Kedoshim 5782 – Holiness in the World; Holiness within Ourselves

By: Dr. Joel Roffman

Today’s parashah, Kedoshim, is chock full of rules, and they fall into various categories. One category is called called chukim. These are commandments that seem to make little sense. An example prohibits us from mixing linen and wool in our clothing. Why is this sinful? Gd says it’s so, and so it is. Oh, various explanations have been given for this one. And OK, we can contrive an explanation, but some commandments in the Torah  are regarded as holy simply because Gd says so. And for many Jews, of course, that’s perfectly good enough. For the purposes of today’s d’var, I’m going to leave those aside.

In addition to the Chukim, some commandments relate to the social order and how we relate to the world at large, including, among other things, the admonition not to withhold wages and not to use false weights and measures in business. We are commanded to  leave part of our harvest for the poor. Others that we read about today involve interpersonal relations such as not to gossip, hate, take revenge, or bear a grudge.

So today I’m going to discuss commandments relating to our relationship with the world at large and the world within ourselves.

In Lev. 19:34, we read, “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens. You shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your Gd.”

Love him as yourself? What’s love got to do with it?

In my view, the word love in this sense means an unconditional  commitment. The opposite of love when used here is apathy. So we must love others in the sense that we have a commitment to doing what we can to assure the stranger the basics of life – food, shelter and justice.

This is different from the Golden Rule, “Do unto others. . . “ you know that one. That one is transactional. We treat others well or at least refrain from treating them in a hateful way, so they will treat us in the same way. There’s no unconditional commitment  involved there. Those – that Golden Rule stuff – those are the basic ground rules for life within a group.

This talk about the stranger, though, is different. Judaism was the first civilization to put love – an unconditional commitment – at the heart of morality. And try as I might, I can’t separate the verses about the stranger from what we will read later, in Deut. 19:1-13. In those verses, we are told to set aside cities for those whose innocent blood would otherwise be shed. So-called sanctuary cities. Nor can I separate these passages from the crisis in the Ukraine, given all the refugees streaming out of that country in desperation. 

I prepared this D’var at the time I had finished reading this book, “Lest Innocent Blood be Shed.” I read the book in preparing for my tour tomorrow at the Holocaust Museum. The title is a direct quote from those Deuteronomy verses. It’s about a Protestant Hugenot pastor in WWII, Andre Trocmé. He lived under the Nazi collaborators in Vichi France. He and his entire village saved several thousand Jews, who drifted to the south of France, trying to stay ahead of the advancing Nazi army that had invaded France and was hunting Jews without mercy.  He encouraged his parishioners to protect those in need, although it would have certainly led to severe punishment if they were caught.

Pastor Trocmé said that he did not see a Jew at his door. He saw a fellow human in need of being saved from great danger. He didn’t love those strangers as the word love is generally used, but he felt a strong commitment to them as fellow humans.

And more. He told his followers that in the Book of Luke (New Testament, of course), the Good Samaritan, those who helped others in need, embodied the teaching that, “You shall love the Lord your Gd with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.”

Sound familiar? Directly form Deuteronomy and recited as part of the Shema – the prayer that is the watchword of our people. So in other words, in Pastor Trocmé’s view, loving Gd with all our heart, soul and might meant – meant – that we were to love the stranger. To have an unconditional commitment to their safety and well being. In other words, to be holy.

And so while we’re all familiar with the Golden Rule, and adhere to it as best we can, we are commanded in Kedoshim to do even more. Beyond refraining from hateful behavior, we’re commanded to commit to the stranger’s safety and justice. And in these times of great need for those from the Ukraine and elsewhere, today’s parashah and Pastor Trocmé teach us – command us – to do more.

So. Has the New Testament ever been cited in one of our D’vars?

OK. Now – looking inward for my other example. Another commandment that I would like to comment on. In Kedoshim, Leviticus, 19:18, we are told, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself. I am the Lord.”

We are instructed in today’s parashah not to bear a grudge. And there’s that word love again. Another example of holiness. So important and so often ignored. Don’t bear a grudge or take vengeance.

I once read of an American Indian story about a boy who came to his grandfather, angry with a friend who had done him an injustice. His grandfather told him that feelings of anger would only wear him down, but would not in any way hurt the offending party. It’s like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die.

The boy didn’t quite understand until his grandfather said it was as if there were two wolves who lived inside him and fought each other for his soul. One wolf was vengeful and angry; the other was kind and forgiving. They constantly fought. The boy asked, “which one wins, grandfather?” The old man smiled and said, “The one I feed.”

Shabbat Shalom!