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The Torah's Weekly Portions
Leviticus/Vayikra - Kedoshim101
Posted April, 2000
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Parashat Kedoshim can be found in Vayikra Chapters Yud-Tet and Chav (19 and 20).  Without a doubt, Kedoshim is one of the most beautiful and richest sections of the entire Torah.  It begins with Hashem making a profound declaration: 

Speak unto all of the congregation of the children of Yisrael and say unto them: holy shall you be, for holy am I, God, your Lord. 

Not only is God telling us that we each have the capacity to be holy, He goes beyond that.  He commands us to be holy.  This is a very important point with Judaism.  Each person, woman or man, has the capability to be holy - to be pure, to reach a state of moral perfection.  To paraphrase Rav Samuel Rafael Hirsch on this point, "The holiness to which you are to strive with all the force of your moral free will is, in its true absolute purity, an attribute of God Himself, and has God has given each of us His Breath, He participates with us in finding this freedom, and He continues to constantly provide strength and assistance for everything which is good.  God is the source of our ability to realize holiness in ourselves." 

One would have to assume that this declaration would be a tough act to follow.  Not for God.  With what does He follow?  What else?  Practical lessons in reaching that state of holiness. 

3. Every man - Your father and mother shall you revere and My Sabbaths shall you observe -- I am Hashem, your God:

4. Do not turn to the idols, and molten gods shall you not make for yourselves -- I am Hashem, your God:

5. When you slaughter a feast peace-offering to Hashem, you shall slaughter it to find favor for yourselves:

6. On the day of your slaughter shall it be eaten and on the next day, and whatever remains until the third day shall be burned in fire:

7. But if it shall be eaten on the third day, it is rejected -- it shall not be accepted:

8. Each of those who eat it will bear his iniquity, for what is sacred to Hashem has he desecrated; and that soul will be cut off from its people:

9. When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not complete your reaping to the corner of your field, and the gleanings of your harvest you shall not take:

10. You shall not pick the undeveloped twigs of your vineyard; and the fallen fruit of your vineyard you shall not gather; for the poor and the proselyte shall you leave them -- I am Hashem, your God:

11. You shall not steal, you shall not deny falsely, and you shall not lie to one another:

12. You shall not swear falsely by My Name, thereby desecrating the Name of your God -- I am Hashem:

13. You shall not cheat your fellow and you shall not rob; you shall not withhold a worker's wage with you until morning:

14. You shall not curse the deaf, and you shall not place a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God -- I am Hashem:

15. You shall not commit a perversion of justice; you shall not favor the poor and you shall not honor the great; with righteousness shall you judge your fellow:

16. You shall not be a gossipmonger among your people, you shall not stand aside while your fellow's blood is shed -- I am Hashem:

17. You shall not hate your brother in your heart; you shall reprove your fellow and do not bear a sin because of him:

18. You shall not take revenge and you shall not bear a grudge against the members of your people; you shall love your fellow as yourself -- I am Hashem:

There are some very interesting examples to look at within these fifteen verses.  Let's look at a couple and then I'll focus on one of my favorites.  The third verse equates the respect for parents with keeping Shabbat.  Why?  Because our parents are the givers of life.  It is said that it takes a partnership of three to create a human life - a man, a woman, and God.  Take any of the three out of the equation and there is no new human life.  Are all of the partners equal in the partnership?  In many ways, yes.  In other words, when we show the proper respect for two of the partners - even if that respect is only toward the fact that it was they who gave us our lives - then we are also showing respect for the Third Partner.  Since it is suggested that Shabbat is one of the greatest gifts that God bestowed upon Klal Yisrael, then it would only makes sense to tie these two things into the same verse.

Low let's look at the 16th verse:  You shall not be a gossipmonger among your people, you shall not stand aside while your fellow's blood is shed -- I am Hashem:

Why would these two ideas be tied together?  In Judaism, it is said that the tongue is such a dangerous weapon that it can be best likened to an arrow.  One released, there is no way the arrow can be stopped.  Second, it is said that to speak loshon hara (the evil tongue) is the equivalent of spilling a person's blood or of murder.  Consider the damage done through gossip - lives can be destroyed, and bad feelings can give rise to anger and hatred.  For what reason?  Because we need to have something to talk about?  Some time ago, I heard Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss give a talk on loshon hara and his ending words were, "Stop talking."

This past week, I received an email question from someone concerning the S'firah - time of counting the omer between Pesach and Shavuot - and had an opportunity to present the story of Rabbi Akiva and his 20,000 talmidim (students) that perished in the plague that ended on Lag b'Omer.  It was Rabbi Akiva's contention that the plague was a warning to cease any further loshon hara (gossip and talebearing) or that something worse would happen.  Of course, as is recorded in Mesechta Gittin (Tractate Gittin) and elsewhere, the loshon hara did not stop and something far worse happened.  The Beit haMikdash (The Holy Temple in Jerusalem) was destroyed and a large part of the population of Judea was taken into slavery by the Romans and then dispersed throughout the far reaches of the Empire - creating the Gaulah (Diaspora) that we still living in today.

One more, verse 18, and then we'll look at my favorites:  You shall not take revenge and you shall not bear a grudge against the members of your people; you shall love your fellow as yourself -- I am Hashem: 

First, Rav Hirsch renders this a little differently.  He says the Hebrew translates more accurately to, "Love thy neighbor's well-being as if it were your own."  Personally, I like that a little better because it makes the point with far more clarity.  Second, if we protect our neighbor's well being as we would our own, it only makes sense that we would avoid taking revenge or bearing grudges.

For your own enjoyment, perhaps you would like to look over the combinations found in the other verses above and think about how two concepts might be connected, and how they compliment and accent each other.

Onto verse 14,

You shall not curse the deaf, and you shall not place a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God -- I am Hashem:

There are multiple facets to these two commandments.  Rav Hirsch points out that the correct way to read "You shall not curse the deaf" is as "You shall not curse any person, even the deaf."  In other words, we should never wish anyone ill whether anyone, including the object of the curse, hears it or not.  To wish others harm is the worst possible form of loshon hara.  It was this that has brought destruction to Klal Yisrael (nation of Israel) time and time again.  To observe this commandment is the epitome of accepting others as they are and to only wish good upon others as well as ourselves.

So what does it mean to not place a stumbling block before the blind?  Simply put, it means to not put obstacles in people's paths - any obstacles.  Some practical examples of putting stumbling blocks before the blind might be:

  • To leave your car unlocked thereby tempting the potential thief

  • To state something as being Halachah (Jewish law) when the listener may not yet be ready to comprehend the lesson

  • To leave money out where someone might take it

The entire point of this commandment is to, first of all, remind us of our obligation to think of others as well as ourselves in our speech and actions.  More important, it is to consider the potential consequences of those thoughts and actions especially where other people are concerned.

________

Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash and from Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash

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