DIASPORA TORAH READING FOR SHABBAT MAY 11: KEDOSHIM

Universal Torah commentary
By Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum

Torah Reading: Parshas KEDOSHIM, Leviticus 19:1-20:27
Haftara: Amos 9.7-15 (Sephardi ritual: Ezekiel 20.2-20).

BE HOLY FOR I AM HOLY

This week’s parshah, KEDOSHIM TIHYU, “Be holy.”, was specifically addressed by G-d through His prophet Moses “to all of the assembly of the Children of Israel” (Leviticus 19:2). In the words of the Midrash: “This parshah was addressed to all of the assembly because most of the main bodies of Torah law depend upon it. ‘Be holy’ — be pure (PERUSHIM), separate from the world’s vanities. ‘For Holy am I, HaShem your G-d’: This teaches that if you sanctify yourselves, I consider it as if you had sanctified Me. And if you do not sanctify yourselves, I consider it as if you have not sanctified Me. Could it mean that if you sanctify Me then I am sanctified but if not, then I am not sanctified? No – because it says, ‘.for I am Holy’ — I am in My holiness whether they sanctify me or not.” (Sifra, Kedoshim 1:1).

The code of conduct whose foundations are laid forth in the present parshah gives practical expression to the challenge addressed to the Children of Israel when they assembled at Sinai to receive the Torah. “If you will surely listen to My voice and guard My covenant, you shall be a precious treasure out of all the nations, for the whole earth is Mine. And you shall be for Me a kingdom of priests and a HOLY NATION: these are the words you shall speak to the children of Israel.” (Exodus 19:5-6).

Following the account of the Giving of the Torah in YITRO, parshas MISHPATIM laid down many of the basic laws governing man’s behavior with his fellows including the prohibitions of murder, robbery and theft, the laws of restitution for damages, etc. Many of the laws in MISHPATIM are somewhat specialist in the sense that they apply particularly to Dayanim, Torah judges.

However the code laid forth in the present parshah, KEDOSHIM applies to everyone, as it is the basic Torah code for everyday life, starting with the respect due to parents and the observance of the holy Shabbos — which overrides even the former, should any conflict arise.

The next Mitzvah in the parshah — to eat sacrificial portions within their appointed time — cannot unfortunately be observed today in the absence of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. However, it is worth noting that correct timing is an important part of G-d’s code. Things should be done at their appointed time and not dragged on until all the taste goes out of them. The entire Oral Torah begins with an extensive discussion about the exact time for reciting the evening Shema (Berachos, Chapter 1). It is unfortunate that at times SJT (“Standard Jewish Time”) strays somewhat widely from precision timing. Every moment in life should be treasured, and people’s time should not be wasted for no reason.

The Mitzvos that follow in our parshah are those of giving gifts of produce to the poor, and of basic integrity: “Do not steal, do not deceive and do not lie to one another. Don’t impound your friend’s money, don’t delay payment for services rendered. Don’t unjustly favor either the poor or the rich. don’t hate your brother in your heart, give due reproof, do not take vengeance or nurse a grievance against the children of your people, and love your friend as yourself, for I am HaShem”.

The code of Holiness contained in our parshah is not one that requires its followers to separate from the material world and live apart in ascetic communities such as in monasteries and the like. On the contrary, true KEDUSHAH comes to a person precisely through living his or her life with family, friends and associates, within the wider community and in the workaday world. Making a living within the boundaries of the halachah, taking into account the needs of the needy, dealing correctly in business, abstaining from all theft and corruption, from hatred, vengeance, etc. etc. It is precisely through keeping these commandments in our everyday material lives, while actually dealing with all that we have to deal with each day, that we become purer.

This “purity” is the KEDUSHAH, the “holiness” which is the defining attribute of the path of life set forth in our parshah. In mystical writings, KEDUSHAH is particularly associated with the mental and spiritual faculties of CHOCHMAH, BINAH and DA’AS, while the very foundation for their healthy functioning is the purity of YESOD, moral purity.

In giving us a code of “holiness” that governs the way we do business with one another, how we talk to and about one another, as well as so many other details in our lives in the world, the Torah is teaching us to constantly activate our CHOCHMAH, BINAH and DA’AS powers in everyday life. In the words of the Baal Shem Tov, “An everyday barter exchange also involves the Talmudic law of ‘exchanging an ox for a donkey’.” In other words, everything we do, including in our business lives, is a G-d-given opportunity for discovering buried “sparks” of holiness within the very situations that confront us. We need to activate our minds to recognize the holy potential contained within everyday affairs. Nothing is more evanescent than today: the day is quickly gone. But if we are alert to the mitzvahs we can perform every day, particularly in the realm of “love your friend as yourself” — which includes all forms of kindness — we gather great treasures day by day, all of them stored in G-d’s memory, where nothing is forgotten.