הוכח תוכח את עמיתך ולא תשא עליו חטא
"You shall reprove your fellow and do not bear a sin because of him…” (Vayikra 19:17)
As Jews we are all responsible for each other’s physical and spiritual welfare. One of the ways this expresses itself is in the commandment to give reproof when necessary. In Hebrew, the verse actually uses a variation of the word for reproof (tochacha) twice – hochayach tochiyach. Thus, a more accurate, though somewhat clumsy, translation of the verse would read: “Reprove, reprove your fellow…”
According to the Talmud, the double expression indicates that the obligation to engage in constructive criticism has no limit. “Even if it takes a hundred” times, we should not hesitate to try to help someone improve their ways. (Tractate Baba Metzia31a) However, regarding the same commandment, the Talmud gives the exact opposite advice: “Just as it is a mitzvah to say something that will be accepted, so to it is a mitzvah not to say something that will not be accepted.” (Tractate Yevomot65b)
The glaring contradiction raises a fundamental question. How can the Talmud instruct us to keep trying on the one hand, while simultaneously telling us to hold back?
Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv Broida, (known as the Alter of Kelm) answers this contradiction in the following way. Someone who accepts constructive criticism at the time it is being given demonstrates that he is open to improving himself. Therefore, even if he slides back into his inappropriate behavior it is worth trying to reach out to him – “even 100 times.” On the other hand, someone who refuses to listen to correction clearly has no interest in changing. There is therefore no obligation to needlessly chase after that person, as reproving such a person will only cause further strife.
Rabbi Broida adds important advice as to how to apply this idea on a practical basis. Even if a person is willing to listen to guidance and correction, it has to be given with seichel (intelligence). Repeatedly pointing out a list of every flaw that needs correcting is too overwhelming. Rather, Rabbi Broida suggests that the Talmud’s advice to try “even 100 times,” alludes to the manner in which the reproof is expressed. For criticism to be constructive, it should be offered in small, palatable portions. In this way, each bit can be absorbed and, over time, the improvements are more likely to be integrated into new behaviors.
One example of this approach, albeit in the world of sports, was part and parcel of the mentoring strategy of John Wooden, one of the most successful coaches in the history of college basketball. In 1974, after he had racked up a decade of phenomenal achievements, two educational psychologists decided to study and record every instance in which Wooden engaged in an “act of teaching” that season.
According to their study, there were 2,326 discrete acts of teaching… [yet] only 6.6 percent were expressions of displeasure. Instead, 75 percent of Wooden’s interactions with his players were expressed as pure information: what to do, how to do it, when to intensify an activity.
One of Wooden’s most frequent forms of teaching was a simple three-part method when he modeled the right way to do something, showed the incorrect way, and then remodeled the right way to do something. His actions rarely took longer than three seconds.
Furthermore, while improvement “always needs to be on the minds” of mentors and managers, Wooden would say, “Criticism is something not to play lightly with. If it is not given correctly, it can seriously damage the critiqued individual.”
One thing our generation does not lack is the chance to deliver criticism – constructive or otherwise. Wherever we turn – whether it is the language people use, the behaviors people display in public, or the moral, ethical and legal shortcuts people take to get to achieve their goals – we are confronted with people in need of serious correction. Add to that a culture of “instant results,” and the result is a world filled with difficult students, spouses, co-workers, friends, etc., and impatient “mentors” – nothing short of a recipe for disaster.
Faced with such a challenge, it would be understandable to want to give up. However, as Jews, we are commanded, to keep at it – “even 100 times.” The more we take the long view of our relationships with other people, keeping our criticism to a minimum while gently guiding others toward the right path, the more effective we will be in fulfilling our mission both as individuals and as part of the Jewish nation.
A Crime That Cannot Be Prosecuted
הוכח תוכח את עמיתך ולא תשא עליו חטא
“You shall surely reprove your fellow; [but] you shall not bear a sin on his account.” (Vayikra 19:17)
According to American law, if you were to stand at the edge of a pool doing nothing while watching someone drown, you have committed no crime. Even if you stand impassive while he’s screaming for help and there is a life preserver lying by your feet, you could not be prosecuted. The Torah however specifically prohibits this, “You shall not stand idly by the blood (life) of your fellow” (Vayikra 19:16). The Torah sees humans as having responsibility for one another, and mandates it as law.
