INTRODUCTION TO PARASHAT HASHAVUA
Please pray for a refua sheleima
for Yisrael ben Rut and Reut bat Sima,
Alon Shevut youth injured in separate accidents over
GOD IN THE REAL WORLD
The reader of parashat Kedoshim finds himself confronted by an entire
kaleidoscope of Jewish law. It would
seem that no topic remains untouched; the variety and scope is astounding. No area of human existence is left
unexamined. Every sphere of life has
its directive and regulation which give it unique shape and form and transform a
mundane existence into a particularly Jewish mode of living. As we read each new verse, we move
from topic to topic - from idolatry to social welfare, from the prohibition of
acts of vengeance to the banning of clothing woven from wool and linen; tattoos,
respect for the elderly, the strict outlawing of communication with the dead -
are but a few of the varied areas covered in our weekly portion. The Torah lurches effortlessly from
subject to subject as if this series of directives were a flowing narrative.
The reader will ask the question, what binds this eclectic collection of
laws together? What gives this
narrative shape and form? The
Midrash has an answer. The Midrash
is drawn to the unusual introduction to Kedoshim.
The text stresses that the laws of Kedoshim were spoken to a gathering of
the entire nation. (This phrase
appears only one other occasion in the Bible Exodus 12:1 with the law of the
"The Lord spoke to Moses saying: speak to THE ENTIRE ISRAELITE COMMUNITY and say
to them: You shall be holy ..." (19:1)
Why was the entire nation convened in a mass gathering for this
particular group of laws?
"Rabbi Chiya taught: This section was taught as a public gathering because the
central principles of the Torah are based on it.
Rabbi Levi said: The Ten Commandments are contained in this section:
"I am the Lord your God" and here "I am the Lord your God" (19:2 and v. 26)
"You shall not have other gods" and here, "Do not make for yourselves any image"
"God's name in vain" and here, "Do not swear falsely in My name" (19:7)
"Remember the Shabbat" and here, "Keep my Shabbats" (19:3)
"Honor your father and mother" and here, "Each person should fear their mother
and father" (19:3)
"Do not murder" - "Do not stand idly over the blood of your fellow"(19:16)
"Do not steal" - "Do not steal" (19:11)
"Do not commit adultery" - "Do not make prostitute your daughter" (19:29)
"Do not bear false witness against your fellow" - "Do not talebear" (19:11)
"Do not covet" - "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (19:18)" 
The parallel between our parasha and the Ten Commandments is striking but
what does it all mean? The mass
assembly of the nation brings to mind images of the revelation at Sinai when the
entire nation "came forward and stood at the foot of the mountain, the mountain
ablaze with flames to the very sky...and the Lord spoke to you out of the fire
But it is unlikely that the focus here is on the experiential dimension
of the Sinai revelation. Rather, it
would seem that the Torah here is interested in the content of the revelation. Why repeat the Ten Commandments in a
new expanded form? Because the great
principles which were given amidst fire and cloud must translate themselves into
regulations which guide our every step in the prosaic rhythm of the everyday. We do not require a Sinai to
experience the Ten Commandments. The
Ten Commandments are for life. We
experience them on a regular basis through our dedicated adherence to Jewish
law, an entire code for living which touches every sphere of human activity.
If there is one hallmark of Kedoshim, I would pinpoint it as this
all-encompassing, very typically Jewish approach to religion. Judaism celebrates life. It infiltrates and regulates the way
that the ordinary person lives.
GHOSTS AND SPIRITS.
It is puzzling that a single law, not particularly striking at the
outset, makes a threefold appearance in parashat Kedoshim. It is a law which warns us against
"Do not turn to ghosts and do not inquire of familiar spirits to be defiled by
them; I am the Lord your God. You
shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old ..." (19:30-31)
"If any man turns to ghosts and familiar spirits and strays after them, I will
set My face against that person and cut him off from his people" (20:6)
"A man or woman who has a ghost or a familiar spirit shall be put to death ...
The Lord said to Moses: Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron..." (20:27-21:1)
Why is this law singled out for repetition? Is it a problem of such epic
proportions that we need to be warned about it not twice but three times?
