Parshat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim Vol.10 No.30
Date of issue: 12 Iyar 5761 -- May 5, 2001
This week's issue has been sponsored by
Rabbi Ezra and Adina Wiener
in honor of the birth of their daughter Avital Rachel
This week's issue has been
Rabbi Mark Smilowitz
A Land That Is Intolerant?
by Rabbi Mark Smilowitz
When the Jews were originally promised the land of Israel by Hashem, the land was still occupied. By what justification were the Jews allowed to conquer those who inhabited the land when they arrived? The Torah explains in Acharei Mot that the nations which had been living in the land of Canaan (Israel) had become so steeped in vile deeds, including adultery, idolatry, and incest, that “the land became contaminated... and the land disgorged its inhabitants” (Vayikra 18:25). Thus, the conquering of Israel by Yehoshua and the Jewish people served two functions: to fulfill Hashem’s promise to give the Jews the land, and to punish the previous occupants for their gross violations of acceptable human behavior.
What is unusual about the above verse is that the one who is held responsible for ejecting the Canaanites from the land is not Hashem or the Jewish people, but rather the land itself. This strange formulation is repeated as a warning to the Jews, “Let not the land disgorge you for having contaminated it, as it disgorged the nation that was before you” (Vayikra 18:28). How can an inanimate object, made of soil, rocks, and trees, kick out its own inhabitants?
The Ramban, in a lengthy exposition on the above verses, explains how the land of Israel is different from all other lands on Earth. When Hashem created the nations, He assigned an administering angel or spiritual guardian to be in charge of each land. However, an angel was not assigned to Israel. Instead, the land of Israel was to be in the charge of Hashem Himself.
While I do not claim to understand anything about angels, I think that one very clear idea emerges from the Ramban’s exposition. To be in Israel means to be in the presence of Hashem. Even though Hashem exists in all other places equally, His Presence is somehow more concentrated or more easily perceived in Israel. Therefore, as the Ramban continues, people must adjust their behavior patterns if they are to survive in this land, just as one would have to adjust their behavior if they were to be in the presence of a president or king. For example, if one were visiting a royal palace, one would dress differently than on a regular day. One would also talk differently and act differently, and would probably need to learn certain ritual behaviors which are appropriate for that palace. If one refused to adhere to the standards of behavior for that palace, that person would be kicked out pretty quickly.
An interesting story from the book of Melachim (Melachim II 17:24-41) is cited by the Ramban, which illustrates the relationship of the land of Israel to its people. When Assyria conquered and exiled the Ten Tribes of Israel, they were replaced with foreigners called the Shomronim or Kuttim. The narrative says that because the Kuttim did not know the rules of Hashem and the land of Israel, many of them were devoured by lions. The king of Assyria thus assigned them a Kohen from Israel who taught them the ways of Hashem and they adopted Torah practices, after which the lion attacks stopped. The Ramban points out that when the Kuttim were guilty of the very same practices in their original homeland, they were not attacked. Only when they tried to keep their old ways in Israel did Hashem unleash His fury on them.
Thus, what emerges from this week’s Parsha is that the 613 commandments of the Torah, while certainly obligatory outside of Israel, are meant to be kept primarily in Israel because that is where the elevated conduct required by the Torah is necessary in order to survive. I believe that this is the reason that when the Jews entered Israel for the first time, they were commanded to write the entire Torah on great stones coated with plaster as a monument to be left near their entrance to the land (see Devarim 27:1-8). This monument is not merely a reminder to keep the Torah, but it is part of the land of Israel, like a posting of the laws of the land or a sign outside the palace delineating proper conduct while inside. As we continue to keep the Torah’s commandments wherever we live, it is important to remember that the complete fulfillment of Torah life is possible only in the land of Israel.
