This Week's Parsha
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|…That the Land shall not vomit you when you defile it, as it vomited out the nations that were before you (18:28).
This last section of the parasha is concerned with the laws of arayot – incestuous and adulterous relations forbidden by the Torah. Among the questions on that area are the following:
1. Why are the detailed laws of arayot introduced by the same words that open the Ten Commandments: “I am the L-rd your G-d”?
2. Why does this section contain one solitary verse that appears to have nothing to do with arayot: namely, “You shall not present any of your children to pass through Molech?” Molech appears to be an object of idolatry, not adultery or incest.
3. The Torah expresses galut - the consequences of arayot - in the strongest terms. The Israelites will be exiled - not merely by being thrown out of the Holy Land, but by being vomited out. What is the exclusive quality of arayot that puts it into such a category of its own?
In answering these questions it is firstly necessary to focus on the special spiritual qualities of the Land of Israel.
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 87a) points out that the Holy Land is at the geographical pinnacle of the Creation – “the Land of Israel is higher than all other lands”. In spiritual terms, it has greater concentration of the Shechina (Divine Presence of G-d) than any other location.
This point is brought out by an incident related in the Book of Kings. After the Assyrians exiled the Ten Tribes from the Northern Kingdom of Israel, they replaced them with other conquered peoples from their far-flung empire, who collectively became the newly established nation of the Samaritans. Their way of life was spiritually incompatible with the kedusha of the Land of Israel, as related below:
The king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and he placed them in the cities of Samaria, in place of the people of Israel. They took possession of Samaria, and lived in its cities. So, at the beginning of their living there, they did not fear G-d. He sent lions against them, which killed some of them. And they spoke to the king of Assyria, saying: “The nations which you have removed, and placed in the cities of Samaria, do not know of the judgments of the G-d of the Land. Therefore He has sent lions among them, and, behold, they kill them, because they do not know of the judgments of the G-d of the Land”. (Kings II 17:24-6)
The Radak explains that these nations were dealt with harshly only after they were in Israel. As he puts it:
Israel is the holiest of all lands it (i.e. the Land) cannot accommodate abominations, as the Torah say, “As (Israel) rejected the nations that were there before you (arrived)” (18:28).
From this discussion we see that the Holy Land is charged with intrinsic spiritual qualities. This idea is represented by the idea that on Jacob’s return after fleeing from Laban, "Angels of G-d met him” (Gen. 32:2). The Tanchuma (Vayishlach 3) relates how, at that point, the angels who accompanied him outside Israel were replaced with other angels whose territory was the Holy Land only. These angels represented a much more intense form of the Shechina than that found outside Israel. And this is the reason, according to the Ramban, that Rachel died before Jacob had progressed far into the holiest part of Israel. Such is the spiritual makeup of the Holy Land that it cannot accommodate phenomena that are incompatible with it – as in this case, Jacob’s having married two sisters.
The above discussion brings out two important points. Firstly the inherent, spiritual makeup of the Holy Land will only happily accommodate those who live according to Torah principles. Secondly – as seen in story of the death of Rachel (according to the Ramban), that very kedusha rejects, with especial harshness, anything that may even appear to be arayot.
This second point leads us to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch’s comment on the opening similarity to the Ten Commandments – “I am the L-rd your G-d”. He writes that sexual morality is fundamental to G-d’s putting the Israelites – “a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation” at the human pinnacle of the Creation. Just as that nation cannot exist without accepting that G-d is the Almighty, so it cannot exist without accepting on itself the laws of sexual conduct.
This still leaves us with the issues of Torah’s unique abhorrence towards sexual misconduct, and also why the laws of arayot are coupled with the prohibition of giving one’s children to Molech. According to the Ramban, that meant burning one’s once children to death as a sacrifice to that idol.
The following may be suggested. Arayot have extremely serious human consequences on helpless innocent children - which can endure for generations. This point is expanded below.
No sane parent would directly and maliciously abuse his or her child. However, one thoughtless act of self-indulgent sexual misconduct can break the security of the home atmosphere, which can cause a child lasting distress. Thus adultery breaks the unique bond between husband and wife. That bond forms the basis of the children’s well being and security. Moreover, any child born out of that forbidden act is a mamzer – unable to marry within the general community – something that must be a terrible thing for a child to bear for life. Similarly, incestuous relationships break down the necessary areas of privacy that are essential for family life to flourish – as well as create the genetic structure, which could afflict the helpless child born out of such a union.
