Tag Archives: Kedoshim

Commentary for Kedoshim

16 May

The verse chapter of this week’s parshah, Leviticus 19, is the source of many of the more well-known mitzvot concerning the treatment of other people. It includes the famous “love your fellow as yourself (19:18),” “You shall not curse the deaf and you shall not place a stumbling block before the blind (19:14) “you shall not be a gossipmonger (19:16),” and “you shall not stand idly by while your fellows blood is shed (also 19:16).” We are instructed that “you shall not cheat your fellow (19:13),” to revere our parents (19:3), to not lie (19:11), and to not hold grudges (19:18) or hate our fellow in our heart (19:17).


As one would expect, many of these laws have to do with the treatment of the economically disadvantaged. We are taught to always leave some of our harvest for the hungry; “you shall not complete the reaping to the corner of your field, and the gleanings of your harvest you shall not take. You shall not pick the undeveloped twigs of your vineyard, and the fallen fruit of your vineyard you shall not gather; for the poor and the proselyte you shall leave them (19:9-10).” We are told not to exploit our power over our workers by withholding their wages, even for one day (19:13), and act that, by its inclusion in the same verse, is implicitly compared to cheating and robbery. The poor, the foreigner, and the vulnerable in our society are not to be mistreated.


When a dispute arises between two parties, one advantaged and one disadvantaged, our instinct in modern society seems to be to side with the disadvantaged party. After all, not just Judaism but virtually all of the world’s religions teach us to protect those who need protecting and to stand up for the poor and be charitable and help them in any way we can.

But our instincts are just those: instincts. They are an immediate emotional reaction to being confronted with a situation. They are not infallible. For this reason in Leviticus 19:15, the Torah instructs us that “You shall not commit a perversion of justice; you shall not favor the poor and you shall not honor the great; with righteousness shall you judge your fellow.” It is a perversion of justice when the advantaged used their position and their power to abuse the weak, but it is also a perversion of justice to punish those who have done no wrong, no matter what their political or economic status is. True justice, the Torah reminds us, requires us to judge all parties with righteousness; to investigate diligently and to ignore our biases and instincts, and judge solely based on the facts.


Commentary for Kedoshim

25 Apr

Chapter nineteen in this week’s parshah contains what is often referred to as the “Holiness Code.” It is filled with many laws about the treatment of both ourselves and others, and many of the most week-known commandments in the Torah come from this section, including “do not curse the deaf or place a stumbling block in front of the blind,” “do no stand idly by on the blood of your neighbor,” and “love your fellow as yourself.” Also included in this section are a few ritual and agricultural laws on the theme of separateness, reinforcing the idea that while we might mix with non-Jews, we must still hold ourselves to God’s high standard of moral behavior.


Just after this section begins, the Torah takes a short but strange detour in verses 5-8 to talk about the prohibition against eating two specific types of sacrificial meat that becomes impure. The first is notar, which is meat that was left over beyond the allotted time to eat the meat of that sacrifice, and the second is pigul, which is meat that was sacrificed with the intention of eating it after its allotted time (meaning that pigul may not be eaten even within its allotted time).   In the case of pigul the meat becomes forbidden because of an intention to do the wrong thing, while notar meat becomes forbidden either through negligence or, as Hoffman suggests, a lack of considering the needs of others (even if you can’t finish the meat yourself, you could invite others- and Hoffman specifically mentions the poor- to help you finish it within the allotted time). No matter which reason it is, though, the meat has become prohibited.


This same idea can be applied to all of the laws of the “Holiness Code.” It does not matter if it was done with malicious intentions, through the negligence of not thinking about what the results of your actions might be, or through not taking the needs and considerations of others into account when you act; you have still done something wrong, and it is your responsibility to try to correct it.