Interestingly, in the next verse, the Torah tells us that we also have a responsibility to help someone who is struggling spiritually. “You shall surely reprove your fellow” (Vayikra 19:17). Not only does the Torah require us to help people who are making moral missteps, but the Torah also gives us a clue on how to successfully do so.
“Reprove not a scorner lest he hate you; reprove a wise man and he will love you” (Proverbs 9:8). Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz, otherwise known as The Shelah (1564-1630 Prague/ Safed), tells us that this verse does not necessarily refer to two different people, but rather to two ways of correcting someone. “Reprove the scorner” means that if you call him a “scorner,” i.e. if you point out his negative habits, he will hate you. “Reprove a wise man” means that you call him “wise” or point out his otherwise good qualities that make his behavior unbecoming, and he will love you!
Some even read this into the continuation of the verse in the Torah that tells us to reprove others: “You shall surely reprove your fellow; [but] you shall not bear a sin on his account.” Reprove someone, but not by bearing down on him with the weight of everything wrong he ever did. One of the people who had the greatest affect on my life was a Rabbi who, regardless of what I was going through, would always point out my best qualities and encourage me to live up to the potential he saw in me.
The Chofetz Chaim (1838-1933) was once traveling throughout Europe to sell his books, when he stopped at a Jewish inn for the night. As he sat in the corner of the dining room waiting for dinner, he saw a sorry sight. A big burly fellow barged in, sat himself down at a table and demanded a huge meal. He was gruff with the waitress, made rude jokes at the people at neighboring tables, and cursed loudly when anyone said something that was not to his liking. When his meal came, he noisily wolfed it down without reciting any blessings, washed it down with a big mug of ale, and wiped his mouth on his sleeve.
The Chofetz Chaim began approaching him, when the innkeeper intercepted him. “Don’t even attempt to talk to him. That guy was a cantonist, conscripted into the czar’s army at age seven, and he was not let out until twenty-five years later. People have tried to change his ways, but he’s stubborn. It seems he missed the stage of developing his manners or his Judaism.”
Unperturbed, the Chofetz Chaim pulled up a chair and said to him: “Is it true that you were a cantonist, drafted into the czar’s army for 25 years?” The cantonist grunted in affirmation. “You must be such a holy individual! I can’t imagine what it took for you to retain your Jewish identity. Countless times they must have beaten you for not converting to Christianity! You never even had a chance to study Torah and yet you held on! You’ve been through the worst of conditions and yet you stayed strong! I wish I would have the merits you must have! I wish I could have your portion in the World to Come!”
By this time the hardened veteran was crying like a baby, and kissing the hand of the Chofetz Chaim. The Chofetz Chaim continued, “There are just a few things you probably need to work on, but if you could improve in those areas, there would be no one like you!” After this, the man who was previously never affected by the years of people rebuking him became a changed man. For years he remained a close student of the Chofetz Chaim, and truly lived up to his true potential. We may not let people drown, but we don’t help them when we knock them down. The only way to truly help someone is to lift them up and out of their difficult situation!
Love Your Neighbor
ואהבת לרעך כמוך אני ה
“You shall love your fellow as yourself, I am Hashem” (Vayikra 19:18)
According to Rabbi Akiva, this statement is the most fundamental law of the Torah. Hillel, a Talmudic sage, boiled this down into one statement that has become a well-known adage: “What is hateful to you, do not do to others” (Shabbat 31a). The sages based quite a few laws on this statement, demonstrating the kind of sensitivity that is required of all Jews. For example, a capital offender receives the least painful death possible (Ketubot 37b, Sanhedrin 45a); even a person deserving of death should be subjected to minimal pain and embarrassment.
Ramban (Nachmanides) wonders if it is really possible to love another person like you love yourself. Perhaps a saintly person can reach this lofty level of feeling the same love for another person as he or she does for himself; yet for a regular person, this presents quite a challenge. Consequently, Ramban concludes that this is not what the Torah is demanding of us. (He proves this through another law in the Torah: if a person finds himself in a dangerous situation, he is obligated to save his own life before the life of someone else.) He says that G-d does not demand that we love another like we love ourselves. Rather, we should want others to have the same degree of success and prosperity that we want for ourselves, and that we treat others with the same respect and consideration as we would want.
How can I become a person of high moral caliber — one who truly desires the success of another as much as for myself? Ramban says that key to loving others, and wishing them well, is to work on eliminating envy from our hearts.