First, a definition of these practices would be useful. Rashi defines these practices as
methods of connecting with the dead.
The "Ov" is a practice whereby the one raises the spirit of the dead in order to
know what the future holds. The
spirit will talk from inside the body of the performer of this rite. The second practice (Yid'oni) has a
similar objective but here a bird's bone is inserted into the mouth and the
spirit of the dead will speak from the mouth.
Why does the Torah oppose these practices so vehemently? The immediate reason is clear. They are part and parcel of the pagan
idolatrous culture of Canaan. This
culture is antithetical to the monotheistic atmosphere that represents Israel
and the Torah. These practices are
But an additional comment is worthwhile.
Hirsch notes that the command to respect the elderly is linked to the ban
on this practice of necromancy.
"The erroneous conception of these oracles seek ... to lose all their powers of
thought and feeling so that, deprived of all their own senses, they fall under
the power of the oracle giving spirit.
... He does not wish to place the decision for what he is about to do ...
under the dictate of the word of God whose laws for human behavior are addressed
to the clear wakeful mind nor under the dictates of his own thinking brain ...
with all his mental and moral free will.
He places the decision for himself and his acts under the dictates of
some dark mysterious power ...
Rising before the aged is again the complete positive opposite to this ... Our text demands rising to ones feet
for "Seiva" - an honorable old age spent in faithfulness to duty, and for
"Zikna," maturity of wisdom which has been obtained by the study of Torah ... To
experience and wisdom - to the clear circumspect human understanding which
matures with experience, and the spirit of God which speaks out of the Torah -
are we to pay tribute and when we meet their representatives, in "old men" and
"wise men," we are to show our homage by rising and giving honor to them. ... But this is the opposite of the
'ghost and the spirit.'"
Here R. Hirsch sees the elderly as the answer to the desire to seek
advice from the spirits. The elderly
will give superior advice. Likewise,
the Midrash on 21:1 (noting the mention of clairvoyance adjacent to the laws of
priests) sees the priests as the appropriate address for ones' religious and
spiritual quest, the preferred alternative to necromancy.
Man has always been intrigued by the future. Man wants to know that the future
will bring success and comfort and he consults with the dead in a moment of
crisis because he imagines that the untethered soul has a clearer view of his
destiny than he has. In the Bible,
King Saul consults with one of these oracles.
He is about to go to war and he feels that he cannot fight without some
knowledge of the war's outcome (see I Samuel Ch. 30). But in the realistic practical view
of Judaism there is no place for this.
Man's destiny is determined by him and him alone. His actions - in the real world -make
him what he is. Do we attempt to
determine our future by seeking the spirits, or do we work on changing our lives
from within, by slow, painful self-transformation?
DEATH AND DEFILEMENT
"Many religions view the phenomenon of death as a positive spectacle, inasmuch
as it highlights and sensitizes religious consciousness and 'sensibility.' They therefore sanctify death and the
grave because it is here that we find ourselves on the threshold of
transcendence, at the portal of the world to come. Death is a window filled with light,
open to an exalted, supernal realm.
Judaism, however, proclaims that coming into contact with the dead precipitates
defilement. Judaism abhors death,
organic decay and dissolution. It
bids one to choose life and sanctify it.
Authentic Judaism as reflected in Halakhic thought sees in death a
terrifying contradiction to the whole of religious life. Death negates the entire magnificent
experience of halakhic man. '"I am
freed from the dead' (Ps 88:6) - when a person dies he is freed of the
commandments" (Shabbat 30a).
... The task of the religious individual is bound up with the performance of
commandments, and this performance is confined to this world, to physical,
concrete reality, to clamorous, tumultuous life, pulsating with exuberance and
strength. Therefore, holiness need
keep itself far away from death" (R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Halakhic Man.
Necromancy is designated as that which defiles. Why?
Because it is an attempt to provide an answer to life by seeking out the
dead. But we shall see that parashat
Kedoshim bears the hallmark of 'kedusha' - holiness, and it is its
"this-worldly" orientation which enables kedoshim to provide a recipe for
At first glance, the heading of our parasha would seem somewhat
misplaced. For a parasha so involved
in the routine acts of life, we find the unlikely heading of "holiness." ""You shall be holy" is the very
opening line of our parasha and also its concluding verse.
