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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


You shall be holy… every man: your father and your mother shall you revere. (19:2,3)

Parashas Kedoshim, the parsha that exhorts the Jewish People to be holy, contains within it the majority of the Torah's essential laws. This parsha is all about kedushah, holiness. It is, therefore, surprising that the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem, which is primarily kedushah-oriented - V'nikdashti b'soch Bnei Yisrael, "I shall be sanctified among Bnei Yisrael" (Ibid 22:32), is not mentioned until the next parsha. Why? Sanctifying Hashem's Name is the ultimate mitzvah that a Jew can fulfill. Thus, it should be included - and, for that matter, given primary placement - in Parashas Kedoshim.

Horav Moshe Tzvi Nariyah, zl, offers two possible approaches to help us to understand this omission. First, we may have it all wrong. The essence of kedushah is not about giving up one's life. Hashem wants us to live. Therefore, the symbol of kedushah, the expression of essential Judaism is not specifically through the vehicle of Kiddush Hashem, but rather through kiddush ha'chaim. Hashem wants us to sanctify our lives, to live Jewishly, despite the challenges which may surface from time to time. The mitzvah of V'nikdashti, the command to sanctify our lives, to be willing to martyr one's life in affirmation of religious belief, should be the crowning achievement, summarizing a lifelong commitment to kedushah. It certainly should not be the starting point of kedushah. A person becomes kadosh after having fulfilled the mitzvos in Parashas Kedoshim. He can then go to Parashas Emor and confront the V'nikdashti. Horav Levi Yitzchak, zl, m'Berditchev, once commented, "The gentiles also know to fast, but to eat in accordance with halachah, Jewish law, only a Jew knows." Abstinence is something that a Christian can relate to, but to sanctify life, to "live" b'kedushah, only a Torah Jew can do.

Second, only he who sanctifies his life through the performance of Torah and mitzvos has a mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem. Bnei Noach do not have the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem. They have their seven mitzvos - and that is it. Nothing more is demanded of them. Only those who live a life of holiness are worthy of dying holy. In other words, the V'nikdashti of Parashas Emor is the consequence of Kedoshim teheyu.

The concept of kiddush ha'chaim took on new meaning during the tragic years of the Holocaust. Rav Nechamiah Alter, zl, brother of the Gerrer Rebbe, spoke at a meeting of rabbanim in Lodz. He stressed that, while the imperative of Kiddush Hashem takes on various forms, most central to the mitzvah is maintaining our dignity before the gentiles. Kiddush ha'chaim demands that a Jew face death and live his life in dignity, cognizant of the Divine component inherent in man. Throughout the war, acts of dignity that truly indicated that the Jew was made of other "stuff" were plentiful. Specifically, during times such as these the Divine component within the Jew becomes aroused, surging forward in ways that the natural mind cannot fathom.

It occurred in Lublin in 1939, when the German commander gathered together the Jews in an empty field at the outskirts of town and, in jest, ordered the Jews to sing a chassidic melody. Slowly, and with great hesitation, one of the men began the traditional melody, Lomir iberbetten, Avinu She'baShomayim, "Let us be reconciled, our Father, in Heaven."

The song, however, did not have its desired effect. The Nazi wanted enthusiasm. He was not getting it. He felt that he would get the desired effect if he would "encourage" the Jews "somewhat." He ordered his hooligans to attack the Jews, because they had refused to comply with his orders. During this insane outburst against the Jews, an anonymous voice pierced through the turmoil with a loud cry, Mir vellen zei iberleben, Avinu She'baShomayim, "We will outlive them, Our Father in Heaven!" Instantly, the song took hold among the entire group, as they all began to sing with fervor and passion. Their excitement became frenzied, and they broke into a stormy and feverish dance. The entire group, swept up with the enchanting melody, had now become infused with a new emotion, renewed faith and trust in the Almighty.

This was kiddush ha'chaim, exalting in life, sanctifying one's life for Hashem, demonstrating to the Nazi beast that our love for - and devotion to - Hashem transcends anything they can do to us. They can take our bodies, but they cannot touch our souls. Horav Menachem Ziemba, zl, summed up the concept of kiddush ha'chaim with a zealous plea for resistance prior to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in April 1943: "By the authority of the Torah of Yisrael, I insist that there is absolutely no purpose nor any value of Kiddush Hashem inherent in the death of a Jew. Kiddush Hashem in our present situation is embodied in the will of a Jew to live. This struggle for hope and yearning for life is a mitzvah, (to be realized by means of) nekamah, vengeance, mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice/extra dedication, and the sanctification of the mind and will."