In order to understand how envy is related to love, we must first understand how envy can affect a person. In Pirkei Avot(Ethics of our Fathers 4:28) it says, “Jealousy, lust, and glory remove a person from the world.” Rashi explains this sentence by quoting a verse from Proverbs (14:30): “Jealousy makes a person’s bones rot.” A person overcome with jealousy is so fixated on what someone else has that it becomes the focus of his life, pushing everything else out of his mind and preventing him from enjoying what he does have. If the person is unable to control these feelings, it can ultimately cause his downfall, as it can lead to even greater crimes, such as murder.
Ramban’s response teaches us that removing jealousy from our hearts enables us to genuinely love the people around us. Such opportunities abound: your neighbor gets a raise; your friend buys a bigger house; your sister goes on a nicer vacation than you could ever afford. When these situations arise, they provide an opportunity to evaluate — and work through — your feelings. Though part of you is sincerely happy for your friend, another part of you may be jealous. Identifying this jealousy is the first step toward eliminating it from your heart. You can then consciously affirm that the success of others does not detract from your own worth. This is the key to true inner happiness.
Different Tattoos – Same Souls
‘ואהבת לרעך כמוך אני ה
“You shall love your fellow as yourself – I am Hashem.” (Vayikra 19:18)
The Torah commands us to love other Jews as we love ourselves. In his commentary on this verse, Rashi quotes Rabbi Akiva, who states that this is the fundamental rule of the Torah. However, this commandment seems difficult to reconcile with another concept.
In seeking out a prospective spouse whom one will love more than any other person, American culture teaches us that it is easiest to love a person who is similar to us in our backgrounds, values, and interests. If so, how can the Torah command us to love every single Jew when so many of them are so different from us in so many ways?
A young man who grew up as a nonpracticing Jew had a tattoo on his chest, something forbidden by the Torah (19:28). When he was older and became more observant, he wanted to immerse in a mikvah in honor of Shabbat, a custom observed by some men, but was mortified at the prospect that somebody might see his prominent tattoo.
He crossed his arms over his chest to cover his tattoo and approached the mikvah. Due to his anxiety, he didn’t watch where he was walking and slipped on a puddle. His instincts took over, and he threw out his arms to brace himself. Although he was uninjured by the fall, he suddenly recognized that all eyes had turned to him to see if he was okay.
Realizing that his tattoo was now bare for all to see, he was paralyzed by intense feelings of humiliation. Not knowing what to do next, he was startled by an elderly Jew who approached him and stuck out his hand. Thinking that the man was simply offering to help him get up, he was left speechless when the man showed him the numbers tattooed on his arm and remarked, “You have nothing to be embarrassed about. I’ve got one too.”
The Apter Rav (1748-1825) was once teaching a class about love of one’s fellow Jew. Extending Rabbi Akiva’s statement, the Rabbi provokingly stated that this is such an important mitzvah that it is alluded to in every word of the Torah.
One of the listeners was skeptical and questioned this claim. That week was Parshat Balak. The cynic challenged the Rabbi to find an allusion to this commandment in the word Balak, who was hardly a lover of Jews. The Rabbi replied, “That’s simple. The letters in the word Balak ( ב ,ל ,ק –Bet or Vet, Lamed, Kuf) are the first letters in the words – ואהבת לרעך כמוך – “V’ahavta l’reyacha kamocha.”
Suppressing laughter, the skeptic responded that although the letters may make the same sounds, the ב in Balak isn’t the same as the ו in ואהבת and the ק in Balak is different than the כ in כמוך. The Rabbi rejoined, “That’s precisely the point that is hinted to. If you’re always focusing on the small differences instead of the larger similarities, you’ll never be able to fulfill this mitzvah!”
Although the point was made tongue-in-cheek, the underlying idea couldn’t be truer. Several commentators suggest that G-d answered our original question by following this commandment with the words, “I am G-d.” For all of the differences we may find in another Jew, none of them outweigh the overwhelming similarity that we are all members of G-d’s people. Wise is the person who realizes that although our tattoos may look different, our souls are united as one, and every Jew is deserving of our love.
