Dvar Torah Parshat Acharei-Mot & Kedoshim 5775 2015

Hashem instructs Moshe to tell the people: כְּמַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ …לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ וּכְמַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן …, , “Do not perform the practices of the Land of Egypt…and do not perform the practices of the Land of Canaan…” (Lev. 18,3) The caution refers, of course, to the evil practices of these nations that are diametrically opposed to Jewish practice.

There is, however, another aspect of these instructions. We are admonished to not imitate their practices even if they are not evil. We have a different way of life that creates among us a form of holy existence. It is not only the avoidance of wrong doing that results in this sacred and devout way of living. It is also due to the positive things we are instructed to do.

Before we start the morning service we recite daily some of these great deeds. Among them are: honoring one’s parents, acts of kindness, hospitality to guests, visiting the sick, escorting the dead, and many others.

Avoiding evil acts is one aspect of righteous living, but positive acts is really what helps an individual and a people reach true sacredness.

Dvar Torah Parshat Kedoshim 5774 2014

We are told קְדֹשִׁים תִּהְיוּ, “…You shall be holy…”. (Lev. 19,2) The Torah then commences to tell us how to be holy. This Portion has 51 laws. Interestingly enough, there are only three or four laws that refer to our relationships or our obligations to Hashem. The rest of the laws deal with how one should act and how one should behave towards his fellow man.

Being holy in Judaism does not mean one should seclude himself from society and live in a mystical and spiritual world. For a Jew being holy means to deal honestly and appropriately with other people. If he mistreats others he desecrates the name of Hashem and is not holy.

The famous Rabbi Levi Berditchiv said to fast and to isolate oneself even the non-Jew knows how. To eat in a Halachic way only the Jew knows. A Jew knows there are limitations on what he eats and how he eats. The Jew does not need state laws to prevent him from being cruel to animals. He knows that cruelty to any creature is against the teachings of the Torah.

The Jew knows one must respect and give honor to his elders. He knows education is not only to be able to earn a livelihood but is a lifelong pursuit. All of the mundane necessities of life if done according to the dictates of the Torah are what makes one holy. The fifty one laws in Kedoshim are to help us deal with our daily lives in an Halachic way and that makes us holy.

Dvar Torah Parshat Achre Mot-Kedoshim 5772 2012

The Portion of Kedoshim tells us that we must be holy. Just exactly how are we supposed to act to be holy? The Torah tells us how by explaining all the different moral and ethical laws we should follow. Unfortunately, there are people who think that by cutting oneself off from the community and living a secluded life one can become holy.

The famous Rabbi Yonatan Eibschitz once encountered such a person. This man had shut himself off from the community and did not want to have anything to do with it. He did not attend general meetings that dealt with problems the public faced; he did not participate in any charitable collections; and he did not feel that he wanted to be spiritually contaminated by getting involved with civic troubles.

The Rabbi asked to see him. When he discussed with him his behavior he pointed out that the Midrash tells us that when Moshe expounded this particular section of the Torah telling us to be holy, he did so publically. In the language of the Midrash: פרשה זו נאמרה בהקהל, “This portion (of Kedoshim) was said publically”. (Vayikra Raba, 24,5) Why so, asked the Rabbi. Simply, he answered, because being holy does not mean isolating yourself from the community. It means being part of the community and dealing ethically with the community. It means living a normal life but with moral principles and with honest conduct.

Dvar Torah Parshat Kedoshim 5771 2011

There is a verse in the Torah reading of this week that deals with the treatment of two different types of handicapped individuals. LO TEKALLEL CHERESH VELIFNE IVER LO TITTEN MICHSHOL, “You shall not curse the deaf, and you shall not place a stumbling block before the blind…”. (Lev. 19,14)

This verse is obviously admonishing us not to mistreat the handicapped and not to put obstacles in their way. There is, however, a difference between these two examples that the Torah gives.
The first illustration is of the deaf that may not be aware of the ill-treatment meted out to them. They cannot hear and hence do not know that they have been abused. The second is of a handicapped person that cannot see but before long will stumble on the obstacle placed in his path and will immediately know that he has been physically harmed.

Everyone recognizes the harm done to the blind person and can readily see that it is wicked and sinful to act in this way. With the deaf person people may feel it is not that serious since the person does not know that he or she has been slandered.

The Torah equates the two in one verse, emphasizing that both of them are of equal immoral acts and are just as detestable.

Dvar Torah Parshat Achre Mot-Kedoshim 2009 5769 דבר תורה פרשת אחרי מות – קדושים

Hashem relays the message through Moshe to Bnei Israel and says: USHMARTEM ET CHUKOTAI VE’ET MISHPATAI ASHER YA’ASEH OTAM HA’ADAM VACHAI BAHEM…, “You shall observe My decrees and My laws which man shall carry out and by which he shall live…”. (Lev. 18,5) It should be noted that the Torah does not say a Jew should carry them out but rather a man should carry them out and live. This means that it refers to all mankind.

CHUKIM or decrees are generally explained as those dictates for which we have no explanation or understanding and observe them because we are commanded to do so. These decrees are obligatory only on Jews. MISHPATIM or laws, on the other hand, are dictates for which we can understand their purpose and all society must abide by them. They are not directives targeting only Jews.

There is, however, a difference between the observance of laws by non-Jews and Jews. A Jew observes them because it is a command from Hashem. A non Jew observes them because of what is known as a “social contract”, an agreement among people to observe them in order for a society to be able to survive.

That is what the Pasuk means when it says a “man shall carry out and by which he shall live”. All men carry out the laws so that society can survive but a Jew carries them out because he is commanded by Hashem to do so.

Dvar Torah Parshat Kedoshim 2008 – 5768 – דבר תורה פרשת קדושים תשס”ח

Some people believe, and for that matter some religions teach, that a person is holy when he lives as an ascetic and cuts himself off from the mundane world. He should have no interests in material acquisitions and should avoid any physical pleasures. Not so the Jewish religion.

The opening of the Sidra and its name emphasizes that we are to be Kedoshim, holy. The Torah does not leave it to our imagination to determine what this means and how it is to be attained. We are told immediately what is expected of us. We are not to set ourselves outside of the realm of reality or the physical world.

On the contrary. The Torah offers us in this Sidra 51 different Mitzvot which we are to observe as a means of becoming holy. They all deal with our normal life activities and our daily existence. One becomes holy by living a normal life but with high ethical and moral standards. One becomes holy by honest relationships with his fellow man. It is through respect for others and honest dealings with people that constitutes holiness in Judaism.

Dvar Torah Achre Mot – Kedoshim 2007 – 5767 דבר תורה אחרי מות – קדושים

The Torah tells us that we should not follow MA’ASEH MITZRAYAIM nor MA’ASEH ERETZ CANAAN, the ways of MITZRAYAIM nor the ways of CANAAN. (Lev. 18,3) The obvious meaning is not to pursue their idolatrous practices.

Someone, however, gave it a different twist. The Jews of Egypt got used to living in Galut and were enjoying their life there although they were subjected to slavery. When it came to leave the land and return to the land of Canaan, their ancestors’ land, most did not want to leave and had to be taken out by Hashem.

This is what the Pasuk means. Don’t follow the ways of Galut and become so entrenched that you truly enjoy its pleasures and consider it your permanent home. Don’t abandon your hope of returning to the land of your forefathers until, Heaven forbid, you are forced to leave.

It is not feasible nor expected that every Jew should drop everything and make his way to Israel. There are, indeed, many concerns and consequences that must be considered. However, every Jew should have a plan, a realistic plan with a real time schedule, with a true determination for making the move and for considering Israel the permanent home of a Jew.