Larchmont Temple Chevra Torah

Questioning faith in the parsha



Larchmont Temple—Har Chayim

The F*-WORD…[F _ _ _ _]…Questions, Conflicts & Connection of FAITH


Acharei     Mot—Kedoshim—Leviticus 19:1-20

 …Key KOSHI…

HOW is Kedoshim Tih’yu—You shall be Holy,

the greatest gift & challenge to our faith?





v.1-2     The Lord spoke to Moses saying: Speak to the whole Convocation of the Children of Israel, saying:

You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.

RASHI…  “kol adat”—This teaches that this section was spoken in full convocation, since it has the basic building blocks of the entire Torah… “Kedoshim Tih’yu”—you shall keep yourselves from forbidden sexual relationships, for wherever you find restrictions due to sexual immorality, you find [juxtaposed to it] holiness.

RAMBAN… RASHI understands this to mean kadosh—separate, from forbidden sexual relations.  But in the SIFRA, from which he presumably derives this comment, , it merely says “separate yourselves,” full stop.   SIFRA explains this as God saying, “Just as I keep myself apart—separate, you keep yourselves separate.  In my opinion this refers not to separation from forbidden relationships but to the people referred throughout the Talmud as “Pharisees—Separatists.”  You see, Torah proscribes immoral sexual relationships and forbidden foods, but it permits intercourse between man and wife, eating meat and drinking wine.  So there is license for a man of appetite to steep himself in lust with his wife (or his many wives), or to be ”of those who guzzle wine, or glut themselves on meat,” [Prov 23:20] or to discuss all sorts of vile things…One could therefore be a scoundrel with the full permission of Torah.  So after giving all the details of those things that are forbidden, Torah now gives us general commandments to restrain ourselves from excess…

S’FAS EMES… “Kedoshim Tih’yu—You shall be holy!” Why is this written in the plural?  As RASHI suggest, it was said in the presence of the entire community.  So we must learn, only as we consider our connections to others—this kol adat bnai Yisrael—do we have hopes of attaining holiness.

RASHBAM… Because there are so many commandments in this section, they are introduced by an exhortation to the Israelites to make themselves holy and observe them.

COMMENTATOR’s BIBLEIt is not clear whether RASHBAM means they are to make themselves holy in order to observe them, or by observing them.

S’FORNO… After all of this [the last three portion’s worth of commandments] God now says that the intent of all these rules is to be holy.  This is in order to imitate their Creator as much as possible, as it was the primary purpose of man’s being created, “in the Image of God he made them.” [Gen 1:26]

ALSHECH… Man is composed of two opposites—body and spirit.  Man’s freedom of choice enables him to either make his body subservient to his spirit, or vice versa….But Torah exhorts us to perfect our personalities so that as a result our bodies become suffused with the holiness of our spirit.  Some argue that the instances of such control of spirit over body are rare because it is simply not given to the average person….To disprove this, God asks Moses to assemble “kol adat bnai Yisrael—the entire community of Israel.”  Then Torah repeats, and you shall say to them—that is ALL of them, for every Jew is capable of achieving holiness…The ONE who tells you to strive to become holy is the Holy One, who is Adonai Eloheychem only if you all strive to attain this goal.  God is saying that His own self-description as “I am the Lord your God,” depends on your striving for the holiness His name represents.

v.16…You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; neither shall you stand idle by the blood of your neighbor; I am Adonai    

RAMBAM… Who is a “rocheyl”?  He who retails in gossip, going from one to another saying: ‘This is one so and so said about you!’  Though it might be true, he goes about destroying the world…For though no lashes accompany this transgression, it drives many to their deaths.  Thus, the remainder of the verse: “You shall not stand idly by while your neighbor bleeds.”

TALMUD… Whence is it derived that if one sees his neighbor drowning in the sea, being dragged by an

animal, or waylaid by robbers, he is obligated to help?—Al Ta’amod!…And whence is it derived that if you

are in a position to testify on behalf of your fellow, you may not remain silent?  Al Ta’amod!… [Sanhedrin, 73a]

VaYIKRA RABBAH…R’ Aha explained the meaning of “Kedoshim Tih’yu” by citing R’ Tanchum bar Chiyyah, who taught: If a person can protest the wrong being done to another and does not, such a person—standing by, no matter his Torah, is not holy.

RAMBAM…There is no particular justification to be found behind the selection of these 3 items in the ritual.


Rabbi Harold KUSHNER…

This par’shah, one of the richest and most exalted in Torah, begins with the words: You shall be holy!”  What is holiness?  The term can be applied to God, to good people, to a book, to a period of time,  or to an animal offered as sacrifice.  To be holy is to be different, to be set apart from the ordinary.  “Ordinary—Chol,” is often used as the opposite of “Holy—Kadosh” in rabbinic discourse.  To be holy

is to rise to partake in some measure of the special qualities of God, the source of holiness.

Holiness is the highest level of human behavior, human beings at their most Godlike.

HIRSCH defines holiness as occurring “when a morally free human being has complete dominion over one’s own energies and the temptations associated with them, and places them at the service of God’s will.”   For BUBER,  holiness is found not in rising above the level of one’s neighbor but in relationships, in human beings recognizing the latent divinity of other people, even as God recognized the latent divinity in each of us…

As human beings, we can be Godlike by exercising our power to sanctify moments and objects in our lives.  Time can be sanctified when it is used to draw closer to God.  Objects can become holy when they help people rise toward God.  The Torah is not holy because it comes from God, but because it leads to God.