Keeping the Faith
by Ilan Tokayer
The first of this week’s Parshiot, Acharei Mot, ends with a list of prohibited Arayot. The Perek of Arayot opens with a seemingly strange Pasuk: Kimaaseh Eretz Mitzrayim Asher Yashavtem Ba Lo Taasu Ukimaaseh Ertez Cannan Asher Animavi Etchem Shama Lo Taasu Ubchukotayhem Lo Talechu (Vayikra18:3). Here, Hashem warns us about following the ways of the people of Mitzrayim and the people of Canaan. This leads us to ask a number of questions. First, what are Maaseh Eretz Mitzrayim and Maaseh Eretz Cannan? The Ramban (citing the Ibn Ezra) explains that the Maaseh Eretz Mitzrayim refers to Avoda Zara and Maaseh Eretz Cannan refers to Arayot. The balance of the Perek presents the various prohibitions of Maaseh Eretz Cannan, or Gilluy Arayot that prevail in the land that they are about to go into and serves as a warning so that Bnai Yisrael should not be like the Goyim amongst whom they will live. This is demonstrated through the Torah listing the prohibition of sacrificing one’s children to the Molech together with the Arayot. Worshipping Molech is not an Isur Arua; rather it is a practice of idolatry that was common in Eretz Cannan at that time. This practice involves passing one’s children through furnaces as a human sacrifice to the Molech.
Now that we understand the term Maaseh Eretz Canaan, we ask why does Hashem now instruct Bnai Yisrael not to partake in Maaseh Eretz Mitzrayim? They will not be among the Egyptian idolaters in the future; they will be among the immoral Canaanites. To answer this, we must understand where Bnai Yisrael’s historical and cultural background. At this point Bnai Yisrael have just exited Mitzrayim after having been exiled there for 210 years, and have been very influenced by the Egyptian culture. Now when they are entering Eretz Canaan, also a place of many Toavot, Hashem is coming to the people to emphasize to them that they are an independent nation. No longer do they have a foreign nation ruling over and thereby influencing them. The Jewish people are now responsible for themselves (for better or for worse), with their own leaders, religion, and ultimately their own culture. This Perek opens with Toavot Mitzrayim in order to show this to Bnai Yisrael.
In our days, we are influenced by so many foreign aspects of society and in the blur of modern culture it is sometimes hard for us to distinguish what is right and wrong. As Jews, we must be able to filter the filth out of our environment and not give in to the Toavot of our surroundings. Bnai Yisrael did not even realize the influence of external society on them when they came out of Mitzrayim, and that is why Hashem speaks to them in this Perek in order warn them about it. We must remember that we too cannot live Jewish lives with a foreign nation ruling over us and thereby influencing us. We must learn to take responsibility for ourselves and live in an environment with our own leaders, religion and culture, and only through that will we be able to live our lives as proper Jews.
Writer's Note: I would like to thank Harav Roni Dinnar and Arie Katz for helping me with the information for this article.
Prepare for Holiness
by David Tessler
' Viahavta Lirayacha Kamocha ', “You shall love your fellow as yourself, I am Hashem” (Vayikra 19:18).
It seems strange that at the end of the verse Hashem states, “I am Hashem.” What is the reason for it? Rebbe Mendel of Kosov, in his Sefer Ahavat Shalom, explains that it can be understood as follows. A person is supposed to love his fellow exactly as he likes himself, and the same goes with the other person as well. The word Ahava (love) demonstrates this as the Gematria of Ahava (13) is the same Gematria of Echad, meaning one. This is a Remez (hint) to the fact that each person should treat their fellow as if they are really one person. If they do this then they have made the complete name of Hashem because two times “Ahava”(13) is 26, the same value of Hashem’s name ( Yud-Hay-Vuv-Hay).
“Kedoshim T’hiyu Kadosh Ani Hashem Elokeichem,” “You shall be holy because I, Hashem your God, am holy” (Vayikra 19:2). What does the word Kedusha actually mean? It is a word that implies a need for preparation, as Tosafot explains about the Mekadeshot, that Mekadeshot means to prepare. Rebbe Avraham Yaakov of Sadagra, in his Sefer Ner Yisrael, explains that this means that a person always needs to be prepared to be a vessel to receive holiness from Hashem. This is the meaning of the conclusion of the Pasuk “Because I, Hashem your G-d, am holy.” Hashem is constantly prepared and waiting to bestow his holiness and goodness to others. The only thing that prevents this bestowal is our being unprepared to receive all that Hashem has to offer.