וכי תבאו אל הארץ ונטעתם כל עץ מאכל וערלתם ערלתו את פריו שלש שנים יהיה לכם ערלים לא יאכל
“When you will enter the land and you will plant any food-bearing tree, you shall regard its fruit as forbidden. For three years they shall be forbidden to you, they shall not be eaten.” (Vayikra 19:23)
In this week’s parsha, we find a mitzvah that seems very difficult to understand. With this mitzvah known as orlah, G-d commands us to refrain from using the fruit of any tree for the first three years after its planting. This mitzvah, which is not limited to a geographic location such as Israel or to a particular time period such as the Temple era, is still in force today, and is meticulously observed by religiously observant farmers worldwide.
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986), of blessed memory, notes that this mitzvah seems inconsistent with the Torah’s prohibition of wastefulness. That principle, derived from two verses in Devarim (20:19-20) that warn against wantonly cutting down fruit trees in time of war, is expanded to include a host of laws aimed at preventing wastefulness. It is surprising therefore that the Torah tells us to dispose of all fruit of the tree’s first three years!
Rabbi Feinstein explains this curiosity with the well-established principle that we will not incur a loss by following the mitzvot. He says that this is especially true with the mitzvah of orlah and with the additional mitzvah of netah revai (the law that fruit of the fourth year, from trees grown in Israel, be brought to and eaten in Jerusalem). With regard to these two mitzvot, the Torah assures us that, “On the fifth year, you may eat its fruit, so that it will increase its produce for you, I am Hashem, your G-d” (Vayirka 19:25).
Rashi quotes the famed Rabbi Akiva who says that this verse addresses any reservations a farmer might have about keeping this mitzvah due to financial considerations. Not only will he not incur a loss, but also he will in fact gain from keeping these mitzvot. G-d will actually cause his trees to become even more bountiful, to the benefit of all mankind! What initially appears to be wasteful is actually the source of tremendous blessing!
This conflict between a mitzvah and conventional wisdom can be seen with other agricultural mitzvot as well. Shmittah, for example, demands that we put down our tools and let our land lie fallow every seventh year with no agricultural input or personal investment. Once again, G-d guarantees that this display of self-discipline will result in an exceptionally bountiful harvest, proving that neither toil nor improved seeds nor enhanced fertilizer are responsible for man’s financial success.
Rabbi Shmuel Bloom was once in the office of an organization that helps farmers observe shmittah when a phone call came in from a farmer shouting about a miracle that had occurred with his crop. Rabbi Bloom decided to take a trip to northern Israel to get a first-hand glimpse.
When he arrived, the farmer, a secular Jew who first committed to observing the shmittah laws that year, explained that a devastating frost had lingered in the area for a number of weeks, totally destroying the many local banana plantations that cannot withstand temperatures below the freezing point. When he came to inspect his fields, he found that his was the only plantation in the region unscathed by the frost! Rabbi Bloom personally inspected the neighboring plantations and was overwhelmed by the stark contrast. (See story and pictures here) Like shmittah, the laws of orlah reinforce the message that G-d is the source of all success. Forgoing three years worth of produce may not seem logical, but it’s an investment in the tree’s future bounty and productivity. While the Torah
demands that we put in a good day’s work, there are times when we are told to put down our work tools (or shut down the computer) and take the time to reflect on the idea that there’s much more to the end-product than our inadequate efforts. This message is vital, even for those who don’t have plans to plant a fruit tree in the near future. Mistakenly believing that their success is exclusively dependent on their own efforts, many people add hours upon hours to their workday – almost always at the expense of their family and their spiritual growth. Stepping back and realizing that G-d’s manual for life is the ultimate plan for true prosperity will likely not only result in even greater success, but also in a happier and more meaningful life.
For Discussion Around the Shabbat Table
“You shall not be a gossip monger… you shall not stand aside while your fellow’s blood is shed – I am G-d. You shall not hate your brother… you shall reprove your fellow… You shall not take revenge, and you shall not bear a grudge… you shall love your fellow as yourself – I am G-d.” (Vayikra 19:16-18)
• The Torah portion Kedoshim (or holiness) is replete with mitzvot that relate to man’s relationship with his fellow man. While refraining from gossip, not standing by idly when a fellow’s blood is shed, offering rebuke, not taking revenge, and loving, instead of hating, a fellow Jew are all expressions of proper behavior, how do these seemingly obvious laws contribute to our being “holy”?
• How can the Torah dictate emotions and expect us to love another person? Can we possibly be commanded to love someone about whom we do not have positive feelings?
