The Magical State of Kedushah by Reuven Herzog


Despite its not taking up much size relative to other Parashiyot, Parashat Kedoshim contains many vague and confusing topics.  One of the more heavily debated topics stems directly from the second Pasuk (VaYikra 19:2), “Dabeir El Kol Adat Bnei Yisrael VeAmarta Aleihem Kedoshim Tihyu Ki Kadosh Ani Hashem Elokeichem,” “Speak to the entire congregation of Israel, and say to them, ‘You shall be Kadosh, because I, Hashem your God, am Kadosh.’”  This word “Kadosh” is often mistranslated as holy, but many Meforshim debate the correct translation.  Rashi offers one of the more frequently quoted definitions, saying that to be Kadosh is to be separate, specifically from illicit relationships. Ramban takes this further, saying that Kedushah is the opposite of being even a Naval BiReshut HaTorah, namely having excess within the boundaries of the Torah’s laws.

Tosafot, however, understand Kedushah to be designated for one thing.   The identity of this one thing is clear from the first source in which the term Kedushah is applied to Bnei Yisrael.  Within the context of Matan Torah, Hashem tells Moshe, “VeAtem Tihyu Li Mamlechet Kohanim VeGoy Kadosh,” “And you shall be for me a kingdom of priests and a Kadosh nation” (Shemot 19:6).  In this Pasuk, the word Kadosh is written with “VeAtem Tihyu Li,” showing that Bnei Yisrael are supposed to be designated for Hashem.  For what purpose are they to be a “Goy Kadosh”?  It is to be a “Mamlechet Kohanim,” namely to serve Hashem.

With this definition, how is anyone supposed to achieve Kedushah?  The first usage of the Shoresh of Kedushah may provide an answer.  In Sefer BeReishit, Hashem finishes creating the world as we know it today and rests.  The Torah describes this scene as follows: “VaYar Elokim Et Kol Asher Asah VeHinei Tov Me’od…VaYechulu HaShamayim VeHaAretz VeChol Tzeva’am, VaYechal Elokim BaYom HaShevi’i Melachto Asher Asah, VaYishbot BaYom HaShevi’i MiKol Melachto Asher Asah, VaYevarech Elokim Et Yom HaShevi’i VaYekadeish Oto,” “And Hashem saw all that he did, and behold it was very good…And the heavens and the earth of their hosts were completed.  And Hashem finished all of his work that he made on the seventh day, and He rested on the seventh day from all of his work, and He blessed the seventh day and he designated it [for Him]” (BeReishit 1:31-2:3).  In this section, five crucial phrases demonstrate the way to obtain Kedushah: “VaYar…VeHinei Tov Me’od,” “VaYechal,” “VaYishbot,” “VaYevareich,” and, most importantly, “VaYekadeish.”

These phrases teach us that there is a five-step process to obtain Kedushah.  First, one has to be at a very high level in spirituality, so much so that he is looked at favorably even by Hashem Himself.  After this, he must accomplish as much as he can at that level and achieve as much in life as he can.  He must retain this status for a period of time, and then he must humble himself enough to realize that there is something in the universe that is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent.  Only once all of these steps have been completed can such a person ascend to the nearly supernatural level of Kedushah.

At Matan Torah, Bnei Yisrael were on such a high level of Kedushah that they were able to ascend to this status, something no other nation had done.  Just forty days after the freedom from Mitzrayim, Bnei Yisrael were already clearly deserving of being the chosen people; they were “Tov Me’od”.  Hashem acknowledges this in His proposition to Moshe that “VeAtem Tihyu Li Mamlechet Kohanim VeGoy Kadosh.”  Shortly after this, Hashem issues a stop order to Bnei Yisrael, with the statement “Hagbeil Et HaHar VeKidashto,” “Make a boundary around the mountain and designate it [for Me]” (Shemot 19:23).  This signifies that Bnei Yisrael had gone as far as they could, and had fulfilled the second criteria.  They then stayed at Har Sinai for one year, withstanding the test of time, all the while being humbled by Hashem’s presence in the center of their camp, the Mishkan.  Finally, Bnei Yisrael were able to receive the most crucial part of being a religion and society functioning for Hashem: civil laws, mainly found in Parashat Kedoshim.  These laws were received from as close a position as Bnei Yisrael ever were to Hashem, with their leader, Moshe, as a middleman.

This past week we celebrated Yom HaAtzma’ut, commemorating the sixty-second anniversary of the independence of the State of Israel.  Many Rabbanim have stated that the existence of the state is Atchalta DiGeulah, the beginning of the final redemption.  Although this is not certain, there definitely is a great potential for the Geulah to occur soon.  Im Yirtzeh Hashem, the State of Israel will celebrate many more birthdays and blossom into the site of the third Beit HaMikdash, and its people will arise once again to the great level achieved long ago – Kedushah, the closest man can ever be to Hashem.

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