We often think of the Mitzvah of “VeAhavta LeRei’acha Kamocha,” “You shall love your peer as yourself” (Vayikra 19:18), as a simple command to love our fellow Jews. Interestingly, however, the Gemara offers several applications of this Pasuk that most of us would have never associated with it. The Gemara derives the precise manners for executing inmates from Ve’Ahavta VeAhavta Kamocha. For example, if someone must be executed through Hereg, beheading, we slit his throat on the side with a sword, rather than chopping him in the back of the neck with a cleaver. Chazal understood that the former method is less painful, “and the verse says VeAhavta LeRei’acha Kamocha – choose for him a nice death” (Sanhedrin 52b). Similarly, when we execute someone through Skilah, stoning (which involves throwing him off a building), we make sure that the building is so high that the criminal will die on contact, and not wallow around after the fall. Again, the source is VeAhavta LeRei’acha Kamocha (Sanhedrin 45a).
The Gemara also derives certain laws pertaining to marriage from this Pasuk. For example, one may not marry a woman until he sees her, lest he find her unattractive and fail to fulfill VeAhavta LeRei’acha Kamocha (Kiddushin 41a; see Niddah 17a for another application).
These passages from the Gemara make us wonder why Chazal did not mention more conventional ways to fulfill VeAhavta LeRei’acha Kamocha. Perhaps the Gemara’s presentation of this Mitzvah serves to teach us that the theoretical idea of loving every Jew applies differently to each situation. When we execute a criminal, we generally do not love him especially dearly. We might be tempted kill him in a cruel or unusual way, justifying our action by arguing that such a dastardly criminal does not deserve any compassion. Nevertheless, we must never deny any human his basic dignity. Although we must execute certain sinners, we do it as humanely as possible – “Choose for him a nice death.”
While we can easily envision the temptation to violate VeAhavta LeRei’acha Kamocha when dealing with death row inmates, we might think that one can easily fulfill it in marriage. After all, if the Gemara in Sanhedrin defined VeAhavta LeRei’acha Kamocha as respecting a person’s basic dignity, surely even a mediocre husband treats his wife with at least as much dignity as he would treat a death row inmate.
The passages in Kiddushin and Niddah come to teach us the flaw of this reasoning. VeAhavta LeRei’acha Kamocha applies to each person in proportion to our relationship with him or her. The criminal can only demand from us that we refrain from unnecessarily degrading him. A wife, in contrast, deserves a far higher level of Ahavah from her husband than any stranger does. Thus, her husband must not erroneously think that he can fulfill his role as a loyal spouse simply by treating her with basic Derech Eretz. Were this the case, he could consent to marry just about any woman, without first seeing her. Instead, the Gemara teaches us that a man must see his future wife before committing to marry her. He must ensure that he can treat her not only with basic Derech Eretz, but also with the affection and enthusiasm that flow from his attraction towards her. If he cannot feel this attraction, then he will ultimately violate VeAhavta LeRei’acha Kamocha. Without the necessary level of affection for his wife, he will grow irritated every time she does the slightest thing wrong, a thing he probably would not even have noticed had he loved her deeply. Thus, VeAhavta LeRei’acha Kamocha dictates that a man ensures in advance that he finds his potential wife attractive.
Thus, the Gemara has taught us that VeAhavta LeRei’acha Kamocha applies in different ways, depending on the people involved. Aside from the extreme example of a death row criminal, we also find other sources for the need to love even those who annoy us, such as the Gemara’s story about the stranger who harassed Hillel (Shabbat 31a):
A man once bet his friend 400 Zuzim that he could cause Hillel to anger. The man went to Hillel’s house just before the start of Shabbat, while Hillel was washing his hair. Hillel answered the door, and the man asked him a moronic question; Hillel answered patiently. The man left, waited an hour, and returned to ask another stupid question (“Why do some people have wide feet?”). After receiving a patient answer, he again left, waited an hour, and returned to ask another stupid question. After the third patient answer, he finally said, “I hope there aren’t many Jews like you, for you have cost me 400 Zuzim.” Hillel replied, “You should lose 400 Zuzim and yet another 400 Zuzim on account of [me], yet Hillel shall not lose his temper.”
In this story, we do not find Hillel exhibiting tremendous enthusiasm for the stranger. On the other hand, despite circumstances that would tempt most of us to respond angrily, Hillel nevertheless accorded him the basic Derech Eretz that every Jew deserves, emphasizing that he will never allow himself to lose his temper. R. S. R. Hirsch explains that when the Torah concludes the Pasuk of VeAhavta LeRei’acha Kamocha with “Ani Hashem,” “I am Hashem,” it is conveying this attitude of Hillel:
[This Mitzvah] is required of us even towards somebody whose personality may be actually highly antipathetic to us. For the demand of this love, which lies quite outside the sphere of the personality of our neighbor, is not based on any of his qualities. “I am Hashem” is given as the motive for this demand.