You shall be holy… Every man: your father and mother shall you revere… Do not turn to idols… I am Hashem, your G-d. (19:2,3,4)

Parashas Kedoshim begins with Hashem's exhortation that we become holy. Apparently, it is not sufficient for a Jew to be good, moral, or ethical. He must aspire for more. He must strive to be holy. It is interesting to note that the first pesukim of the parsha all end: Ani Hashem Elokeichem, "I am Hashem, your G-d." The Chidushei HaRim, zl, establishes a connection between these pesukim and derives an important lesson therein. He divides the Jewish community into three parts. First, is the Jew who suffices with "do not turn to idols." This is the extent of his commitment. He does not observe; he certainly is not concerned with holiness. He does understand, however, that an increased relationship with the non-Jewish world - entertaining their culture, assimilating with them - is tantamount to turning toward their gods. He draws the line at assimilation.

The second category is the mitzvah-Jew, who observes the Torah, keeps its mitzvos. He understands that it is not enough simply to refrain from interacting socially with the gentile world; one must be proactive by observing Torah and mitzvos. The third type is one who understands that Judaism demands more than mitzvah observance. It demands sanctity. A Jew is a different breed, and his Torah is unlike any other religious dogma. Observance and commitment are simply not enough. One must devote all of himself to Hashem. One must strive to become holy, because that is the salient characteristic of Hashem.

Thus, the Torah closes each pasuk with Ani Hashem Elokeichem, for Hashem is G-d to each of these Jews. While the non-practicing Jew has a distance to traverse to achieve a religious comfort-zone, he at least knows what is considered bottoming out. Assimilation is a scourge from which few return. The Jew who has assimilated has not only severed his own connection, he has destroyed the immediate hopes of future generations to return. Yes, some do return, but only after they have discovered that they are missing something in their lives. Once they have been divorced from Hashem and His people, return is much more complicated.

What does Kedoshim tehiyu really mean? We find in other places, such as with regard to the mitzvah of Tzitzis, the Torah writes: Viheyisem Kedoshim leiElokeichem, "And you shall be holy to your G-d "(Bamidbar 15:40); or, as we find toward the conclusion of this parsha, V'hiskadashtem, vi'heyisem Kedoshim, ki Ani Hashem Elokecha, "And you shall sanctify yourselves, and you will be holy, for I am Hashem, your G-d" (Vayikra 20:7). In both of these citations, the Torah does not issue a command/exhortation to become holy; rather, it sounds more like a rite of passage - if you do the following, you will becomes sanctified. Here, Hashem tells us: "You shall be holy" - no, ifs ands or buts. Why?

Horav Sholom Schwadron, zl, cites a Midrash that says: "You (Hashem) have elevated Klal Yisrael. You have given Kehunah, the Priesthood, to Aharon forever; You have given malchus, monarchy, to David forever; You have given kedushah, holiness, to Klal Yisrael forever; as it says Kedoshim tehiyu, "You shall be holy." Thus, Rav Sholom, suggests that "You shall be holy" is not only a command; it contains a promise. Hashem assures us that we will always remain holy. This is an eternal gift from the Almighty, not to be rescinded. It is unequivocal, not based on pre-condition. It is similar to kehunah and malchus; it is inherent and forever. This is what makes us different: kedushas Yisrael. We are endowed with the G-dly gift of holiness.

Horav Elya Lopian, zl, was Mashgiach in Kelm. The yeshivah was suffering pressing financial hardships. It had reached the point that the students were starving. They had no bread, the one staple that sustained many a yeshivah student in those days of poverty and hunger. Finally, the Rosh Yeshivah dispatched his son and Rav Elya to go from house to house begging for money with which to sustain the students.

While they were on the way, they heard cries of, "Help! Help!" They saw five hundred Jews who were enclosed behind a barbed wire fence, begging for alms. They immediately forsook their original goal of raising money for the yeshivah; instead, they focused on helping these helpless Jews. A few days later, they saw a woman, herself poverty-stricken, taking her small piece of bread, which she obtained through begging, breaking it in half and giving the other half to the starving Jews.