• Certain mitzvot are grouped together in one verse, suggesting that there is a common thread between them. What possible connection can there be between the laws against taking revenge, bearing a grudge, and the obligation to love your fellow as yourself?
It is forbidden to hate another Jew in one’s heart (Vayikra 19:17). The Talmud teaches that the Temple was destroyed for the sin of baseless hatred. If someone hates another person for a wrong that was done to him, his hatred has a basis. How, then, is it possible for hatred, which is almost always the result of feeling wronged, to be baseless?
“You shall not take revenge and you shall not bear a grudge…you shall love your fellow as yourself – I am G-d” (Vayikra 19:18) Regarding the obligation to love one’s fellow, the Medrash (Bereishit Rabba 24) quotes Rabbi Akiva, who states that this law “is a central principle of the Torah.” The commentaries (see Siftei Chachamim) explain this to mean that all the commandments of the Torah are encompassed in this commandment.
• The obligation to love one’s fellow as oneself may indeed account for the many commandments regarding man’s obligation to his fellow man. However, how does this commandment encompass the commandments between man and G-d?
• What specific connections might there be between the commandment not to bear a grudge and the obligation to love one’s fellow?
Torah commands us to (Vayikra 19:18) “not take revenge from or bear a grudge against the people of your nation.” In explaining the difference between taking revenge and bearing a grudge, Rashi offers an example of someone who refuses to lend his sickle to his neighbor. On the following day, the same person who refused to lend his sickle now asks that neighbor to borrow his ax. Refusing to lend his ax because of the neighbor’s refusal on the previous day, constitutes revenge. Lending his ax, along with a reminder about his generosity despite the neighbor’s refusal on the previous day, constitutes bearing a grudge. The Torah seems to have left out an important preamble to this law: that it is forbidden to refuse to lend the sickle in the first place. Why would this have been left out?
It is forbidden to hate another Jew in one’s heart. The Talmud teaches that the Temple was destroyed because of the sin of baseless hatred. If someone hates another person for a wrong that was done to him, his hatred is not baseless—there is a reason for it. How, then, can hatred, which is almost always the result of feeling wronged, be considered baseless?
The Torah commands us not to secretly hate another Jew. Rather, if someone wronged you, be open with him, giving him the opportunity to ask for forgiveness and clear the air. The Torah also forbids taking revenge (e.g. by not lending him things) and bearing a grudge (e.g. lending him something but reminding him that he previously refused to lend him an item). The Torah concludes that we should love our fellow man as ourselves.
1. When we tell another that he has wronged us, it does give the other person an opportunity to apologize. However, it may also make him feel bad or spark an angry confrontation. Why might the possibility of clearing the air outweigh the danger of a potentially ugly confrontation?
2. We are commanded to love our fellow as ourselves. If I don’t mind people insulting me, I’m obviously still not permitted to insult others in the same way. The wording of the commandment, however, might suggest otherwise. Why, then, might the commandment be written this way?
The Gemara (Bereishit 28a) relates that when Rav Zeira would grow tired and weak from his studies, he would sit by the entrance to the yeshiva so that when the scholars entered and exited he would be able to receive reward for performing the mitzvah (Vayika 19:32) to rise in honor of a sage. How can this be reconciled with the teaching of the Mishnah (Avot 1:3) that one shouldn’t serve G-d for the purpose of receiving reward?
Jumping Points for Discussion and Further Study
THE MANDATE OF EVERY JEW
“G-d spoke to Moses saying, Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for holy am I, Hashem, your G-d.’” Vayikra 19:1, 2
You Shall Be Holy – Holiness is achieved when one abstains from the forms of illicit behavior described in the previous chapter. – Rashi
You Shall Be Holy – Holiness is not limited to a specific category of observances. Rather, it is an exhortation to practice moderation in all aspects of life. Holiness does not merely mean to adhere to the technical requirements of the law, but to appreciate the spirit of the law, as well. – Ramban
How one achieves holiness may be a matter of debate, but all agree that it is something that every Jew must aspire to, not just rabbis and scholars. To this end, G-d admonished Moses to speak these words not in front of the leaders only, but to the “entire assembly.” In Judaism, a religious leader is not our emissary to God, but rather, an example for how the common Jew must lead his life.
