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The opening verse of Parshas Kedoshim, second of our double reading this week, says “Speak to the entire Congregation of Israel, and you shall say to them, ‘you shall be holy, for I am Holy, Hashem your G-d'” [19:2]. This verse can be read in multiple ways.
The most obvious, of course, is as a command. We are commanded to emulate G-d in all His ways: just as he is kind and merciful, so shall we be kind and merciful, and so on. But perhaps we find that a daunting idea. G-d is entirely holy — but we are in a physical world, doing physical things. So we might ask, how can we be holy, like Hashem Himself?
So the Rebbe of Aleksander offered a mashul, a comparison. We all know that a child of wealthy parents has little to worry about when it comes to making a living, as long as his or her parents are providing support. So the Rebbe read the verse this way: “You will be holy,” you are capable of achieving true holiness, “because I, Hashem, am Holy,” because I, G-d have infinite Holiness, enough to share with all of you.
Rabbi Yosef Nathanson found another lesson in the precise order of the words in this verse. In English, we translate Ki Kadosh Ani as “for I am Holy,” but it would be more precise to read it as either “for Holy am I” or “for Holy, I am.” The mention of holiness comes first. And Rabbi Nathanson taught that this, like all of Torah, is no accident.
The Medrash says that when the verse reads “you shall be holy,” one might think that it was incumbent upon us, or theoretically possible, to achieve fullest holiness, truly like, as in equal to, that of Hashem himself. But then the verse says “for Holy, I am, Hashem your G-d.”
If we say about a person, “he knows Torah,” Rabbi Nathanson explained, this doesn’t imply that others do not know it. He could be one of many people who know Torah. But if we say, “Torah, he knows,” this implies that he is a unique resource. If you want to know something in Torah, you have to go to him.
So this is what the Medrash is telling us: if the verse had said “for I am Holy,” as we read it in English, this would not exclude others from having holiness. But since the verse says “for Holy, I am,” Hashem is telling us that he is the source of all holiness, greater than any we could achieve.
There are many sources of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding, but the Torah tells us that all holiness and spirituality come from a single source. The study of other societies and their traditions may teach us wisdom, but not Torah, not holiness. Everything we need to connect to G-d and holiness is here at home.