The Sefer Charedim (1:28) further sharpens our understanding of specific applications of VeAhavta LeRei’acha Kamocha. He groups all Mitzvot by the body parts that perform them, and he places this Mitzvah in the category of Mitzvot that depend on the heart. Many of the Mitzvot that he includes in this category entail some actions, but he explains that each one requires an internal state of mind as a fundamental component of its fulfillment. Numerous actions exhibit Ahavat Yisrael at various levels, as we have seen, but the ultimate fulfillment of the Mitzvah of VeAhavta LeRei’acha Kamocha comes when these actions help their performer internalize feelings of love towards fellow Jews. Perhaps our original simple understanding is not so far off, after all.
A Balancing Act
by Ariel Caplan
Parshat Kedoshim is famous for being Mitzvah-packed, often juxtaposing
groups of seemingly unrelated Mitzvot in one paragraph, sometimes even in one
Pasuk. However, close analysis of these cases shows that there is a reason for
the order of the Mitzvot in this Parsha. One example of this is the Pesukim that
state (19:26-28): "Lo Tochlu Al HaDam, Lo Tenachashu VeLo Te'oneinu. Lo Takifu
Pe'at Rosheichem, VeLo Tashchit Eit Pe'at Zekanecha. VeSeret LaNefesh Lo Titnu
BiVsarchem, UKetovet Kaaka Lo Titnu Bachem, Ani Hashem," "Do not eat with
(literally: over) blood, do not divine and do not tell fortunes. Do not round
out the corners of your head, and do not destroy the corners of your beard. And
a cut for a soul do not place in your skin, and a permanent mark do not make in
yourselves, I am Hashem." This order seems rather random and unconnected; it is
almost as if Hashem just wanted to go through a bunch of Mitzvot and therefore
simply rattled them off. However, a deeper look into these Mitzvot shows that
there is a motive for this grouping: they all give us guidelines to follow in
our relationships with the non-Jewish world.
The first group of three Mitzvot advises us to beware of practices that decrease
our belief in Hashem. Divining and fortune-telling (see Rashi, who explains them
as actual supernatural practices) clearly undermine our belief that Hashem will
provide for us and protect us. In addition, Ramban defines the prohibition to
eat with blood as a reference to the practice of creating a pool of blood around
which demons gather to predict the future. (While there are certainly many other
definitions of the Mitzvah – see Sanhedrin 63a – this definition is most
relevant to the current discussion). Hence, all three refer to practices that
are used to attempt to circumvent God. While of course the concept of Hishtadlut,
human effort, mandates that we take steps to ensure our own success, we must
still realize that our fate is solely in Hashem's hands. Predicting the future
certainly undermines this idea, as do any ideologies that deny the influence of
God on personal and world events.
The next Pasuk, which teaches the Mitzvot of Bal Takif (leaving one's Peiot) and
Bal Tashchit (not shaving the corners of the beard), deals with maintaining our
cultural identity. When we deal with non-Jewish society, we have to remember
that we are a separate entity, as the Torah states (Bemidbar 23:9): "Hen Am
Levadad Yishkon, UVaGoyim Lo Yitchashav," "Behold! It is a nation that dwells
alone, and among the nations it will not be counted." Midrash HaGadol interprets
this as meaning that the Jews must always be a distinct group and never
assimilate among the nations. It is of the utmost importance to uphold our
identity and thereby our faith. As Ibn Ezra notes, the Mitzvot of Bal Takif and
Bal Tashchit effect a physical mark of our distinction, serving as a reminder of
who we are and of our mission in this world.
The next Mitzvot dealt with are those of Seret LaNefesh, cutting oneself out of
mourning over a dead person, and Ketovet Kaaka, tattooing. This Mitzvah can be
seen as a warning not to adopt physically self-damaging practices that we may
see around us (see Rashi on Devarim 14:1), such as alcoholism and drug abuse,
which are much more prevalent in society today than many of us would like to
believe. These are obviously diametrically opposed to the philosophy of the
Torah, which states, "VeNishmartem Me'od LeNafshoteichem," "Be very careful for
your souls ( i.e. lives)," and "VaChai Bahem," "And you shall live through them
(i.e. the Mitzvot)" (Devarim 4:15 and Vayikra 18:5, respectively). Our
communities are certainly not immune from this problem, and we must do all we
can to prevent these and other dangerous behaviors.
