Kedoshim  (קדשים) – Leviticus 19-20  is one of my favorite parashas of the Torah.  It starts with the Lord directing Moshe to tell the people of Israel, “Be holy, for I am holy, I the Lord your God.” This is a fascinating idea – that we, as foolish and inept as we often feel, can and indeed are directed to be holy.  The parasha then proceeds to summarize the rules that will allow us to be  holy. We will look at just a few of these in this blog.

The first rule we find is to fear (often translated as revere) your mother and your father.  This is similar to the commandment to honor your father and your mother. However, by changing the order it makes it clear that both mom and dad are important to the family unit, with the emphasis on honor being given to the father, but recognizing that the rules are most often enforced by the mother. How often, while you were growing up, did you not do something, because your mother would kill you if you did?  While the priests provided the moral authority for the community, the parents are responsible to do this in the home and with their children. In fact, the same word, “fear” is used in verse 15: “Fear your God; I am the Lord.”

The second important step in being holy is to keep His Sabbaths.  Lev 19:4. Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy is another of the 10 commandments or rules – but we now learn that keeping the Sabbath holy is also a necessary step to allow us to be holy.

The question of how to keep the Sabbath holy has been debated endlessly and does not have one definitive answer; we will try to come back to it at another time.  However, the concept that keeping the Sabbath is a step towards allowing a person to be holy may be a basis for the statement made by Jesus in the New Testament, that: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27. The Lord does not need the Sabbath; he already rested on the 7th day.  However, man needs the Sabbath, as it gives him the opportunity to move from a purely physical level into a spiritual relationship with the Lord.

If we skip down a few verses, we find one of the best known scriptures in the entire Bible.  But this is best understood if we read it in context. Lev 19:15-18:

“Do not pervert justice: do not show partiality to the poor or deference to the great; judge your fellow man fairly.”

So we start here with justice – treating your fellow man fairly. You cannot have an outcome that prefers either the poor or the rich.  This is quite contrary to the concept of “equity” that is currently popular, that the poor should be given preference. As to whom this applies, the literal translation is that “in fairness you will judge your peoples.” My interpretation is that anyone who comes asking for justice should be treated in this manner.

“Do not go around as a gossipmonger among your people.  Do not stand by while your neighbor’s life is in danger; I am the Lord.”

This next concept is one that we dealt with in our last blog -the concept of “Lashon hara – evil tongue”.  As we discussed, gossip, even if technically true, can result in harm. This verse specifically warns against it.  In addition, if your neighbor’s life is in danger, you cannot stand around gawking, but must actively help him whether or not you like him. In fact this last point is emphasized by the phrase, “I am the Lord.” Which brings us to the next point:

“Do not hate your brother in your heart. Admonish your fellow (your peoples) and do not bear guilt on his account.”

Okay, but what happens if someone has done you wrong, or if you know that they did something wrong to another?  Does that give you the right to hold this against him?  Clearly not.  You are first directed not to hate your brother in your heart (for any reason). However, if any of your people has done something wrong you cannot be silent, but must confront him; perhaps he will repent and all will be well. But even if he does not, by doing what you can to rectify the situation, you will be free from his guilt. The question that might still be raised is, who is considered to be your brother whom you cannot hate? Let’s go on.

“Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against any one among your people, but love your neighbor as your own self; I am the Lord.”

We have finally come to the most well known verse – to “love your neighbor as your own self.”  But first, you are not to take revenge or bear a grudge against any of your people. Thus it appears that you must forgive any wrongdoing.  This command again ends with: “I am the Lord”, again emphasizing the importance the Lord places on this. But who makes up “your people?”  A literal translation actually refers to sons of your peoples. From this alone some might conclude that for the Israelites this means the 12 tribes of Israel. As to loving your neighbor as yourself, the word translated as you neighbor (רעך) could also be translated as your friend or fellow, which could conceivably be an even smaller group.

However, about this issue the Torah has more to say (Lev 19:33-34):

“When a stranger lives with you in your land, do not wrong him.  The stranger living with you shall be like one of your native born to you: love him as your own self, for you yourselves were strangers in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.”

Oops.  It now appears that it is not enough to love your friend or even enough to love those whom you recognize as being part of your tribe (the native born).  But you must treat all who live among you (the sojourner/ resident) fairly, and even more importantly, to love them as you do yourself.  There do not appear to be any exceptions.

One of the reasons this idea is so well known is that it was also taught by Jesus as set forth in a number of places in the New Testament. Here are a few examples:

Mt 22:35–40:

“One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him,
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’
“This is the great and foremost commandment.
“The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’
“On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

Mk 12:28–33:

“One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?”
Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD;
AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.’
“The second is this, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
The scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that HE IS ONE, AND THERE IS NO ONE ELSE BESIDES HIM;
AND TO LOVE HIM WITH ALL THE HEART AND WITH ALL THE UNDERSTANDING AND WITH ALL THE STRENGTH, AND TO LOVE ONE’S NEIGHBOR AS HIMSELF, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

Mt 5:43–48

“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’
“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
“If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
“Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Perhaps this is another way of saying you shall be holy as I your Lord am holy.

Finally, Luke also recounts the same or similar episode as Matthew and Mark cite, but goes on to explain what it means to be a neighbor. See Lk 10:25–37:

And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?”
And he answered, “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”
And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; DO THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE.”
But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead.
“And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
“Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
“But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion,
and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him.
“On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’
“Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?”
And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”

 

 

 

Quotes from the New Testament taken from New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). The Lockman Foundation.

Translations from the Torah are from The Koren Tanakh (The Magerman Edition, published by Koren Publishers Jerusalem, 2021)