THE MYRIAD BENEFITS OF CHARITY
“When you will reap the harvest of your land, you shall not completely reap a corner of your field, and the gleanings of your harvest you shall not gather. You shall not glean your vineyard…For the poor and the proselyte you shall leave them… You shall not steal, you shall not deny and every one of you shall not lie to each other.” Vayikra 19:9-11
You Shall Not Steal – This prohibition refers to one who steals money, but the prohibition of ‘you shall not steal’ in the Ten Commandments refers to one who kidnaps people. – Rashi
You Shall Not Steal…Deny…Lie… Swear falsely – If you steal, in the end you will deny, and then you will lie, and then you will swear falsely – Rashi
Why does the prohibition against stealing, lying, denying, and swearing falsely follow the commandment to leave food behind in the fields for the poor? Rabbi Yosef Karo explained that if one does not take care of the needs of the indigent, he will cause them to violate all of those prohibitions. Giving to the poor, explained Rabbi Yosef, is not just a meritorious act in its own right, but it also helps prevent them from stooping to sin.
WHEELING AND STEALING
“You shall not withhold the wages of your fellow and you shall not rob, it shall not remain overnight, the wages of a day-laborer, keeping it in your possession until morning.” Vayikra 19:13
It shall not remain overnight – The very next verse begins with an admonition not to curse the deaf. What is the significance of this juxtaposition? To teach us that even if one does unfairly withhold wages, the laborer must not curse him (even behind his back). Rather, he must summon him to Beit Din and try to resolve it in accordance with halachic guidelines. – Baal HaTurim
Withhold the wages…shall not rob – This is not the first time the Torah mentions the prohibition of stealing. What has been added here? People are wont to rationalize that stealing is wrong only when the victim is unaware that he is being stolen from. When one withholds wages, however, or refuses to repay a loan, it is presumed to be not as bad. To disabuse us of this fallacious notion, the Torah warns against all forms of stealing, including the above mentioned perverse forms of theft. – Ohr HaChaim
Withhold the wages…shall not rob – One might think that stealing is taking another person’s money without permission. Simply withholding wages for one extra day is not obviously theft, especially since he intends to pay it the very next day. This verse educates us to understand that theft is possible even when merely withholds wages for an extra few hours even though he later paid them. The same is true for one who was due to pay a loan on a certain date and delayed the payment without prior permission even for only a few days. For the time that he was obligated to pay and didn’t, he has committed theft. – HaEmek Davar
Two close friends once appeared before the sainted Rabbi Yitzchok of Vorkeh seeking his blessing and approval of their newly formed business partnership. Rabbi Yitzchok inquired whether they’d drawn up a partnership agreement to which they responded in the negative. He took out a piece of paper, wrote something on it, and handed it to them saying, “Here, this is your partnership agreement.” They thanked him and hurriedly opened the paper to discover that he had written only the letters aleph, bet, gimel, and dalet on it. P uzzled, they looked at him with wondering eyes. Rabbi Yitzchok smiled and explained, “The aleph stands for the word emet [truth] and the bet for brachah [blessing]. If you conduct this partnership with truth, you will merit great blessing. The gimel stands for gezel [thievery] and the dalet stands for dalut [poverty]. If you conduct yourselves with thievery, you will end up with poverty as your partnership will fail.
THE IMPORTANCE OF MAINTAINING YOUR BALANCE
“You shall not be a tale-bearer among your people; you shall not stand by idly while your brothers’ blood is being shed – I am G-d.” Vayikra 19:16
Why does the Torah juxtapose the prohibition against tale-bearing with the seemingly unrelated admonishment not to ignore another person’s sorry plight? This anomaly is designed to teach us that while tale bearing is a frightful act, there are times that it is not only justified, but expected of us. If one possesses secret information that could spare his fellow undeserved harm, he is obligated to share it, rather than stand by and allow him to suffer. – Ohr HaChaim
Unlike many other religions, Judaism teaches that there are no “good” or “bad” actions. Rather, it all depends on context. In general, tale-bearing is an unforgivable sin. Where the information does nothing more than harm the one about whom it is spoken, it is thoroughly unjustifiable. Yet, there are times when it is an absolute obligation. When the information can enable a potential victim to protect himself it is morally imperative that it be shared. Thus, it is not the act itself that is evil. Rather, it is the context that determines its moral justification. The study of Jewish Law is designed to empower us to properly determine when an act is moral and when it fails to meet that standard.
