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Parashat Kedoshim

Dedicated Leilui Nishmat Lorraine Gammal A’h

by his son, Mike Gammal and his Family

Parashat Kedoshim

The Meaning of Kedoshim

The first passuk of this week’s parasha, Kedoshim, begins, “Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying, ‘Speak to the entire assembly of B’nei Yisrael and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, Hashem your G-d, am holy.’”

The command “kedoshim tiheyu—you shall be holy” requires us to strive for kedusha—holiness, but what exactly does holiness mean, and how are we to go about pursuing it?

Rabbi Mansour comments that when a couple gets married, the groom says to the bride, “Hareh at mekudeshet li,” declaring that she is mekudeshet, or set apart, designated exclusively for him. Similarly, when a person would consecrate an animal as a sacrifice in the times of the Bet Hamikdash, he would declare the animal as “hekdesh.” He set this animal apart from others, making it different and distinct.

“Kadosh” essentially means different. When the Torah commands us to be holy, it means that we are to be different and distinct from other people in the world. We must live to a higher standard and with a different set of principles and priorities. The nature and direction of our lives must be fundamentally different from that of other people.

Before G-d presented the laws to Moshe in Parashat Kedoshim, He instructed that they must be spoken to the entire nation. Whereas other mitzvot of the Torah were first transmitted to the leaders and then taught to the rest of the nation, these laws were presented at an assembly of all Bnei Yisrael. Rabbi Mansour explains that this is because “holiness” can only be pursued together with other people. If being holy means being separate and going against the pressure and intimidation of society, it’s very difficult for one to swim against the tide alone. The best chance we have of achieving kedusha is in a group, working together with like-minded people. The mitzvah of “kedoshim tiheyu” was issued at a national assembly because only when the nation works together can kedusha be achieved.

It is crucial for everyone to find a place, such as a regular Torah class, in which he or she is surrounded by others who seek kedusha. We cannot go about this ambitious endeavor alone; we need the strength and support of a group working together to resist the tide so that we are worthy of a meaningful relationship with Hashem.

Hashem is Watching

In the previous parshiot we learned about the animals that we’re not allowed to eat. Then we learned about prohibited relations and immoral acts. The Torah prohibits all of these things so that our neshamot won’t become contaminated. A fringe benefit of observing these prohibitions is that they train us in the practice of self-discipline, which every one of us needs to live a successful and productive life.

Now we continue to learn what the nation that represents Hashem must do, and how we must act amongst each other in order to sanctify Hashem’s name. We learn how we must deal honestly with our fellow Jews and non-Jews alike in all of our business dealings. This is the theme of this week’s parasha, where Hashem gives the Jewish nation all the laws that we must adhere to for a healthy and fulfilling life.

Most of the decrees are between man and his fellow man. We are commanded, “You shall not steal. You shall not deny falsely. You shall not lie, one man to his fellow. You shall not swear falsely by My Name, thereby profaning the Name of your G-d. I am Hashem. You shall not oppress your fellow. You shall not rob. The hired worker’s wage shall not remain with you overnight until morning. You shall not curse a deaf person. You shall not place a stumbling block before a blind person, and you shall fear your G-d. I am Hashem.”

We may think that these acts can be hidden from our fellow man. You can cheat your neighbor and he may not be aware of it. You can curse the deaf and he won’t hear you. But at the end of the passuk it says again, “You shall fear your G-d. I am Hashem.” In these pesukim Hashem is saying, “Don’t think that you’re doing something that I don’t see, because I see everything that you do.” Hashem sees all, and we will eventually answer to Him after 120 years!

According to Rashi, in addition to the literal meaning of not putting a stumbling block in front of a blind man, the verse also allegorically means that you may not give bad advice to an unsuspecting person. The message of this commandment is that we are responsible for the welfare of others and may not do anything to undermine it.

Judge Everyone Favorably

“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 (Vayikra 19:15).”

Rashi explains that this means giving a person the benefit of the doubt. The obligation to give the benefit of the doubt is recorded in Pirkei Avot “Vehevei dan et kol ha’adam le’chaf zechut—Judge every person favorably (1:6).” The book Classics on the Torah points out that the Gemara (Shabbat 127b) mentions an axiom that seems to be based on the concept of middah k’neged middah—measure for measure. One who judges his friend favorably will be judged favorably. The Gemara then re­cords several incidents where people were judged favorably. At the conclusion of each event, the following blessing was given to the one who gave the benefit of the doubt: Just as you judged me favorably, may Hashem judge you favorably.

But this statement brings along its own set of questions. If I see someone driving on Shabbat or eating non-kosher, I’m obligated to give that person the benefit of the doubt. I must assume that he has some medical condition that calls for eating unkosher food, or that there is an emergency that requires him to drive to a nearby hospital. I must judge him favorably, and in return, Heaven will give me the benefit of the doubt.

