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Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Yisroel and say to them you shall be holy for holy am I, Hashem you God. (Vayikra 19:2)
This week’s parsha begins with a command that Moshe speak to the entire assembly of the Jewish people. Rashi explains that because many fundamental principles of the Torah are presented here it was necessary that it be transmitted in the presence of the entire Jewish people.
The commentators note that there is only one other instance where Hashem instructed that a Mitzvah be transmitted in the presence of the entire assembly of the Jewish people, that being, the karbon pesach. The posuk there reads. “Speak to the entire assembly of the of Yisroel saying: on the tenth of the month they shall take for themselves each man a lamb or kid for each father’s house, a lamb or a kid for the household” (Shemos 12:3). What is the connection between the two?
We may answer by noting that Rashi here defines the command of being holy as creating a barrier to guard against forbidden relations. Furthermore, chazal teach us the lamb of the korban pesach was the idol of the Egyptians. Hashem commanded us to distance ourselves from idolatry by slaughtering the idol of the Egyptians. It emerges that both in connection to idolatry and forbidden relations the Jewish people were commanded in the presence of the entire Jewish people. Indeed the two are connected. The gemara says the Jewish people were well aware that there was no truth or benefit in the worshiping of idols, however they only did so in order to permit forbidden relations in public. The commentators explain this dictum by noting that every human being has a natural inborn awareness that forbidden relations are immoral. The only way one can justify one’s lust for forbidden relations is to establish a new ideology with a new set of ethics. This was achieved through idolatry.
Let us suggest an alternative interpretation. The Torah’s command that we be holy has the connotation that we strive for something extra. The Torah is telling us not to fulfill the mitzvos as a matter of obligation but rather as a tool to achieve a state of holiness.
We find that people who miraculously survived a life threatening ordeal tend to feel that they were spared by a Hashem for a special purpose. Generally, these people tend to strive to achieve something extra with their lives and not settle for the ordinary.
Chazal tell us that the Egyptians were extremely wicked and immoral people and the Jewish people were not far behind. Indeed the Gemara mentions that at the splitting of the sea the ministering angles complained to Hashem that it was not necessary to save the Jewish people for they were idolaters just like the Egyptians. The karbon pesach serves to remind us that Hashem passed over our homes when Hashem brought death in the homes of the Egyptians. By being passed over we are reminded that we were in great danger like the Egyptians only that Hashem chose to spare us. In other words the karbon pesach reminds us that we are all survivors.
The Torah’s command to be holy instructs us not to settle for mediocrity. This command is linked to the karbon pesach because the karbon pesach reminds us that we are all survivors. A survivor doesn’t settle for the ordinary; he seeks the extraordinary.
© Efraim Levine 5760/2000 - 5763/2003