Anne Gordon Parshat Kedoshim: Practice Is as Practice Does For those of us who like to envision Sefer Vayikra as the book that teaches us what to do in the time of the messiah (despite the fact that we don’t pasken from the Chumash), Parshat Kedoshim suggests otherwise. For those of us who like to claim that nothing of Sefer Vayikra is practical, Parshat Kedoshim insists otherwise! Let us begin by paying attention to context… Context provides the basis for the famous dispute between Rashi and Ramban regarding the nature of the mitzvah that gives this week’s parsha its name. Namely, is “Kedoshim tihiyu” reiterating the injunction against the illicit sexual liaisons of chapter 18, as Rashi understands the proximity of this commandment to that list of liaisons to indicate? Or is it a new point, a mitzvah independent of any other mitzvah? For Ramban does not allow that a new formulation is a mere reiteration of mitzvot that have already been expressed. Rather, he maintains that “Kedoshim tihiyu” is the injunction to “be holy” beyond the requirements of any and all other commandments. Thus, to be holy means to live in a manner that does not merely comply with all other commandments, but also presumes a higher standard of morality and ethics. Going “beyond the bottom line,” as people say. Indeed, those Jews who comply with most mitzvot, yet find themselves in the newspapers for violating mitzvot bein adam le-havero disappoint us not only because they violate commandments, but because we expect that they will sanctify the name of God and fulfill this commandment. Instead, when one desecrates God’s name, the general Jewish populace is at best disappointed, and at worst, disillusioned. Ironically, the commandment to go beyond the bottom line places the responsibility for adhering to Torah on the individual! But the command to be holy (following Ramban’s expectation of a higher standard for the time being, instead of Rashi’s reiteration of the arayot relationships) is only the introduction to Parashat Kedoshim. The rest of chapter 19 lists exactly those practical commandments that concretize the practical implications of the mitzvah from Sefer Shemot: “ve-atem tihiyu Li mamlekhet kohanim ve-goy kadosh.” That is, the mitzvah to be a holy nation, functioning as the higher standard for all nations, just as the kohanim are sanctified among the midst of Bnei Yisrael themselves. Let us now take note of the structure of these mitzvot. Granted, the structure of Parshat Kedoshim could keep us busy for far longer than this d’var Torah will allow. But let us note a structural feature of these mitzvot that is not generally expected: parallelism. Parallelism is known best for its presence in biblical poetry – in fact, it is known as one of the defining traits of biblical poetry, if not the defining trait. In poetry, the phenomenon of parallelism is significant primarily because of the meaning that the form lends to the verses. Once the poetic verse is divided into Part A and Part B, one asks: does Part B reiterate Part A? Or counter Part A? Or perhaps even provide an answer that is posted by Part A? Though the parallelism of our commandments here should be examined each unto itself, we can generalize and assume that Part B does not simply reiterate Part A. Nonetheless, the juxtaposition of two different mitzvot within one verse certainly reveals connections between the commandments that we would not necessarily assume without the ability to derive the connections from these verses. By way of example, let us look at verse 3: Part A: “Ish imo ve-aviv tira’u” (the command to fear one’s parents) Part B: “et shabtotai tishmoru” (the command to keep Shabbat) [Part C: “Ani Hashem.” (I am God)] Of the many things we can learn about this verse, the connection between the two halves seems relatively insignificant. But if nothing else, their placement within the same verse indicates the tight relationship between parent-child relationships and Sabbath-observance, and not only because it reflects the mirror image of the Ten Commandments… Other examples shed light on the relationship between mitzvot as well: Verse 14: Part A: Lo tekalel heresh (the command not to curse the one who cannot hear) Part B: ve-lifnei iver lo titein mikhshol (the command not place a stumbling block before the blind) [Part C: ve-yareita mei-Elokekha; Ani Hashem] (you will fear from your God; I am God). On the one hand, Part B repeats Part A conceptually, with compassion for both the deaf and the blind. On the other hand, in the same way that the stumbling block may be understood to be figurative and one’s blindness may be understood to be figurative, so too are we to understand figurative cursing of the deaf. More to the point, when we examine Part C and its application to both Part A and Part B, we learn the essential lesson of the school playground: don’t pick on those who cannot help themselves. Even when nobody else will know. Rather, fear God! Verse 16: Part A: Lo telekh rekhil be-amekha (the command against tale-bearing) Part B: lo ta’amod al dam re’ekha (the command against standing by while Jews are in danger) Part C: Ani Hashem (I am God) Again, on the surface of it, the connection between tale-bearing and bloodshed seems tenuous – or it would, were we not already accustomed to the many comparisons drawn between lashon hara (slander) and bloodshed. But the commentaries here are quick to infer that one who bears tales indeed is harming one’s fellow Jew – and perhaps specifically in a near-passive way, just as “standing by” is the transgression of this verse (and not active vicious harm). One final example will suffice for now, but let me challenge you to probe the connections that emerge from the juxtaposition between the two halves of nearly every mitzvah of chapter 19. Verse 17: Part A: Lo tisna ahikha bilevavekha (the command against hating one’s brethren in one’s heart) Part B: Hokheiach tokhiach et amitekha (the command to rebuke one’s fellow Jew) [Part C: ve-lo tisa alav chet] (thus, will one bear no sin). Perhaps the most important meaning is derived from the proximity of these two mitzvot. On the one hand, one is prohibited from hating one’s fellow Jew. On the other hand, one is enjoined to rebuke one’s fellow Jew. On the surface of it, these two mitzvot are mutually exclusive. We would assume that rebuke and hatred go hand in hand. Instead, a careful reading of the verse reminds us that the prohibition is specifically against harboring hatred in one’s heart. The Torah suddenly seems remarkably progressive, in that it seems to be concerned about our internal well-being…that we should not repress our hatred, but express it (yes, through Part B – with careful, well-placed rebuke). Sefer ha-Hinukh makes the important point that rebuking one who will not hear it does not fulfill this mitzvah, so we are not commanded to simply blow off steam. Rather, to use our ability to rebuke to prevent our bottling up resentment or hatred in our hearts…and in clearing the air, we don’t bear sin against each other. Lest the connections between the parts of these verses seem simplistic, let us remember how many people are reluctant to discover the practical relevance of Sefer Vayikra. And how familiar these mitzvot are to us (note that one of the upcoming verses for your own further study is the incomparably famous “love your neighbor as yourself”!). It behooves us to invest the time and energy in examining the two halves of each verse in this chapter to help us internalize the messages that these verses convey –for their ethics and their morals. Indeed, the essential message from this perek, even from the mitzvot that pertain to the sacrifices, is that we are to apply these commandments practically, to our daily lives. In so doing, we indeed become a “kingdom of priests,” even in the absence of the Temple ritual. What could be more practical or relevant?