At the start of this week's Torah portion, Rashi, the fundamental 11th-century French commentator, relates that this section of the Torah was read at hakhel, the once-in-seven-years gathering of the entire Jewish nation at which several sections of the Torah were read aloud by the king.
At the start of this week's Torah portion, Rashi, the fundamental 11th-century French commentator, relates that this section of the Torah was read at hakhel, the once-in-seven-years gathering of the entire Jewish nation at which several sections of the Torah were read aloud by the king. (For further discussion of this beautiful mitzvah which we are unfortunately unable to keep today, please see Deuteronomy 31:10-13.) The Sfas Emes, a 19th century leader of Polish Jewry, explains that the Torah is teaching us that, although one might think that holiness is attained by seclusion and separation from the group, the true way of reaching holiness is at hakhel, when the entire nation assembles together. To become holy, one must view himself as an inseparable part of the Jewish people. As was the case at Mount Sinai, it is when the Jewish people are unified, as one body, that they reach the greatest of spiritual heights.
A manifestation of this idea is found later on in the Torah portion regarding the famous verse, "You shall love your fellow as yourself. . ." (Leviticus 19:18). The Milin Chaditin, a commentary on the Torah, explains that every person must view the Jewish nation as one symbiotic body. If a person injures his hand, the thought does not even cross his mind to hate or punish his own hand for causing him pain and suffering. Retribution to his hand would only cause him more anguish. Thus if one member, one limb of the vast interconnected body of the Jewish people, hurts another, there is no purpose for hate or retribution. One would only be hurting himself even further.
In this way, one attains holiness by viewing himself as a contributing organ in the living body of the Jewish people. Furthermore, by unifying ourselves, we may hasten the redemption. It is incumbent upon us to emulate Hashem -- just as He is merciful, so too must we be merciful -- and as we read in the prayer of Aleinu three times a day, in the days of the Messiah, "Hashem will be one and His name will be one." By unifying ourselves as a people, we show Hashem our intense desire to emulate Him by truly living in the image of G-d.
Avi Lowenstein, a native Atlantan, is an 11th grader at the Yeshiva High School of Atlanta.
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