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Parshas Kedoshim - Vol.
3, Issue 28
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Lo sikom v’lo sitor es b’nei amecha (19:18)
In explaining the roots of the prohibition against taking revenge, the Sefer HaChinuch (241) writes that a person is obligated to believe that everything which happens to him was ordered by Hashem. In this vein, Dovid HaMelech commanded (Shmuel 2 16:11) that Shimi ben Geira not be harmed for cursing him, explaining that “Hashem told him to curse me.” The Torah therefore forbids taking revenge against a person who harms or hurts us, since he was just an agent to execute Hashem’s decrees.
This idea is difficult to reconcile with an explanation of the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh in Parshas Vayeishev. The Torah records (Bereishis 37:21) that while the rest of the brothers were plotting to kill Yosef, Reuven saved him by suggesting that they instead throw him into a pit. Since Rashi writes (37:24) that the pit was full of poisonous snakes and scorpions, in what way was this considered “saving” Yosef and not merely substituting one type of death for another?
The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh explains that while humans have free will and the ability to do something which wasn’t decreed in Heaven, animals have no such free choice and are limited to whatever was decided by Hashem. Reuven knew that Yosef wasn’t the wicked pursuer that the other brothers thought he was and was confident that a death sentence hadn’t been decreed upon him.
Nevertheless, Reuven feared that his brothers, with their free will, would succeed in their plans to kill Yosef. Reuven “saved” Yosef by having him thrown into a pit where he knew that the snakes and scorpions would have no permission to harm him. This seems to contradict the principle of the Sefer HaChinuch, who writes clearly that humans have no ability to harm innocent people and should be viewed as mere executors of Hashem’s decrees.
A possible reconciliation is that in Derech Sicha, Rav Chaim Kanievsky clarifies that the explanation of the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh isn’t to be taken completely literally. The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh didn’t mean to say that humans are capable of killing a totally innocent person against Hashem’s will, but rather that a person needs more merits to be saved from those with free will. According to this understanding, this explanation needn’t contradict the opinion of the Sefer HaChinuch that whatever transpires is ultimately a fulfillment of the Divine plan.
V’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha ani Hashem (19:18)
The Torah commands us to love other Jews as we love ourselves. In his commentary on this verse, Rashi quotes Rebbi Akiva, who teaches that this is the fundamental rule of the Torah, making it clear the tremendous value that Judaism places on this mitzvah. However, this commandment seems difficult to reconcile with another concept. In seeking out a prospective spouse whom one will love more than any other person, Western culture teaches us that it is easiest to love a person with a similar background, values, and interests. If so, how can the Torah command us to love every Jew when so many of them are so different from us in so many ways?
In a yeshiva for Baalei Teshuva, there was a student who in his youth had gotten a tattoo on his chest, something forbidden by the Torah (19:28). When he decided one Friday to immerse in a mikvah in honor of Shabbos, he was mortified by the prospect that somebody might see his prominent tattoo.
He crossed his arms over his chest to cover his tattoo and approached the mikvah. Due to his anxiety, he didn’t watch where he was walking and slipped on a puddle. His instincts took over, and he threw out his arms to brace himself. Although he was uninjured by the fall, he suddenly recognized that all eyes had turned to him to see if he was okay.
Realizing that his tattoo was now bare for all to see, he was paralyzed by intense feelings of humiliation. Not knowing what to do next, he was startled by an elderly Jew who approached him and stuck out his hand. Thinking that the man was simply offering to help him get up, he was left speechless when the man showed him the numbers tattooed on his arm and remarked, “You have nothing to be embarrassed about. I’ve got one too.”
The Apter Rav was once teaching a class about love of one’s fellow Jew. Extending Rebbi Akiva’s statement, the Rebbe provokingly proclaimed that this is such an important mitzvah that it is alluded to in every word of the Torah. One of the listeners was skeptical and questioned this claim. That week was Parshas Balak. The cynic challenged the Rebbe to find an allusion to this commandment in the word Balak, who was hardly a lover of Jews. The Rebbe replied, “That’s simple. The letters in the word Balak are the first letters in the words “V’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha.”
Suppressing laughter, the skeptic responded that although the letters may make the same sounds, the “Beis” in Balak isn’t the same as the “vov” in “v’ahavta,” and the “kuf” in Balak is different than the “kof” in “kamocha.” The sagacious Rebbe rejoined, “That’s precisely the point. If you’re always focusing on the small differences between you and other Jews instead of the larger similarities, you’ll never be able to fulfill this mitzvah!”
