Questioning faith in the parsha
April 16, 2011/12 Nissan 5771
Modern Author: Shalom Auslander War of the Bernsteins
KOSHI: What is the ultimate aim of the mitzvot if we are commanded ‘v’chai ba-hem’? How do the ‘forbidden relationships’ inform our relationships today?
V.2 Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: I am the Lord your God…
RASHI… I am He who said at Sinai: “I, the Lord, am your God..” As you accepted My sovereignty there, accept My decrees here.
V.3 You shall not copy the practices of the Land of Egypt…or the Land of Canaan…nor shall you follow their laws.
RASHI… What did “practices” leave unexpressed here? Not the “laws” of the Canaanites but their way of life [chukim] the things that were engrained in them [mechokakim] like going to plays and bullfights.
V.4 My rules alone shall you observe, and faithfully follow My laws: I the Lord am your God.
RASHI… “and faithfully follow My laws”—These are the things that are simply “carved in stone” [as the etymology of the Hebrew suggests]…The evil inclination objects, saying, “Why must we keep them?” and the other nations object as well…That is why it says “I, the Lord, am your God,” for My decrees obligate you…You may not say, I have the wisdom of Israel, now on to the wisdom of the nations.
SARNA… “lalechet ba-hem.” The verb “to walk” is often used to connote adherence to God’s commandments. It expresses a metaphor, common to many literary traditions, of life as a journey on which one embarks…God’s mitzvoth direct a person in the right path…There is nothing particularly theological about this metaphor,which may characterize any course of action, so long as it is normative…
V.5 You shall keep My laws and My rules by the pursuit of which man shall live: I am the Lord.
RASHI… “by the pursuit of which man shall live,” that is, in the World to Come. For it cannot refer to this world, where everyone must eventually die.
IBN EZRA…The repetition “laws—rules” clarifies that they give life in both worlds to those who follow them, for if one understands the mystery behind them, the Eternally Living One will give him life, and in the time to come, he will never die.
RAMBAN… The purpose of the rules is so that people can live peacefully together, both as individuals and nations…regulating dealings between people.
TALMUD…Whence is it derived that the preservation of life overrides the law of keeping Shabbat? As R’ Judah said in the name of R’ Yishma’el, “You shall live through them”—and not die through them. [Yoma, 88b]
TALMUD…It was taught: R’ Yochanan said in the name of R’ Shimon: In respect to all the transgressions in Torah, except idol worship, incestuous relations and the spilling of blood…If one is told: Transgress or you will be killed, he is to transgress. Why? For man shall live through them, and not die because of them. [Sanhedrin 74a]
RAMBAM…Man’s experience in the commandments is conditioned by his approach. There are those who perform a mitzvah out of an ulterior motive…There are others who perform the commandments in hopes of inheriting the World to Come…And there are those who keep the commandments out of love, side by side with their daily pursuits.
ALSHECH…When God explains that obedience to these laws will ensure that Israel lives—v’chai ba-hem, the message is clear. When you keep My statutes, you do not do so for My sake, but your own sake—so you may live. It is an act of self-preservation, not service in expectation of a reward.
The KOTZKER… “You shall observe my ordinances and My laws that a person may bring life to them.” That is, do not do mitzvoth as a matter of rote, but rather with joy and zest—v’chai ba-hem.
V.6-7 None of you shall come near to anyone of his own flesh to uncover his nakedness: I am the Lord. Your father’s nakedness, that is, the nakedness of your mother, you shall not uncover…
SARNA…The noun “ervah”—nakedness, is a euphemism for sexuality that is related to the verb “uncover.”…To “uncover nakedness” means to have sexual intercourse.
S’FORNO… The mixing of two relatives concentrates their qualities. When Amram took to wife his father’s sister Yocheved, the result was Moses, Aaron & Miriam. Ordinarily, though, what results derives from lust for sheer sexual pleasure.
R’ R. LEVY… These acts of forbidden sexual relations are introduced by a curious word—“ No one may draw near, Tik’r’vu, to uncover the nakedness…” It was Nadav & Avihu’s “drawing near—too near—that initiated the rites of Acharei Mot…Does sex itself not have implications of an offering?…As an offering enriches the universe, so does the sowing of seed in the act of making love…The sexual act, as Freud suggested, is the ultimate encounter of life and death…One should draw near one’s spouse for such an act as reverently as one draws near to offer up to God.