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Torah Sparks

May 5, 2001 - 5761

Prepared by Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg
Temple Sinai, Hollywood, FL

Edited by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Lev. 16:1-20:27; Hertz Chumash, p. 480
Triennial Cycle III: Lev. 19:15-20:27; Hertz Chumash, 500
Haftarah: Amos 9:7-15; Hertz Chumash, 509

(16:1-28) The order of worship on Yom Kippur, including the sacrifices and the practice of the scapegoat.

(16:29-34) Laws and practices of Yom Kippur, including the command to fast.

(17:1-16) The prohibition of slaughtering animals any place except the altar; the prohibition of eating blood, or eating any animal which has died (nevelah) or been torn (trefah).

(18:1-30) A warning to keep away from all idolatrous practices; a list of the categories of forbidden marriage and other forbidden sexual relationships, followed by a general warning to avoid abominable behavior and follow God's ways.

(19:1-14) Laws of holiness, including the mitzvah of imitating God: "You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy."

(19:15-22) Miscellaneous mitzvot which express the overall theme of this Torah portion, including just judicial proceedings and love of one's neighbor.

(19:23-37) Other mitzvot, including "orlah", the prohibition of eating a tree's fruit until its fourth year; prohibitions of pagan and occult practices; the requirements to respect the aged, treat the stranger fairly, and have honest weights and measures.

(20:1-27) Miscellaneous prohibitions and a concluding passage on the laws of holiness and purity which sanctify the Jewish people and make them distinctive among the nations.

Theme 1: Won't You Be My Neighbor?

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am the Lord (Lev. 19:18)

  1. In the generation after the destruction of the Temple, Rabbi Akiva declares "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" is a fundamental rule in the Torah. His contemporary Ben Azzai agrees that this law of love is such a fundamental rule, provided it is read in conjunction with Gen. 5:1 - "This is the book of the generations of man, in the likeness of G-d made He him"; for this latter verse teaches reverence for the Divine image in man and proclaims the vital truth of the unity of mankind, and the consequent doctrine of the brotherhood of man. All men are created in the Divine image, says Ben Azzai; and, therefore, all are our fellow men and entitled to human love. (J.H. Hertz, The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, p. 563)
  2. In the same expansive spirit, the Rabbis taught, "We support impoverished gentiles along with impoverished Israelites; we visit sick gentiles along with sick Israelites and we bury deceased gentiles along with deceased Israelites because of paths of peace." And finally, the Mishnah declared that saving the life of a single human being (Jew or Gentile) as equivalent to saving the entire human race, for the human family began with the creation of a single ancestor. Nothing in any of these normative texts would imply that Judaism holds that contemptible viewthat one life is more sacred than another... At the beginning of his commentary on this week's Parashah, the incomparable 13th century Spanish scholar Nachmanides speaks bitingly of a "boor in the realm of Torah," that is, of a learned and observant Jew who, though not in violation of a single precept of Jewish law, still brings disgrace to the Torah (Ismar Schorsch, Parashat ha-Shavua - Kedoshim; May 6, 1995; Published by JTSA)

Discussion Sparks:

Do you think that "loving your neighbor" – meaning Jewish neighbor - was the original intent of verse 18? Should tzedakah or other helpful assistance go to Jews first before it goes out to non-Jews? Should Jewish community Federations (UJC) help fund hospitals with few Jewish patients? Should we provide for Conservative Jews before we give to Orthodox or Reform causes?

Theme 2: How Much is Holy?

You shall sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I the Lord am your G-d. (Lev. 20:7)

  1. The Rabbis taught, "and you shall make yourselves holy". If a man sanctifies himself a little, he is caused to be greatly sanctified; if he sanctifies himself below, he is sanctified from on high; if he sanctifies himself in this world, he is sanctified in the world to come. (Talmud, Yoma 39a)
  2. Holiness is a characteristic common to man and G-d, it expresses the image of G-d in us; the framework of the mitzvot becomes an instrument of the attainment of holiness. In our day there is a popular notion with regard to the commandments - its that of "all or nothing". According to this, if I do not keep all the commandments (or most of them at least) there is no point in keeping some commandments here and there. We must protest against this approach with all our might. Every time I willingly choose to keep one of the commandment, I add to the Jewish content of my soul.
  3. We all know what the Shulhan Aruch is. For the extremist haredi Jew, the Shulhan Aruch is the holy of holies; and for the extremist secular Jew, it is the paradigm of "impurity". But for us it is the "table" of Judaism, set with all good things. We can approach it and choose from all the delicacies for which our souls hunger. One Jew's soul requires the fulfillment of many commandments, because his soul is hungry for holiness, his soul longs for Torah, for he is lovesick. Another Jewish soul, having suffered from spiritual anorexia for a long time, cannot swallow or enjoy most of the "tastes" that are on the table so filled with delicacies. Whatever a person chooses will add something to the holiness in his life. "You shall be holy, because I your G-d am holy." (Simcha Roth; Devar Torah in "Iyunei Shabbat" published by the Masorti Movement in Israel, April 26, 1995)

Discussion Sparks:

How would you define "holy"? What can we do, to bring "holiness" into our every day lives and the lives of others? Why is the "all or nothing at all" attitude problematic for a functioning religion?

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