But this is hard to understand because, unlike humans who have unclear details, Hashem knows my motivation for everything. If I commit a forbidden act, Hashem has no safek—doubt, and any extenuating circumstances that would possibly permit this act are revealed to Him. It’s only us, the imperfect humans, who are uncertain as to a person’s motivation and must give the benefit of the doubt. So how will Hashem give me the benefit of the doubt?

Before we answer this question, we have another question on the above-mentioned mishnah from Pirkei Avot, “Vehevei dan et kol ha’adam le’chaf zechut.” One would have expected the mishnah to say, “kol adam,” which means “every man.” Why does it say “kol ha’adam” whose literal meaning is “all the man?”

The Sefat Emet explains that we are not only supposed to give the benefit of the doubt to the man and the questionable action that he did; we are supposed to judge the entire person, “kol ha’adam” which will lead us to be more favorably inclined toward him. What other virtuous acts does this person commit? Is he otherwise a good, honest person who lives his life serving Hashem? Then he must have some sort of reason for driving.

Judging the whole person also applies to someone you cannot come up with an excuse for doing forbidden things. For instance, if this person is driving on Shabbat, and I [think I] know 100% he does not have an emergency or any other situation I could use to rationalize this act, I must consider all that brought him to where he is today, the time that he sinned. This includes his poor home life and upbringing and the trauma that he may have suffered as a child. This mishnah helps me to mitigate the severity of his actions. All in all, given his particular circumstances, he was doing the best that he could.

With this definition of all the man, the explanation of the Gemara takes on a new meaning. If I judge “kol ha’adam,” meaning that I look at the “whole person” and am therefore sympathetic, Hashem will, in turn, do the same for me. It is not about Hashem having doubt, but about understanding that we are doing our best.

This tremendous compassion is available to us if we initiate it first. If I go easy on someone based on his whole story, then Hashem will do the same for me.

Judging Hashem Favorably

Rabbi Bidderman shares another explanation for the passuk of “Bitzedek Tishpot Amitecha—with righteousness you should judge your nation” that was written by the Baalei HaTosfot. They explain that the pasuk refers to Hashem, urging us to judge Hashem favorably. Sometimes, we don't understand Hashem's ways, such as why hardships befall good people, and the like. The Torah obligates us to judge “your nation,” which refers to Hashem, favorably and to believe that all He does is for the good. When one does so, the angels in heaven praise him.

Love Your Brother

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart; you shall reprove your fellow and do not bear a sin because of him (19:17).” This passuk is saying that if someone antagonizes you, and even though he wronged you, you must think of him as your brother and not hate him. Rashi says that although it’s our responsibility to rebuke our fellow Jew, we must be careful not to embarrass them because then you will have sinned.

There’s a story told by Rabbi Pesach Krohn about a father and his two sons. When the older son turned 16, his father told him that he couldn’t afford to support him anymore and he had to go out and get a job. So he said goodbye and got a job, and over time, he became very successful. He eventually became the CEO of a company and was transferred to the main office across the country. Back home, when the younger brother became 16, the father told him that he also had to get a job to support himself because the father could no longer support him. Unlike his older brother, he wasn’t successful and went from job to job.

One day the younger brother saw his older brother’s picture in the newspaper and read an article about how he became very successful. So, the younger brother decided to take a train ride to visit his older brother’s office on the other side of the country. When he got there, the older brother refused to see his younger brother, annoyed and assuming he was asking for a handout. The younger brother was devastated but left and went back home.

A few months later, the father became ill and was on his deathbed. Word was sent to the older brother, and he traveled back home to see his father. When he arrived, the father would not acknowledge his presence as he was giving his time and attention to the younger brother.

The older brother became frustrated and said, “Dad, I’ve been waiting here for an hour, and you didn’t even look at me!” The father finally answered, pointing to the younger brother as he did so. “If he’s not your brother, then I’m not your father!” Hashem, like this father, wants His children to get along.

We’re currently counting the Omer, a time when we lost 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students because, as the Gemara says, they didn’t give each other the proper respect. As we’re leading up to Matan Torah and the Holiday of Shavuot, we must have a special awareness and take extra care to love each Jew as a brother or sister from our Father in Heaven. Then we will surely bring Mashiach in our days!

May we always try to give others the benefit of the doubt and judge others favorably so that Hashem in turn will judge us favorably! May we continue to keep the laws of kashrut, family purity, and modest dress as reminders of our status as a separate and holy nation. May we work together, loving our fellow brother, to resist the tide so that we are worthy of a meaningful relationship with Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Amram Sananes, written by Jack Rahmey

Discussion Point:

Did we ever not judge someone favorably, only to find that we were completely wrong?

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