Dean's Letter Acharei-Kedoshim

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Dear Parents,

This week’s parshios, Acharei Mos-Kedoshim, have many values and lessons that we can learn. Parshas Kedoshim is known for its detailed commentaries on how to achieve holiness – a truly lofty goal that we all ascribe to. Rabbi Yissocher Frand, in a brilliant essay on the parshah, quotes the Shemen Hatov, who has a meaningful method of achieving holiness that I wanted to share:

And G-d spoke to Moses saying: “Speak to the entire Community of Israel and tell them, ‘You must be holy, for I, the L-rd your G-d, am holy.’” (Vayikra 19:1–2)

The Medrash comments that this posuk was said behakhel, namely, it was said to all the Jewish people together. In contrast, most of the Torah was taught to Moshe, who taught it to Aharon, who taught it to Aharon’s sons, who taught it to the Elders, etc., etc. However, Moshe taught this parshah in everyone’s presence.

Why is this parshah different? The Medrash answers because most of the fundamentals of Torah are dependent on this parshah of kedoshim tiheyu – “You shall be holy.”
The simple interpretation of this Medrash is that since there are so many important laws that are contained in this parshah, it was said in the presence of everyone.
However, perhaps the Medrash means something else. Perhaps it means that the specific mitzvah of “You shall be holy” is so important and has so many of the fundamentals of Torah dependent upon it, that this mitzvah itself was given publicly.
According to the Ramban, this mitzvah teaches us how to live and act as Jews. The Ramban explains that if not for this mitzvah, a person could conceivably be a novol birshus haTorah, meaning, he could be an observant Jew, and simultaneously a glutton. He could live an obscene life within the parameters of the Torah. He could eat as much as he wants, he could indulge in all the physical pleasures of life – and it might all be “glatt kosher.”

If not for this mitzvah, such a person could be called a tzaddik, a righteous person. However, the Torah says, “You shall be holy” – you must abstain. You must act with restraint, with holiness. Do not indulge. Do not be a glutton. That is the mitzvah of kedoshim tiheyu. It is so vital that it had to be said to the entire nation together.

The Shemen Hatov explains that a person cannot be holy unto himself. Even though it is an individual mitzvah, the individual needs the help of society. If someone lives in a society that is indulgent, it becomes very difficult for that individual to remain a kodosh, a holy person.
To achieve “You shall be holy,” the cooperation of a person’s family, city, and nation are required. The parshah needed to be given to everyone together. When everyone is involved in conspicuous indulgence, it becomes almost impossible for an individual to act with restraint.
We see this very clearly in the society in which we live today. Rampant hedonism surrounds us, where people instantly gratify their every whim and wish. We live in a society that does not know about kedushah. The only way we can personally achieve this mitzvah of “You shall be holy” is if we not only work on ourselves, but we elevate those around us and try to live among people who also share the ideal of kedoshim tiheyu.

I can’t help but be amazed at the tremendous chevrah in our community of bnai and bnos aliyah that all support each other in both the spiritual and social realms. The caring and giving of the Nshai Chessed and other chessed activities along with the plethora of shiurim that the members of our community are engaged in all support the words of the Shemen Hatov. I learned two special lessons from this dvar Torah:

  1. We all need each other, and the chizuk that we give each other on the spiritual and physical level allows us all to reach lofty goals. No one person can do it alone.
  2. In the area of community growth, we learn that “it takes a village.” The partnership of administration, rabbonim, lay leaders, and families are all equal and important stakeholders, and we need each of your help as we move forward. We thank each one of you for your help to attain the “true holiness” alluded to by the Shemen Hatov.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Peretz Scheinerman
Dean