May 13-14, 2016 – 6 Iyyar 5776
Annual (Leviticus 19:1-20:27): Etz Hayim p. 693; Hertz p. 497
Triennial (Leviticus 19:23-20:27): Etz Hayim p. 698; Hertz p. 503
Haftarah (Amos 9:7-15): Etz Hayim p. 706; Hertz p. 509
Holiness: the User’s Manual
Esther Israel, CY Talmud and Bible Faculty
Thumbing through an index of the names of various parshiyot of the Torah can be confusing, sometimes amusing. The names are usually words from the first verse of the parasha; if possible, a word which encapsulates something of its nature. This is why parasha names are sometimes personal names (like Noah, Yitro), sometimes verbs (like the commands: Lech l’cha! or Bo), or adjectives (such as Metsora, “leprous”, and Kedoshim). Kedoshim, of course, means “holy,” masculine plural. Apparently, there are some people, or perhaps things we will encounter in this parasha, that are described as kedoshim, holy.
Now, if we’ve been following the Torah readings in the last few months, we know something about holiness and what and who are holy. God concluded Creation by “hallowing” the seventh day (וַיְקַדֵּשׁ אֹתוֹ, Gen 2:3); the tabernacle, its vessels and personnel, were all consecrated by Moshe at God’s command.
What a surprise, then, to discover that “kedoshim” can be an adjective for all Israelites, as well. However, it functions here not as a description of current reality, but as a commandment – קְדֹשִׁים תִּהְיוּ, be (or “become”) holy (Lev 19:2). God’s message here is that we must be holy, kedoshim, because the commander, our God, is kadosh.
I can imagine the Torah telling us that we have a certain characteristic, even a divine attribute, because Hashem invested us with that divine attribute or status. However, to command us to attain God-like status: isn’t that a bit much, not to mention out of our reach, and presumptuous?
Is this a crazy command or not? The answer might depend on how we try to implement the radical aspiration of becoming holy. The Bible details how (generalized groupings and headings mine), though the next two chapters: respect the status of your parents, God, Shabbat and the Temple; actively allow the poor and less fortunate to share from all the produce of your land; no dishonesty whatsoever, irrespective of socio-economic status or familial ties; no hate or spite towards others, in actions, words or thought; do not tamper with the natural world as God created it, recognize God’s ownership of the world; do not eat blood; no magic or occult practices; love your brothers and those who have chosen to be part of your community; be scrupulous; no sexual immorality; learn from the mistakes of others; avoid that which got the previous inhabitants of the land expelled; respect the ritual laws.
The parasha ends with the general injunction to keep the mitsvot. This will prevent desecration of God’s name, and lead to God being sanctified in the midst of Israel. Coming full circle now, we now can sum up that being holy means being a “good enough” person: fine, upstanding citizens with no record of felonies or subversive activities. It is the “all-round” nature of this behavior which makes for the appreciation of such a person as holy. The holy person cares not only for his/her favorite agenda or priority, but is scrupulous on all fronts mentioned above. He respects others’ “pet issues,” and they in turn will (hopefully) be just a careful with the mitsvot he favors. God, we learn, cares about all these things, and therefore we must, too.
A Vort for Parashat Kedoshim
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty
One of the most famous lines in the Torah, v’ahavta l’re’echa k’mocha, you shall love your fellow as yourself (Lev 19:18), is given a strange twist in the Talmud (Ketubot 37b). It is the basis for executing a condemned criminal in a manner minimizing suffering, “choose for him mita yafah, a ‘nice’ death. “Sh’yamut maher, Rashi says, “that he may die quickly.” The Rabbis may be playing with the word re’echa ((רעך, which can also mean “your evil one” (R’ Meir HaLevi Abulafia, Spain 13th C), but they are clearly telling us that the duty of loving others covers all Israel (all society), even the bad apples in the barrel.
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty
This Parasha is a concentration of Mitzvot (commandments) from many spheres of life. We will look at a few of them.
1) Kedoshim means ‘holy’. The Parasha opens with the commandment to ‘be Kedoshim for Hashem your God is Kadosh’ (19:2). How do you think that we are supposed to behave to be Kedoshim?
2) 19:9-10 tells us to leave a corner of our field uncut when harvesting, as well as leave individual pieces of the harvested produce that happened to have dropped. Who is left for? What might this teach us about our responsibility towards others in our society? Do we have any similar things today?
3) We are prohibited from cursing a deaf person (in the Torah a curse is assumed to have the power to come true) nor put a stumbling block in front of a blind person (19:14). Why did the Torah give these 2 prohibitions? What are the differences in the 2 situation described? Could a person be considered deaf or blind in a non-physical way?
4) At the end of several Mitzvot, such as 19:3, 9-10, the Torah adds a reminder – ‘I am Hashem (the Lord) your God’. Why do you think that reminded was placed following some Mitzvot? At the end of 19:14 there is a special warning. What is it? Why did these specific prohibitions receive this warning?
5) In 19:28 the Torah forbids 2 things. What are they and what do they have in common? What message do you get from these Mitzvot?