The verse in
tells us that the Jewish nation is separate and different from other nations and sanctified unto God.
You shall be holy for Me, for I Hashem am holy; and I have separated you from the peoples to be Mine.
Rashi explains the phrase
to be Mine.
Simply, Bnei Yisrael, you will be Mine. Secondly, the separation will make you Mine. Rashi notes
if you will not be Mine, you will belong to Nevuchadnetzar and his cohorts. What does that mean? Rashi continues and cites Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah who says that a Jew can say that theoretically he could eat pig, but he refrains because Hashem, our Father in heaven, so commanded us as a means of separating from the other nations.
We can develop our relationship with Hashem in two ways, out of fear and out of love. We can obey Hashem's will and be His nation out of the fear of consequences or through love, by choosing our behaviors according to His will. Nevertheless, the questions remain, why do we need to achieve such sanctity? Why the need for separation? And how do we accomplish the separation that will lead to this goal?
Rav Hirsh explains that the purpose and mission of Bnei Yisrael is to bring knowledge of God to the people of the world. To do so, those people must see that the Jews' existence is based solely on God's will. Therefore, Bnei Yisrael cannot rely on wealth, military prowess or political strategy. They must remain separate if they are to convey this message to the world. They came into existence in a unique way and must continue to exist unnaturally. We are here not as a rejection of other nations but as a service to them. As such, we cannot assimilate but must remain distinct.
The laws of the Torah guard us. As Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan writes, we are like the captain of the ship of the world with special obligations. The others are chefs and passengers with their own obligations. Therefore, our daily lives should differ from the ways of the rest of the world in a way that sanctifies us, writes Rabbi S. Grosbard. As Rabbi G. Schorr writes, every physical act should remind us of our Source and our mission so that our physical existence becomes elevated. Then, through pride in our separateness and our service to Hashem, we can bring others closer to Hashem.
Rabbi M. Scheinerman quotes the Beit Halevi that if we don't create the kiddush, sanctification, by distinguishing ourselves through living Torah lives, the world will enforce a havdalah, a more painful separation between Bnei Yisrael and the other nations. This is perhaps what Rashi alludes to, writes the Taam Vodaat, for it was Nebuchadnezzer who destroyed our first Beit Hamikdash when we left God's ways.
When Hashem offered us the Torah, we accepted it and we understood we would separate ourselves from the rest of the world. Why then, Rabbi Sternbuch asks, was it necessary to hold a mountain over our heads? The Maharal explains that there is a difference between desire and obligation. True, we willingly accepted the Torah after Hashem redeemed us from Egypt, but our desire might fade with time. Hashem wanted us to understand that even when our desire would wane, we would still need to observe the commandments and keep ourselves separate from the surrounding nations.
When Hashem separated us from the other nations, He simultaneously gave us the responsibility to maintain that separation so we could fulfill our mission to the other nations, contends the Birkat Mordechai. How can we do that? We must keep away from activities and objects from foreign cultures that would make Hashem "uncomfortable" in our homes. As Rabbi Pincus writes, it is up to us to fill our homes with holiness.
Rabbi Scheinerman notes that gentiles often fill their free time with fun and games. In contrast, the Jew has no free time. When he finishes his work, he learns Torah or involves himself in chessed. A Jew's "down time" is Shabbat and Yom Tov, when time itself is sanctified through Kiddush, zemirot and learning Torah, when our physical lives are elevated to a level of service to Hashem.
Others also have the potential for spiritual greatness. Nevuchadnetzar himself sang a magnificent ode that rivaled the Psalms that Chanaya, Mishael and Azarya sang when they were released from the fiery furnace. However, despite his great potential, he was never able to cross over and accept the sovereignty of the King of kings, writes the Chatam Sofer. On that level, his spirituality revolved around himself, not around Hashem. Had he put his ego aside, he would not have continued to commit the atrocities he did.
Rabbi Orloweck writes that while emotion may spur us to action, one must control that emotion with the intellect, developing a strong inner reality that will enable us to focus our actions toward appropriate goals. This is why Hashem chose Avraham Avinu for this exalted mission. While other descendants of Shem remained in their yeshiva and waited for others to come to them, Avraham went out into the world, interacted with others, and brought mankind closer to Hashem.