You can find the rest of the parsha text on at Kedoshim.

33 thoughts on “Kedoshim

  1. Wendy Berk

    From The Hebrew College

    Fulfilling the Promise of the Mishkan

    Rabbi Daniel Klein
    Parashat Kedoshim Leviticus 19:1-20:27

    If you have been reading the Torah portion each week, the arrival of Parashat Kedoshim this week can, at first glance, feel like a bit of a plot twist.

    For the six previous parashiyot of the Book of Leviticus, we have been located either in the mishkan, the portable tabernacle in the wilderness, or oriented towards it. The content has been primarily the details of the essential function of the mishkan—offering sacrifices—or the process of purification so one who has become ritually impure can return to the mishkan and again offer sacrifices. The human protagonists have been the priests, the people who serve in the Temple offering sacrifices and acting as the mediators between the community and God.

    And then this week’s parashah arrives:

    God spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, your God, am holy. (Leviticus 19:1-2)

    In this declaration, the world of the mishkan bursts forth into the wider world as the entire people is now charged with the responsibility of living sacred lives, not just the priests. And what follows is a list of injunctions and expectations for all aspects of life, ritual and ethical. Holiness is now something that is not restricted to a particular place but must be manifest in all places, in all aspects of life, and by all people.

    Biblical scholars tell us that this part of the Book of Leviticus was written by a new priestly school at the end of the 8th century BCE. As Jacob Milgrom writes in Leviticus: A Book of Ritual and Ethics, this school, “concerned itself with the people at large,” and had a revolutionary goal: “the creation of an egalitarian society,” in which, “everyone has access to the holy,” and has the burden, “to live a life that accords with holiness.”

    So on the one hand, this parashah is an unexpected plot twist. However, on the other hand, the Levitical authors were simply following the inevitable logic and internal demands of the Divine experience that the previous chapters depict.

    Leviticus, the central book of the Torah, is a meditation on a life lived intimately with God. It begins with exquisite details about the practices and procedures for approaching and restoring one’s relationship with God. The medium of this love story—sacrifices—is rather strange for us today; but in Biblical Hebrew, the word for sacrifices, korbanot, indicates coming close. This ritual practice continued in Jewish tradition until the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem. But already by then, we had begun to transform sacrifice into prayer, a process that is codified by the early rabbis.

    Whatever the means for the approach and the process of opening, the wisdom of the Torah and the experience of the Divine is that it makes a claim on us. It cannot just live in that moment, stuck in shul, or the hour of prayer. To truly feel God’s presence is to know that one must live responsively, in all moments and in all places. The Holiness Code had to come next in Leviticus—it is the fulfillment of the mishkan experience.

    The 16th century Kabbalist, Rabbi Isaac Luria, powerfully links the previous parashiyot and Parashat Kedoshim. He had the practice prior to prayer of declaring, “Behold I take upon myself the creator’s commandment: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” This practice, drawing on the well-known verse from Parashat Kedoshim, makes clear that the divine encounter in prayer and in the sanctuary must be carried forth into the world. More specifically, it must lead to a greater sense of interconnection with and responsibility for people and the world, especially the most vulnerable, as many of the mitzvot in the parashah make clear.

    And part of the brilliance of the Biblical authors is their understanding that while the mishkan and the hour of prayer can be a powerful place to experience God’s presence and learn to do so with greater regularity, it is not the only place we find God.

    Take, for example, the very first instructions of Parashat Kedoshim after the command to be holy:

    אִישׁ אִמּוֹ וְאָבִיו תִּירָאוּ וְאֶת־שַׁבְּתֹתַי תִּשְׁמֹרוּ אֲנִי ה’ אֱלֹהֵיכֶם׃

    You shall each revere your mother and your father, and keep My sabbaths: I, Adonai, am your God. (Leviticus 19:3).

    Both of these mitzvot—to have yirah, which means reverence, fear, and awe, for our parents and to keep Shabbat—remind us that we did not create ourselves. We are, always, children of our parents who gave us life; and we are ultimately not fully in control of the world but rather caretakers. Cultivating a stance of awe towards our origins and a weekly practice of rest are a response to and a gateway to holiness and the Divine presence, locating our lives beyond the narrow confines of the self. They are non-sanctuary based mitzvot that are similar in impact to sacrifices and prayer—they enable us to experience and honor our reality of participating in and being interconnected with a much larger world and history. These examples find echoes in many of the other mitzvot of the Holiness Code.

    Parashat Kedoshim, with its ethical injunctions, is thus essential to and flows inevitably from what came before in Leviticus. Simultaneously, it offers an astounding and inspiring additional theological commitment of the ubiquity of the Divine presence in the world, available to us should we orient ourselves to be open to It.

    In a world that seems increasingly fragmented and divided, angry and intolerant, the insights and guidance of this book of the Torah and this parashah could not be more necessary.

  2. Wendy Berk

    From Academy for Jewish Religion

    Tokhehah: The Critical Feedback Dance
    A D’var Torah for Parshiyot Aharei-Mot / Kedoshim
    By Rabbi Rob Scheinberg

    “Hokheiah tokhiah et amitekha.” “You shall surely reprove your fellow.” (Leviticus 19:17) Giving critical feedback, or tokhehah (often translated as “reproof” or “rebuke”), is a positive mitzvah in the Torah.

    Perhaps this shouldn’t surprise us, as constructive critique and feedback is a primary way that we learn and grow. And yet, already in the time of the Talmud, two of the greatest sages of their generation indicated that almost everyone who attempts to fulfill this mitzvah is doing it wrong.

    In the Babylonian Talmud, Arakhin 16b, Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah differ about why the system of tokhehah seems to be broken. According to Rabbi Tarfon, “I would be surprised if there is anyone in this generation who can receive rebuke. If the one rebuking says ‘Remove the splinter from between your eyes,’ the other responds: ‘Remove the beam from between your eyes!’” In other words, the experience of receiving criticism, even when generously offered, tends to activate the hearer’s defensiveness, which in turn makes the hearer especially attentive to the critic’s flaws. Rabbi Tarfon suggests that this is a nearly intractable problem of human nature; it can be solved only if everyone gets a thicker skin.

    Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, however, thinks that the problem is not with the hearer, but with the speaker: “I would be surprised if there is anyone in this generation who knows how to rebuke.” Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah thinks that the problem is not that people are oversensitive when they hear criticism, but that offering criticism is a delicate and careful art, in which too few of us are skilled. If we all knew how to give criticism in a sensitive enough way, people would be able to receive it appropriately.

    The formulation used by both of these sages, “I would be surprised if there is anyone in this generation who…”, implies that they were including themselves in their critiques. Presumably Rabbi Tarfon knew that he himself had a tendency to focus on the flaws of the person who was criticizing him, and Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah knew that his delivery of critical feedback often got in the way of others accepting it — maybe like many of us. These problems cause many simply to give up on tokhehah, having been burned by it (having received criticism that was perceived as hurtful, or having given criticism that was perceived as hurtful).

    Interestingly, though, Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah do not suggest that the system of tokhehah is irrevocably broken — merely that people are not very good at it.

    Two other comments from our sages may lead us out of this predicament. First, a provocative passage in the Midrash tells us: “Rabbi Yosi ben Hanina taught: love is not truly love without reproof.” (Bereishit Rabbah 54:3) The system of tokhehah is still essential even when it does not work optimally. People who are unable ever to give critical feedback to each other, or who get angry whenever they receive critical feedback, are not going to be able to sustain a truly loving relationship, which presupposes that they care enough about each other that they value each other’s opinion and are willing to be honest and open with each other. Rabbi Yosi’s teaching may incline us to be more tolerant in receiving tokhehah that is dispensed imperfectly.

    Second, a passage from the Talmud (Yevamot 65b) tells us: “Rabbi Ile’a said in the name of Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon: Just as it is a mitzvah for a person to say that which will be heeded, so is it a mitzvah for a person not to say that which will not be heeded.” In other words, the best context for tokhehah is in a loving relationship, because it’s in a loving relationship in which the speaker knows the hearer well enough to know how to speak in a way that maximizes the chances that the hearer will listen.

    Successful tokhehah is a dance that involves both people stretching towards each other. The person who wants to give tokhehah has to stretch to say it in the best possible way. And the person who is hearing it also has to stretch, to listen to and absorb the tokhehah even when it is not said in the best possible way.

    Sometimes the two partners stretch towards each other but they don’t connect. But hopefully, often enough, they do connect, and grow.

  3. Wendy Berk

    From Reb Zalman

    Installing “Ought” In “Is,” Halevay
    The following text by Reb Zalman is from this week’s Torah portion, Shabbos Acharei Mot-Kedoshim. [Notes by Gabbai Seth Fishman, BLOG Editor]:

    “You shall surely rebuke your fellow, but you shall not bear a sin on his account.” (Leviticus 19:17).

    Show hir how they showed you too of your wrong and they rebuked you when you sinned, for you and s/he are together in this regard.

    [NOTE: The starting point for rebuke is compassion and empathy. My friend’s transgression is, perhaps, something I have done, or like something I have done.]

    “… et amitecha,” i.e., im amitecha / together with your folk.

    [NOTE: Seeing yourself as not greater than is the ground in which the learning may be planted.]

    (Baba Metziah 59a) “Am She-itcha batorah” / the people that are with you in Torah.

    [NOTE: The discussion in Baba Metzia deals with proper ways of treating one another. The Talmud reference cited is based on Leviticus 25:17, “and a man shall not wrong his fellow,” עֲמִתוֹ = עֲם אִתּוֹ (i.e. “his fellow” is expounded as a contraction meaning “the people that are with you.”)

    Having “stood at Sinai,” we share an intention to be good, to do things appropriately.]

    “You shall surely rebuke your fellow.” This way you will give hir energy without depressing hir. You show hir that the greatest sin that can be is to know that teshuvah is a possibility and s/he didn’t do teshuvah.

    [NOTE: Teshuvah means return or repentance and illustrated by, 1) Feeling remorse / regret, 2) recognizing / acknowledging those feelings, 3) asking for forgiveness of those we have wronged or of God, 4) deciding that if we find ourselves in the same situation again, next time, we will act differently.]

    This is how it is explained to us by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (his memory be blessed),

    [NOTE: Likutei Moharan, Ed. mahadora batra, siman 112]:

    “If you believe that sins can spoil things, you must also believe that through teshuvah they can be fixed.”

    So show hir that having made a similar mistake this is what you did to fix it. This is how you can strengthen him and empower him.

    Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
    from Yishmiru Daat (2009 revision),
    “Parashat Kedoshim,” p. 33

  4. Wendy Berk

    From The Hebrew College

    Invitation to Holiness
    By Rabbi Avi Killip

    Parashat Kedoshim (Leviticus 19:1-20:27)

    Parashat Kedoshim is beautiful and very full. There is much to see on the surface. In just two chapters of Leviticus, we are told to care for the poor, to be honest, to never take revenge nor bear a grudge. We are told when and how to give sacrifices, keep Shabbat, and what we are permitted to eat. We are told how to guard relationships, how to treat our animals and how to harvest our fields. This portion contains what Rabbi Akiva tells us is the core message of the Torah: “Love your fellow as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). Generations of Jews have sought to understand and live by these commandments.

    Yet if we read this portion purely as a code of conduct, we might miss the holiness. Because in the midst of these busy verses, we encounter a direct introduction from God.

    The words Ani Adonai (“I am God”) appear 20 times in this portion. That sounds hard to miss, but the repetition can lead us to mistake the invitation for mere punctuation. Yet if we read this portion with the right intention, an entirely new message emerges and we find ourselves immersed in an invitation to holiness. God is speaking directly to us—and in the first person. Once you see this, it becomes hard to ignore. God is inviting us to live a life that is about more than just following rules and doing what is right. We are being invited into a relationship with the divine.

    Rashi comments on several of the 20 introductions from God and no two comments are the same. Sometimes Rashi thinks “I am God” is a warning—a reminder that God can and will punish. Sometimes it is a promise of reward—“I am God” and therefore you can depend on me to keep you safe. Sometimes “I am God” is a reminder that God knows everything, even our deepest secrets. And sometimes it is a reminder that we are never truly alone. For Rashi, the meaning of this phrase changes depending on which commandment is being given in the same breath.

    The same is true in our lives. Each revelation of the divine carries its own flavor and meaning. The God we experience in difficult moments is different from the God we experience in joyful ones. The God we encounter at the edge of a waterfall is different from the God revealed to us when we cradle a newborn baby. The God who emerges in a moment of deep guilt is different from the God we feel when a loved one dies. To know the God of Kedoshim is to understand God as ever-changing. What God is shifts, depending on what we are doing and what we have to learn in each moment. To live a life of holiness is to see that each moment of our lives brings a unique opportunity to experience the sacred.

    This invitation is not separate from the laws that govern our behavior. It is directly intertwined with them. Parashat Kedoshim teaches us that every action we take, in every area of our lives, is an opportunity to see and seek holiness. All we have to do is look.

  5. Wendy Berk

    From Rabbi Mel Gottlieb

    We are all children of Hashem, and are all therefore sons and daughters of Holiness itself; ‘For Holy am I, the Lord your G-d” (Lev., 19:2). It follows that our senses and intellect are attuned to an innate understanding of what holiness entails.

    And how is Holiness attained in Judaism? By Honoring parents, Observing the Sabbath, Doing kindness to the needy, Paying wages promptly, Dealing honestly in business, Refraining from talebearing, Loving one’s neighbor, Showing cordiality to strangers, and acting justly (Lev. Ch.19)

    Chapter 19, The Holiness Code’ instructs us that in Judaism, ‘Holiness’ is achieved through concrete actions in daily practices. It is spelled out in clear ‘do’s and don’ts’ in chapter 19 of Leviticus.
    Many years ago when I was a Hillel Director at M.I.T. we had a weekly Bible study group with other religious leaders on campus, including various Christian denominations, and Muslim and Buddhist campus ministries. When we came to the book of Leviticus, and approached chapter 19, my Christian colleagues were surprised to discover that the verse ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself’ was found in Hebrew scriptures, as they thought it originated in Christian scripture. It was an illuminating moment that brought us all closer together: Jews, Christians, Muslims, as we discovered a commonality in our faiths.

    Chapter 19 in Kedoshim spells out various ethical behavioral requirements that shape our character. Among them are: To revere one’s parents and keep the Sabbath. Not to become involved in any manner of idolatry, nor to withhold from the poor at harvest time their share from the field and the vineyard. In the vast field of social relationships Kedusha has its daily application. In terse admonitions we are enjoined not to steal, to lie, to oppress a neighbor or to delay payment of a day laborer’s wages. It is immoral to curse a deaf person, though s/he cannot hear it, nor do any unrighteousness in judgment, though it may never be discovered, because holiness does not tolerate evil motivation. Climbing rung after rung on the role of holiness found in Chapter 19, the Jew must learn to control his/her tongue. One must learn to even control his/her emotions and not take vengeance on one who has wronged him/her, nor even harbor a grudge against them. Even more is asked of us; “Thou shalt not hate thy fellow in thy heart,” instead we are urged to practice what Rabbi Akiva calls the great principle of the Torah, namely “THOU SHALT LOVE THY NEIGHBOR AS THYSELF.”

