This week’s Parashah, Parashat Kedoshim, is often connected with Parashat Acharei Mot; many years, the Parashiyot are read together. In Acharei Mot, Hashem commands Moshe (VaYikra 18:2), “Dabeir El Bnei Yisrael VeAmarta Aleihem Ani Hashem Elokeichem,” “Speak to Bnei Yisrael and say to them: I am Hashem, your God.” Immediately following this introduction, Moshe is to tell the nation (18:3), “KeMa’asei Eretz Mitzrayim Asher Yeshavtem Bah Lo Ta’asu UKeMa’asei Eretz Kena’an Asher Ani Meivi Etchem Shamah Lo Ta’asu UVeChukoteihem Lo Teileichu,” “Do not perform the practice of the land of Egypt in which you dwelled; and do not perform the practice of Eretz Kena’an to which I bring you, and do not follow their traditions.” Hashem gives a similar introduction, according to many, before giving the Aseret HaDibrot – “Anochi Hashem Elokecha,” “I am Hashem, your God” (Shemot 20:2). Firstly, why do the commandments given in Acharei Mot deserve an introduction akin to the introduction given to the Aseret HaDibrot? Additionally, why does the introduction in Acharei Mot use the name “Elokim” instead of “Hashem”? And lastly, to which action of Egypt and Kena’an is Hashem referring?
Interestingly, Rav David Zvi Hoffmann notes that the name “Hashem” is used when the Almighty is demonstrating the Middah of Rachamim, mercy, whereas “Elokim” exemplifies Midat HaDin, the attribute of judgment. When God gives Chavah to Adam as a helpmate, the Torah uses the name “Hashem.” By giving Adam a woman as a helper, and not as the effecter of forbidden relationships, God demonstrates mercy. In Acharei Mot, God is establishing the natural and unnatural relationships. As He is enacting many serious and extreme laws – prohibitions that often extend to all of mankind – the name “Elokim” is used.
Rashi (VaYikra 18:2 s.v. Ani Hashem Elokeichem), quoting Mechilta, gives an alternate explanation of the introductions, by referencing a Mashal, involving a king who enters a country which he recently conquered. When one of the king’s followers suggests that he give the new citizens the laws of his kingdom, the king responds, “First I will let them accept me, and then I will give them the laws.” Similarly, the introduction to the Aseret HaDibrot is Hashem beginning to be accepted by Bnei Yisrael, and only afterwards does Hashem give laws, beginning with the introduction in Acharei Mot. The Sefat Emet understands the Pesukim similarly to Rashi, but in a deeper light. He explains that our observance of the Mitzvot shows that we follow Hashem’s laws, as well as accept Him as God and strive to develop our relationship with Him. The Navi states (Yechezkeil 20:11), “Asher Ya’aseh Otam HaAdam VaChai Bahem.” The simple translation is, “If a man fulfills [My decrees], he will live through them.” However, the Sefat Emet understands the Pasuk conversely: by doing all the Mitzvot, we give Chiyut – a concept that includes life and joy – to the world.
Rav Mayer Twersky gives yet another explanation of the introductions. He believes that the introduction to the Aseret HaDibrot, “Anochi Hashem,” is the fundamental belief of Judaism. However, in Acharei Mot, the introduction still remains difficult. What fundamental idea is the introduction teaching, and to what action in Mitzrayim and Kena’an is the following Pasuk referring? Rav Twersky answers by quoting the Gemara (Berachot 63a): “What small verse in the Torah is fundamental to the Torah as a whole? ‘BeChol Derachecha Da’eihu,’ ‘Know him in all your ways’ (Mishlei 3:6).” We learn from this Pasuk that in many religions, there is a vast separation between mundane and religious activities; however, Judaism is different. For example, in Judaism, eating, sleeping, and working are all potential Mitzvot if done with the intention to improve the future ability of doing further Mitzvot. In Parashat Acharei Mot, the Torah is referencing the activities that Egyptians would do for their own delight and pleasure, whereas a Jew does the same activity, but to better himself. The introduction describes that one should live for Hashem while doing any activity, whether it is objectively spiritual or mundane.
Rambam (Hilchot Dei’ot 3:3), using “BeChol Derachecha Da’eihu” as a source, says that we should enjoy this world, but only in an appropriate matter; earn money for financial needs, eat and drink for health, etc. Rambam in essence is saying that we can and should enjoy the world, but it should be for a higher purpose. Rambam continues to say that not only should one include Hashem in spiritual activities, but also in the mundane. Similarly, the Gemara in Berachot states that we should include Hashem in sinful matters. Rashi explains that when one is about to do a sin, he should think of Hashem and consider whether or not the Torah would permit the sin – more often than not, this practice stops oneself from committing the Aveirah. Alternatively, when one is about to do something not in accordance with what Hashem wants, he will convince himself that there is no God; but, at the defining moment, he will call out to Hashem, because he knows inside that Hashem runs the world. Parashat Kedoshim opens with “Kedoshim Ti’heyu,” “You shall be holy” (VaYikra 19:2). This Pasuk teaches that the nation of Bnei Yisrael should be set aside for Hashem, and that everything they do should be holy. Similarly, as this week begins Sefirat HaOmer, many Jews start to learn Pirkei Avot, which describes how to live one’s life in accordance to Hashem. By heeding to the lessons of Pirkei Avot, and by observing the laws of Acharei Mot and Kedoshim, may we learn that we must live in according with the laws of Hashem, and that we must involve Him in all of our activities.