From where does one derive such incredible strength of character, to take the last morsel of bread which she finally had been able to obtain, and share it with others - even less fortunate? How does one take the charity which is supposed to sustain her and split it in half to give another Jew? It is all the result of the promise that we will remain holy. It is not the good, moral or ethical Jew that does this; it is the one who is inherently holy. Kedushas Yisrael is what inspired the Jews who were rounded up in the Nazi cattle cars to cry out to the individuals remaining in town, "I forgot to feed the chickens before I left. Please feed them for me!" A Jew is unlike any other of Hashem's creations. His intrinsic kedushah separates him from the rest. I know this may sound elitist, but it goes with the territory. While we might be the only ones thinking of the chickens in our own time of personal need, we are also the ones in the cattle cars. Being holy has its demands.

When we think about it, kedushah, like Kehunah and malchus, is a two-sided coin. Hashem made a commitment to Aharon that He would never take the Kehunah from his descendants. Inherent in this commitment is a reciprocal responsibility on Aharon's part that his descendents never fall from their exalted status. The Kehunah is theirs for the taking, but they must be worthy of it. Likewise, concerning the status of kedushah, we have Hashem's assurance that He will never take it away from us, but concomitantly we have a corresponding responsibility to maintain our end of the deal, to retain, under all circumstances, our commitment to holiness.

Every Monday and Thursday, we recite the longer version of Tachanun. At the end is a prayer, which, according to tradition, is attributed to Chizkiyahu HaMelech, who composed it as Yerushalayim was under siege by Sancheiriv. The situation looked bleak and hopeless. The king went to the Bais Hamikdash and poured out his heart in a moving plea. Its parlance is poignant and captivating. It is a rendition that expresses our reciprocity and covenantal bond with the Almighty: Habeit miShomayim u're'ei, "Gaze down from Heaven and perceive that we have become an object of scorn and derision among the nations; we are considered like sheep led to the slaughter, to be killed, destroyed, beaten and humiliated." U'bchol zos Shimcha lo shochachnu, "But despite all this, we have not forgotten Your Name, we beg You not to forget us." These words tell it all. We have an enduring relationship with Hashem. Regardless of how far we have distanced ourselves from Him - He always takes us back. Likewise, the suffering and pain, death and destruction that we have endured notwithstanding, we have still continued to remember His Name. We will never forget the Almighty; we are His holy ones.

The Talmud Torah of Kelm was the paragon of shleimus, perfection, in avodas Hashem, service to the Almighty. Its students were young men whose entire existence was devoted to others and to Hashem. It was never about "them"; it was always about the "other one." If there was ever a place that focused on kedushah, it was Kelm. In the last days before World War II, the Talmud Torah was under the direction of Horav Daniel Movshovitz, zl, and Horav Gershon Miadnik, zl, both sons-in-law of Horav Nochum Zev Braude, zl, son and successor to the Alter, zl, of Kelm.

Everyone knew that the Germans were on the way. They were marching forward, weaving a path of utter destruction in their wake. Kelm was next. On June 21, 1941, the Germans entered Kelm. The Shabbos before, Rav Daniel had dreamt that a tremendous destruction would befall the Jewish People, and Kelm would not be spared. He was told that the Jews of Kelm should accept the Heavenly judgment upon themselves. Rav Daniel called together the students of the Talmud Torah and related to them his dream, allowing them to let its message sink in. Not one of the families left Kelm. They were going to confront the Nazis with the resolve that characterized Kelm. Rav Daniel always spoke the truth. This was his message. They understood what was demanded of them. Rav Gershon, who was away at the time, rushed back to be with his students at this time of supreme exaltation.

Prior to being taken to the pits at the outskirts of town where they would be shot, the Jews of Kelm gathered around Rav Daniel, as he calmly gave his last shmuess, ethical discourse: "We should accept Hashem's judgment and prepare ourselves to sanctify His great Name." The men began to sing, at first quietly and then the pitch reached a fervor which bespoke their sense of calm and devotion to - and acceptance of - Hashem's decree.