    Some of the psycho/spiritual commentaries on the verses in chapter 19 are very profound. Let me just share three examples. In 19:17, it says “Do not hate your neighbor in your heart, ‘correct, correct’ your neighbor, do not bear sin on your neighbor’s account.” The commentators write that “correct” is doubled to indicate that the one who reproves should be included in the rebuke that one offers. One should know that s/he too has a part in this misbehavior. That is, “do not bear sin on your neighbor’s account.” Do not cast the entire burden of sin onto the transgressor. Involve your own self in this matter and make amends for your own failing as well.’ Then surely your neighbor will feel your humility and kind intention and be aroused as well to repent. So before you chastise others, begin with yourself, with your motivations. Become conscious, and then you may even wind up feeling that the rebuke is inappropriate, or you will do it in a direct but gentler manner. Often people angrily yell at others when they are really yelling at themselves, at their own inadequacies, telling themselves how they wish to be.

    Another example is found in 19:18. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The Rabbis suggest that this may mean: ‘Make G-d as beloved to your neighbor as G-d is to you, or may the name of Heaven become beloved through you.’ Just as you struggle to bring the love of G-d into your own heart, so should you do for your neighbor as well. Another insight is to translate this verse as ‘Love your neighbor WHO IS LIKE YOU (‘kamocha’).’ Do not do to your neighbor what you would not like done to you! This interpretation is not guilt inducing, for who indeed can love another as much as one loves oneself, and this presupposes love of oneself. We are thus required to learn to love ourselves as well for this influences our ability to truly love others. As you accept yourself with all your faults and shortcomings, accept others the same way.

    A final example is found in 19:23. ‘When you come into the land and plant….’ Even Though the land already contained many beautiful trees, they were obligated to plant and provide for others, just as others had provided for them. Even if they would not enjoy the fruits of their labor, the next generation would. Our feelings of gratitude and appreciation compel us to give over to others as we have been blessed to receive in our lives. We are taught to cultivate and nurture the seeds of an ethical world, to care for its future well being, caring for our planet, and providing generous sustaining support for the future welfare of our communities and our world.
    A final point. The Holiness Code is more than a humanistic declaration affirming the universal right to dignity, respect and well-being. The code also affirms a transcendental dimension, when it states in the commandment to ‘Love your neighbor as yourself…FOR I AM THE LORD.’ The humanistic ideal, while rooted in religious tenets, can be removed from its religious moorings in secular society, and emphasize human ‘self-actualization’ as the highest value; therefore, any ‘arbitrary’ religious interference or restriction imposed upon self-realization can be rejected. Any dimension beyond the empirical reality that we know may be relegated to an inferior position.

    The Holiness Code points to another dimension beyond self- fulfillment and personal happiness. It recognizes an ultimate Source of life that expects behaviors that necessitate sacrifice for the good of others with whom we are interconnected. There is a recognition of the necessity of courage in the face of inevitable sorrow and pain which life brings us. And this leads us to a Higher Power, felt and celebrated, even though not fully grasped. Our Torah acknowledges the ‘Mystery of Existence,’ along with its blessings and grandeur. Through our relationship with G-d we are able to transcend our own insular needs, and follow a path that leads to the building of an enlightened world. It includes RESPONSIBILITIES and SACRIFICE as well as inner fulfillment. Our faith inspires and motivates us as we reach out to G-d and to our fellow human beings joined together on the path of Holiness.

    Thus, the ‘Love of Neighbors as ourselves’ becomes not only a fulfillment of a social norm, but a way to contact a Holy Presence through our deeds. This is the definition of MITZVAH, ‘to join,’ through the deed with a Higher dimension as the soul is aroused within. When humanism recognizes its source in transcendent roots, it becomes a potential participant in bringing transcendence down to earth in its pursuit of the ethical norms defined in the Holiness code.

    May we all recognize the beauty of the ethical norms of our Torah, share its wisdom as we journey toward the Holiness required of us, and create a world of beauty, peace and justice for all.

    Shabbat Shalom,

    Rabbi Mel

  6. Wendy Berk

    From Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker

    My Synagogue Was Attacked, but I Will Never Stop Welcoming the Stranger

    Some teachings, such as, “Love your neighbor” or, “Care for your community,” are shared by almost every religious or ethical practice. From an evolutionary standpoint, that makes sense: In the long run, the group does better than the individual.

    But welcoming the stranger, let alone caring for them, does not come naturally. I was reminded recently that our brains aren’t wired for it. Strangers are, by definition, unknown. The unknown often generates fear. Strangers, in this context, are harmful.

    All people should enjoy a sense of safety in their sacred space. But too many people, of many backgrounds, don’t always feel safe. My congregants and I know this well and we are all grateful to be alive.

    On Jan. 15, a gunman entered our synagogue and demanded the release of a woman being held at a nearby federal prison. During the 10 hours I spent held hostage by this terrorist, all the anxiety and fear that many Jewish people live with on a daily basis were realized. No one should live like this — not the congregants of the Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C., and not the members of Sikh temples or mosques that have been vandalized or our small synagogue in Texas, the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh or the Chabad synagogue of Poway, Calif.

    What happened to us at Beth Israel in Colleyville is only the most recent, dramatic event. Even before the Jan. 15 attack on my synagogue, many Jewish people were on edge. Antisemitic attacks have increased in recent years. Hatred has already led to harassment and even bloodshed in too many houses of worship. These problems have been with us for far too long.

    At least part of the problem is because we, ourselves, are strangers. Jews are strangers. Muslims are strangers. People with a different religious tradition — or no religious tradition — are perceived as strangers. People of different ethnicities can be considered strangers. People who hold different political views are seen as strangers. We’re strangers because one can look from afar and make judgments without understanding another’s reality. We’re strangers because it takes too much work to be curious, to give others the benefit of the doubt. It is a lot easier and a lot more comfortable to stick with one’s group. “Love your neighbor” is hard enough.

    And that’s why I, and so many other religious leaders, have pointed out again and again the sacred obligation to love the stranger. The command to care for the stranger is mentioned at least 36 times in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible — more than any other mitzvah. It’s mentioned so often because we need the reminder, because it isn’t natural. It is hard. Just getting past the notion of fearing the stranger is a big enough hurdle.

    I stress this teaching and try to live by this ethos even after living through a hostage situation — where every minute feels like it could be your last. I understand the temptation to seek comfort solely in those one knows and trusts. My congregants and I spent over 10 hours with a gun pointed at us in our sacred home.

    Adding to the agony, I opened the doors of my synagogue and unknowingly welcomed the individual who would later attack me and my fellow congregants. That I opened the door will always weigh heavily on me. Still, I remain committed to the idea of welcoming and caring for the stranger and living that value.

    I do not offer this teaching out of naïveté. We all have a responsibility to understand the context in which we live. Understanding does not mean that we expect calamity or live in a perpetual state of fear. We have a need for security action plans and preparation in case the worst happens. I’ve participated in, and helped organize, far too many vigils after acts of intentional hatred and violence; gathering after gathering of mourning.

    That is our current reality. I believe with all my heart and soul that we can — and must — change this reality. That goes back to caring for the stranger — caring enough that we’re willing to meet and talk with those who are different from ourselves. Caring enough to know that while our experiences may not be the same, and we will probably disagree, we are human beings with something to teach and something to learn. This is not easy. And right now, it feels countercultural.

    Many parts of Judaism are countercultural — especially the instruction that we do what is right, not what is easy. When it comes to the care with which we are supposed to treat other people, those teachings cross religious and cultural boundaries.

    We know that not everyone will meet us here now, but neither can we step away from the work. All of us have a share in it. It means clergy and community leaders from every background meeting with curiosity, to share our traditions and our lives. It means gathering communities of faith together with those who don’t practice a religion, with a desire to listen, learn and the opportunity to build new relationships. This isn’t just theoretical. In Colleyville and the surrounding area, more than 20 groups already meet to do this work under the umbrella Peace Together. We began gathering after Charlottesville as a mass effort to build relationships.

    In the last few weeks, my congregation and I received an outpouring of love and support from strangers the world over. If we begin with that love of the stranger, but offer it not in response to violence, but encouraged by empathy, we might just change our world.

  7. Wendy Berk

    From Rabbi Mel Gottlieb

    The Ishbitzer Rebbe (the Mei Shiloach) says that to ‘Be Holy’ is to — “Be always devoted and ready for the moment when the reality of G-d peers through ordinary reality and enlightens your vision with a higher light. Imagine that Hashem is constantly present, ready, and waiting to give the moment of light to you to save you from ordinary negativity. Stand right there and wait and hope that your vision be enlightened. You don’t have to be already holy. But be ready for the moment of holiness to uplift you. Be in process , it may occur at any moment. It is experiential and intermittent. It suffuses ordinary reality when the moment is right, and you are focused.”

  8. Wendy Berk

    From Rabbi Simon Jacobson

    To Be Like G-d

    Form Meets Function
    — Samach-Vav Part 14 —
    “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your G-d, am holy” – this week’s Torah portion (Leviticus 19:2)
    We are all servants. Some of us serve ourselves; others serve a higher purpose. Most of us compartmentalize and our lives become a mix of the two. But can we really be satisfied with this sort of compromise?
    Paradoxically, the happiest people are those that are not consumed with serving their own needs, but are dedicated to a higher cause. In the words of John Stuart Mill:
    “Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so. Those only are happy who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way.”
    This is the central theme of the Book of Leviticus, known as the Book of Offerings, which we are currently reading:
    “A person will offer of himself an offering to G-d.”
    As we continue reading Leviticus, each progressive chapter teaches us how to grow in offering ourselves to our higher purpose.
    Following the earlier chapters which discuss the general offering of our souls and bodies, this week’s chapter intensifies our service with the commandment:
    “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your G-d, am holy.”
    Do not be deceived by the simplicity of the statement. Had the verse only stated “be holy” and not added the reason (“for I, G-d, am holy”) then the commandment could be understood as another aspect of serving G-d. But by equating our holiness to G-d’s holiness the verse is actually saying that we mortal humans can become like G-d. To the extent that the Midrash has to qualify that G-d’s holiness is greater than our own (see G-d’s Vulnerability).
    Indeed, Judaism never was satisfied with the mere spiritual journey. For many, it would be considered quite an achievement to be able to transcend the mediocrity of material existence and experience even a minimal state of psychological and spiritual freedom. But for the great Jewish leaders – beginning from Abraham and Moses – transcendence was not enough. They wanted a relationship with G-d; not just the ability to speak to G-d, but a relationship as in relating to G-d.
    After all if You, G-d created us, then we have (contain) a “part” of You within us, and You have a part of us within You.
    Take Moses’ memorable words, crying from the heart: Please G-d, “allow me to know Your ways,” “show me Your Glory.” Moses wants to see G-d’s face, and G-d complies, with a qualification.
    But the big question is how? We humans are mortals, finite, limited – weak. G-d is immortal, infinite, eternal, omnipresent – all-powerful. We are creatures; G-d the Creator. How can the two meet?
    Yes, we can serve G-d. We can obey Him, offer Him prayers and praise and look to Him for hope and salvation. But how can we unite with Him?
    The entire Kabbalah comes to answer this very question. For in it lies the secret to life – the single greatest dilemma: How high can we reach? How eternal can we temporal creatures become? Do our choices matter in the long run; if we all perish at the end of the day, how invested should we really be in our choices?
    Half-baked measures were simply not enough for the great spirits. They didn’t want to accept a limited relationship with the Divine. They refused to compromise and see their relationship with G-d as a one-way street: We serve G-d and G-d provides for us. That sounds great, but then why the need for the entire process in the first place? What Divine benefit is there in serving G-d? Yes, once we exist serving G-d may be the most redeeming factor of our lives – the only one that can connect us to the eternal – but why have us exist at all? If there was no creation and no service, what would be missing? And finally, there are many people out there that can serve G-d; what is unique about any individual’s service? We want to know that we are truly indispensable. That our individuality – our unique personality – has a relationship with and become like G-d.
    This dilemma consumes every page of Kabbalah and Chassidus. It is therefore obvious that this theme is central to Samach-Vav – the masterful series of discourses delivered one hundred years ago (1906) – which codifies all of Chassidus and Kabbalah. Indeed, its author, the Rebbe Rashab, is known as the “Rambam of Chassidut.” Like the Rambam (Maimonides) the Rebbe Rashab organized the multitude of mystical discourses into one accessible structured text. No where is this more obvious than in the 61 sequential discourses of the year Samach-Vav.
    In his flowing work, the Rebbe Rashab explains at length how we mortal humans can become like G-d – as has been elaborated upon in this column throughout the year. (The entire series of articles, plus a running summary and related commentaries, can be found in our special Samach-Vav section).
    Basically, Samach-Vav tells us, that everything in existence has a Divine imprint. G-d imparted elements of the Divine “personality” in every aspect of the universe.
    The entire purpose of existence is that we uncover this Divine force; that we transform the material world into a home for the Divine, and draw down new unprecedented energy that expresses “the innermost aspect and essence of the Infinite Light” – the essence of the Divine.
    We achieve this by appreciating that everything in existence has two dimensions: Light and container – energy and structure. Both reflect the Divine but in different ways: The light (soul) reflects the transcendent dimension of the Divine – the selflessness, sublime and defiance of all definition. The container (body) reflects the Divine structure – how the Divine manifests in structure and form.
    And the Divine nature of both light and container must be tapped and actualized to their fullest potential. The way of the “light” accesses the Divine energy within our souls and within all of existence. The way of the “container” transforms matter into spirit through our hard work.
    Each of us has two dimensions in our lives: Our involvement in the material world, and our transcendental, spiritual yearnings. In one word: the body and the soul. Being G-dly means allowing your soul to shine (light) and sanctifying your body and material activities (containers).
    More generally, this breaks down into two types of souls: Those who feel close to G-d, like children to a parent, and those that don’t, like servants to a master. Each type of soul has both lights and containers, yet the former souls are more “light-like” and the latter ones more “container-like.”
    In the discourses we study these weeks (19-26), the Rebbe Rashab explains how the first type of soul accesses the Divine, and becomes like G-d, both through the light and container (soul and the body). Following the discussion about the first type of soul, Samach-Vav then continues to address the second type of soul, whose primary nature is material, and its’ service consists of the hard work to sublimate the “egocentric” personality of matter.
    In personal terms this means that not only your soul but also your body and the material structure of your life can be sanctified and become G-dlike. The total fusion of form and function in a “spiritual union” is necessary for a balanced, wholesome life
    (as discussed last week).
    There are many far-reaching lessons that can be derived from this principle. For example: Two elements are necessary in the creation of every business, and the design of every product: Form and function. Both are vital components, and each has its own way of expressing truth. Function at its best should be like light, which reflects its source – the vision and purpose of the object. Form at its best represents the structure – the market, the audience that will benefit from the object. The key is to align the two in one seamless unit, which fuses the function and the form, the purpose and its expression.
    On a practical note, after all is said and done, can we actually expect that ordinary people should serve only a higher purpose and not our own needs? Based on the above discussion the answer is both surprising and refreshing:
    The structured “containers” have needs, the selfless “lights” do not; they are mere reflections of their source. But the needs of the “containers” are Divine in nature. With one crucial qualification: The objective is not to be fixated on satisfying the needs of the “containers” as an end in itself, but to recognize that these needs are also an extension of satisfying the higher, Divine purpose. In other words: To appreciate that the “containers” are just that – vehicles to express the Divine light.
    So, in truth we really have only two choices in life: To serve yourself or to serve G-d. To serve your immediate perceived needs or to serve a higher purpose – the mission of your life.
    And when you do, your needs will be fulfilled, and happiness will follow.
    As the wise one says: I don’t sing because I am happy; I am happy because I sing.

