Parashat Kedoshim begins with the famous but vague command of “kedoshim tiheyu” – “you shall be sacred.” Numerous different interpretations have been offered to explain this command, and, additionally, to explain how God could instruct Moshe, as He does, to relay this command to “the entire congregation of the Israelites.” The Torah emphasizes that specifically the imperative of “kedoshim tiheyu,” which appears to set an especially high bar of conduct, is issued to the entire nation, to the exclusion of nobody. The commentators thus set out to explain this command in a manner which makes it realistically attainable by each and every member of Am Yisrael.
One particularly intriguing approach is that offered by Rav Mordekhai Yosef Leiner of Izhbitz, in his Mei Ha-shiloach. He suggests that the verb k.d.sh. In this context does not actually mean “sacred,” but rather “ready” or “prepared.” An example of this usage of the verb is God’s command to Moshe before the Revelation at Sinai, “ve-kidashtam” (Shemot 19:10), which likely means, “you shall prepare them.” We read several verses later (19:14) that Moshe fulfilled this command – “va-yekadeish et ha-am,” and the Torah explains that Moshe said to the people, “be prepared for three days from now” (19:15), indicating that this is what “ve-kidashtam” meant. Similarly, in several contexts (e.g. Bereishit 38:21), the Torah refers to a prostitute with the term “kedeisha,” likely because she makes herself ready and available for all men.
Accordingly, the Mei Ha-shiloach explains that the command “kedoshim tiheyu” requires us not to be “sacred,” but rather to be ready and prepared at all times, always anticipating the time when God will provide us with insight and inspiration. In other words, it demands that we be ready to seize every opportunity we are given to increase our knowledge and improve ourselves. The Mei Ha-shiloach explains on this basis the continuation of the verse: “for I, the Lord your God, am ‘sacred’.” God tells us that just as He is always ready and available to help us when we require assistance, so must we be always ready and available for Him.
This interpretation of “kedoshim tiheyu” neatly explains how this command can be issued to all members of the nation, how it can be fulfilled and achieved to its fullest by each and every one of us. According to the Mei Ha-shiloach, the requirement of “kedoshim tiheyu” essentially requires us to try to achieve kedusha, to seize the opportunities that come our way. It does not demand anything loftier than we are capable of doing or of being, but simply that we make it our priority to expand our knowledge and build our religious characters. This understanding of “kedoshim tiheyu” acknowledges that we are not presently able to rise to the great spiritual heights that we would ideally want, and requires simply that we take whatever steps we can in the direction of those heights once these steps become possible. Our obligation is to accept our current limitations while committing ourselves to seize every opportunity we are given to extend beyond them and make ourselves better.