V'Taheir libeinu l'avdecha b'emes, ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu, "and purify our hearts to serve You in truth; fortunate are we, how good is our portion," they all sang in unison. The procession moved slowly, decorously to the pits, where Rav Daniel asked the Nazi commander permission to speak to his congregation. He curtly allowed him to speak - if he kept it short. Rav Daniel reiterated what he had said earlier in the yeshivah, enjoining the community to accept Hashem's decree wholeheartedly. It was their chance to make the ultimate sacrifice, thereby sanctifying Hashem's Name. The Nazi screamed that he was in a rush and to hurry his speech. Rav Daniel turned to the families, and, with all the dignity of his regal-bearing said to them, "The time has come. Do not fear; do not panic. It is the time for Kiddush Hashem." He said these words slowly, carefully and calmly as he stared into the faces of his community. He then turned to the Nazi monster, and, with total equanimity, said, "I have finished; now you may begin." With those last words, the Talmud Torah of Kelm, together with the members of its Jewish community, ascended to Heaven. The Kedoshim, holy ones, were returning Home.

You shall love your fellow as yourself. (19:18)

Rashi quotes Rabbi Akiva who said that the mitzvah, V'ahavta l'reiacha kamocha, is the fundamental rule of the Torah. Clearly, this mitzvah has varied applications. The Talmud Shabbos 31a relates that a gentile came before Shammai and said, "Convert me to Judaism on condition that you will teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one foot." Upon hearing these words, Shammai pushed the person away with a stick that was used as a measuring rod for building and architecture. Undeterred, the gentile came before Hillel and presented him with the same request. Hillel converted him. Prior to the conversion, Hillel had told him, D'alach snei l'chavrach lo taavid, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. This, in a few words, is the entire Torah, all the rest is but an elaboration of this one, central point. Now, go and learn it."

The Maharsha explains the divergent approaches of Shammai and Hillel. The gentile wanted to know if, in fact, the Torah could be made to "stand on one foot." This means: Is there one major principle, one foundation, upon which the entire corpus of Torah law was based? Shammai replied in the negative, using a ruler that is the measuring tool of architects and builders. He was implying by this gesture that just as a building needs a solid foundation which is broad-based and well-laid out, so, too, the Torah cannot be reduced to one single principle. To sum up the Torah with its multifaceted and diverse precepts and codes to one simple principle is impossible.

Hillel's synopsis of the Torah was accurate, especially concerning the mitzvos that address man's relationship with his fellow man. Concerning the mitzvos that govern man's relationship with Hashem, Rashi suggests that Hashem is sometimes called Reia, fellow of man. Thus, his dictum exhorts us to follow every mitzvah, because, otherwise, he is disregarding Hashem's wishes, and one should not do to others that which is hateful to himself.

Having explained the statements, we turn now to the "why." What motivated Hillel and Shammai to disagree concerning what seems to be a fundamental issue? Why does Hillel focus on the negative connotation of "love your fellow as yourself"? What about the other mitzvos, like listening to Hashem? Are they to be ignored? Surely, Judaism is about more than not doing to others what we do not want done to us. Horav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg, zl, feels that some background must be acknowledged before we can have a better understanding of the differences between Shammai and Hillel.

Greek culture had begun to inundate the world. Thus, we must take into consideration the mindset of the gentile during that period. Jews were Hellenizing themselves, assimilating with the Greeks, living their culture, assuming their lifestyle. It was all about beauty, art and their application into all areas of life. It was about everything but spirituality. In contrast, many intelligent Greeks and Romans viewed idol-worship as utter nonsense. They appreciated the focus on the spiritual, the pure, the holy, the ethical, the compassion that were uniquely associated with the Jewish religion. So, why did they not come in droves to be converted? Apparently, they had heard from their co-religionists and even from some unknowledgeable Jews that Judaism was all about "no." It was a religion of negativity, filled with stringencies, allowing no room for flexibility and compromise. Our mitzvos wrenched Judaism's adherents from the world, from the richness and beauty of life, from its fun and entertainment.

Therefore, the average Greek viewed Judaism from afar. Perhaps, he would yearn for it, but he was not prepared to give up the beauty and culture of the Greeks for a puritan life that was devoid of enjoyment, fun and beauty. Along came this gentile candidate for conversion to ask Shammai to convert him while he was standing on one foot. He was implying that he wanted to plant one foot in Judaism, while retaining the other foot in Greek culture. He wanted to attend the bais hamedrash and the theatre, the sanctuary of the shul and the revelry of the coffee house. He wanted to have his cake with frosting and eat it, too.