  9. Wendy

    From Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan


    Not the easiest book of Torah.

    Five years ago, I started to teach at the Vancouver School of Theology. Naturally, our Dean asked which Hebrew Bible elective I would like to teach. “That’s easy!” I said. “Learning to Love Leviticus.”

    “Um…” said our Dean. “How about Wisdom Literature instead?”

    Because, she said, students avoid Leviticus. They see a boring instruction manual for priests. And the source of a famous anti-gay proof-text (Lev. 18:22). They know Leviticus says, “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). But Jesus repeated that (Matt. 22:39). So, they see no need to study Leviticus.

    “Why don’t you wait a few years?” the Dean suggested. “Until they know you, and your take on the book.”

    So, five years have passed. And I think students know my take.

    Yes, their criticisms are valid. But that’s no reason to avoid the book. Because mostly, Leviticus offers a vision of ethical and spiritual community. Where the emotional, moral, and spiritual state of every individual matters.

    The health of the community is like a delicate force field. Joy, grief, illness, or crime disturb the energy field. But people can help reset it. With rituals of celebration, consolation, healing, and restitution (Lev. 1:1-5:26, Parshat Vayikra). Also, maternity leave for new mothers (Lev. 12:1-8, Parshat Tazria). Ceremonies of welcome for people as they recover from disfiguring illness (Lev. 14:1-32, Parshat Metzora). Accountability for corrupt leaders (Lev. 4:13-26, Parshat Vayikra). And limits on economic inequality (Lev. 26:3-46, Parshat Behar).

    Landowners must feed the poor. Employ them. Pay them promptly. When there’s a labour dispute, judges must be fair. No one should take advantage of people with disabilities. Or lack of knowledge. Or less social power.

    So, examine your heart. Are you taking advantage of someone? Maybe you carry scars from family trauma. Or a heartbreaking family secret. Something that leads you to hate yourself. Or direct your anger at an innocent. If so, then, speak directly about it. Try to heal whatever blocks your love (Lev. 19:9-18, Parshat Kedoshim).

    When community members need money, loan it. Interest-free. Otherwise, the poorest fall deeper and deeper into debt. Create a culture of mutual support. Love your neighbour as yourself. Because you, too, could fall upon hard times.

    Hit the economic reset button. Do a soft reset every 7 years. Landowners, take a year off from planting and harvesting. Grains and fruits will grow anyway. So, let the needy gather them and eat.

    Every 50th year, do a hard reset. Help those who sold their land for emergency cash. Let them reclaim their property. Help people who sold their long-term labour for a short-term cash grant. Release those indentured servants from their debt. But don’t be afraid to lend, just because the 50th year reset is coming. Instead, lend a small amount (Lev. 25:1-55, Parshat Behar).

    So, it’s a win-win! The wealthiest lose nothing. The poorest start life anew, debt-free.

    Economic reset is not a generous act of charity. No! On the contrary: it’s selfish and it’s needed. Because, without it, society’s energy field would fail. Social safety nets would be overstressed. People would lose hope in a healthy life. Their anxiety and depression would grow, too. They would blame each other. Become paranoid. Fear imaginary enemies.

    Finally, society would fracture. The community would be unable to unite in self-defence. So, it would be vulnerable to invasion. Then, its people would pray for rescue. But without social action, their prayers would be useless. Finally, after many deaths, their arrogance would be broken. So, together they would find their way back to right living (Lev.25:1-55, Parshat Bechukotai).

    Seriously, Leviticus says. Stop loving money. Instead, love your neighbour as yourself. Because your own life depends on it.

  10. Wendy

    From Rabbi Mordecai Finley

    Be Holy

    When I read the words that begin this week’s Torah portion, “Be Holy”, I try to imagine a profound and complex period of seeking that preceded these words, “be holy”. I imagine a lengthy period of confusion about what to do, what do think, how to be, when a small voice is heard within, “be holy.”

    Here is a way into that idea: In the Pirkei Avot (The Sayings of the Fathers), we are taught, “Upon three things the world stands: On the Torah (The Teaching), on Avodah (service to God), and upon Gemilut Hasadim (“Acts” of Lovingkindness). Those who know Hebrew are aware that “Gemilut Hasadim” does not actually mean “Acts of Lovingkindness” – that would be “Ma’asei Hasadim”. “Acts of Lovingkindness” is the best we can do translating an odd Hebrew phrase.

    The word root “gamal” from which we get “gemilut” usually connotes giving a person what they deserve – to reward, retaliate and even take revenge. (The meaning “wean” is probably just a homophone). But in Jewish texts, “gamal” takes an almost paradoxical meaning. For example, if a person has come through a time of danger, they can say “Birkat Ha-Gomel” = “the blessing regarding the God who gives people what they deserve.”

    The translation of Birkat HaGomel is: “Blessed are You, Adonai, who requites good to the guilty, and who has requited me only good.” This blessing is more than paradoxical – it is ironic, saying something, but differently. Here is my free translation:

    “I don’t think I deserve the good fortune in escaping that danger. Better people than I am have not escaped. If you are a God of justice, I don’t understand. And if you are a God of love, why me? You could have assigned me a fate I deserved, but instead you gave me good. What can I say? Thank you.”

    According to some (not my theology, but some believe this), God is the Gomel in Chief, but apparently somewhat erratic.

    Now, what about this third foundation of the world? The Pirkei Avot could have just said, “Ma’asei Hasadim” – literally, “Act of Lovingkindness.” An accurate translation of “Gemilut Hasadaim would actually be, “Retaliation Through Kindness.” I have an idea why the ancient rabbis just didn’t say it straight.

    As I was teaching my idea as to why the rabbis said “retaliation through kindness” a person objected – “but aren’t we a tradition of justice?” Yes, emphatically. We also find in the Pirkei Avot (1:18) that the world exists on three things: “Din, emet, ve-shalom” – “justice (literally, rational law), truth and peace”.

    Here is my teaching: Sometimes, in the spirit of “justice, truth and peace”, the truest thing to do is forget about justice and do that which leads to peace , wholeness between people. When? I can’t tell you exactly when. We can’t codify when we let go of justice and retaliate with kindness. But I know that sometimes when my ego self is imagining retaliation, a truer voice counsels: kindness.

    The term “Gemilut Hasadim” – “Retaliate with Kindness” teaches us something deep about the Teaching (Torah) and Divine Service (Avodah): ultimately, they really can’t be codified, in the ultimate sense. We have to have justice, but a world without random acts of kindness will surely fall.

    If you are looking out there for some code about how to live a holy life, for example, when to be randomly kind, stop looking. There is no code out there, no system that can code it for you. The code is tucked away in some chamber of your soul. All the teachings and books out there are there only to alert you of the presence of the true teaching found planted deep inside of us. No one can find it for you.

    No one can tell you when and how to “retaliate with kindness” or live out any of the other anagogic oxymorons (contradictions that lead us to a higher level of thinking) that are the foundations of the world.

    Of course, you do have to live by a code. The code that is given to us in the outside world, the Teaching we learn, however, is just the womb that births the true and holy self. Be holy – birth your Self into the world.

    Shabbat Shalom,

    Rabbi Mordecai Finley

  11. Wendy

    From AJR/CA

    Parshat Kedoshim

    “Sabbatical Freedom and Holiness”
    By Dr. Tamar Frankiel

    Kedoshim comprises two short chapters, just past the middle of the Torah, the 19th and 20th chapters of its middle book Vayikra (Leviticus) – chapters that are fundamental to the understanding of Jewish life.

    While much of Vayikra has dealt with the rites and sacrifices of the priests, now God tells Moshe to assemble the entire congregation to hear these words: Be holy. And it puts the responsibility squarely on us: as I, God, am holy, “make yourselves holy.”

    Earlier, amid signs and wonders, we were brought out from slavery to become freely choosing human beings. Amid more signs, we heard words from the mountain and were asked to assent to a relationship to the One God and to a moral commitment spelled out in ten commands.

    The ultimate intent was also presented to us at that time: “You will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

    For a while, it looked as if that wasn’t going to be the case. With the establishment of a priesthood with a tribal identity, it appeared that Judaism was going the way of other ancient religions which, as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has pointed out, existed essentially to defend hierarchy on earth and in the heavens. Earlier in our tradition, a radical doctrine had been introduced, namely that all human beings are made b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. All those former slaves had the potential to be priests. Was that promise to be forgotten?

    No. Although the golden calf incident and the building of the Mishkan had required the services of a priestly class, it is from the priestly part of the Torah itself that the declaration comes: you shall all be holy!

    In other words, although there may be organizational and ritual specialization, the priests do not control the people’s access to God. Nor are they the only ones on whom spiritual obligations are placed. Everyone has responsibilities. Rabbi Sacks calls it the “democratization of holiness.”

    The obligations listed in Parshat Kedoshim run the gamut from the etiquette of sacrifice to cross-breeding of animals, from the down-to-earth requirement of honest weights and measures to the exalted level of not allowing hatred in your heart. I will suggest that this comprehensive approach to holiness revolves around three things.

    God starts with two commands. The first is: Revere your parents. In case you thought holiness might mean an otherworldly spiritual path, along the lines of “leave your mother and father to follow me,” the Torah says that’s not the case. Family, and especially those who brought you into the world, must be part of your world of holiness. Moreover, revering and honoring parents is how we learn reverence for others, reverence for all those on whom we depend and from whom we learn – which turns out in the long run to be everyone.

    The second is: Keep My Sabbaths. In the plural? Yes. Besides the weekly day of rest from work, which was part of the gift of leaving Egypt, there is the sabbatical year of freeing slaves and releasing the produce of the land to be available to all. And there is the fiftieth year of yovel (jubilee) when all land returns to its original owners. These Shabbatot imply and amplify dignity and freedom. Further, the idea of Shabbat as a taste of freedom should infuse all our economic and social relationships, so that a judge does not favor either the rich or the poor. No wonder then that the parsha also mentions not only leaving the corners of the field for the poor, but also instructs us not to rob, nor oppress, nor keep a worker’s wages overnight. Sabbatical freedom is not doing what you want, but experiencing the dignity of being made in the image of God, and recognizing that everyone else is too.

    The principle of dignity runs deep and wide. “Don’t curse a deaf person” and “don’t put a stumbling block before the blind” are metaphors for a profound ethic: Do not take advantage of someone else’s weakness. Don’t lie, tell tales, hold a grudge, take revenge, or allow hatred in your heart – in other words, don’t allow yourself to invent your own self-righteous reality to justify lording it over others. Don’t stand aside when blood is being shed – you can’t pretend you don’t know what’s happening.

    And all this culminates to the third outstanding principle in this parsha: Love your neighbor as yourself; love the stranger in your land as yourself.

    These principles in turn are to find expression in the most intimate of relations, and in the way we treat our neighbors in nature, the animals and plants that live among us.

    Reverence. . . . Sabbatical freedom and dignity. . . . Loving the other as yourself. The instructions are clear: Make yourselves holy with these ideas and practices, day in, day out.

  12. Wendy

    From Rabbi David Kasher

    DEVIL INSIDE – Parshat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim
    This post originally appears at

    Parshat Kedoshim – which begins with the famous injunction, “you shall be holy” – includes a series of warnings against all kinds of horrifying idolatrous practices, replete with gory description: eating blood; gashing the flesh of dead bodies; passing children into fire. Part of what it takes to “be holy,” it seems, is to stay away from these strange cultic rituals.

    But one case in particular reads as the most bizarre, precisely because it isn’t clear what is being described at all:

    Do not turn to Ovot, nor inquire after the Yidoni, to be defiled by them – I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:31)

    אַל-תִּפְנוּ אֶל-הָאֹבֹת וְאֶל-הַיִּדְּעֹנִים, אַל-תְּבַקְשׁוּ לְטָמְאָה בָהֶם: אֲנִי, ה’ אֱלֹקיכֶם.

    What – or who – are these entities: ‘Ovot’ and ‘Yidoni’? Are they foreign gods, or types of people? How do they defile? And what, exactly, is being forbidden here?

    This warning is repeated in Deuteronomy, and there we get a little more context:

    When you enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to do the abhorrent practices of those nations. Let no one be found among you who passes his son or daughter into the fire, performs magic, tells fortunes, makes predictions, or is a sorcerer. One who casts spells, or asks Ov (here in the singular) and Yidoni, or inquires of the dead. For anyone who does such things is abhorrent to the Lord…(Deut. 18:9-12).

    כִּי אַתָּה בָּא אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-ה אֱלֹקיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ–לֹא-תִלְמַד לַעֲשׂוֹת, כְּתוֹעֲבֹת הַגּוֹיִם הָהֵם. לֹא-יִמָּצֵא בְךָ, מַעֲבִיר בְּנוֹ-וּבִתּוֹ בָּאֵשׁ, קֹסֵם קְסָמִים, מְעוֹנֵן וּמְנַחֵשׁ וּמְכַשֵּׁף. וְחֹבֵר, חָבֶר; וְשֹׁאֵל אוֹב וְיִדְּעֹנִי, וְדֹרֵשׁ אֶל-הַמֵּתִים. כִּי-תוֹעֲבַת ה, כָּל-עֹשֵׂה אֵלֶּה…

    Okay, so consulting Ov and Yidoni falls into a general category of magic that includes sorcery and divination. The language of “asking” and “inquiring” makes it clear that the practitioner is looking for answers – some kind of secret knowledge or future-forecasting.

    But still, what do we make of these names? Who is it that does the predicting, and how?

    The Ibn Ezra does a little linguistic work to come up with an answer:

    Ovot – related to the word for “jugs” of wine, because they would perform their rituals with them. Yidoni – related to the word for “knowledge,” because they sought knowledge of the future.

    האבת. מגזרת וכאובות חדשים כי הם עיקר זאת האומנות: והידענים. מגזרת דעת שיבקשו לדעת העתידות

    Well, that makes some sense of the terms. But it doesn’t really explain why we have such unusual language for these particular acts. What is so distinct about them that they get their own formal name?

    Rashi takes our investigation a step further, by describing the specific practices of the Ov and the Yidoni:

    An Ov Master is a necromancer of Pithom, who speaks from his armpit. And a Yidoni puts the bone of an animal, whose name is “Known,” into his mouth, and the bone talks.

