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Posted on May 10, 2024 (5784) By Rabbi Yaakov Menken | Series: | Level:

At the beginning of our reading, Kedoshim, Moshe is commanded to “speak to the entire congregation of the Children of Israel” [19:2]. Rashi explains that everyone was summoned to Moshe, to be taught these Commandments together. Why? Because, Rashi says, the majority of areas of Torah depends upon principles found in this portion.

It is true that this Torah portion touches upon many different areas of the law, such that our understanding would be incomplete without what we learn here. But in addition, the verses also offer foundational concepts which are relevant to most every area of Torah and life.

Looking at just the first verses of the reading, we can learn general rules that apply immediately to all of us:

I. Strive to do better. “You shall be holy,” the Torah Commands. Instead of chasing after material pursuits, aim for a life of spiritual elevation.

II. Use G-d as your role model. The Torah immediately explains why a person should want to be holy: “For I am Holy, Hashem your G-d.”

III. Make a special effort when it’s harder. The Torah Commands, “A person shall fear his mother and father,” in that order. Rashi explains that the Torah places the mother first when it comes to fear, precisely because it is more natural for a person to fear his or her father. The Commandment to honor parents [Ex. 20:12], on the other hand, places the father first; Rashi say that a person is more likely to give honor to his mother, because her kinder words win his favor. In both cases, the Torah tells us to prioritize the obligation we naturally find more difficult.

IV. Keep your priorities straight. The verse continues, “and you shall guard My Sabbaths, I am Hashem your G-d.” Why is fear of parents and observing the Sabbath found in the same verse? Rashi says that obeying parents has a limit: it is secondary to obeying G-d. “You and your father are [both] obligated to honor Me.”

These are all in addition to the straightforward Commandments to obey parents and guard the Sabbath found in the same verses. You can find ways to apply these principles in every area of life. May we be successful in putting them into action!