Shammai was a demanding person. He was a straight individual who saw black and white and had no tolerance for shades of gray. He despised anything that lacked complete integrity. It was either one hundred percent true or it was one hundred percent false. There was no room for negotiation. He viewed the edifice of Jewish life and religion as no different from an architect's plan of a building. Everything has to be perfectly aligned, unbroken and undeviating from the original blueprint. Flexibility and cutting corners do not create the path to erect a building that will endure. The slightest deviation can take down a structure. Thus, Shammai feared to accept the candidate for conversion. The man could not just accept part of Judaism. It was either all or nothing. True, he would spend time in the sanctuaries of the shul and bais hamedrash, but the inspiration would quickly dissipate when he squandered himself in the places of entertainment and beauty which he refused to negate from his life. He, therefore, took an architect's measuring rod to imply that Judaism was like a building. There was no room for digression and inconsistency. It was either all or none.

As an aside, I think that Shammai might have been troubled by the man's desire to convert while standing on one leg. He was not prepared to move forward, to be a holech. Jewish law is called halachah, derived from holech, to walk, move, proceed and progress. To remain status quo is tantamount to death. A Jew must always move forward following halachah, as it moves with him from place to place, situation to situation.

Hillel maintained a different approach to Judaism. While he agreed that one must maintain perfect integrity when building a physical edifice, the world of the spirit has different standards, hence, greater flexibility. He believed in Judaism's captivating spiritual beauty, thus feeling that a person who comes in contact with its verities would be moved, his life illuminated, his heart inspired to seek more. One thing would lead to another until indeed; he would become totally suffused in Judaism.

Hillel therefore, asked the candidate for only one thing: first, just distance yourself from doing anything negative to your fellow. Once this standard has become entrenched, you will go on to the positive aspect of the mitzvah: love your friend. With time, you will seek more, do more, understand more - and the cycle will continue. As you do more, you will seek even more until the point that you realize that one must embrace the entire Torah to be an active Jew.

"Love your fellow as yourself" is a wonderful ideal, but how does one convert this concept into reality? How do we make this a standard for living, a staple of life? Hillel gave us the recipe for success: Begin by not doing anything hateful to your fellow. The love will follow. If we were to be able to ask someone to toil in the field of parnassah, earning a livelihood, so that he could support his friend's children; and that he should do this as if it was being done for his own children: that might be asking too much. People are just not ready to make the same effort for yenem, the other fellow - regardless of how close he may be - as they would for themselves. One can readily accept, however, not to poke fun or persecute his friend's children. Hillel says - "Ok - start by not poking fun. The love will soon become a reality." We need a starting point. Hillel gives it to us.

Va'ani Tefillah

Nachisa b'chasdecha am zu ga'alta. With Your kindness, You guided this people that You redeemed.

Tanna D'vei Eliyahu teaches that when the Jewish People were enslaved in Egypt, and they saw that the situation appeared quite bleak, they assembled together as a group. During this "conference" they decided that they would live together peacefully, and they sealed a covenant among themselves that they would perform acts of chesed, kindness, toward one another. What inspired this dramatic change, this courageous undertaking? The Chafetz Chaim explains that when the people realized that there was no way they were going to be spared from Pharaoh's evil decrees, and the slavery was becoming increasingly difficult with each ensuing day, they decided among themselves that the only way to spare themselves was to join together with chesed serving as the common bond. They hoped that their acts of chesed would evoke chesed from Above, and Hashem would act kindly towards them. This is consistent with Chazal's exposition on the phrase Hashem tzilcha, "The Almighty is your shadow" (Tehillim 121:5). Hashem acts towards us like a shadow, sort of emulating what we do, acting the way we act. When we act with chesed, Hashem acts likewise - just like a shadow.

This is what is meant by the Pesikta in its interpretation of the phrase Nachisa b'chasdecha, "With Your kindness, You guided." This is a reference to gemilas chasadim, acts of loving-kindness. The people were inspired to act appropriately. This catalyzed Hashem's positive response.

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