; neither shall any man covet thy land, when
thou goest up to appear before Hashem thy God (bealotekha
leraot et pnei-Hashem").
This is how we can find salvation.
We should reflect on these
divine teachings handed down by Moshe to Yehoshua. Yehoshua
believed in them fervently till the end of his life and
it is said that when he took possession of the land with
the Jewish people "all the people kept the Torah."
May we be inspired by his example
so that we will find our true source and unity under the
one light of holiness, in the land which is the sanctuary
of the divine presence in the midst of His people which
so that other nations will cease to covet the land of
Israel and to attempt to expel the holy people from it,
so that we will halt moves by our people and leaders to
truncate the Holy land and give up parts of the land in
order to please other nations.
The guardian of Israel does
not rest. He gave us the laws we need to attain happiness
as individuals, as couples, as a people, as a nation,
as a land and as a light unto nations.
None of this can be ensured
by arms, warfare, political alliances or international
treaties. We were given a strict set of laws to adhere
to and numerous warnings, which so often proved (regretfully)
to come true. We were given everything, including the
ability to redirect the course of history. We have only
one form of humanism and democracy, and that is kedusha.
We must study more. We must
use every means possible to spread the word of the Torah
and help and enlighten those who do not understand the
holiness of the land and its people and those who support
the process of self-destruction of the nation - a phenomenon
which has characterized elements of the people ever since
the episode of the twelve spies. Kedusha will only be
achieved when there is social justice in Israel and when
we truly believe in the words of the prayer calling for
the gathering of the people in the land of Israel. Then
the realization of God's promises to us will be possible.