    בעל אוב זה פיתום המדבר משחיו. וידעוני מכניס עצם חיה ששמה ידוע לתוך פיו והעצם מדבר

    Well, that was unexpected! There are some strange magic rituals out there, to be sure, but channeling the dead through one’s armpit – that takes the cake! Not to mention the guy who puts the animal bone in his mouth. Oh, and remember – it’s not that he speaks with a bone in his mouth; the bone speaks!

    But here’s where things get really crazy. Because there is some speculation as to what kind of animal bone this is. The reference to the animal is mysterious to begin with, because we are told that its name is: “Known,” (or yadua- ידוע) – meaning, not just that we know its name, but that its actual name is: “Known.” There’s clearly a bit of wordplay going on here, as if to say, “Come on, you know what animal this is…”

    So what is it? The Sifsei Chachamim, a supercommentator on Rashi, tries to explain, using an eerie image, taken from a Mishnah in Tractate Kilayim (8:5). And get ready, because this is going to be a wild one:

    This is the creature whose name is ‘Known’: Something like big rope comes out of the earth, and on it grows this animal, growing like some kind of squash or melon. Its form is well-known, for it is the form of a person – in its face, and hands and legs. And it is connected, through its bellybutton, to the rope coming out of the ground. And no creature should go near it, because it kills and rips apart anyone who comes close. And it guards its territory all around, as far as the rope will stretch. So if you want to trap it, shoot arrows at the rope from far away, until it snaps, and then it dies immediately.

    שהיא חיה ששמה ידוע, וכמין חבל גדול יוצא משורש שבארץ ששם גדלה אותה חיה כעין קשואין ודלועין, אלא שהידוע צורתה כצורת אדם בין בצורת פניו בין בצורת שאר אבריו, ומטבורו הוא מחובר באותו חבל, ואין כל בריה רשאי להקרב במלא החבל שטורפת והורגת את הכל, ובמלא החבל רועה את כל סביבותיה, וכשבאים לצוד אותה מורים בחיצים מרחוק אל החבל עד שיפסוק ומיד מתה.


    There you have it, folks. That has got to be one of the weirdest things I have ever read in the annals of Torah commentary.

    Part of me wants to just leave it there, no further comment. Just take that image and sit with it, and I’ll see you next week.

    But there is one more very strange thing to explore, before we finish. And this final oddity is not one of content, but of placement.

    At the very end of Parshat Kedoshim, after a long series of laws, the parsha ends with a line that echoes almost exactly the line it began with:

    You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy, and I have set you apart from other peoples, to be Mine. (Lev. 20:26)

    וִהְיִיתֶם לִי קְדֹשִׁים, כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אֲנִי ה’; וָאַבְדִּל אֶתְכֶם מִן-הָעַמִּים, לִהְיוֹת לִי.

    That would make for an elegant closing, bookending our reading with a perfect parallel to its opening.

    But then, out of nowhere, there’s one more verse:

    A man or woman who has an Ov or a Yidoni in them will be put to death. They shall be stoned, and their blood will be upon them. (20:27)

    וְאִישׁ אוֹ-אִשָּׁה, כִּי-יִהְיֶה בָהֶם אוֹב אוֹ יִדְּעֹנִי–מוֹת יוּמָתוּ; בָּאֶבֶן יִרְגְּמוּ אֹתָם, דְּמֵיהֶם בָּם.

    What is going on here? Why are we talking about the Ov and the Yidoni again? And what kind of awkward ending is this to the parsha?

    Rashi and other commentators try to explain this abrupt callback by pointing out that this time, the death penalty is added, which could be understood as an indication that capital punishment is to be implemented for all such serious crimes. It is a kind of broad legal principle tacked on to the end of this long list of laws. In other words, be holy…. or else.

    But this doesn’t address the reappearance of the Ov and the Yidoni. Why use this specific – and strangest – of examples?

    The best answer I found comes from the Abarbanel, the 15th-century Portuguese statesman and philosopher, who was also an absolute parshanut master. He focuses on the specific wording of the last verse, and explains:

    It says, “A man or woman who has an Ov or a Yidoni IN THEM,” not just that they turn to the Ov or the Yidoni. And I would explain this literally… that sometimes we find people who do not actually perform these impure services, but they believe that they have, in themselves, in their natural abilities, the demonic power of an Ov or a Yidoni, and that they can reveal hidden things. That is why the Almighty warns of, “A man or woman who has an Ov or a Yidoni IN THEM.” Not that they turn to these things, like those we spoke of earlier… but that they have it in them. That is, they evoke, through their words, the powers of Ov or Yidoni – the demonic power to speak of hidden or future things. Such a man or woman, even when they do not actually practice the rites, they nurture the Ov, the demon inside of them…

    כי יהיה בהם אוב או ידעוני כי היה ראוי שיאמר אשר יפנה אל האוב או אל הידעוני לא אשר יהיה בהם. ולכן אחשוב לפרש בו ע“ד הפשט… והיה שכבר ימצאו מבני אדם שלא יעשו מלאכה מאלו המלאכות הטמאות. אבל יאמרו שבעצמם וטבעם יש כח שד או אוב וידעוני יגידו בו הדברים הנעלמים לכן הזהיר עליו יתברך ואמר איש או אשה כי יהיה בהם אוב או ידעוני. ואין פירושו שיפנו אליהם לעשותם כמו שאמר למעלה… אלא שיש בהם ר”ל שימצא בהם בעצמם לפי דבריהם כח אוב וידעוני שהוא כח שד להגיד הדברים הנעלמים העתידים. כי הנה האיש או האשה אע“פ שלא יעשה מלאכה בזה כיון שהוא מפורסם שהאוב או השד הוא בקרבו…

    We have spent much of our parsha warning of all the strange and sinister rituals out there in the world. We have tried to convey the awareness that the prohibition of idolatry is not just a jealous injunction against worshipping foreign gods; it is a real fear of the bizarre and violent rituals that can accompany such worship – drinking blood, consorting with dead bodies, and killing children. And we have exposed just how ridiculous these cultic practices can get, with their talking armpits and bones.

    All the while, we have been asked to turn away from all of this, and to be holy. So we are not like these other people, we might think, because we don’t do these things. We are better. We are holy.

    But in the last breath of the parsha, we are reminded that one doesn’t have to actually engage in idolatrous rituals in order to summon dark forces. The truth is, that darkness is inside of us, waiting to be unleashed by our pride and our self-indulgence. Lest we think that holiness was a description of our essential being, or that we were safeguarded by our religion… we ought to remember that one doesn’t have to put a bone in one’s mouth to speak nonsense and lies. For the real demons are not out there, but within us.

    That is why the bone of the ‘Known’ comes from a creature that looks remarkably like a human being. Sure, we tell the tale of the wild little men that grow in the fields, and attack anyone who comes close. But perhaps we are really speaking of the wildness of the human spirit, the dangerous parts of ourselves that can grow out of control, and come looking for blood.

    So be holy. Be careful. Watch out for bizarre rituals that trade in death and lies. Watch out for strange creatures that lurk in the fields…. and the strangest creature of all – the one who lurks within.

  13. Wendy

    From My Jewish Learning

    Planting for the Future
    Parashat Kedoshim teaches us to preserve our natural resources.


    Commentary on Parshat Kedoshim: Leviticus 19:1-20:27

    Provided by the Jewish Theological Seminary, a Conservative rabbinical seminary and university of Jewish studies.

    From our apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, we enjoy a glorious view of Riverside Park below and the Hudson River beyond. Overnight, it seems, the trees have once again donned a glorious green canopy of leaves. Gone is the drab garb of winter. Life has surged back with irrepressible vigor and astonishing beauty. Each year I marvel at the swiftness of the scenic change.

    It is not for nothing that the Book of Proverbs speaks of wisdom (3:13-18) and the Rabbis later of the Torah as a Tree of Life for those who cling to it. Personal experience at tests that there is no more affecting symbol for continuity and renewal in all of nature!

    Similarly, when the Psalmist looks for a metaphor for pure piety, he compares the person devoted to the teachings of God to “a tree planted beside streams of water, that yields its fruit in season, whose foliage never fades, and whatever it produces thrives” (1:3). The menorah in the Tabernacle and Temple is most likely a tree-like appurtenance that becomes emblematic for Judaism in the Greco-Roman world, adorning many a synagogue floor and private sarcophagus and, especially, the Arch of Titus in Rome.

    Planting Trees
    Planting trees is among the topics taken up by our incredibly rich parsha this week. We are instructed:

    “When you enter the land and plant any tree for food you shall regard its fruit as forbidden. Three years it shall be forbidden for you, not to be eaten. In the fourth year all its fruit shall be set aside for jubilation before the Lord; and only in the fifth year may you use its fruit — that its yield to you may be increased: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:23-25).
    I still remember vividly planting grape vines in Hanaton, the Conservative kibbutz in the Lower Galilee, some years back. As we carefully placed each shoot in the soil and watered it, we spoke excitedly about the laws of orlah, that is the prohibition to derive benefit from any crops in the first four years. The Talmud limits the regulation to trees and vines grown in the land of Israel. What ripens in the fourth year is treated as a thanksgiving offering of first fruits to God.

    What interests me, however, for the moment is what the midrash did with this passage. In the Torah the stress is on the forbidden fruit. In the midrash, the focus shifts to the obligation to plant trees. Indeed, there is no specific commandment in the Torah to cover the land with trees a la the Jewish National Fund. But that is the lesson that the midrash extracts from the sequence of events mentioned in the Torah: God has cared for us lovingly in the wilderness, providing us with food and water, shielding us beneath clouds and guiding us by a pillar of smoke. Once we enter the land, however, we are on our own. Each one must take a hoe and plant. Our period of incubation is at an end. To cross the Jordan is to take on responsibility. Hence the Torah is understood to say: “When you enter the land you must plant trees for food.”

    A stretch for humans comes naturally to animals. We prefer dependence. The midrash comments on the verse in Job: “Who has given understanding to the cock?” (Job 38:36), which is also the text for the first of the daily blessings in the morning service. Wisdom is encoded into nature by God. Taking the word sekhvi as hen rather than cock, the midrash describes a common barnyard scene. The hen gathers her tiny chicks under her wings, warms them and leads them around. But once they are grown, let one try to return and the hen will peck at his head, saying go dig for your own food.

    To achieve its expanded reading of the text, midrash turns legislation into narrative. Not only does the conquest of Canaan require of us to work the land, it also imposes on us the obligations to steward it responsibly. We are expected to preserve its life-sustaining resources undepleted for our children. We found the land covered with trees planted by others when we entered it, says the midrash, and that is how we are supposed to hand it on. No one is ever to say I am too old to worry about the welfare of the next generation.

    And then the midrash recounts that the Roman emperor Hadrian once passed through Palestine on his way to war in the east, where he happened upon an elderly Jew planting fig trees. The sight of such altruism prompted the emperor to ask the man his motives. “My lord, the king,” said the man, “I trouble myself to plant because if I merit it, I myself shall eat of the fruits of my labor. And if not, then my children will.”

    Three years later, Hadrian returned to that self-same spot in Palestine to be greeted by the elderly farmer with a basket full of fresh figs. He reminded the emperor of their previous conversation and gave him the figs. Awed by the man’s lack of self-centeredness, Hadrian returned his basketful of Roman gold coins.

    Don’t Stop Planting
    The midrash reiterates its lesson: Let no one ever cease from planting. Fields filled with trees greeted us at birth, and we should add to their number even in old age. For God has already taught us by example that personal gain is too narrow a base for human behavior, as it is written,”The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east” (Genesis 2:8), surely done for human benefit, without any thought of self.

    So in the midst of a parsha that teaches us how to relate to family, fellow human (both native and foreign) and God, the midrash adds yet a fourth dimension: our treatment of the habitat in which we live. The midrash resonates with an environmental ethic reinforced by language. In rabbinic Hebrew the word “shoots,” netiot (from the root “to plant”) takes on a metaphoric meaning of “children.” The convergence of meanings helps us move beyond our selves, or better to see ourselves in that which lies beyond us. For all our wisdom and consciousness, humans are not endowed with much of a capacity to see ahead. The long-term consequences of our actions rarely enter into the calculations behind our choices. Thus the overlapping meanings of netiot, the subtle nuances of language, throw up a gentle reminder to think of our children as we go about assaulting and subordinating the natural world for our own immediate and exclusive gratification.

  14. Wendy

    From JTS


    These combined parashiyot are complex in their structure and content, yet a careful examination of these chapters reveals a striking and powerful theological insight. In terms of Bible scholarship, they extend across a major divide in the priestly literature: Leviticus 16 describes the detailed rites of yearly atonement that eliminated the taint of sinfulness from the priesthood, shrine, and people. In essence, it is a kind of re-creation of the initial state of purity of the Tabernacle on the day it was dedicated, as described in Leviticus 9-10. The link between atonement and dedication is made subtly, by the reference at the beginning of Leviticus 16 to the tragic deaths of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, at the dedication of the Tabernacle, as recounted in Leviticus 10. The first part of the parashah therefore should be read as a continuation of the first half of Leviticus, chapters 1-15, which describe the establishment of sacrifice and cult. The dominant themes are purity and forgiveness, which are given as the purpose of all the types of sacrifice.

    The next part of the parashah, Leviticus 17, belongs to what scholars term the “Holiness Code,” which extends to chapter 25. This section, too, is complex. Chapter 17 deals with the requirement of treating all meat as sacrificial offerings to be offered at the shrine. This connects to Genesis 9, where meat eating is reluctantly allowed by God so long as the blood is not consumed, as it contains the “nefesh,” the life-force of the animal.

    Leviticus 18-20, the last section of the parashiyot, is in effect a long definition of holiness. It focuses on one main theme, strict separation through the maintenance of boundaries—above all, sexual boundaries, which form the main topic in chapters 18 and 20. Included also are such things as the prohibition of offering children to the Canaanite deity Molech and engaging in various acts of divination. It is likely that the sacrificed children were viewed as messengers to the pagan deity (probably a form of Baal), since they are said to be made “to cross over” to him. Divination also involved the crossing of a boundary between the divine and the human, which the Bible views as illegitimate.

    There are many things going on in these parashiyot.But if one steps back from the mass of detail, the two sections described above revolve around two dominant concepts, atonement and separation, the latter identified with holiness. A larger view shows that in religious terms, we are dealing with two contrasting ideas that are in fact complementary, together forming a complete—and compelling—theological mandate.

    On the one hand, true holiness is viewed as deriving from the vigilant maintenance of differences, represented by separations: of Israel from the nations, of illicit from licit relations, of the human from the divine, and of permitted from forbidden foods. This is a narrow, guarded, negative, and even gloomy view of holiness, as befits a text that begins with a reminder of the deaths of Nadab and Abihu, who also crossed over the legitimate boundaries of the cult by offering “strange fire” to God in Lev. 10:1.

    But countering this narrowness is the focus in Leviticus 16 on atonement, literally “at-one-ment” (in English—the Hebrew kapparah has a different origin and association), i.e., the reconciliation of humanity with God. This represents a religious aspiration to join and cohere, not separate. The idea appears in a different form in the most famous injunctions in Kedoshim, to “love your neighbor as yourself” (19:18) and “love the stranger as yourself” (19:34). What is implied is an empathetic merging with others, an internalization of their needs and feelings. The thrust seems to be a demand for outward separation but inner sympathy, even union, in the emotion of love.

