This past Shabbat we read the Torah portion of קדושים, referred to commonly as the Holiness Code. Friday night our intern gave a sermon that referenced the fact that God commands Moses to speak to the entire congregation of Israel (kol adat Yisrael) and not just the children of Israel (b’nei Yisrael) that we usually read. So, as I prepared for our Torah study session Saturday morning, reading through my Rashi commentary and the commentary in the Eitz Chaim, I kept this in mind. And something occurred to me. In the entire section of the portion that follows “kol adat Yisrael” and the injunction that “You shall be holy because I, Adonai your God, am holy,” there is not one reference to death as a punishment for not obeying the commandments. There is reference to punishment, to being cut off from the people, but not specifically to death. It is not until chapter 20 when Moses is again commanded to speak to the children of Israel (b’nei Yisrael) that we have a mention of death as a punishment–this time in reference to worship of Molech). It had been brought up that it is believed that whenever God told Moses to speak to the children of Israel he wouldn’t speak to everyone all at once, but rather explain the laws in smaller groups of people. But, with the Holiness Code the entire congregation of Israel is commanded to hear and to be present, therefore emphasizing the importance of what was to follow. I feel that it is significant that death is not mentioned when speaking of holiness, almost as if God did not want the idea of death as a punishment brought up while the entire congregation was hearing about how they should be Holy. What a wonderful concept–that holiness involves behavior and punishment, but excludes the idea of death. I think it emphasizes on doing good and holy things for the sake of them being good and holy, and not because we fear the consequence of death. (For a more in-depth meditation on the idea of being holy, see Chavi’s post here.)
I don’t know if any commentators have addressed this; we only took a few minutes with it Saturday morning and Rashi, Rambam, the Eitz Chaim, the Plaut, and the Women’s Commentary all were silent on this. As my rabbi pointed out, when no one else is saying anything about it, you’re either a genius or an idiot (he usually says this in reference to himself; I was amused that I have finally warranted the phrase). Granted, there was not a lot of time to check all of his books, but you can bet I’m going to look into this further.