Although the point was made by the Apter Rav in a tongue-in-cheek manner, the underlying idea couldn’t be truer. Several commentators suggest that Hashem answered our original question by immediately following this commandment with the words, “I am Hashem.” For all of the differences we may find in another Jew, none of them outweigh the overwhelming similarity that we are all members of Hashem’s people. Wise is the person who realizes that although our external tattoos may look different, our internal souls are united as one, and every Jew is deserving of our love.
V’ish asher yikach es achoso bas aviv o bas imo v’ra’ah es ervasa v’hee sireh es ervaso chesed hu v’nichresu l’einei b’nei amam ervas achoso gilah avono yisa (20:17)
After Parshas Acharei Mos listed the familial relationships forbidden by the Torah, Parshas Kedoshim details the punishments for their transgression. The Seforno (18:6) notes that marriage to one’s close relatives would seem to be ideal. The shared values, backgrounds, and personalities should combine to produce wonderful children. As evidence for this claim, he cites Amram, who married his aunt Yocheved (which was permissible prior to the giving of the Torah). From this marriage were born Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam, the greatest leaders a generation ever enjoyed. If so, what could be the problem with such relationships, and why does the Torah prohibit a person from marrying his close relatives?
The Seforno writes that if the intentions of the couple were solely for noble purposes, such unions would indeed be successful and their children would be exceptional. Unfortunately, human nature makes this scenario incredibly rare. Along with the Rambam and Ibn Ezra, the Seforno explains that Hashem ideally prefers that people be completely focused on and dedicated to serving Him. Because we are human, He had no choice but to permit marital relations.
However, in an effort to minimize them, the Torah forbids relations with all of a person’s close relatives. Because he is so frequently surrounded by them, the regular contact could easily lead to constant involvement in our base human desires. As this would distract us from focusing on elevating ourselves and achieving our true spiritual purposes, the Torah therefore prohibited these relationships.
The Ramban questions this explanation. He points out that a man is Biblically permitted to marry as many wives as he wants, something which should clearly be forbidden if the Torah’s goal was to minimize his involvement in marital relations to free him to pursue spiritual endeavors. He argues that it is illogical that marrying one’s daughter or sister should be punished so severely when somebody else may marry 1000 wives with impunity. As a result, the Ramban suggests that the entire concept of the forbidden relationships falls into the category known as çå÷éí, mitzvos which we perform only because Hashem commanded us to do so, even though we are unable to understand the rationale behind them.
the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) The Medrash (Vayikra Rabba 24:5) explains that Parshas Kedoshim was said to the entire nation because it contains all of the Aseres HaDibros. How many of them can you find in the parsha?
2) A person who causes another Jew to violate any of the commandments, such as giving wine to a nazir to drink, transgresses the prohibition (19:14) against placing a stumbling block before the blind. When the nazir drinks the wine, besides transgressing the prohibition against consuming wine, does he additionally violate the prohibition against placing a stumbling block before the blind, as his choice to consume the wine causes the person who gave it to him to have sinned by placing a stumbling block before the blind? (Har Tzvi)
3) Rashi writes (19:16) that if somebody sees another person whose life is in danger, he must save him. If the rescuer incurs costs, is the person that he saved legally obligated to reimburse him, and if so, is the rescuer required to save him if he knows that the person whose life is in danger is poor and will be unable to pay him back? (Rosh, Yad Ramah, and Meiri Sanhedrin 73a; Shu”t Maharam MiRottenburg 38, Rema Yoreh Deah 252:12, Kli Chemdah Parshas Ki Seitzei)
4) Is one permitted to say Birkas HaIlanos – the blessing recited over the flowering trees in Nissan – upon seeing a tree whose fruit is orlah (19:23), as the blessing praises Hashem for giving us trees for our enjoyment, yet the Gemora in Pesachim (22b) rules that orlah is forbidden in consumption and even in enjoyment? (Hagahos Rav Akiva Eiger Orach Chaim 226, Kaf HaChaim Orach Chaim 226:11, Shu”t Doveiv Meishorim 3:5, Shu”t Chelkas Yaakov 2:27, Bishvilei HaParsha)
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