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Parashat Kedoshim (Leviticus 19:1-20:27)

Parashat Kedoshim is primarily focused on practical, ethical laws that will set Israel apart from her surrounding nations. It begins with the directive, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). But when Hashem gives this instruction, He tells Moses to speak this “to all the congregation of the people of Israel.” The way Hashem addresses the Children of Israel is unique to this event. Let’s take a look at why this is the case. 

So far in the book of Leviticus, most of the instructions have been to Aaron and his sons, and then to the priesthood in general. In our previous portion, the LORD expands His instructions from the priesthood to the nation as a whole by saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons and to all the people of Israel” (vs. 17:2). Now, He specifies that these instructions are to be heard by “all the congregation of the people of Israel.” In other words, whereas the previous instructions to the Children of Israel could be relayed to anyone not present during Moses’ teaching, this time He wants every individual to be present (hence “the congregation”) so that they can hear these important mitzvot.

What’s so important about these particular commandments? Hasn’t the Torah given some very important ones already? Evidently, the mitzvot that are contained in this section of the Torah have some critical bearing on both the nation as well as the individual. They include things like taking care of the poor, honest business dealings, impartiality in court, not bearing grudges, honoring parents and elders, and not giving into temptations to look and act like the people around them. This is a short list of things intended to make Israel stand out as a holy nation, consecrated to the LORD. But there is a problem in trying to establish parameters of holiness.

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