How can one be considered a prepared Kli, vessel, for Hashem? I believe that the answer is implied later in the verse, which states, “you shall love your fellow as yourself.” This Mitzva, as Rav Akiva tells us, is an essential Mitzva in the Torah. We are currently mourning for Rebbe Akiva’s 12,000 pair of students who died because they did not respect each other. What was so incredibly horrible about what they did? By not fulfilling the Mitzva of loving “your fellow as yourself,” they were essentially leaving out the name of Hashem that is formed by their joint love for each other. They should have been 12,000 prepared Keilim (vessels), receiving Hashem’s incredible holiness and his Torah, but instead they left out the proper love for the Torah and thus were really leaving out Hashem from their learning. I believe this is stressed by the fact that only the condition in which we were able to receive the Torah was when we were “K’Ish Echad Blev Echad” “Like one man with one heart.” We should be extra careful to learn from this message of the importance to love all of Bnai Yisrael, to realize that we are all like one person with one heart, and to become Keilim (vessels) for the Kedusha (holiness) and goodness that Hashem is waiting to bestow upon us.
by Yaacov Prupis
In the opening verse of this week’s Parsha, Parshat Kedoshim, Hashem commands Moshe Daber El Kol Edas Binei Yisrael Viamarta Alayhem Kidoshim Tihiyu... “Speak to the children of Israel and say to them ‘You shall be holy…’”
This commandment appears to be very ambiguous. One can easily obey a commandment to do something such as eating Matzo or blowing Shofar. How does one fulfill a commandment to be something, to be holy?
One might think that that in order to be holy, one must obey Hashem’s commandments. The Rambam, however, writes that one’s life should be governed by moderation, and that one can easily become Naval Birshut Hatorah, a degenerate with the permission of the Torah, if one observes only the letter of the law. A person can enjoy self-indulgence and gluttony if he is one to weasel out of things, i.e. cheating the tax system, etc. because it is not technically wrong. But there is one commandment that is being violated: the commandment to be holy.
The Ramban also offers an explanation as to what it means to be holy. His idea is similar to that of the Rambam. The Torah permits one to drink wine and eat meat, but with these privileges the Torah does not mention any restrictions. Accordingly, without the commandment to be holy, one would be permitted to involve oneself in gluttonous behavior. But there is this commandment, the commandment to be holy, which prohibits such behaviors.
Voltaire, the 18th century philosopher who often attacked injustice and intolerance, once said: “Use, do not abuse; neither abstinence nor excess ever renders a man happy.” This is, for the most part, the idea of the Ramban.
Sadly, there are many people who fail to keep this as the most important of Mitzvot. This is wrong both morally and ethically! Many Chilulei Hashem are committed because we do not pay enough attention to this commandment. As role models for the world, we must treat this commandment with high regard.
Furthermore, we should all strive for holiness, for if we are set on keeping this most important of virtues, then sinning will not come to us, and countless Mitzvot will.
The person who is truly holy is the one who need not strive for this virtue, the one whose nature and character does not permit him to be otherwise (refer to the Rambam (introduction to Pirkei Avot) for more depth on this matter). Of course, not many people are born without the inclination to be unholy, but we must do our best, as role models to the rest of the world, to be holy not in regard to Halacha (to better ourselves and to insure our place in Olam Habah) but on business and everyday mundane activities to make a Kiddush Hashem and make sure the world respects us and look at us in admiration.
Halacha of the Week
One should not respond Amen in a louder voice than the one who recited the Beracha (Shulchan Aruch 124:12). The Mishna Berura (124:47) permits one to do so if his intention is to generate enthusiasm among the congregation.
Food for Thought
by by David Gertler
1)In Yoma 85b the Gemara explains Vayikra 18:5 as meaning Vechai Bahem Lo Sheyamut Bahem, “‘And you shall live by them,’ and not that you should die by them.” This expresses the idea that human life supercedes Halacha and in a case of danger to one’s life one may violate the Torah. Why is this Pasuk directly before the list of forbidden relations, which is one of the three areas of Halacha which one must give one’s life rather than violate the Mitzva? [For one possible answer see the Shadal’s commentary to the Pasuk.]
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