    In effect, this represents a complementary theological dichotomy of difference and similarity. Difference alone leads to brittle and sterile isolation—from God and from other peoples. Similarity alone leads to untrammeled merging and, ultimately, the elimination of any recognizable meaning. Similarity and difference are the poles of covenant itself, a uniting of God with Israel, which involves the unique separation of the people from other nations. Yet the covenant is also a pact of love, of the demand that Israel respond to God by loving the deity—and also, Leviticus adds, by loving each other.

  15. Wendy

    From Rabbi Pinchas Winston

    The Ramban explains kedushah—holiness—is not merely about how you deal with that which is forbidden to you….

    Rather, says the Ramban, kedushah is about how you behave with that which is permissible to you. It is about how you interact with the world that God has given you to enjoy, and what you do with it, and why.

    Dvar Torah on Parshat Kedoshim
    by Rabbi Pinchas Winston

  16. Wendy

    From Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
    Judaism’s Three Voices (Acharei Mot & Kedoshim 5777)

    The nineteenth chapter of Vayikra, with which our parsha begins, is one of the supreme statements of the ethics of the Torah. It’s about the right, the good and the holy, and it contains some of Judaism’s greatest moral commands: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself,” and “Let the stranger who lives among you be like your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were strangers in Egypt.”

    But the chapter is also surpassingly strange. It contains what looks like a random jumble of commands, many of which have nothing whatever to do with ethics and only the most tenuous connection with holiness:

    Do not mate different kinds of animals.

    Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed.

    Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material. (19)

    Do not eat any meat with the blood still in it.

    Do not practise divination or sorcery.

    Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard. (26-28)

    And so on. What have these to do with the right, the good and the holy?

    To understand this we have to engage in an enormous leap of insight into the unique moral/social/spiritual vision of the Torah, so unlike anything we find elsewhere.

    The West has had many attempts at defining a moral system. Some focused on rationality, others on emotions like sympathy and empathy. For some the central principle was service to the state, for others moral duty, for yet others the greatest happiness of the greatest number. These are all forms of moral simplicity.

    Judaism insists on the opposite: moral complexity. The moral life isn’t easy. Sometimes duties or loyalties clash. Sometimes reason says one thing, emotion another. More fundamentally, Judaism identified three distinct moral sensibilities each of which has its own voice and vocabulary. They are [1] the ethics of the king, [2] the ethics of the priest and fundamentally, [3] the ethics of the prophet.

    Jeremiah and Ezekiel talk about their distinctive sensibilities:

    For the teaching of the law [Torah] by the priest will not cease,

    nor will counsel [etzah] from the wise [chakham],

    nor the word [davar] from the prophets. (Jer. 18:18)

    They will go searching for a vision [chazon] from the prophet, priestly instruction in the law [Torah] will cease, the counsel [etzah] of the elders will come to an end. (Ez. 7:26)

    Priests think in terms of Torah. Prophets have “the word” or “a vision.” Elders and the wise have “etzah”. What does this mean?

    Kings and their courts are associated in Judaism with wisdom – chokhmah, etzah and their synonyms. Several books of Tanakh, most conspicuously Proverbs and Ecclesiastes (Mishlei and Kohelet), are books of “wisdom” of which the supreme exemplar was King Solomon. Wisdom in Judaism is the most universal form of knowledge, and the Wisdom literature is the closest the Hebrew Bible comes to the other literature of the ancient Near East, as well as the Hellenistic sages. It is practical, pragmatic, based on experience and observation; it is judicious, prudent. It is a prescription for a life that is safe and sound, without excess or extremes, but hardly dramatic or transformative. That is the voice of wisdom, the virtue of kings.

    The prophetic voice is quite different, impassioned, vivid, radical in its critique of the misuse of power and the exploitative pursuit of wealth. The prophet speaks on behalf of the people, the poor, the downtrodden, the abused. He or she thinks of the moral life in terms of relationships: between God and humanity and between human beings themselves. The key terms for the prophet are tzedek (distributive justice), mishpat (retributive justice), chessed (loving kindness) and rachamim (mercy, compassion). The prophet has emotional intelligence, sympathy and empathy, and feels the plight of the lonely and oppressed. Prophecy is never abstract. It doesn’t think in terms of universals. It responds to the here and now of time and place. The priest hears the word of God for all time. The prophet hears the word of God for this time.

    The ethic of the priest, and of holiness generally, is different again. The key activities of the priest are lehavdil – to discriminate, distinguish and divide – and lehorot – to instruct people in the law, both generally as teachers and in specific instances as judges. The key words of the priest are kodesh and chol (holy and secular), tamei and tahor (impure and pure).

    The single most important passage in the Torah that speaks in the priestly voice is Chapter 1 of Bereishit, the narrative of creation. Here too a key verb is lehavdil, to divide, which appears five times. God divides between light and dark, the upper and lower waters, and day and night. Other key words are “bless” – God blesses the animals, humankind, and the seventh day; and “sanctify” (kadesh) – at the end of creation God sanctifies the Shabbat. Overwhelmingly elsewhere in the Torah the verb lehavdil and the root kadosh occur in a priestly context; and it is the priests who bless the people.

    The task of the priest, like God at creation, is to bring order out of chaos. The priest establishes boundaries in both time and space. There are holy times and holy places, and each time and place has its own integrity, its own setting in the total scheme of things. The kohen’s protest is against the blurring of boundaries so common in pagan religions – between gods and humans, between life and death, between the sexes and so on. A sin, for the kohen, is an act in the wrong place, and its punishment is exile, being cast out of your rightful place. A good society, for the kohen, is one in which everything is in its proper place, and the kohen has special sensitivity toward the stranger, the person who has no place of his or her own.

    The strange collection of commands in Kedoshim thus turns out not to be strange at all. The holiness code sees love and justice as part of a total vision of an ordered universe in which each thing, person and act has their rightful place, and it is this order that is threatened when the boundary between different kinds of animals, grain, fabrics is breached; when the human body is lacerated; or when people eat blood, the sign of death, in order to feed life.

    In the secular West we are familiar with the voice of wisdom. It is common ground between the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes and the great sages from Aristotle to Marcus Aurelius to Montaigne. We know, too, the prophetic voice and what Einstein called its “almost fanatical love of justice.” We are far less familiar with the priestly idea that just as there is a scientific order to nature, so there is a moral order, and it consists in keeping separate the things that are separate, and maintaining the boundaries that respect the integrity of the world God created and seven times pronounced good.

    The priestly voice is not marginal to Judaism. It is central, essential. It is the voice of the Torah’s first chapter. It is the voice that defined the Jewish vocation as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” It dominates Vayikra, the central book of the Torah. And whereas the prophetic spirit lives on in aggadah, the priestly voice prevails in halakhah. And the very name Torah – from the verb lehorot – is a priestly word.

    Perhaps the idea of ecology, one of the key discoveries of modern times, will allow us to understand better the priestly vision and its code of holiness, both of which see ethics not just as practical wisdom or prophetic justice but also as honouring the deep structure – the sacred ontology – of being. An ordered universe is a moral universe, a world at peace with its Creator and itself.

  17. Wendy

    From Rav Kook

    Kedoshim: Lessons in Tzedakah

    The Last Edge Harvested

    One form of assistance which the Torah mandates to be given to the needy is the mitzvah of pei’ah. The farmer must leave over a corner (pei’ah) of his field for the poor.

    “When you reap your land’s harvest, do not completely harvest the corners of your fields. … Leave them for the poor and the stranger.” (Lev. 19:9-10)
    The Sages stressed that the area left over for the poor must be the very last edge harvested. One may not set aside a section at the start or in the middle of the harvesting process. Why not? By requiring pei’ah to be the final section of the field that was harvested, the Torah establishes a set time for the poor to claim their portion. The Talmud (Shabbat 23a) notes that this provision prevents four potential problems:

    Stealing from the poor. The landowner could set aside the pei’ah at some pre-arranged hour, in order to make sure the corner produce will go to friends or relatives instead of the needy.
    Lost time. The needy will not need to hang around the field, waiting until the moment the owner arbitrarily decides to declare a section of his field to be pei’ah.
    Unwarranted suspicions. People might not know that the farmer set aside his pei’ah earlier, and suspect him of not fulfilling the mitzvah.
    Swindlers. Unscrupulous farmers could claim they set aside pei’ah earlier, when they never did so.
    Rav Kook wrote that these four concerns clarify the Torah’s views on charity.

    Moral Duty

    The very phrase, “stealing from the poor,” is instructive. Helping the needy is not simply a matter of generosity. It is a social and moral obligation. The Hebrew word for charity (tzedakah) comes from the root tzedek, meaning justice. One who refuses to assist the poor does not just lack the quality of generosity. He is a thief, stealing from what rightfully belongs to others!

    In general, the existence of poverty in the world should not be looked upon as a purely negative phenomenon. There are many purposes to poverty, including its contribution to our spiritual growth.

    Empathy for the Poor

    If we only emphasize the obligatory aspect of tzedakah, we are concentrating solely on the donor’s standpoint and overlooking the needs of the one receiving. This mitzvah also requires an attitude of generosity and kindness. We need to have empathy for the needy and their troubles. For this reason, the Torah expresses concern for the poor person’s time and his sense of self-respect. He should not have to wait until the owner finally decides to provide him with produce from the pei’ah.

    In short, the foundation of Jewish charity is duty. But an attitude of empathy and understanding is also necessary to fully attain the goal of tzedakah .

    Social Obligation

    Social mores can serve to protect the weak and the destitute. Some people give because they are embarrassed to be seen as stingy and uncaring. In addition, society honors generous donors and benefactors.

    The first two aspects mentioned, our moral obligation and the need to develop empathy, comprise the internal incentive to help the poor. Only taking these aspects into account, however, minimizes the contribution of social pressure to encourage people to support the needy. One who is fully aware of the importance of charity does not require this external motivation. Not everyone, however, achieves this level of enlightenment. For the good of society as a whole, the Torah affirms the importance of social obligations to give and help others. With regard to the mitzvah of pei’ah, this is expressed by our concern that society may unjustly place suspicions on those who in fact did set aside pei’ah.

    Stopping Swindlers

    The fourth problem — closing off a potential loophole for swindlers — only applies to the lowest, most corrupt segments of society. Nonetheless, this is a sufficient reason to obligate all members of society. An organic unity exists within society. People are influenced by one another, and an enlightened individual cannot claim to be impervious to the overall moral decay that such a loophole might bring about in society’s lower elements.

    (Sapphire from the Land of Israel. Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. III, pp.74-75)

    Copyright © 2013 by Chanan Morrison

  18. Wendy

    From Rabbi Mishael Zion

    Criticize Me! Creating a Healthy Culture of Rebuke
    Rabbi Mishael Zion | Text and the City | Kedoshim 2014

    “If you treat a man as he ought to be and could be,
    he will become what he ought to be and could be”

    A parlor game for the Biblically inclined: Of all the verses in the Torah, which is the commandment people fulfill most often? I’d put my money on this one:

    הוֹכֵחַ תּוֹכִיחַ אֶת עֲמִיתֶךָ, Criticize, yes, criticize your fellow,
    וְלֹא תִשָּׂא עָלָיו חֵטְא. And you shall not bear sin because of him!
    (Leviticus 19)

    The action has many names: admonishment or feedback, advice or chastisement. Each verb reflects a different style and approach in the conveying of the same basic information (“you did X and that was a mistake”). What word would you use to describe the last time you criticized someone? Rebukeseems to be a favorite of Bible translators, although the more neutral “reproof” comes the closest to the Hebrew original – tochecha תוכחה, from the Hebrew word להוכיח – to prove; to make manifest.

    What is clearly manifest is that criticism is too often a self-detonating mechanism. It is experienced as an attack – thus inviting a defensive response, or a counter attack… There is no speech act more quotidian and yet more treacherous then the conveying of criticism.

    And yet there is nothing more crucial to a healthy society – or relationship – then a healthy culture of criticism. Getting this commandment right is crucial at home as in the workplace, in the trenches of social action as between friends. To use the language of our weekly portion, Kedoshim – which begins with the call to “Be Holy!” and continues to command us to “Rebuke, yes Rebuke!” – the path to a Holy Society passes through the Temple of Rebuke. But our text seeks to create a society which aspires not only to Holiness but also to Love. Our chapter, Leviticus 19, includes not only “Be Holy” but also “Love your Neighbor as yourself” among its top-ten. Indeed, for the Rabbis, rebuke is the very cornerstone of a loving relationship:

    אמר ר’ יוסי בר’ חנינה: התוכחת מביאה לידי אהבה, “הוכח לחכם ויאהבך” (משלי ט ח), היא דעתיה דר’יוסי בר’ חנינה דאמר: כל אהבה שאין עמה תוכחת אינה אהבה.
    Rabbi Yose son of Rabbi Hanina said: Rebuke leads to love, as it says, “Rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee” (Proverbs 9:8). In addition he said: Love unaccompanied by rebuke is not love. (Beresihit Rabbah 54; 21:25)

    So how is criticism done right? I’m still working on that one. In the meantime, I’ve found some good practical advice in the following sources:

    Speak Sheep to Power

    Nathan is faced with the challenge of a lifetime when he is commanded to make manifest to his King that he is not only an adulterer, but a murderer to boot. Facing King David, Nathan’s dilemma captures how painful the process of rebuke is. For at its core, rebuke is the tearing off of a mask of lies and deception which a person has told not only others, but himself.
    Nathan’s solution is brilliant: I can’t rip this mask off his face, but he can…
    1The Lord was displeased with what David had done, and the Lord sent Nathan to David. Nathan came to David and said, “There were two men in the same city, one rich and one poor. 2The rich man had very large flocks and herds, 3but the poor man had only one little ewe lamb that he had bought. He tended it and it grew up together with him and his children: it used to share his morsel of bread, drink from his cup, and nestle in his bosom; it was like a daughter to him. 4One day, a traveler came to the rich man, but he was loath to take anything from his own flocks or herds to prepare a meal for the guest who had come to him; so he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”
    5David flew into a rage against the man, and said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die! 6He shall pay for the lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and showed no pity.” 7And Nathan said to David, “That man is you! […]13David said to Nathan, “I stand guilty before God!” (Samuel II 12)

    Nathan does not rebuke David, he sets up the situation so that David rebukes himself. He invites David to view himself from an external viewpoint, allowing him to recognize and admit his own guilt. Successful rebuke is the act of causing self-incrimination.

    Speak of the Future, not the Past

    Maimonides in his Code gives some practical advice on the setting in which successful criticism can be given:

    He who rebukes another, whether for offenses against the rebuker himself or for sins against God, should administer the rebuke – in private; speak to the offender gently and tenderly; and point out that he is only speaking for the wrongdoer’s own good, to secure for him life in the world to come. (Maimonides’ Code, LAWS OF CHARACTER TRAITS 6:7)

    Maimonides points out a few concerns: social setting (privacy, intimacy – avoiding public shaming); tone and timing (not to criticize as an immediate response or an emotional outburst, but in a methodical and opportune moment); and finally –creating an atmosphere of trust and genuine investment in the other’s wellbeing. Rebuke cannot be experienced as a gratuitous revisiting of yesterday’s actions (or the making of a theological stance about the afterlife). The motivation for criticism must be the desire to see the best possible future for the other.

