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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Kdoshim

Hirsch At Your Table

Kedusha

A brief Dvar Torah on the Parsha, based on R. Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Torah Commentary
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דבר אל כל עדת בני ישראל ואמרת אלהם קדושים תהיו כי קדוש אני ד’ אלוקיכם. (Lv 19:2)
The Torah previously warned the Jewish people to distance themselves from the immoral practices of the inhabitants of Canaan. Now, the Torah details the proper kinds of behavior that Jews must adopt. The first and most important of these is to emulate God and live a life of קדושה.

What is the meaning of קדושה, as it relates to both God and the Jewish people? The common translation of קדושה as "holiness" or "sanctity" is superficial and does not express the deeper meaning of the word.

The word קדושה is from the root ק-ד-ש "to prepare for a task, dedicating all of one’s resources to its accomplishment." Words based on this root ק-ד-ש can be used positively, as in ועשו לי מקדש, negatively as in לא תהיה קדשה or reflexively as inהתקדשו למחר.


קדושה is equated with moral perfection. God epitomizes this virtue and commands His people to strive for it as well. To achieve moral perfection, a person must have complete control over his conduct. One must be ready always to perform good deeds and to avoid the immoral influences that one encounters daily. In short, .

Man exercises self-control not by reining in his many skills and abilities but by channeling them toward positive spiritual objectives. To do so, it is necessary to develop patterns of behavior consistent with living a Godly life. The meaning of קדושה now becomes evident. The goal is to reach the highest level of morality. This can only be accomplished when a person dedicates (in Hebrew, מקדיש) all of his abilities and actions to eliminating evil and developing goodness.

The concluding phrase of the verse, כי קדוש אני ד’ אלוקיכם, is more than a statement that God’s is morally perfect. When He created Man, God breathed נשמת חיים, the breath of life, into him. Thus, He infused man with some of His attributes, making it possible for man to achieve moral perfection. More specifically, God encourages each Jew to improve his moral character by creating circumstances to facilitate good deeds and positive behavior. By tying His image to the deeds and practices of the Jewish people (קידוש ד'), God made the Jewish people His people.

The word נשמת is from the root נ-ש-ם "to breathe." The word חיים is from the root ח-י-ה "to live by virtue of God’s thoughts."


The beginning of the verse דבר אל כל עדת ישראל also indicates the great importance of קדושה. This phrase is used only one other time in the entire Torah, in the command to bring the קרבן פסח. By implication, imbuing life with קדושהin Jewish life is equated with the singular event in the birth of the Jewish people, the Exodus from Egypt.

The word דבר is from the root ד-ב-ר "to combine separate items." In this context it refers to coherent speech directed to a person or group. The word עדת is from the root י-ע-ד "to arrange" a meeting. An עדה is a united community, meeting and deciding its future.


God is the source of קדושה and the reason why a Jew can become holy. The closer a Jew comes to God, the greater his opportunity for achieving holiness.


Copyright © 2014, Matityahu Clark. All Rights Reserved. This is an excerpt from the forthcoming Hirsch At Your Table, a collection of brief divrei torah based on R. Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Torah Commentary.
Rabbi Matityahu Clark
Served in principal/director positions throughout North America. One of the founders of the Educator's Council of America, and former president of the Council for Jewish Education. Former Director of the Board of Jewish Education of Greater Washington.
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