The general thrust of these Pesukim is that we must be very careful to
distinguish between the good and the bad influences from Nochri society. There
is certainly much to gain from the non-Jewish world. One good example of this is
the integration of a system of appeals courts into the Israeli Beit Din system;
the idea of a court of appeals emerges primarily from non-Jewish court systems.
However, we must still be careful not to integrate the negative elements of
Nochri society into our own lives. It is only if we find the correct balance
that we can truly be an Or LaGoyim, a symbol to the nations of how to properly
by David Gross
This week’s Parsha teaches the Mitzvah of fearing one's parents, as the Pasuk states (19:3), “Ish Imo VeAviv Tira'u," "A man shall fear his father and his mother." How does one fulfill this Mitzvah? The Sifra explains that one should not sit in his parent's seat or contradict his or her words in a conversation. The Gemara (Kiddushin 31a) says that even if a parent hits a child or spits in the child's face, the child cannot stop his parent's actions. The root of this Mitzvah is showing appreciation for parents and being Makir Tov for all the actions our parents do on our behalf.
A famous story related in the same Gemara illustrates this point. In the time of the second Beit Hamikdash, the Rabbis were looking to find a replacement for one of the precious stones of the Choshen (each stone was worth a great amount of money). The Rabbis approached a non-Jew who was known to have this stone in order to buy it from him. When they arrived, the non-Jew refused to sell them the stone, even for a great profit, because his father was sleeping on top of the key which opened the safe in which the stone was kept. The non-Jew was awarded the following year with the birth of a Parah Adumah, which he was able to sell for a high price. He thus regained his losses for not selling this stone.
As this story clearly demonstrates, one should always be Makir Tov to everyone, especially one's parents, even at a great cost. We must realize that whatever we have to give up to thank our parents is incomparable to the great debt that we owe them for all they have done for us.
by Avi Levinson
The very first Pasuk of this week’s Parsha tells us of the Mitzvah of “Kedoshim Tihyu,” “You shall be sanctified.” Both Rav Sa’adya Gaon and Rashbatz, 2 of the earliest enumerators of the 613 Mitzvot in the Torah, both include Kedoshim Tihyu as a separate commandment. But this phrase is quite vague; what exactly does it mean to “be sanctified?”
The two most famous explanations are those of Rashi and Ramban. Rashi explains that Kedoshim Tihyu is a requirement to create a “fence around immorality.” This command has been upheld by Chazal in several forms (Yichud, Kol Ishah, etc.). Rambam seems to agree with this explanation, as he includes the laws of marriage and immorality in the section of the Mishneh Torah entitled “Kedushah”.
Ramban’s interpretation is that the Pasuk instructs us to avoid the common mistake of allowing something because it is technically permitted, even if it is against the spirit of the Torah. Gluttony, Nivul Peh, alcoholism, and other such actions are not technically prohibited, but are clearly not the Torah way. The Ramban explains that Kedoshim Tihyu teaches us to avoid such actions.
Ohr Hachaim comments that this Pasuk informs us that one who refrains from doing something wrong receives reward as if he did a Mitzvah (see Kiddushin 39b). It is not enough to do Mitzvot; one must also avoid doing Aveirot.
There is a misconception that might arise from this command. One might think that it is better to completely remove oneself from the world, as this would help a person become more sanctified (as some other religions believe). Both the Chatam Sofer and his son the Ketav Sofer oppose this idea. The Torah does not say that we should remove ourselves from the world (Perushim Tihyu); rather, we should sanctify ourselves (Kedoshim Tihyu) within this world by joining together to do Mitzvot and help each other. This idea is based on the statement of Chazal (Torat Kohanim 19:1, Vayikra Rabbah 24:5) that this entire section was sent to the complete assembly of Bnei Yisrael, including everyone. To achieve Kedushah, we must all join together.
Kli Yakar, elaborating on the ideas developd by Rashi and Ramban, adds that Kedoshim Tihyu means that one must sanctify himself with what is allowed by not overindulging in physical pleasures. While it is true that asceticism is not the Torah way either, there is an intermediate stage where the Torah commands us to become sanctified by avoiding certain things.
In order to be sanctified, one cannot simply be better than those around him. The Maggid of Dubno used to tell a story to illustrate this idea. A man was looking for a Talmid Chacham who would marry his daughter. He found one of the best scholars in the local yeshiva. Some time later, the father-in-law discovered that his son-in-law no longer studied as much as he used to. The son-in-law excused his behavior by claiming that he still learned more than anyone else in his area. This answer did not appease the father. Similarly, we must all strive to be the best we can, not the best relative to everyone else.
There are many more pages that could be written about Kedoshim Tihyu. Perhaps the reason there is so much to say is because the concept of Kedushah is so all-encompassing in Jewish thought. As Chazal say regarding this commandment, many Mitzvot in the Torah are dependent upon this one.
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