    Don’t Speak

    There is a commandment to rebuke, but sometimes – if there is cause to believe that the rebuke will not achieve the desired effect – the correct fulfilling of the mitzvah of rebuke is to be silent.

    אמר רבי אילעא משום ר’ אלעזר בר’ שמעון: כשםשמצוה על אדם לומר דבר הנשמע, כך מצוה על אדםשלא לומר דבר שאינו נשמע. רבי אבא אומר: חובה,שנאמר: “אל תוכח לץ פן ישנאך הוכח לחכם ויאהבך” (משלי ט:ח).
    R. Ela’a in the name of R. Elazar son of R. Simeon said: Just as one is commanded to say that which will be heard, so is one commanded not to say that which will not be heard.
    R. Abba stated: It is a duty, for it is said in Scripture: “Rebuke not a scorner, lest he hate thee; Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you” (Proverbs 9:8). Talmud Bavli Yevamot 65b

    Figuring out when to rebuke and when to stay silent is perhaps the most challenging of all. For me this week’s portion invites a moment of introspection: those times in which it would be wise to be more sparing in fulfilling this commandment, and the time when my opting for peace and passivity turned into passive aggressiveness… But perhaps the biggest piece of advice is not about giving rebuke, but about being a person who willingly accepts, even seeks, advice. As Sefer Haredim, a 16th century self-help guide for “Holier living” puts it:

    “Remove the barriers from your heart” (Deut. 10:16) A person’s heart must be soft and receptive, receiving the words of a reprover and not hating him, rather loving him more, as the verse says: “Rebuke the wise one and he will love you” (Proverbs 9:8).

    Finally, after teaching about rebuke a few years ago, someone gave me a wonderful gift. This poem by William Blake:

    A Poison Tree : By William Blake

    I was angry with my friend;
    I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
    I was angry with my foe:
    I told it not, my wrath did grow.

    And I waterd it in fears,
    Night & morning with my tears:
    And I sunned it with smiles,
    And with soft deceitful wiles.

    And it grew both day and night.
    Till it bore an apple bright.
    And my foe beheld it shine,
    And he knew that it was mine.

    And into my garden stole,
    When the night had veild the pole;
    In the morning glad I see;
    My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

    Shabbat Shalom,

  19. Wendy

    From Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies

    By: Janet Sternfield Davis,
    Lecturer in Rabbinic Studies,
    Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
    Are You Lonely?

    Torah Reading: Leviticus 16:1 – 20:27
    Haftarah Reading: Amos 9:7-15

    Recently a Rabbi told our students that addressing loneliness was the most important part of his job. I was struck because he was saying an emotion rather than an issue like Israel, Anti-Semitism, or Jewish literacy was the key Jewish problem in his community. I recalled hearing many stories of Jewish loneliness over the past several months: a shomer Shabbat young person who couldn’t find friends to share Shabbat in his Conservative Jewish community, another young person attending an Orthodox day school who felt shunned by her more observant fellow students and different from the less observant, the end of a marriage because they couldn’t share their Judaism in a meaningful way, the many who feel out of step with the politics in our community (however defined), the Rabbi coming home from an Israel that didn’t seem to have a place for him. Creating a place for everyone is a challenge for individuals and institutions in our Jewish community. Somehow we don’t know how to accommodate each other while honoring our own sense of Jewish integrity.

    Our Torah portion commands “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Lev. 19:2). The commandments which follow are varied: parental respect, Shabbat, idolatry, sacrifice, tzedakah, and then many ethical rules about how to behave towards your fellow. Over and over these laws are punctuated with some version of the words, “I the Lord am your God.” We also are told that the one who does not uphold the laws will be cut off from the community (19:8; 20:6). Amidst these laws are a few that touch on our challenge (19:17 – 18):

    You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart. Reprove your kinsman but incur not guilt because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am the Lord.

    Tell your truth so you get it off your chest in a way your fellow Jew can hear, and perhaps act on. Be careful about how you do this so the reproof is out of love and concern, and neither hateful nor insincere. The God who ordained these rules is the God who created and covenanted with the Jewish people – all of us.

    The commandments in Kedoshim are demanding and comprehensive. The attempt to live a holy life, a life observing the commandments of the Torah and the laws of the Rabbis, may place us outside the orbit of folks who share our label but not our practice or theology/ideology. It seems we are destined for loneliness whether we act within the commandment system or not. Holiness can connote otherness, and keeping separate. It is possible to understand why the more observant keep boundaries between themselves and others: “we can’t eat your food, we can’t share your Shabbat, and sometimes we choose not to allow parts of (your) contemporary culture to enter our homes and social lives.” It is also possible to understand how their co-religionists feel, “you won’t eat our food, you look down on our lives, and don’t recognize what we in fact do observe, and how we base our lives on the Torah’s demand for just behavior.”

    But surely living a holy life calls us to examine the shared meaning under these commandments and laws. Can we find a way to celebrate Shabbat so that the observant are not lonely, and the less observant get a beautiful experience? Do we really want to cut off friendships which could be kindled among fellow Jews? More congregations are providing lunch after Shabbat morning services so that people extend the Shabbat experience without expecting standardized in-home practice. The result is a boon for all. Can we find ways to embrace folks who don’t practice like we do, but must share something in common to want to attend the same schools, congregations, or community events? This is not easy, but is the Torah asking us to be lonely among our own?

    Originally, I was thinking about the Aleynu. The prayer begins:

    We must praise the master of all, and render greatness to the creator of the universe, who did not make us like the nations of the lands, who did not place us like the families of the earth, who did not make our lot like theirs, or our destiny like all of them. (My People’s Prayerbook, Vol 6, p.133)

    I was going to focus on the relationship between Jews and non-Jews, and how lonely I thought the words made us. Now I choose to ask – can we find ways to see our fellow Jews as part of the same nation/people, the same family, sharing the same lot and destiny?

    Can we make holy alliances between Jews who practice and understand Judaism differently? Within a family, one sibling may be ultra-Orthodox where his beliefs and actions are guided by his Rabbis, the second bases his actions on devotion to family and his sense of right and wrong, and the third lives in both the religious world and the secular world. They have the responsibility to care for their parents and uphold their family name. Their challenge is the same one our Jewish family has – they/we have to fulfill our responsibilities and obligations as discussed in our Torah portion.

    I was at an interreligious conference where a young Christian responded to a call for “tolerance” by saying, “sometimes the stories don’t match – there really are differences between how we understand God, life and meaning – and yet we do care about each other.” Coming out of his tradition he suggested love as the binding force. The Torah does ask us to love our fellow. I want to at least acknowledge other Jews as people of integrity and members of our family who have something to teach me. I want to see them as upholding some part of our responsibility to be holy. Let us find ways to help each other to deepen our Jewish experience and our belonging to the same people. Let us not cut people off from one another. Let us not be lonely.

    Shabbat Shalom.

  20. Wendy

    From Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies

    Shabbat Parashat Aharey Mot-Kedoshim
    May 5, 2012 / 13 Iyar 5772
    By: Rabbi Cheryl Peretz,
    Associate Dean Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
    (This week’s message is inspired by and dedicated to my mother, Geraldine Peretz, who with God’s blessing, celebrated her 80th birthday this week)

    Wisdom of the Ages

    Torah Reading: Leviticus 16:1 – 20:27
    Haftarah Reading: Amos 9:7-15
    Ours is a society that glorifies youth as a sign of vitality, vigor, strength, and beauty. Television and pop cultural images are full of Hollywood celebrities and sports figures whose fame and fortune is based in their youthful look and/or talent, establishing themselves, for many, as national heroes. Lucky are the ones amongst them who continue into their later years gaining ongoing recognition and accolades as they mature and age. At the same time, however, despite the fact that more people are living longer and in good health than ever before, for many, older years are viewed only as good as the vigor of youth made them. So often we shun our elders, casting them away, assuming they are no longer valued or valuable.
    Truth be told, the influence for this is not simply an outcome of modern pop culture. Even our own Jewish text and tradition expresses some of the ambivalence and challenges of aging, encapsulated by this poetic warning from the Book of Ecclesiastes:
    So, rejoice your vigor and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth, and walk in the ways of your heart, and in the sight of your eyes; but know, that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. And remove sorrow from your heart, and put away evil from your flesh; for childhood and youth are vanity. Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come, and the years draw near, when you shall say, I have no pleasure in them; Before the sun, and the light, and the moon, and the stars are darkened, and the clouds return after the rain; When the guards of the house tremble, and the men of valor are bent, and the maids that grind, grown few, are idle, and the ladies that peer through the windows grow dim, And the doors are shut on the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low. Also, when they are afraid of that which is high, and fears are in the way, and the almond tree blossoms, and the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails; because man goes to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets; Before the silver cord is removed, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern. And the dust returns to the earth as it was; and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
    Ecclesiastes 11:9-12:7
    Is it any wonder then that some fear aging and shy away from it? Even within our own family and community, some of us turn from our elders allowing fears, hardships, anxiety, and risks of loss and dependency to govern how we interact. Yet, In the middle of what is known as the Holiness Code in this week’s double Torah portion of Aharei Mot-Kedoshim, the Torah reminds us how important senior members of our community are, commanding ‘You shall rise before the gray headed and honor/show deference to the face of an older person, and fear your God: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:32) The Talmud (Kiddushin 33a) understands a zaken, an older person to be zeh shekanah hochmah – this one who has acquired wisdom. Simply through living and experiencing, a person represents wisdom acquired with age, and this deserves our respect and honor. In modern terms, Abraham Joshua Heschel taught, “old age [should] not be regarded as the age of stagnation, but as the age of opportunities for inner growth….They are indeed formative years, rich in possibilities to unlearn the follies of a lifetime, to see through inbred self deceptions, to deepen understanding and compassion, to widen the horizon of honesty, to refine the sense of fairness.
    When Abraham died at 175 years old, he is described as having reached: ‘a good old age, old and satisfied.’ According to a striking Midrash (Breisheet Rabbah 65:9), before Abraham, there was no such thing as old age in the world. People got older, but their faces and bodies didn’t change, and there was no outward appearances of aging. Therefore, says the midrash, since Isaac looked very much like his father, Abraham, when they both came into the room, no one could tell them apart and no one recognized Abraham for what he had done in the many years of his life. It was then that Abraham prayed for the aging process. God thought about it and granted it, immediately saying: ‘Abraham became old.’ (Genesis 24:1).
    In contrast to our modern culture, the midrash understands the signs of aging as desirable and meaningful – teaching us that every grey hair earned its color through hard work, struggle, worry, and perseverance. Each wrinkle is an etching of times passed, memories imprinted on life’s canvas, and full of lessons to be learned. Each biological change is a vessel of Torah and wisdom that we have to learn from the person living it. Our tradition doesn’t just teach or suggest, but demands that we stand and honor those precious experiences and the people who lived through them.
    Within the Hebrew words of the commandment is something even beyond standing and beyond honor. The Hebrew word v’hadarta translated in our verse as ‘honor/show deference to’ shares a Hebrew root with the word hidur, a word we know from the term hidur mitzvah, talking about the ways we beautify or enhance our observance of a mitzvah through taking steps beyond the minimum requirement. (A popular example of hidur mitzvah is the practice of lighting an increasing number of candles on each night of Hanukah as opposed to fulfilling the basic mitzvah of lighting one candle each night.)
    V’hadarta pnei zaken – together, we bear the responsibility to beautify and enhance the face of the older person – to recognize the individual person as special, to maintain his/her dignity, to cherish the opportunity to share our short time together on this earth, to preserve the lessons learned from our aging, to take notice of his/her continued contributions to family, community and society, and to actively transcend the wrinkles and gray hairs to acquire wisdom.
    Ken Yehi Ratzon – so may it be.
    Shabbat shalom!

  21. Wendy

    From Rabbi Laura Duhan Kapan

    Kedoshim: Love Your Neighbor As Yourself

    Torah’s Life Cycle Wisdom (2012/5772)

    The Torah begins with birth. “In the beginning God created…but the land was empty, and what was there was a bit chaotic.”

    The Torah ends with death. “Moshe died, and was buried, and the Israelites mourned him. God knew Moshe, face to face, inner being to inner being.”

    Between these two bookends lies the story of the Torah – and the developmental story of a person’s inner life. You know the chapters:

    Bereisheet — Beginning; Shemot — Finding Your Name; Vayikra — God Calls; Bamidbar — Wandering in the Wilderness; Devarim — Words and Reflections

    In the middle of the chapter “God Calls,” Torah offers the wisdom that brings us from chaos to Presence: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

    The five chapters set out Torah’s ideal life plan. In mid-life, we learn the deep wisdom of love, and we are graced with the opportunity to share it as we help our companions face life’s wilderness journeys.

    But the world is not always an ideal place. This week at Or Shalom Synagogue we lost a dear friend whose chronological age places her squarely in the middle of her life’s journey. And yet, from the time she found her true inner name, she taught us through her words and actions, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

    Our sages say, eyn mukdam u’meuchar baTorah – the teachings of Torah don’t necessarily unfold in a linear temporal order. Some of us are just beginning; others are reflecting. Some are wandering in the wilderness, while others are claiming with clarity their true names. This is the beauty of community: a group of people, each exploring different stages of spiritual wisdom, shares and grows together in an unpredictable multidimensional trajectory.

    Welcome to God’s world.

  22. Wendy

    From AJR/CA
    Parshat Kedoshim
    Torah Reading for Week of April 24-30, 2011

    “A Sacred Wisdom”
    By Rabbi Eli Schochet, PhD, AJRCA Professor of Talmud

    Growing up on the west side of Chicago, I would often encounter a man (I believe, Rabbi Perlstein was his name) who was reputed to have been 100 years old.

    One hundred years old! We youngsters, still in the single digit category, were intrigued by his triple digit age status. We would regard him with a mixture of curiosity and awe, wondering what it could possibly be like to have lived for an entire century. “Just imagine how many Cub baseball games and Bear football games one could attend in one hundred years” was our practical take on the blessing of longevity.

    Needless to say, as orthodox yeshiva students we knew of our obligation to always rise in his presence. This was in keeping with the injunction appearing in this week’s Torah reading of Kedoshim, “Thou shall rise up before the saivah…”

    What, however, is the precise definition of the word saivah? It is often translated as “hoary- headed” or grey haired. But what if one has white hair or no hair? Is there an accepted age level, independent of hair presence and color that merits such reverence?

    Generations of rabbis wrestled with these queries. Some (based on Rosh to Kedushim 32a) defined the saivah as a 70 year-old, others (Minchas Chinuch and R. Isaac Luria) said it applies as well to a 60 year old.

