Parashat Kedoshim begins with the command “Kedoshim Tiheyu,” requiring us to strive for “Kedusha” – “holiness.” What exactly does “holiness” mean, and how are we to go about pursuing it?
When a couple gets married, the groom says to the bride, “Hareh At Mekudeshet Li,” declaring that she is “Mekudeshet.” This does not mean that she is “holy” or spiritual because she is marrying him. Rather, it means that she is set apart and designated exclusively for him. Likewise, when a person would consecrate an animal as a sacrifice in the times of the Bet Hamikdash, he would declare the animal as “Hekdesh.” He set this animal apart from other animals in the world, making it different and distinct.
“Kadosh” essentially means “different.” When the Torah commands us to be “holy,” it means that we are to be different and distinct from other people in the world. We must live on a higher standard and with a different set of principles and priorities. The nature and direction of our lives must be fundamentally different from that of other people.
Before God presented the laws of this Parasha to Moshe, He instructed that they must be spoken to “Kol Adat Beneh Yisrael” – the entire nation. Whereas other Misvot of the Torah were first transmitted to the leaders who then taught them to the rest of the nation, these laws were presented at an assembly of all Beneh Yisrael. The reason, perhaps, is because “holiness” can only be pursued in a large group, together with other people. “Kedusha,” as we explained, means being different and separate, going against the tide and conventional modes of behavior. It is very difficult for individuals to swim against the tide. We are all influenced by the society around us, and easily fall prey to the pressure and intimidation of the majority. Very few people are able to resist this pressure alone. The best chance we have of achieving “Kedusha,” of being able to remain distinct and go against the tide, is in a group, working together with like-minded people. The Misva of “Kedoshim Tiheyu” was issued at a national assembly, because only when the nation works together can “Kedusha” be achieved.
This is especially true nowadays, when the decadent, base culture of the general society is so pervasive. Wherever we go, we find ourselves bombarded by the culture and values of the general society, which are diametrically opposed to those of the Torah. In order to resist this pressure, we need the support of our peers. And for this reason, it is crucial for everyone to find a framework – such as a regular Torah class – in which he or she is surrounded by others who seek Kedusha, who wish to be different from the society around us. We cannot go about this ambitious endeavor alone; we need the strength and support of a group working together to resist the tide. Only if we work together as a group can we succeed in our attempt to achieve true “holiness,” and conduct our lives on a higher moral standard so that we are worthy of a meaningful relationship with our Creator.