Thus the Torah condemns such sexual acts in the gravest possible terms. Idol worship can be merely destroyed, but the consequences of incest and adultery can bring a child extreme and permanent distress: indeed, in extreme cases, a living death. A child who was sacrificed to Moloch of old – terrible as the deed was – only suffered for a moment. A child who is a product of self-indulgent behavior carries a stigma that could well haunt him for life.
So from a child’s point of view, the two acts are comparable. And by bringing Molech and adultery together, the Torah is impressing on us that the consequences of forbidden relationships may well be similar to offering a child to Molech…
The land of Israel is our spiritual (and physical) home – as a nation. Our homes are homes within that home – for our families. They have special sanctity – and abuse of that holiness, by way of arayot penetrate the very core of the kedusha of the Holy Land. That explains why the Torah rejects sexual misconduct in the strongest possible terms in the Holy Land.
You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall reprove your fellow, and you shall not bear sin because of him (19:17).
This commandment presents several difficulties:
1. The Torah appears to be legislating about emotions, not deeds. Surely, our individual feelings are not actions, but part of our make-up. For example, a child may dislike fish. They are high quality fish, but he cannot bear their taste. He knows that they are good for him, so – under much persuasion - he reluctantly finishes his plate. But he still hates the taste of fish. Similarly, Reuven works in the same office as Shimon. He cannot put his finger on the reason, but he feels some ambivalence towards him. His work requires him to work with Shimon, and he does – faultlessly! But as soon as he gets out of the room, he feels more comfortable and at ease. How do we understand the Torah’s legislating over our emotions – things that are very individual, and rooted in the way in which we are created?
2. The two commandments – not hating and reproving, appear from the text to be linked. Thus if Reuven hates Shimon for specific reasons, he should not prolong the hatred, but face up to him and tell him what he has done wrong. Shouldn’t that rebuke come from a third party – someone who is not emotionally involved? How valid would the reproof be, if it came from Reuben who was trying to control his negative feelings towards Shimon? Being able to gently rebuke in order to achieve ones aims without negative effects is not easy – as Rabbis tell us in the name of R. Elazar ben Azariah (Sanhedrin 52), “I wonder if there is anyone in this generation who is able to offer rebuke?”
If the hatred is of the non-rational type – as in #1 – how is the mitzva of reproof relevant? Shimon may not have done anything wrong to hurt Reuben, and yet Reuben dislikes him.
In response to the above questions, one approach would be to look closely at the Hebrew. Hocheach tochiach is rendered and understood by the Talmud to mean “ you shall surely rebuke”. However there seems to be another meaning which, whilst not conflicting with the main one, would throw light on these questions.
The word tochacha does not only carry the idea of rebuking, but also of choosing. This is the meaning Rashi gives to the word hochachta (from the same grammatical root) in the story describing the search of Abraham’s servant for a suitable bride for Isaac: “she is the one You have chosen (hochacta) for your servant, for Isaac, and may I know through her that You have done kindness to my master” (Gen. 24:14).
If we translate the words hocheach tochiach in a similar way, we get the following idea. The Torah tells us not hate a person in our thoughts, but to ‘choose him’ - seek that person out. This is illustrated in the anecdote below.
A certain public figure suffered bitter verbal attacks from a rival, both in private and in public. The object of this hate campaign certainly had reason to dislike the person who brought so much suffering on him. However, instead of reacting in kind, he sent him a note asking him to lend him a rare book that he had in his library. The result – not only did he receive the book, but it came with a note wishing him well. The next time they met face to face, he greeted him – something he had never done before…
This anecdote helps to illustrate the above interpretation. A person should not hate someone secretly – in his heart. He must “surely choose” – actively seek out the best in his fellow (the person he hates). “Surely seeking out,” means taking positive action that will bring out his highest qualities. In the above case, the ‘prop’ used was the loan of a book. Other possibilities could be asking for advice in a particular speciality, in a tactful way that will make him or her feel respected and wanted.
So according to this interpretation, hochaich tochiach is the way to avoid hating other people. Do something to bring out their positive sides, and get to know them through their best qualities. Then “you shall not bear sin because of him,” – by taking the initiative in such a positive manner, you yourself will not bear sin, because you will not come to hate him…
The same idea may be applied to Jews with outlooks and lifestyles different from our own, who may incur secret dislike because of, for example, their dress style, social habits, or negative press reports. Avoid dislike for them by finding out who they really are – the positive aspects of their way of life…
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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