    Hair color was obviously deemed to be a decisive factor in determining age. Have you ever wondered why Chabad rabbis do not ever shave or trim their beards? It is possibly because the third Lubavitch Rebbe ruled (Responsa Tzemach Tzedek, Yoreh Deah 93) that this would make it difficult to ascertain a person’s age, and therefore, difficult to fulfill the obligation to honor him by rising.

    But must it be a “him” or a “he”? What about “her” or “she”? According to the Sefer Chasidim (#578), the obligation to rise before a saivah applies equally towards an elderly woman.

    Is Torah scholarship and book learning a prerequisite to merit such reverence? Must the saivah deserve the honor? What if a boorish and virtually illiterate old person (make him 100 years old!) enters the room? Issi ben Yehudah opined in the Talmud that the obligation applies to any hoary-headed individual. Indeed, R. Yochanan would rise in the presence of aged heathens declaring, “How many travails have passed before these?” (Kedushin 33a) In other words, there is merit in honoring life experience, regardless of the specific nature of that experience. Any weather-beaten, wrinkled, visage merits reverence.

    Needless to say, the mitzvah of honoring the aged has fallen on hard times. In the modern world, “unproductive” and “expendable” are phrases more commonly associated with the elderly than are “reverence” and “honor”. Debates on health care and the allocation of scarce medical resources are not infrequently characterized by intimations that society would be better off if many of the elderly would simply die off already! In other words, our obligation to rise before them has been replaced by their obligation to fall before us! Our youth culture, in league with a billion dollar cosmetic industry, has convinced us that looking one’s age is a humiliation to be avoided at all cost.

    All the more reason to reaffirm the sacred wisdom of “Thou shalt rise up before the saivah.”

  23. Wendy

    From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat


    You shall not let your cattle mate with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; you shall not put on cloth from a mixture of two kinds of material. –Leviticus 19:19

    The mystics saw the patriarchs as a dialectic:
    Abraham overflowing his tent always open
    boundaried Isaac (motionless on the altar)
    Jacob the harmony that makes the chord.

    Once upon a time our flocks must have mingled
    our fields a patchwork of millet and barley
    linen and wool together combed, woven, and spun.
    But mixing two kinds is God’s job, not ours

    our God distinguishes day from night, rolling away
    light before darkness and darkness before light
    our God separates holy from profane, the six days
    from the taste of heaven one seed from another

    or maybe we’re the ones fixated on difference
    wild with the pleasure of ordering chaos
    organizing the ruminants the sheep from the goats
    Angus from Holsteins crisp linen from silk.

    But strictness too can be destructive.
    Overfocused beams burn what’s in their path.
    When will we receive the Torah of interpenetration
    new Morse code boundaries that let holiness through?

  24. Wendy

    Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies

    Shabbat Parashat Kedoshim / Mevarekhim ha’Hodesh
    April 30, 2011 – 26 Nisan 5771
    By: Rabbi Gail Labovitz Associate Professor of Rabbinic LiteratureWorth Waiting For

    Torah Reading: Leviticus 19:1 – 20:27
    Haftarah Reading: Amos 9:7 – 15
    Several years ago, at the end of Sukkot, I cut open one of our etrogim and extracted a number of seeds. These I planted in pots and in several places around our yard. Thanks to the help of our friend, Ruth, who has the greenest thumb of anyone I know – and no intervention of my own, my thumb being not at all green – several of the potted seeds sprouted and began to grow. This spring, again under Ruth’s guidance, the gardeners replanted the two tallest trees, one in our backyard and one out front of our house. So far, both seem to be happy in their new locations. God willing, some day we will have our own homegrown etrogim with which to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot.
    But that’s a ways off, I think. Right now, neither tree is very tall; both come up to about my hips or my waist, and I am not a tall person. Neither has given any sign of being ready to produce fruit any time soon. My son is already getting impatient, however (he is a teenager, after all). The other day, he proved in one fell swoop that all those years and dollars of day school tuition have not been wasted by asking me: “We aren’t going to have to do that thing where you don’t use the fruit for the first three years, are we?”
    What he is referring to is an obscure commandment found in this week’s parashah, Lev. 19:23-25:

    23 And when you come into the Land, and you plant all kinds of trees for food, you shall consider its fruit uncircumcised, three years it will be uncircumcised to you, it shall not be eaten. 24 And in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, for giving praise to the Lord. 25 And in the fifth year you may eat its fruit, that it may increase its produce for you, I am the Lord your God.

    So first, let me try to answer my son’s question. I’m not an expert in this area of law (how many of us are?), but after some brief research, I believe the factors to be taken into consideration are these: (a) This would appear to be a commandment that falls into the category “commandments that are dependent on the Land” (Mishnah Kiddushin 1:9), that is, agricultural laws that are observed only in the Land of Israel. After all, verse 23 says explicitly “when you come into the Land.” But according to rabbinic law (actually, the rabbis consider this to be a special law given to Moses on Sinai; see Bavli Kiddushin 39a), this commandment applies everywhere – or rather, the three year ban on eating the fruit still applies; the requirement to dedicate the fruit to God in the fourth year cannot be observed outside of the Land or in the absence of the Temple. Thus, despite living in California and not Israel, we are indeed bound by this law; (b) Replanting a tree may begin its three year count again, depending on how the replanting was done (most particularly, was it replanted with some of its original soil or not); (c) Tu b’Shvat is known as the “new year for trees” – and this is one of the situations in which that has actual legal consequences. Presuming the age of our etrog trees is counted from the time they were replanted in the soil around our house, we will not actually have to wait an entire year to consider the trees one year old. As of Tu b’Shvat, the first year of waiting is complete and the second year begins. Moreover, three years is three years, even if our trees are not ready to produce fruit for some time longer than that. Therefore, no later than Sukkot of 5775, our etrogim, presuming either tree has yet grown any, will be “good to go.”
    This is a strange commandment in a number of ways, and raises a number of questions. To list just a few:
    Why can’t a tree’s fruit be used right away?
    What does it mean to call fruit “uncircumcised”?
    The running theme of this parashah is that we should “Be holy.” In what way does observing this commandment help us holy?
    These questions, of course, are – or can be seen as – interconnected. There are several answers that have been given by rabbis and scholars over the course of Jewish history, but I’d like to look at two comments, one from the classical midrash and one from the medieval commentator, Ramban, that share a similar focus. First, an observation attributed to Rabbi Akiva and recorded in Vayikra Rabbah, 25:6:

    Rabbi Akiva says: There are four types of orlah (lack of circumcision). Lack of circumcision is mentioned regarding the ear: “Behold, their ear is uncircumcised [and they cannot listen…]” (Jer. 6:10). Lack of circumcision is mentioned regarding the mouth: “I am of uncircumcised lips” (Ex. 6:30). Lack of circumcision is mentioned regarding the heart: “And all of the House of Israel are uncircumcised of heart” (Jer. 9:25). And it is written, “[the Lord appeared to Avram and said to him…] Walk before me and be whole(hearted) (Gen. 17:1)…One must say this is circumcision of the body.
    That this statement is part of the commentary to these verses demonstrates that there is a connection between these other forms of “uncircumcision” and the “uncircumcision” of the fruit from a newly planted tree. The midrash does not, however, explain how that connection might work or what it might mean. About a millennium later, Ramban draws out the comparison a little further:

    “you shall consider its fruit uncircumcised” – You shall consider it closed off: it will closed off and hidden from benefit. This is Rashi’s language, and he explained well. And if this is so, “uncircumcised of heart” (Ezek. 44:9) would be “closed of heart,” as it is said, “and I will tear their closed up heart” (Hosea 13:8). And so too “their ear is uncircumcised [and they cannot listen…]” (Jer. 6:10) – that it is closed and sealed off, the sound does not enter it. And “of uncircumcised lips” (Ex. 6:12) – of sealed lips…And speech is called “opening”: “Open your mouth for the mute” (Prov. 31:8), “Job opened his mouth” (Job 3:1), “the opening of my lips shall be right things” (Prov. 8:6), “guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your bosom” (Micah 7:5).

    Scripture mentions the closed-off-ness of the fruit that comes within three years so as to forbid one from getting any benefit (from it)…Because the coming of the fruit at the beginning is called “opening,” as it is said “the grape blossom has opened” (Song of Songs 7:13). Therefore it said “three years it will be uncircumcised to you,” as if the fruits were closed up on the trees, (and) they did not give out flowers and the blossoms had not opened.
    Ramban’s comment helps on the level of linguistics and language, a basic understanding of why this word, arel, can fit in this context. What is more, he suggests to us a web of connections between biblical verses that link a lack of circumcision with the state of being closed off, and identify the lack of circumcision as the opposite of openness. But I’m still not sure what it is about fruit that links its state of “uncircumcision” to the other examples both Rabbi Akiva and Ramban cite, or how they help explain how and why fruit can be “uncircumcised.”
    So as I pondered this, I wondered if I weren’t coming at this the wrong way around. What if it is not other types of non-circumcision that can teach us how and why new fruit can be “uncircumcised,” but new fruit that can teach us something about the closing or opening of our ears, hearts, mouths, and bodies? As Ramban hints, even when fruit first appears to be opening, it may not yet be truly open. He goes on to suggest that the early fruit of the tree still isn’t really ready for consumption; it’s sparse and hasn’t yet achieved its full odor and taste. For this reason, it still “lacks circumcision.”
    That circumcision happens in two ways: time/additional development, and dedication to God. And perhaps so too with the process of opening our ears, our hearts, our mouths, our bodies. Going from closed to open is a process, not an instantaneous transition that takes place in a moment. Opening begins, but we are not yet truly open. Our openness needs to develop, to come of age. We need to work at it, cultivate it, and be patient. And then we need to treat our open hearts, ears, mouths, and bodies as holy, and dedicate them to God. Then, and only then, will we be able to fully and properly enjoy the fruits of our labors.
    Shabbat shalom.

  25. Wendy

    From Rabbi James Stone Goodman
    Children of Chaos
    April 25th, 2011

    Kedoshim — you are holy [Lev.19]

    Rabbi Akiva told me
    this is a major rule in the Torah

    love your friend as [you love]
    yourself [Lev.19:18]
    Rashi’s grandson made sure I added the [you love]
    his grandpa taught him that it only applied
    to people who are worthy of your love.

    There are limits
    some people aren’t so worthy
    you don’t have to love them. [Rashi on Deut:13:19, Prov.3:30]

    I’m confused.

    Re’acha – your friend –
    it’s a close relation.

    And there’s an extra lamed attached to re’acha
    we expected et the common call to the accusative
    the Ramban told me it was exaggerated language [haflaga]
    impossible to love someone else as you love

    Look to the context
    the verse before:
    you shall not hate your brother in your heart
    you shall surely rebuke your neighbor
    and not bear sin because of him [Lev.19:17].

    Unusual progression
    you shall not hate your brother to
    you shall surely rebuke your neighbor
    not bear sin because of your neighbor –

    You know something is wrong
    you cannot participate in it
    more – you have to rebuke
    you have to do something
    but you are not responsible –

    it’s not your problem ultimately
    it’s your friend’s problem
    it’s your friend’s sin
    still – you had to say something –
    you had to do something.

    Continue –
    you shall not take vengeance
    nor bear a grudge
    you shall love your friend as yourself
    I am G*d.

    We rebuke but we don’t hate
    nor do we bear the sin
    we don’t get vengeful
    we don’t bear a grudge
    we don’t judge –

    More –
    we love our friend
    because only out of love will the right action happen
    only out of love will healing happen.

    This the way of G*d.

    That’s what it takes to be a force of right action
    of healing in your friend’s life:
    no responsibility shifting
    no avoidance
    no revenge
    no judgment
    only the truth and

    Only love has that kind of power to heal.

    We don’t lead with love
    but we come to love –

    We have moved through
    don’t hate
    surely rebuke
    don’t bear sin
    don’t take vengeance
    don’t bear a grudge

    love –

    I am Hashem
    the way of love
    the only course of transformation
    the only true healing.

    jsg, usa

  26. Wendy

    You shall not go about as a talebearer amongst your people; you shall not stand by your fellow’s blood (19:16)

    Evil talk kills three people: the speaker, the listener, and the one who is spoken of.

    (Talmud, Erachin 15a)

    The Psalmist compares slanderous talk to “Sharp arrows of the warrior, coals of broom” (Psalms 120:4). All other weapons smite from close quarters, while the arrow smites from the distance. So is it with slander: it is spoken in Rome and kills in Syria. All other coals, when extinguished, are extinguished without and within; but coals of broom are still burning within when they are extinguished without. So is it with words of slander: even after it seems that their effects have been put out, they continue to smolder within those who heard them. It once happened that a broom tree was set on fire and it burned eighteen months–winter, summer and winter.

    (Midrash Rabbah)

    Evil talk is like an arrow. A person who unsheathes a sword can regret his intention and return it to its sheath. But the arrow cannot be retrieved.

    (Midrash Tehillim)

    Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov once instructed several of his disciples to embark on a journey. The Chassidic leader did not tell them where to go, nor did they ask; they allowed Divine Providence to direct their wagon where it may, confident that the destination and purpose of their trip would be revealed in due time.

    After traveling for several hours, they stopped at a wayside inn to eat and rest. Now the Baal Shem Tov’s disciples were pious Jews who insisted on the highest standards of kashrut; when they learned that their host planned to serve them meat in their meal, they asked to see the shochet (ritual slaughterer) of the house, interrogated him as to his knowledge and piety and examined his knife for any possible blemishes. Their discussion of the kashrut standard of the food continued throughout the meal, as they inquired after the source of every ingredient in each dish set before them.

    As they spoke and ate, a voice emerged from behind the oven, where an old beggar was resting amidst his bundles. “Dear Jews,” it called out, “are you as careful with what comes out of your mouth as you are with what enters into it?”

    The party of Chassidim concluded their meal in silence, climbed onto their wagon and turned it back toward Mezhibuzh. They now understood the purpose for which their Rebbe had dispatched them on their journey that morning.

    Love your fellow as yourself (19:18)

    A soul might descend to earth and live seventy or eighty years for the sole purpose of doing a favor for another–a spiritual favor, or even a material favor.

    (Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov)

    When you shall come into the land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food… Three years shall it be “orlah” unto you: it shall not be eaten. On the fourth year, all its its fruit shall be holy for praisegiving to G-d. And in the fifth year shall you eat of its fruit, that it may yield to you its increase… (19:23-25)

    Thus the fruit tree passes though all three basic Halachic (Torah-legal) states: the forbidden, the sanctified, and the permissible.

    The fruit tree can therefore be seen as representative of the whole of creation, which likewise is divided among these three categories. There are, for example, foods that are forbidden to us (e.g., pork, meat with milk); foods whose consumption is a mitzvah—an act that sanctifies the food, elevating it as an object of the divine will (such as matzah on the seder night); and foods that are spiritually “neutral”–eating them is neither a transgression nor a sanctifying act. The same applies to clothes (the forbidden shaatnez; the mitzvah of tzitzit; and ordinary clothes); speech (gossip and slander; the holy talk of prayer and Torah study; talk of everyday matters); sexuality (adultery and incest; the mitzvah to “be fruitful and multiply”; ordinary marital life); money (thievery; charity; legal business dealings); and to every other area of life.