R’ Shlomo RISKIN

Kadosh (the holy) expresses the goal and defining characteristic of our nation and the central commandment of this week;s portion: “You shall be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy” [Lev. 19:2].  Rudolf Otto, in “The Idea of the Holy,” sees God’s holiness as expressing the “mystical numinous,” a wholly otherness and awesome uniqueness. God is above and beyond the material or physical. He is totally free of the limitations of nature and human nature.   From this perspective, human beings achieve holiness when they too are free of those limitations, as well.

For Judasm, however, true holiness can be achieved by living one’s life by God’s laws rather than giving up one’s life for those laws.   What is the path to holiness in daily living? It is by serving God through fulfillment of  His commandments, and especially by loving our fellow human being—what Rabbi Akiba called “the greatest rule of the Torah,” the command which follows the charge to be holy, “You must love your neighbor as you love yourself, I am the Lord” [Lev. 19:18].

Instinctively, every human being sees himself as the center of the universe, and always looks out for “No. 1.” To love another means to leave room for another, to give of oneself to the other, to take from one’s material possessions in order to make certain that the other is provided for. Indeed, the Hebrew word for love, ahavah, comes from the root verb hav, which means give.

Kiddushin, the sanctified engagement between bride and groom, emanates from the charge “to love your neighbor as you love yourself”. Marriage is the most intensive expression of loving one’s neighbor as one loves oneself, as each spouse constantly gives to one another and actually merges as one in sexual union, producing a child who combines parts of each of them.

God is the source of sanctity; the ultimate Lover and Giver. The Kabbalah teaches that God constricted and constrained Himself (tzimtzum) to leave room for the other. He did this because, as Rav Haim Vital explains, the God of consummate love must have people other than Himself to love. These must be people with the capacity to choose against His will in order to truly be other, to be His partners and not His pawns.

To be like God and to walk in His ways means to love just as He loves and gives to us….

“Rabbi Hama the son of Rabbi Hanina said: What is the meaning of the verse, ‘Follow the Lord your God?’ [Deut. 13:5]…He answered that just as God clothed the naked (Adam and Eve after they sinned), so must you clothe the naked; just as He visited the sick, (Abraham after his circumcision) so must you visit the sick; just as he comforted the mourner (Isaac after Abraham’s death), so you must comfort the mourner; just as He buried the dead (God buried Moses), so must you bury the dead” [B.T. Sotah 14a].

It now should be clear why every Sefardi siddur opens with a prayer of Rav Haim Vital: “You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.”                               [The Jewish Week, May 2006]


Rabbi Larry HOFFMAN…

Readers of Torah may feel this week that they have made it to an oasis.  Up to now we have dealt almost solely with sacrificial detail and ritual impurity.  Finally we get to what is obviously and immediately relevant: the need for holiness.  But what is holiness?  The Jewish answer is complex and surprising.  It runs counter to what most people believe.

People assume that the opposite of “kedoshim—holy” is the very negative-sounding “profane.”  In Hebrew, however,  the opposite of holy is “chol—everyday,” or “ordinary,” with no negativity at all.  The holy is just “extraordinary,” in the sense of transcending the ordinarily human and being like God.  If the opposite of holy were profane,  we might reasonably be expected to strive for holiness all the time.  Not so, if the opposite is “everyday.”  Judaism values the everyday—going for a walk, watching a baseball game, or relaxing with a book.  We have been given a  world where it is actually sinful to refuse such pleasures.  As the only creature made in God’s Image, however, it is equally sinful not to pursue the sacred as well.  Human life is both chol and kadosh—and we revel in both.

What we may not be is less than ordinary, which is to say, not just less than God, but also less than properly human…We should map existence with three degrees of being: the humanly extraordinary—sacred/kadosh; the humanly ordinary—everyday/chol; and the less than humanly ordinary—profane.  Torah commands us to be sacred; warns us against the profane; but permits us the in-between space of “everyday.”…

We spend most of our lives being quite ordinary, then, but are hard-wired to seek the Godlike extraordinary too.  The most obvious example is moral behavior, but we should also think of great works of art, scientific achievement, and human inventiveness in general.  God inspired Bezalel to build the Sanctuary…Surely then, art is holy.  And as to science, we Jews have no one like the Greek hero Prometheus who had to steal fire because gods wanted to keep humankind in the dark.

This Jewish perspective has much to say to our time.  On the one hand, a puritanical strain in Western thought treats holiness as some ethereal quality for angels and ascetics; we lesser human beings should at least not overly enjoy such “profane” pleasures as food, sex and leisure.  On the other hand, crass materialism grudgingly admits the profane but urges us to enjoy only the ordinary, since that is al there is.  By contrast, Judaism prohibits the profane, but welcomes both the holy and the ordinary.  We want to be like God, but are sometimes just human; we enjoy being human, but part of us is like God….

The MALBIM says that this portion was delivered to everyone at Sinai, but each individual heard what was appropriate to his/her own degree of holiness.  Holiness, the, is not the solitary province of saints.  It comes in many fits, some more attune to one personality than another….

We are all ordinary—and extraordinary.  Just as we enjoy different ordinary pleasures, so too, we specialize in different extraordinary gifts.  We can fulfill the refrain from our sedra: “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”  But we temper that by adding, “You shall each be holy in your own distinctive way.”  And, we might imagine a parallel instruction: “ You may be ordinarily human as well—just not less than human.”         [The Jewish Week, May 2008]


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