"The Lord spoke to Moses saying: speak to the entire Israelite community and say
to them: You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy" (19:1-2).
And at its conclusion.
"You shall be holy to Me for I the Lord am holy, and I have set you apart from
the other peoples to be Mine" (20:26).
Usually, holiness is seen is the result of withdrawal from the treadmill
of everyday life and society, the exclusive reserve of a pious elitist group. The hermit can be holy hidden from
the world and its polluting influences, the reclusive monk, the frail old
scholar bent over his books. But
Judaism gives a very different presentation of the road that leads to the holy
life. The halakha - Jewish Law -
celebrates life in all its colorful diversity.
Judaism invented the concept of "a society of priests and a holy nation"
(Exodus 19:5) by viewing the world - every area of life - as having the
potential to be sanctified. The
halakha sets as its goal to infuse every action with the sacred. Agriculture, commerce, family life,
sexuality, clothing, can all become connected with the Godly. Holiness is not an escape from the
world; it is in the very fiber of life.
In the words of Rav Kook, we do not view the world and society as a
Godless wasteland, vacant of spiritual content.
Rather, we define our world as "not yet holy." 
THE BOOK OF LEVITICUS
The theme that we have outlined is essential to the thrust of central
lesson of the Book of Leviticus.
Up to this point, the Book of Leviticus (Sefer Vayikra) has concerned
itself with ritual procedure and definition.
Maybe a quick summary would be useful:
Laws of sacrifices (korbanot)
Ceremonial inauguration of the Sanctuary
Kosher (pure) and Non-Kosher (impure)
Laws of ritual purity and the body:
Bodily emissions, leprosy.
The service of Yom Kippur in the
The prohibition of sacrifices outside
Prohibited sexual relationships
Laws of festivals, slaves, sabbatical
The first half of the book of Leviticus (A-E) deals with holiness as it
regards the sanctuary itself - What sacrifices are offered in the temple etc. Even the laws of purity and impurity
are really connected in with the Temple in that the impure are barred from
entering its doors. Even the Yom
Kippur service (E) tells us what goes on inside the Temple but not what goes on
outside of it.
But we shall see that from Chapter 18 onwards, Leviticus changes its
focus. It begins to orientate itself
to ordinary life with all its weaknesses; the sexual drive, corruption, greed,
paganism. It begins to formulate a
code for achieving holiness, not only inside the sacred walls of the sanctuary,
but in the towns and fields. In the
second half of Leviticus, when a law is addressed to the priests, it concerns
their life outside the sanctuary and not within it. The laws of the Sabbatical year
sanctify our fields, the laws of festivals sanctify our time.
Leviticus teaches us a vital lesson.
In the kabbalistic phrase "There is no place where God's presence cannot
be found." Or in the words of the
chassidic Rebbe of Kotzk: "Where is God?
Wherever you let him enter."
MOSES AND THE ANGELS
We will conclude with one fascinating Midrash. The Midrash describes Moses ascending
to the upper world to receive the Torah on behalf of the Jewish people. He arrives and presents himself
before the angels. They turn to God
in indignation. "What business has
one born of woman amongst us? That
secret treasure ... Thou desirest to give it to flesh and blood?" The angels are outraged. Has God waited with his Torah so long
to give it to a mere mortal, with all his weaknesses, passions and
God tells Moses to argue his case.
Moses answers by quoting the Ten Commandments. He quotes "I am the Lord ... who
brought you from the Land of Egypt" and turns to the angels: "Did you go down to
Egypt? Were you enslaved?" He quotes "Remember the Shabbat day"
and asks the angels, "Do you perform work that you need to rest? "Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal." He asks the angels: "Does jealousy
exist amongst you? Do you have a
desire, an inclination towards any of these things?"
And the angels conceded.
The Torah is given to humans "born of woman ... flesh and blood" with all
our inner contradiction and weakness.
But the Torah was not designed for angels.
It is written for real people.
It is given to us, and if it is given to us, then it is possible for us
to perform its laws and to realize its vision.
Our role is to use it as our guide to make the world a little better, to
make the world a little more holy.