1.

In the introduction to Parshat Kedoshim, Hashem instructs Moshe “Daber el kol adat B’nai Yisrael” — “Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel.” Rashi comments, “This teaches us that this Torah portion was said at a gathering of the entire assembly because the majority of the essentials of the Torah depend upon it.”

The regular procedure of transmitting mitzvot to Klal Yisrael was that Moshe would teach them privately to Aharon; then Nadav and Avihu would join them and Moshe would repeat the teaching. Afterwards the Elders would enter and Moshe would repeat it. Then finally he would teach it to the entire Klal Yisrael (see Eiruvin 54b). The apparently superfluous “kol adat” — “the entire assembly” — implies that when Moshe taught this portion every individual had to be present because of the extreme importance of this chapter. When he taught other portions, individuals had the right to be absent, and they were free to rely on the Elders or leaders to teach them or answer their halachic inquiries.

According to the Maharzu (Rabbi Zev Wolf Einhorn of Horodno, Poland, d. 1862) commentary to Vayikra Rabbah (24:5) the essentials referred to here are revering parents, observing Shabbat, desisting from robbery, not taking revenge or bearing a grudge, and loving a fellow as oneself.

Granted, we would easily understand why it was incumbent on each and every Jew to assemble to hear these essential mitzvot. But why the introductory statement of “Kedoshim tiheyu” — “You shall be holy”? Why did this need to be said to a hakheil — gathering of the entire assembly?

To explain this we must first understand what is meant by the word “Kedoshim” — “be holy.”

The etymology of the word kedoshim is kadosh — which connotes separation due a difference in kind from something else.

Thus, at a wedding ceremony, under the Chuppah, when a Chatan gives the Kallah a ring, he proclaims “Harei at mekudeshet li” — “You are sanctified to me.” The analogy to sanctified property is that just as the item belonging to the Sanctuary is kadosh — holy — because it is in a different spiritual plane from the secular, likewise, the woman is now separated from (i.e. forbidden to) the entire world and specified a wife to the groom.

The injunction of a command to “be holy” pronounced at an assembly of the entire community is a two-fold message.

Many people succumb to peer pressure and follow the majority. Klal Yisrael as a whole consists of people of all different levels of adherence of Torah and observance of mitzvot. So firstly we are told “Kedoshim tiheyu” — “You shall be holy.” Do not follow the crowd and do what many others are doing, but stay different and maintain your identity. Separate yourself and keep up your strict adherence to Torah and mitzvot.

On the other hand, to dispel the thinking that to be a kadosh — a holy person — one must be secluded from the world and live a life of a hermit, Hashem told Moshe to convey the injunction of being holy specifically to a hakhel — a gathering of kol adat b’nei Yisrael — the entire assembly of the Children of Israel — to allude that one should not distance himself from the community. Rather, while living in society, one should, nevertheless, be a kadosh — one who exerts an influence on other people and endeavors to raise the spiritual standards of the society Divine Providence has placed him in.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, you have been raised in a chassidish home and received a chassidish education based on the teaching and guidance of the Rebbe. The message we derived from our parshah is fully in accordance with the principles the Rebbe emphasized, namely, to enhance the level of Torah observance among the masses and to tenaciously maintain our strict observance of Torah and mitzvot. Hopefully you will continue in this path and go from strength to strength.

With your strong resolve to be holy, maintaining your Yiddish and chassidish identity, Hashem will give you the strength to be a powerful influence on society and raise them all to higher levels of kedushah — holiness.

Mazal Tov and much success in this mission.


2.

In the opening of Parshat Kedoshim Hashem speaks to Moshe and tells him the following: “Dabeir el kol adat B’nei Yisrael, v’amarta aleihem kedoshim tiheyu” — “Speak to the entire congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them, ‘you shall be holy’” (19:2).

The commentaries ask, what is the meaning of the command to “be holy” as a unique obligation? Is it not the objective of every mitzvah, to make us holy, as we say in the berachah recited before doing a mitzvah — “asher kidshanu b’mitzvotov” — “He sanctified us with His mitzvot”? In fact, the entire Torah was given to us to achieve sanctification, as Hashem told Moshe to convey, that the purpose of His giving us the Torah is that “you shall be a kingdom of ministers and goy kadosh — a holy nation”? (Shemot 19:6).

The Ramban in his commentary on this pasuk maintains that the Torah’s directive to “be holy” refers to a distinct effort to sanctify ourselves — independent of the inherent sanctity one achieves through the observance of Torah’s other commands and prohibitions. This directive is an admonition that one’s approach to all aspects of life should be governed by moderation, particularly in the area of what is permitted.

The Torah warns us not to indulge excessively in pleasures of the world, even if they are technically permissible. The Ramban says that one who observes only the letter of the law regarding the commandments can easily become a “naval birshut haTorah” — “a degenerate with the permission of the Torah.”