THE JOYS OF SHABBAT
“You shall not defile your daughter by causing her to engage in harlotry, lest the land be turned astray, and the land be filled with lewdness.” Vayikra 19:29
Defile your daughter – This refers to one who hands over his single daughter for illicit purposes not for the purpose of marriage. If you do this, the earth will cause its fruits to go astray, to produce them in another place, and not in your land. – Rashi
Defile your daughter – This refers to one who refuses to allow his daughter to marry while she is young, leaving her abandoned and single as she ages, which may lead to her acting in desperate and unfortunate ways. – Chizkuni
Defile your daughter – This refers to one who deliberately highlights his daughter’s beauty and shows her off in public, even if his intent is to make her more eligible for the purpose of marriage. Immodest behavior even for a good cause leads to sinfulness and disaster. – Ohr HaChaim
Baal HaTurim points out that the verse that follows instructs us in the observance of the Sabbath and the message of this unlikely juxtaposition is that there is a definite place for celebration and merriment in Judaism, but that place is not within the context of sinful and lewd behavior as so often happens in certain cultures. Instead, joy and merriment are most appropriate when used to beautify and sanctify the holy Sabbath; a time when we drink and eat to satiety and revel in the exalted and euphoric state endowed upon us by our extra measure of soul which graces us on the Sabbath.
WHAT DO YOUR ACTIONS REALLY MEAN?
“You shall not commit injustice in judgment; in measure, weight, or volume. Precise scales and precise weights…shall you have for yourselves, I am Hashem, your G-d, who has taken you out of the land of Egypt.” Vayikra 19:35, 36
In a sense, the sin of inaccurate weights and measures is even greater than that of illicit behavior because one cannot recall whom he cheated and therefore lacks the ability to repay them. – Rabbeinu Bachya
Why does the Torah mention the Exodus when exhorting us to be honest in our dealings? A person who thinks that by acting in secret can “fool” G-d, demonstrates that his lack of faith extends even to the point of denying G-d’s clearly revealed involvement in the Exodus from Egypt. – Sifra
Dishonesty in weights and measures is not only a foolish idea as explained by Rabbeinu Bachya, it is also a blatant, if unintended, demonstration of how distant this person is from acknowledging G-d’s very existence. For to recognize His existence, is to accept that He is all-knowing and that nothing is hidden from His view. By pretending that a well-camouflaged act of deceit can be carried out without consequence, a person is no longer merely a thief, but a heretic as well.
Hey, I Never Knew That
“Before the blind you shall not place a stumbling block” (Vayikra 19:14).
Two explanations of this prohibition are given in the Oral Tradition, and neither of them makes any reference to the literal translation which prohibits tripping up a blind person. A simple reason for this is that since it is forbidden to hurt anyone, there is no reason to think that one would be able to hurt a blind person, and hence, there is no need for the Torah to specially prohibit this. Therefore, the verse must be prohibiting something else. The Torah Kohanim commentary (see Rashi) understands this as a prohibition against giving someone misleading or damaging advice. That would be causing someone “blind” in a particular matter to “stumble.” The other explanation is given by the Talmud and prohibits one from causing someone “blinded” by either ignorance or desire to transgress a sin (Avodah Zarah 6b).
Word of the Week
Parshat Kedoshim is named after the word that appears as a commandment in the second verse, “You shall be kedoshim — קדושים, because I, the L-rd your G-d, am קדוש — kadosh.” Kadosh — קדוש is usually translated as “holy.” Rabbi David Kimchi (Sefer Hashorashim) explains the word to mean “elevated” and also “dedicated.” Rabbi Hirsch also understands it to mean “total dedication” (Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew). Along these lines, Rabbi Shimon Shkop (introduction to Shaarei Yashar) maintains that the commandment to be kadosh means that we should attempt to be dedicated to the good of the whole of existence, as G-d is dedicated, and acts only for the good of His creation.
When I read the opening commandment of last week’s Torah portion to “be holy, because I, Hashem your G-d, am holy,” I envision a seemingly unrealistic expectation to be someone that I don’t realistically see myself becoming. I have a hard time relating to the idea of “being holy” and would appreciate any insight on the subject.
I must admit that you are only the second person that has asked me this question and it truly gets to the crux of this Torah portion and the Torah’s definition of holiness.
