"Speak to the congregation of the Children of Israel and say to them: 'You shall be holy'" Leviticus 19:2

By Rabbi Benjamin Rickman, April 28, 2011

The commandment to be holy was spoken to the entire nation.This was unusual in that most commandments were communicated directly to Moses, who would then transmit the teachings to the people.

Commentators differ in their explanation for this legal oddity. The Ohr Hachayim Hakadosh (Rabbi Chaim ben Moses ibn Attar, 18th century) expressed concern that without this public injunction, people might misinterpret the requirement of holiness as being the aspiration of an elite few. The Jewish people were to strive en masse for collective holiness, unlike other sects that had their religious elite. The 19th-century Chasidic commentator, the Sefat Emet (Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter), explains that holiness is achieved by being deeply connected to the Jewish people and that is why the law was stated in public.

The Midrash provides an alternative solution: "Rav Levi stated: Because the Ten Commandments are included within the portion". The Midrash goes on to state where the Ten Commandments appear: for example, the original commandment not to bear false witness finds its echo in the prohibition against spreading gossip.

Just as the Ten Commandments were delivered publicly, so too were their parallels in our parashah. The prevalent misconception that the original Ten are more important than the remaining mitzvot is thus shown to be false. The complete Jewish weltanschauung demands both communal and individual obedience to the call of God.

Only through the combined efforts of the entire Jewish community will we accomplish that ambitious objective - to become a holy people that is a light to the nations.

Last updated: 10:22am, April 28 2011