The Responsibility of Holiness

Moshe Kempinski

The Parshah of Kedoshim (Leviticus 19:1–20:27) begins with G-d’s statement to the people of Israel: ” And Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying,Speak to the entire congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them, You shall be holy, for I, Hashem, your G-d, am holy.( Leviticus 19:1-2).

We see this concept repeated with the words
” You shall sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I am Hashem, your G-d.( ibid 20:7)
Then finally G-d says “. And you shall be holy to Me, for I, Hashem, am holy, and I have distinguished you from the peoples, to be Mine.”( ibid:26)

So what is this “Holiness” that we are supposed to strive and yearn for? Furthermore why would the reality of Hashem being holy result in His people being holy as well?

Holiness denotes a sense of being separate and apart. Just as G-d is Holy and is set apart “I am G-d and no man, the Holy One in your midst” (Hoshea 11:9) so are those that walk in His ways bidden to do the same “…be holy because I, your G-d am holy.”(VaYikra/Leviticus 19:2).

Yet we are struck by the fact that the simple thought that mere mortals can be Holy because ” for I, Hashem, your G-d, am holy.( Leviticus 19:1-2) seems too simplified to be true or to mirror the reality that we experience.

A further exploration of the word Holy-Kadosh would be helpful. While it is true that the word Kadosh implies a separateness, a standing apart. Yet it in fact implies much more . To be Kadosh is to be designated, to be set apart for a purpose. When a groom betroths himself to his beloved under the Jewish canopy he declares the words” Harei at Mekudeshet lee…etc’( Behold you are sanctified unto me) what he is actually saying is that you are designated, set apart, for me.

When the bible tells us” Sanctify unto Me all the first-born, whatsoever opens the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast, it is Mine.” ( Kadesh lee kol bechor)(Exodus 13:2) G-d is commanding the people to designate for Him every first born.

To be holy then is to be set apart and designated for a Higher purpose.

This will help us understand the words in the beginning of the Torah portion; “Speak to the entire congregation ( KOL ADAT ) of the children of Israel, and say to them, You shall be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.( Leviticus 19:1-2)

The word “adat” is a form of “eydah.” The Hebrew word “eydah” stems from the root which implies testimony or affirmation. The people of Israel, when called an eydah, serve as sort of a witness,

“You are My witnesses,” declares Hashem, “And My servant whom I have chosen, So that you may know and believe Me And understand that I am He. Before Me there was no G-d formed, And there will be none after Me. I, even I, am Hashem, And there is no savior besides Me( Isaiah 43:10-11)

Why is such a witnessing necessary?

Testimony is usually needed order to affirm a reality. God has made His presence hidden. This so that man would yearn to find him. Yet at the same time, it is sometimes difficult for man to perceive His existence. Therefore, God commands “Adat Bnei Yisrael” to be obedient to His will and create a people that ‘testifies’ to God’s existence. Their very continued existence becomes a resounding statement of G-d’s everlasting existence and faithfulness.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk asked his students “in what language does G-d speak ?”. His answer was that “Man is the language of G-d.”. Therefore the words “Kedoshim tihyu – you shall be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy…” (19:2) implies that it is our responsibility to be holy so that G-d will be experienced as the Holy one that He is.

In the words of the Sforno “.By acting as a holy nation, Am Yisrael ‘testifies’ (to itself and to other nations) that God exists, for He is holy.”

The implications are dramatic. Becoming holy is not a simple act of self-improvement or edification. Becoming holy becomes a responsibility to represent G-d in this world. It is therefore not a responsibility to be taken lightly.

LeRefuat Yehudit Bat Golda Yocheved

1 thought on “The Responsibility of Holiness”

  1. I am so thrilled to find your site…got here through Mike Clayton’s we page. I have always heard your name spoken well of from visitors to Israel when they had returned home. Thank you for these teachings….I’ll be studying the words on holiness today.

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