There are several misconceptions about the notion of holiness. Some believe it refers to the mysterious and esoteric teachings of the Torah associated with Kabbalah. Others think of eyeball-rolling mystics who worship G-d in a state of ecstasy. Still others are reminded of asceticism, withdrawing from the world of materialism.
However, from Maimonides we can draw other conclusions. By dint of his genius, he was able to codify all of Jewish law, as expounded upon in the Talmud. Although written more than 7 centuries ago, it remains an unparalleled work in Jewish jurisprudence. In Maimonides’ view, all of Jewish law may be divided into 14 categories. So he named his work Yad Chazakah (lit. “strong hand”), which is a word play on the name ‘hand,’ which has a numerical equivalent of 14. He named each of the 14 books, and one of the books is called The Book of Holiness. Therefore, if we investigate the laws that Maimonides codifies in this book, we will discover his definition of ‘holiness.’ To our surprise, the laws relating to the Holy Temple, Torah scroll, or Tefillin are not even incorporated into this book. Rather, there are two main sets of laws. One deals with forbidden foods (the laws of Kosher), and the other deals with the laws of forbidden unions between a man and a woman.
From Maimonides’ perspective, we see that holiness means ‘restraint’ – the ability to withstand temptation. Unlike animals that eat when they are hungry and mate when they are programmed, a human being has the ability to exercise his free will and override what instinct and temptation might suggest. A Jew has the ability to refrain from eating on Yom Kippur, realizing that sometimes there are needs that are even greater than nourishing the body – namely, the need to nourish the soul. A Jew has the ability to turn away from someone of the opposite gender if such a union is not in conformity with G-d’s plan for His people. Holiness, then, is the advancement of what is truly human, instead of succumbing to the allures of animal instinct. It does not imply the denial of human instinct, but rather regulation of that instinct according to the Torah’s dictates.
The portion of Kedoshim enumerates some 46 commandments. The common thread among almost all of them is that they require major efforts of self-restraint. Many of the commandments in this Torah portion deal with financial concerns – giving money to the poor by leaving them part of the harvest. The desire for money is among the strongest of human desires. Overcoming one’s desire for wealth by taking into account the needs of the poor requires high levels of self-restraint. Other commandments deal with forbidden foods, such as not eating fruits from a tree that is not yet 3 years old. One can imagine the curiosity and temptation that one might have to find out how his new tree produces fruit. Nevertheless, the Torah requires that one postpone such a taste until the tree is in its fourth year. Many other commandments deal with idolatry and the allure to know the future – issues which were very compelling to mankind until the Men of the Great Assembly nullified the urge for idolatry. To the modern mind, idolatry seems almost humorously sick, but to the ancient mind, it had one of the strongest pulls on the human psyche. In addition, the forbidden unions between a man and woman appear at the end of the portion.
So, Janice, holiness has been put into reach for every individual. We each have free will to make the hard choices that ultimately help us attain the highest form a man or woman may reach. It all depends on our ability to regulate our behaviors according to Torah norm. Today, it might be unfashionable to subscribe to the notion of ‘delayed gratification,’ but this has been the secret that has kept the Jewish people holy since the Torah was given on Sinai 3,300 years ago.
Parsha at a Glance
Kedoshim begins with a call to Jews to be holy because G-d is holy. The Fifty-one mitzvot in this parsha include honoring parents, keeping Shabbat, staying far from idolatry, not eating from a korban (sacrifice) beyond its place and time, leaving certain produce in the field for the poor, and being honest in business. It is forbidden to swear falsely because G-d’s name is brought into disrepute. Employees must be paid on time. We may not mislead others or pervert justice or be talebearers or hate any Jew who upholds the Torah. Wrongdoers must be rebuked. We must love our fellow Jews as we love ourselves. Different types of animals may not be mated together, nor may diverse seeds be planted together. A garment of shatnez(wool mixed with linen) may not be worn. Fruit growing on a tree during the tree’s first 3 years may not be eaten. Fourth year fruit must be eaten in Jerusalem. Soothsayers may not be consulted. Men may not shave their faces with razor blade. Permanent tattooing is forbidden. Promiscuity is forbidden. Married life must be governed by Torah law.
One is obligated to honor Torah sages as one fears G-d. Righteous converts must be well-treated. Absolute integrity must be observed in weights and measures. It is forbidden to curse one’s parents. The nation is again reminded not to follow the ways of the Canaanites if they wish to remain in the Land of Israel.