Frequently it is, “Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them…” But not in today’s sidra. Here the command is more complicated: “Speak to all the congregation of the Children of Israel and say to them…”
Note how carefully the target audience is identified – not just “the Children of Israel” but “all the congregation of the Children of Israel”.
The stress is on inclusiveness. “All the congregation” is clearly intended to ensure that no-one is frozen out, written out or counted out.
Why this is emphasised is because the message Moses has to convey is, “You (plural) shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”
There are two ways to holiness, the holiness made possible by being alone and the holiness that comes from community.
Holiness of the first kind is lived by hermits and recluses who despair of the world and retreat to ivory towers to seek peace and sanctity on their own – a tempting solution to the problem of an imperfect world.
But this is not the way of holiness which Moses has to place before Israel. His task is to persuade them to be holy as a congregation. This is the concept of holiness which Judaism has always preferred.
There is a remarkable story of the day when the Dubner Maggid rebuked the Vilna Gaon. “Gaon,” he told him, “you are the greatest saint and sage of the generation. But how have you achieved it? You have segregated yourself to be immersed day and night in your books.
“Come down, Gaon, from your tower, go down to the market-place with the ordinary people, endure their struggles, face their problems, and see if you can remain the Vilna Gaon.”
And it is said that, hearing this, the Gaon broke down and wept.
The way to holiness is not always apartness from people; more often it is to stay in the ordinary world and reinforce one another in patience, courage, morality and honesty.
For that it is not necessary to be a sage or scholar: it is more important to try to be a good person and support and strengthen the goodness in others.