Therefore, continues the Ramban, “after enumerating (in the previous parshah) the things that it forbids entirely, the Torah came with the general doctrine: ‘be holy’ as the Sages put it ‘kadeish atzmecha b’muter lach’ — ‘sanctify yourself in what is permitted to you’ (Yevamot 20a) — constrain yourself and resist even that which is permissible.”

Similar to this, the Rebbe writes in HaYom Yom (25 Adar II), “An eminent Chassid, Reb. Mordechai of Horodok, once recalled, ‘The first maxim we heard from the Alter Rebbe when he came to Liozna was this. Vas men tar nit, tar men nit, un vas men meg darf men nit — what is forbidden is forbidden, and what is permitted is dispensable.’”

Upon honest self-reckoning, however, one might assume that the Torah’s directive to “be holy,” to sanctify yourself even with that which is permitted to you, is directed at people who are already perfect in their observance of all the Torah’s explicit commands and prohibitions. But he who is still struggling to abstain from what the Torah prohibits, can it be that he, too, is instructed to refrain even from indulging in the permissible?

In fact, you too, my dear Bar Mitzvah, may question and wonder “Does this Biblical edict of being holy apply also to me? I am merely 13 years old; perhaps this will apply to me at a later stage in my life, but not at my tender age?”

In answer to this general question and also your question, I will share with you a beautiful explanation the Rebbe offers in Likkutei Sichot (vol. 7, pp. 323-324).

Hashem prefaced this command with a somewhat unusual introduction, “Dabeir el kol adat b’nei Yisrael” — “Speak to the entire congregation of the children of Israel.” Rashi explains [that unlike the regular procedure of transmitting the mitzvot, where Moshe would teach them privately to Aaron and then different groups would join in], this directive was at a hakheil setting. Moshe assembled all men, women and children of the B’nei Yisrael and taught it to everyone simultaneously.

With this emphasis, G‑d made clear that every Jew, regardless of age or gender, regardless of their particular weaknesses or current spiritual struggles, is expected to not only observe the Torah’s laws, but even to sanctify himself beyond the letter of the law.

Moreover, my dear Bar Mitzvah, since the command to “be holy” applies to everyone, it is axiomatic that every Jew has the potential and is certainly capable of achieving this lofty level.

Hence, my berachah to you is that with the Torah atmos­phere you witnessed in your home, and with the profound Torah and Chassidic education you received in the Yeshivah, and with your assiduous and diligent Torah study, and with the berachot you received tonight from the Rebbe, you should be a holy member of Klal Yisrael in accordance with the directives of the Ramban and Alter Rebbe.

Hatzlachah on this lofty mission.


3.

Ayoung boy or girl reaching the age of Bar or Bat Mitzvah, and for that matter even older people, might ask when the Torah says “Kedoshim tihe’u” — “You shall be holy” — “Does it really mean me”?! Of course, we all know of some people that are universally considered holy, but — a person might ask — “What is it that Torah expects of me?” Obviously, since the pasuk says that this was addressed to kol adat b’nei Yisrael” — “the entire assembly of the Children of Israel” — it indeed included everyone without exception — but the question still remains: how is it possible to expect of all, men and women young and old, to be holy?

The Midrash (Shemot Rabbah, 34:1) states “Hashem does not make cumbersome requests of His creatures — rather, they are within the human strength.” Consequently, this command of being holy may require effort on our part, but it is definitely attainable by all.

So let’s analyze it a bit.

The Torah’s instruction immediately following will perhaps shed some light on the subject.

The Torah says “Ish imo v’aviv tira’u” — “Every man (including also women — Rashi) shall fear his father and mother.” There are two questions that immediately surface. Firstly, the word “ish” — “every man” — seems superfluous. Could it not just say “Tir’u imecha v’avicha” — “Fear your mother and father.” Secondly, the Ten Commandments state “Kabeid et avicha v’et imecha” — “Honor your father and mother” (Shemot 20:12). Why the changeover here from honor to fear?

As answers to these questions, permit me to share with you a novel (homiletical) interpretation of this pasuk. The pasuk can be read as advice to the individual, explaining how to achieve a holy and upright lifestyle. The term “ish” — a “man” — refers to an adult. Adulthood, according to Torah law, starts at the age of Bar Mitzvah. Thus, the pasuk could be seen as a message addressed to a Bar Mitzvah.

The word “tira’u” which is popularly translated “fear” or “revere” is etymologically also associated with “vision and seeing.” And since there are no vowels in the Torah, the word can be read as “Tir’u” — “you shall see (envision).”

