By Rabbi Yitzchok D. Frankel
Agudath Israel of the Five Towns
Speak to all the congregation of the Israelites and say to them, “You shall be holy, for I, Hashem your G‑d, am holy.”
“Speak to all the congregation of the Israelites”—Teaching that this passage was stated in the assembly of all the people, for most of the main parts of the Torah are dependent on it.
—Rashi, ad loc.
What does it mean that “most of the main parts of the Torah are dependent on it”? Does it mean that Parashas Kedoshim contains the majority of the Torah’s mitzvos, or at least more mitzvos than other parashiyos do? No, that’s not it. Parashas Kedoshim has many mitzvos, 48 in all, but Parashas Ki Seitzei has 72. Furthermore, the whole parashah of Kedoshim wasn’t stated in the assembly of all the people, only the beginning of it.
When Rashi says that “most of the main parts of the Torah are dependent on it,” he is referring to the first mitzvah alone: “You shall be holy.”
Why does everything depend on this one mitzvah, so much so that Moshe Rabbeinu needed to gather the entire people together so they could all hear it in assembly? It wasn’t necessary to assemble the nation to teach them the mitzvah of ahavas Hashem, yiras Hashem, or the first pasuk of Shema Yisrael, for that matter. Why now?
The answer is that most of the taryag mitzvos specify what a person is meant to do in a specific circumstance. There are times when a person has to put on tefillin or recite the Shema, there are times when he may not do melachah, etc. Most mitzvos apply only to certain times, places, circumstances, or classes of people.
If we would try to make a list of everything that every Jew has to do in his or her lifetime, it would probably be impossible. A list can contain only a finite number of items. And even if we somehow would manage to cover every possible situation that might arise in the course of life, it still would not work, because there would be so many trees we would lose sight of the forest.
That is why HaKadosh Baruch Hu gave us one mitzvah with the miraculous and elastic quality of covering every situation that might arise in a Jew’s life, even if no specific mitzvah applies in that situation.
“You shall be holy.” This requires us to constantly ask ourselves, “What does Hashem want?”
Lehavdil, I would call this the “Elastic Clause” of the Torah. [The “Elastic Clause” is a statement in the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 8) granting Congress the power to pass all laws necessary and proper for carrying out the enumerated list of powers.] It fills the gaps. It spreads out to cover all the circumstances where the Torah states no specifics. “You shall be holy” comes to tell us that when we do mitzvos, and even when we aren’t doing mitzvos, there is one guideline for a Jew’s behavior: “In all your ways, you should know Him” (Mishlei 3:6).
“You shall be holy” is a Torah-ordained mitzvah that requires us in every situation to ask ourselves, “What does the Ribbono shel Olam expect of me right now? Is this what He wants?”
Often, a circumstance arises in which a person asks, “May I do this? Is it forbidden?” His rabbi tells him, “Really you shouldn’t do it.” So he responds, “But I don’t understand. Why is it assur? Where is it stated in the Shulchan Aruch that this is forbidden?”
The answer is that it violates the Torah-ordained mitzvah of “You shall be holy.”
We need to analyze situations like this by asking ourselves, “What would the Ribbono shel Olam want me to do in this situation? Would He find this course of action pleasing or displeasing?” The mitzvah of “You shall be holy” obligates us to do this.
This is the meaning of “Most of the main parts of the Torah are dependent on it.” Most of the Torah’s mitzvos are situation-specific and they depend on the “Elastic Clause,” which covers the endless circumstances that fall in between or beyond the bounds of the specific mitzvos. As the Ramban (Vayikra 19:2) explains:
“The point of this mitzvah is that the Torah forbade ervah relationships and non-kosher foods, yet it permitted relations between man and wife, and the consumption of meat and wine. If so, a man of desire could find a place to pursue his lust: with his wife or many wives. And he could guzzle wine and gobble meat, and speak as he pleases about all sorts of improper subjects, for this prohibition is not mentioned in the Torah. In this way he will be a debased individual with the Torah’s ‘permission.’
“Therefore, Scripture comes, after detailing the things that are completely forbidden, and commands generally that we should separate ourselves from superfluous things.”
The undefined situations in life where no specific mitzvah applies are what the Ramban is talking about when he says that without the mitzvah of “You shall be holy,” a person would end up as “a debased individual with the Torah’s ‘permission.’” There are so many kosher foods and drinks to help oneself to and so many enjoyable and entertaining things to indulge oneself in, and they’re all “mutar.” But is that what the Ribbono shel Olam wants? Is that what pleases Him? If not, it violates the Torah-ordained obligation of “You shall be holy.”
That is why this mitzvah had to be stated in the assembly of all the people. Men and women, young and old. It is the all-significant clause that ties all of the other 612 pieces together. v
Rabbi Frankel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Machat shel Yad Bereishis, Shemos, and Vayikra are available at local stores.