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Torah Sparks

PARASHAT KEDOSHIM - BIRKAT HAHODESH
May 3, 2008 – 28 Nisan 5768

Annual: Leviticus 19:1 – 20:27 (Etz Hayim, p. 693; Hertz p. 497)
Triennial: Leviticus 19:1 – 19:37 (Etz Hayim, p. 693; Hertz p. 497)
Haftarah: Amos 9:7 – 15 (Etz Hayim, p. 706; Hertz p. 509)

Prepared by Rabbi Joyce Newmark
Teaneck, New Jersey

Torah Portion Summary

Parashat Kedoshim contains the bulk of the Holiness Code, characterized by the commandment You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy. The many mitzvot found here call for striving for holiness in all areas of life – ritual (You shall keep My Sabbaths and venerate My sanctuary, 19:30), civil (You shall not falsify measures of length, weight, or capacity, 19:35), and ethical (You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old, 19:32). Its best known commandment is Love your fellow as yourself. Israel is told to observe all of God’s laws and rules.

God tells Moses to warn the people against child sacrifice and witchcraft and divination. The laws of forbidden sexual relationships are repeated. Similarly, God warns Israel not to follow the practices of the Canaanite nations and to remember that God has set them apart to be a holy people.

1. To Be Holy

Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy. (Vayikra 19:2)

  1. The Holy Blessed One said to Moses: “Go and say to Israel: ‘My children! As I am separate so you be separate; as I am holy, so you be holy.’” (Vayikra Rabbah 24:4)
  2. This [the word kol, whole] teaches that this parashah was stated in an assembly and why was it stated in an assembly – because the majority of the essence of the Torah is derived from it. (Sifra)
  3. This teaches that this parashah was said at hakhel (when all the Israelites had to gather together – this is derived from the use of the word whole in the verse). The Torah does not demand a holiness of withdrawal and asceticism, and the command to be holy was stated at hakhel, when everyone stood together. (Hatam Sofer [Rabbi Moses Schreiber, 1762-1839, Pressburg, Hungary])
  4. God is the absolute authority over the world because He is separate from it and transcends it but He is not withdrawn from it. Israel must in imitating God by being a holy nation similarly not withdraw from the world of the nations but rather radiate a positive influence on them through every aspect of Jewish living. (Martin Buber, cited in Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in Vayikra, p. 167)
  5. Can God demand that a human attain the level of holiness? This does not mean that one must attain the level of angels, something that is impossible. All that God demands is that man attain the level of holiness of which he is capable. Be holy: in whatever circumstances you find yourself, advance a little at a time in your holiness. (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vorka, 1819-1868, Poland)

Sparks for Discussion

What does it mean to live a life of holiness? As we learn from Vayikra Rabbah, the root meaning of the word kadosh, holy, is separate. In some religious traditions, people who seek to live a holy life remove themselves from the everyday world, joining religious communities devoted to prayer, contemplation, and meditation. But as the Hatam Sofer and many others insist, the Torah wants us – all of us – to live lives of holiness in the world.

Is holiness possible in the real world? How is “holy” different from “religious” or “ethical”? What can you do to live a more holy life? What can your community do to become more holy? What practical guidance do you find in the parashah?

2. Mind Your Own Business?

You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart. Reprove your kinsman but incur no guilt because of him. (Vayikra 19:17)

  1. How do we know that when a man observes something unseemly in his neighbor, he should reprove him? From the verse “Reprove your kinsman.” How do we know that if he reproved him and his neighbor refused to accept the reproof, he is to reprove him again? From the words hokhai’ah tokhi’ah [emphatic doubling of the verb], meaning under all circumstances. Should you suppose the obligation holds even if the neighbor’s face changes color [from public humiliation], the verse goes on, but incur no guilt because of him. (Talmud Arakhin 16b)
  2. Alternative rendering: “Reprove your kinsman and do not place guilt upon him.” In rebuking another, do not treat him as a wicked man but put stress on his dignity, making him understand that the wrong he committed was beneath his dignity. Only thus will your rebuke have the desired effect. Thus, then, is the thought Scripture seeks to convey: “[You shall surely] reprove”: If you rebuke a man, regard him as your neighbor, as your friend and your equal, “and do not place guilt upon him”: do not treat him like a sinner, lest he turn aside from you entirely and you will have accomplished nothing. (Havot Yair [Rabbi Hayyim Yair Bachrach, d. 1704, Germany])
  3. What is the link between these two parts of the verse? The explanation is that you can only truly rebuke a person that you love and whom you wish to see mend his ways, such as the way a father rebukes his son. The closer a person is to another, the greater the love and the more earnest the rebuke. A rebuke that is the product of love is more effective. You should not rebuke someone you hate, because such an action has no effect. Only through “You shall not hate” can you come to the stage of “Reprove your kinsman.” (Avnei Ezel [Rabbi Alexander Zusia Friedman, 1897-1943, Poland])
  4. He who can restrain the members of his household [from committing a sin] but does not will be held responsible for his household. If [he can restrain] the people of his city, he will be held responsible for the people of his city. If [he can restrain] the whole world – all of it – he will be held responsible for the whole world, all of it. (Talmud Shabbat 54b)
  5. We have been taught that Rabbi Tarfon said: I wonder if there is anyone in this generation capable of giving reproof. For if anyone says to another, “Take the chip from between your teeth,” the other retorts, “Take the beam from between your eyes.” Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah said: I wonder whether there is anyone in this generation capable of accepting reproof. Rabbi Akiva said: I wonder whether there is anyone in this generation who knows how to give reproof [without humiliating the one reproved]. (Talmud Arakhin 16b)

Sparks for Discussion

This is not a simple verse. Do you think that the first and second parts are connected, so that “you shall not hate” is a condition of “reprove your kinsman,” or are these two separate mitzvot? If they are connected, does “you shall not hate” mean that you should or should not engage in reproof?

How do you understand “incur no guilt?” Does it refer to the way in which reproof is to be offered or does it mean that you will be considered guilty if you do not try to prevent other people’s wrongdoing?

There are few greater sins in contemporary society than “being judgmental,” condemning other people’s actions when they do not affect you directly. Have you ever been in a situation where you thought about trying to correct someone’s behavior? Whether or not you said anything, do you think you made the right decision? Have you ever been the one who was reproved? How did you respond? Do you think that Rabbi Tarfon, Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah, and Rabbi Akiva are speaking about our generation as well as their own?


 
 
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