A common tendency, unfortunately, in our society is that many young men (and women) have dreams of doing things their way, and do not necessarily appreciate or consider their parents or grandparents as living guideposts.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, the Torah’s exhortation to be holy starts with a general rule and sound advice, saying “ish” — when you become an adult and consider yourself mature and independent — “imo v’aviv tir’u” — also see the image of your mother and father. Reflect on how they would like you to be. Think earnestly if what you are about to do would meet their approval. When you will conduct yourself throughout life in that manner, you will always be on the right path and live a lifestyle which the Torah characterizes as kodesh — holy and upright — and be a happy and healthy Jew, begashmiut u’beruchniyut — materially and spiritually.


4.

There are different opinions in the Gemara (Kiddushin 32b) as to the meaning of the pasuk “Mipnei seivah takum vehadarta p’nei zakein” — “You shall rise in the presence of an old person, and you shall honor the presence of an elder” (19:33).

According to the Tana Kamma (first opinion) the two halves of the pasuk explain one another, i.e. the commandment is to rise for a sage (seivah) who is a zakein — a Torah scholar. Rabbi Yosi HaGelili opines that these are two separate commandments: to rise and honor anyone who is a seivah — over the age of seventy — even if he is not learned, and to rise for and honor a zakein — a scholar — even if he is young.

According to both opinions the word “zakein” is interpreted as a combination of the words “zeh kanah chachmah” — “this one has acquired wisdom.” They disagree, however, as to if zakein qualifies the term seiva, and also indicates age, or if it represents only wisdom regardless of age.

Rashi in his commentary on Chumash explains the pasuk in accordance with the view of the Tana Kamma. The halachah, however, follows the view of Rabbi Yosi HaGelili, and one must honor (and stand before) even a younger sage (Yoreh Dei’ah 244:1).

Superficially, since both opinions base themselves on the fact that the word “zakein” is an allusion to wisdom, should it not have simply said chacham? Moreover, according to the Tana Kamma who opines that the two halves of the pasuk explain one another, the wording should have been shortened to just say “mipnei seivah chacham takum” — “rise before an elderly wise sage?” In addition, why is the word p’nei repeated twice — it should have just said “mipnei seivah takum v’hadarta zakein”?

This is not the place and time enter into a dissertation on this subject and to analyze the different opinions and how each interpret the commandment. However, I would like to share a novel explanation with you, my dear Bar Mitzvah. What I will be saying is a derush — homiletic approach — and not according to peshuto shel mikra — the literal meaning of the pasuk.

In Hebrew the word “zakein” does not only mean old or aged, but it is a title for a grandfather. The word vehadarta — stems from the word “hadar,” which means beautiful. (The Torah refers to the etrog as “pri eitz hadar” — “fruit of a beautiful tree” [Vayikra 23:40]). Also, the word “pnei” in Hebrew means a face.

Hence, it could be said that the Torah is instructing Jews that “vehadarta p’nei zakein “— “you should beautify the face of your grandfather.”

To better understand this, I will relate an episode from a Bar Mitzvah I attended a number of years ago.

In my shul there were many families and not all were at the same level in their Torah observance. I would be invited to their simchot and tried to attend as many as possible. One Bar Mitzvah celebration stands out in my mind. It was one of those lavish banquets which must have cost tens of thousands of dollars. The hall was decorated with greenery and flowers. The music, the meal, and the drinks were the best that money could buy. At a certain point in the festivities the band played a fanfare, and the audience was hushed into silence. The lights were dimmed, and a table was rolled in. A huge birthday cake adorned the table with fourteen candles on it. The candles were lit. Then the Bar Mitzvah lad drew a deep breath, blew, and put all the candles out. The guest applauded; the young man was embraced; and everyone was happy.

My seat happened to be next to the zeida — grandfather — a frum Yid with a beard. I was shocked when his face turned pale-white and tears were streaming from his eyes. “What’s wrong Reb Yaakov” I said, “are you feeling well?”

In a choked voice he said, “Rabbi, in a sense, the candles were a symbol of the years of teaching and effort on the part of parents at home, and teachers in the Talmud Torah in making my einikel — grandson — a fine and devoted Jewish boy. When my einikel extinguished those candles, he seemed to be serving notice to one and all that he was finished with all he had been taught. I pray that this one blow actually not be the drawing of the curtain on his further interest in Torah and Jewish matters.”

My dear Bar Mitzvah, I have the pleasure of knowing your parents. I also had the privilege to have known your grandparents. I know what kind of upbringing you were fortunate to receive at home and in the yeshivah you attend.

My prayer and blessing to you is that “vehadarta p’nei zakein” — all the years of your life you should “beautify” the faces of your grandparents, ancestors and elders. May their faces radiate and shine with satisfaction and joy seeing that you are faithfully following in their footsteps, and as the saying goes, “the apple did not fall far from the tree.”

May your deeds and actions always be a source of pride and happiness and may they glow from simchah, seeing you grow up to be an authentic Chassid, yirei Shamayim — G‑d fearing Jew — v’lamdan — a Torah scholar. Mazel Tov.