    Otherwise stated: there are elements of our experience and environment that G-d commands us to reject and disavow; elements that we are empowered to sanctify by directly involving them in our relationship with G-d; and finally, there are elements which, even as they serve as the “supporting cast” for our fulfillment of G-d’s will (e.g. the food that provides us with the energy to pray), remain ordinary and mundane.

    In light of this, would it not have been more appropriate for the three stages of the fruit tree to follow an order of increasing sanctity–i.e., the forbidden, followed by the permissible, and culminating in the holy? Instead, the Torah legislates three forbidden years, followed by a year in which the fruit is sacred and its consumption a mitzvah, after which the fruit becomes ordinary food! Even more surprising is the fact that the fruit of the fifth year is presented as the product and goal of the first four: for three years you shall abstain from a tree’s fruit, says the Torah, and on the fourth year you shall sanctify it, so that on the fifth year,”it may yield to you its increase.” Keep from transgression and sanctify the holy so that you should have a lot of ordinary fruit to eat!

    In truth, however, the ultimate purpose of our lives lies in the realm of the “ordinary”. Only a small percentage of the world’s leather is made into tefillin; only a small part of a community’s man-hours can be devoted to prayer and Torah-study. The greater part of our lives falls under the “spiritually neutral” category: elements that, even as they serve a life that is predicated on a commitment to the divine will, remain ordinary and mundane components of a material existence; elements whose positive function does not touch them deeply enough to impart to them the “holiness” that spells a manifest and tagible attachment to the Divine. But it is in this area that we most serve G-d’s desire for “a dwelling place in the lowly realms”–that the ordinary landscape of material life should be made hospitable to His presence. asnd subservient to His will.

    (The Chassidic Masters)

  27. Wendy

    From Rav DovBer Pinson

    Week’s Energy for Parshas Kedoshim
    Rav DovBer Pinson

    Unconditional Love
    This week’s portion introduces the essential principle of the Torah:

    “Love your neighbor as yourself; I am Hashem.” (19:18)

    To love oneself is as natural as breathing – it is what compels us to take each breath and keep ourselves safe. To love another human being as yourself is to understand that essentially the other person is yourself. When we understand that the very essence of our self is a soul, and this soul is a breath of the infinite oneness of all creation, and that this same slice of the infinite is shared by all – then we will naturally love another as our self.

    Love your neighbor as yourself, I am Hashem – at our essence we are an indivisible breath of the Divine and this essence is shared by all. But we are not told to love everyone as yourself – only your neighbor. This is how love expands. It begins with loving, truly loving, another person as yourself, be it a spouse, a child, a friend, and this love naturally extends itself, eventually growing to encompass the whole of the universe. True love of another being transcends the physical, it goes beyond what the person can do for you, or means to you – it is the realization that at our very essence we are one and the same and that love is as natural as breathing.

    To begin to love others as our self – we must first recognize and connect with our self-love, which is not always obvious. Self love stems from the fact that we are an essential part of the Divine and Creation, recognizing and acknowledging this fact brings us to an awareness of our own infinite potential for goodness and to a state of unconditional love.

  28. Wendy

    ~ Rabbi Shefa Gold’s Torah Journeys ~



    LEVITICUS 19:1 – 20:27

    Kedoshim consists of instructions for holiness, including moral injunctions, ritual laws, and our attitude and behavior towards every aspect of Creation.


    OUR JOURNEYS HAVE TAKEN US TO THE CENTER OF TORAH, where we enter into the mystery of the holy. Leviticus is the middle book and Kedoshim is the middle portion. Here we are blessed with a vision of holiness,
    a vision of what holiness might look like here in our world, in our everyday lives and at the center of our awareness. Kedoshim blesses us with an intimate knowledge of the source of that holiness. The reason we must be holy is that God is holy. After every injunction this reasoning is alluded to through the words, “Ani YHVH,” (“I AM THE UNPRONOUNCEABLE GROUND OF BEING/BREATH OF LIFE”).
    My training in logic calls forth the missing piece. God tells us, “I am holy (and since we are One… yes, your essence is God) then so you too shall be holy.” This missing piece of the syllogism – the realization of our identity in God – dawns on us slowly and calls us into the holiness that is our birthright.

    LOOKING THROUGH GOD’S EYES, I can see a world that is whole, undivided by class, race, gender, yet exquisitely beautiful in its diversity; each part of the whole uniquely precious. This vision guides me towards justice and opens my arms in embrace of the stranger. My holiness rests on the “I AM” that God speaks from within me.
    That “I AM” reverberates through me and also speaks from the center of every moment in time and every molecule in space.
    When I chant the Sh’ma1 each day, I am reminded to listen within me for that “I AM” – which is the source of holiness. By listening and paying attention to the holiness at the core of each moment, to the holiness of existence itself, I am sanctifying myself for a life of being holy. This means being true to my own essential nature, which is loving and generous and interdependent.
    I am blessed with knowing how precious my life is, and through this intimate knowledge I am guided to cherish all life.


    ALL MY EXPERIENCE combines the perceptions of object and ground. Whatever sensation or sound or shape or color or feeling presents itself in this moment seems to become distinct and separate from the ground of my experience. The ground becomes background and usually is so obscured by my attention to the presenting object, that it all but disappears.
    In the pursuit of holiness we are challenged to retain a constant simple awareness of the Ground of our Being (the holiness of God/existence) while at the same time responding in righteousness to the demands of each moment. With our spiritual practice we are building the awareness of that holy ground of pure being as a foundation for our experience.
    Some might think that a constant awareness of God might make us “otherworldly” or removed. On the contrary. The amazing paradox is that splitting our awareness between object and ground actually lets us be more present and available to the truth of each moment, as we rise to the spiritual challenge of holiness.

    WHEN I HAVE ESTABLISHED that holy foundation for my life, then my inner life and outer actions can come into alignment with God’s love for all of us. As I move into the world I can become a servant of that love.
    And here is the challenge of Kedoshim: The divine holiness that is in us must be expressed in the shaping of our lives.


    I have reverence for my parents,
    where I come from,
    I protect and cherish the sacred times of rest,
    I leave the corners of the field,
    a portion of my earnings for the poor and the stranger,
    I do not steal or lie and swear falsely,
    I pay my workers fairly and on time.


    I do not curse the deaf or
    put obstacles before the blind,
    I am fair to rich and poor alike,
    I don’t gossip,
    I cannot ignore the violence in my world,
    I don’t hold grudges or hatred in my heart.


    I tell the truth even when it’s hard,
    I love my neighbor as I would myself,
    I keep separate what needs to be
    separate for its integrity,
    when I eat I am mindful of resources,
    I live in awe of the holiness of our world,
    and the presence of the stranger
    awakens compassion in me.

    KEDOSHIM GIVES ME THESE MEASURES, so that I can examine my life and see just how connected I am to the divine core of holiness within me. The disconnection from that core will manifest in apathy, mistrust, despair, and destructiveness. The spiritual challenge of Kedoshim is to reconnect to the divine perspective within us, to see through God’s eyes, hear with Her ears, and open the great heart of compassion that can guide our every thought, word and deed.

    1 “Listen (Israel)…” this phrase begins the statement that affirms God’s unity.
    For Guidelines For Practice please click link to website.

  29. Wendy

    Parshat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim
    Torah Reading for Week of April 18 – April 24, 2010

    “Lessons of Love”
    by Rabbi J.B. Sacks
    AJR, CA Professor of Jewish Thought
    Love…We yearn for it. This week explores love through the famous maxim, v’ahav-ta l’rei-acha kamocha, “Love your ‘fellow’ as yourself.” (Lev. 19:18) A closer examination reveals new insights.

    First, this dictum comes in the middle of a chapter on holiness on a Shabbat called K’doshim, “holy matters.” Thus, the heart of holiness is love. Holiness, the experiencing of the ordinary as extraordinary, applies potentially to every situation and action we might make. The chapter gives a remarkable variety of potential applications: the family, the workplace, the courts, interpersonal relationships no matter how in/formal, of long- or of no standing. Even our relationship to the earth is included. A holy moment, a holy encounter, can happen anywhere, any time, with anyone, but only within a heart imbued with and suffused with love. Holiness is love in action.

    Second, our love extends not only to our fellow Jews, for the chapter’s end tells us regarding, in startlingly similar language the non-citizen, v’ahavta lo kamocha, “You shall love that one as yourself.” (19:34) A loving person extends love not just to those considered close, but to everyone. Indeed, the phrase “your fellow” suggests that the hope of encounter is that this “fellow,” this other, will become closer to you, will become “yours.” Moreover, in only these two places in the Hebrew Bible is the verb ahav, “love,” followed by a lamed, signifying “to.” This suggests that love cannot remain a feeling but must palpably move out “to” the other person.

    The Torah knows how difficult this can be. The command to love concludes a brief pericope commanding us to not hate anyone in our heart (19:17-18). Since the Torah concerns action, the directive to not hate is a charge to do something with our feelings. The Torah guides us (v.18): When we feel negatively toward someone, we should not act out precipitously through vengeful speech or action. Nor should we bottle up our feelings or repress them. Rather, we should “reprove” that person, that is, find a respectful way and proper tone to share our feelings so that our love extends even while we call someone to account. Love is being real, and being really committed to the relationship, which includes the difficult discussions. That’s how love deepens us and our interactions—no matter where that relationship goes.

    Third, the command comes in the singular, to ensure that each of us falls under its jurisdiction; no one can serve as our proxy. In any—and every—given moment, no matter how difficult, we can put forth the love we contain. The question is not one of finding but, rather, of giving love. Where will love be most needed? How do I love appropriately in this situation?

    Our discussion suggests a fourth lesson. Loving another “as yourself” can now mean to love so that love flows between you and the other, so that the dynamic energy, love, streams to the other and back to ourselves somehow, sometime.

    So, at the heart of the Torah we discover that love is a spiritual force enabling us to experience holiness. Assimilating this insight, Torah startles us, inspires us.

    May we allow love to direct our hearts in all our encounters.
    May our love be open to all.
    When someone bothers us, may we check ourselves and initiate holy conversation with them.
    May we take time to tap into the love within our hearts before engaging anyone and everyone.
    May our love enable us to experience more holiness.
    And may love animate us more thoroughly, until love abounds in this realm and better reflects the realm of the One Who Is Love.


  30. Wendy

    From Rav Kook

    Kedoshim: Holiness in Physical Pleasure

    “For three years the fruit shall be ‘Orlah,’ and may not be eaten. In the fourth year, all of the fruit shall be holy, for praising God.” (Lev. 19:23-4)

    The Talmud in Berachot 35a quotes this verse as the source for reciting a brachah (blessing) over food. “‘Holy, for praising God’ — this teaches that (fruit and other foods) require a blessing before and after eating.”

    The key word, Rav Kook noted, is kodesh — holiness. Even when we eat, even when we partake of worldly pleasures, we should be able to find holiness.

    Holiness from physical pleasure? How is this possible?

    Opportunity for Holiness

    What is a brachah? When we recite a blessing, we are expressing our awareness of God as the ultimate source for this pleasure. But there is an enjoyment greater than the sensory pleasure that comes from eating food. Eating entitles us to recite a blessing and thus connect with our Creator. We experience an inner joy when we realize that every form of physical pleasure was created with the opportunity to refine the spirit and uplift the soul.

    A brachah is not just our gratitude for the physical pleasure we are about to enjoy. Each blessing should make us aware of a far greater kindness of God: that even material pleasures can be a source of spirituality and holiness. Our fruit thus becomes “holy, for praising God.”

    (adapted from Ein Eyah vol. II, p. 171)

    Copyright © 2006 by Chanan Morriso

    Sha’atnez – A Glimpse into the Future

    While first introduced here (Lev. 19:19), the prohibition of “sha’atnez” is more clearly defined later on in the Torah: “Do not wear Sha’atnez — wool and linen together” (Deut. 22:11).

    •Why does the Torah prohibit using wool and linen in the same article of clothing?
    •The special garments of High Priest contained both wool and linen. Why was he allowed to wear sha’atnez?

    Chok — for the Future
    These two materials — linen, from the flax plant, and wool, shorn from sheep — were the two major fibers available to ancient civilizations. According to one opinion in the Talmud (Shabbat 26b), whenever the Torah speaks of garments without specifying the material, it only refers to garments of wool or linen.

    The Torah’s prohibition of wearing linen and wool together is a prime example of a chok, a decree for which we do not know the reason. As Rashi wrote, the nations of the world and the evil inclination taunt us, saying, ‘What is this command? What logic is there to it?’

    According to Rav Kook, it is not that these mitzvot have no reason, or no reason that we are capable of grasping. Rather, this category of mitzvot belongs to a future reality that is different from our own. At that future time, the purpose of these decrees will become clear.

    In other words, these mitzvot serve to morally prepare us for the future.

    One intriguing view of the future is the idea expressed by the Kabbalists that the future elevation of the universe will also include a radical change in the animals. Animals will develop into a state similar to the current level of human beings. This belief plays a central role in Rav Kook’s writings in many areas: vegetarianism, Temple sacrifices, and understanding decrees such as sha’atnez and not eating milk and meat together.

    The use of linen from the flax plant does not raise any ethical dilemmas. But the use of wool necessitates a mild censure from the standpoint of absolute morality:

    “Man, in his boundless egocentricity, approaches the poor cow and sheep. From one he seizes its milk, and from the other, its fleece. … There would be no impropriety in taking the wool were the sheep burdened by its load; but we remove the wool when its natural owner needs it. Intellectually, we recognize that this is a form of theft – oppression of the weak at the hands of the strong.” (Otzarot HaRe’iyah vol. II p. 97)

    Of course, the moral offense applies primarily with regard to the future state of sheep.

    In order to distinguish between the use of wool and linen, and instill a sensitivity towards animal welfare that we will need in future times, the Torah decreed that these two fibers should not be worn together. Utilization of the flax plant and manipulation of sheep are not — in absolute terms — morally equivalent.

    All of this is true when the wool is used for private consumption. But if the wool is designated for divine service — as in the clothes of the High Priest — then the principle of “bechol me’odecha”, serving God with all of our possessions, takes force. Here it is appropriate that, out of their own free will, the animals will contribute their part for the sake of the universe’s spiritual elevation.

    Why Only Linen?

    A student once asked Rav Kook why, according to this explanation, the Torah only forbids linen together with wool, but not other fibers (such as cotton) together with wool.

    Rav Kook answered that mitzvot are like words. Through these words, we can discern the Torah’s fundamental teachings. If one word is sufficient to convey the message, there is no need for another word to teach the very same concept.

    However, the word chosen should be the best and most lucid. The message of concern for animal welfare needs to be ingrained in the minds of society’s leaders. Therefore, the Torah chose to express this message through linen, the fiber favored for respectable and elegant clothing in olden times. Fibers such as cotton are used for purely utilitarian purposes. Linen best symbolizes our desire to clothe ourselves in dignity and honor; thus, it is the best medium to express the need for human sensitivity towards animals.

    (adapted from Igrot HaRe’iyah vol. I, p. 104)

    Copyright © 2006 by Chanan Morrison


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