Kedoshim 5765 – Gilayon #393


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Parshat Kedoshim

You shall faithfully

observe all My laws and all My regulations, lest the

land to which I bring you to settle in spew you out. You shall not follow the

practices of the nation that I am driving out before you. For it is because

they did all these things that I abhorred them… You shall be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy, and I have set you apart from

other peoples to be Mine.

 (Vayikra 20:22,23,26)

 

The Election of Israel – a Moral Challenge with a Universal Goal

And I have set you apart from other peoples to be Mine If

you hold yourselves apart from them then you will be Mine, but if not, you

belong to [become subject to] Nebuchadnezzar and others like him. Rabbi Eleazer ben Azariah

said, "Whence do we know that one should not say, 'My soul loathes swine's

flesh,' or 'I have no desire to wear clothes which are a mixture of wool and

linen,' but one should say, 'I would , indeed, like them, but what can I do

since my Father in heaven has imposed these decrees upon me?' Because Scripture

states: I have set you apart from other peoples to be Mine, which means

that your separation from them should be for My sake – that one should keep

aloof from sin and take upon himself the yoke of the kingdom of heaven."

(Rashi on Vayikra 20:26, following Silbermann

translation)

 

So that in no wise does

Jewish thought look on the choice of Israel as a rejection of the rest of

humanity. It regards the choice of Israel only as a beginning, only the

restarting of the spiritual and moral rebuilding of Mankind, only the first

step to that future where In that day many nations will attach themselves to

the Lord and become My people, and I will dwell in your midst (Zechariah 2:15), where many nations will

attach themselves to God, and become His people, and Israel's sanctuary will

not only be the central heart of Israel but the center of Mankind who have

found their way to God.

(Rabbi S.R. Hirsch on Vayikra

20: 26, following Levy translation)

 

This devar-Torah is presented in honor

of Eliasaf, son of Shelomit and Yossi Kanotopsky

and in honor of

all his family upon his Bar-Mitzvah.

For you were

strangers in the land of Egypt

Pinchas Leiser

The

holiday of Pesah, the season of our liberation, ended

a week ago, and it reminded us of the foundational experience of our exodus

from bondage to freedom. Of course, that is not the Torah's only commemoration

of the Exodus from Egypt. We observe many different commandments which mention

this great foundational event of our history. Indeed, the month of Nisan is the

first of months – some say that the world itself was created in Nisan. It

is also said that, "They were redeemed in Nisan, and their future

redemption shall occur in Nisan." The Exodus from Egypt is commemorated in

different contexts, and even towards different ends. In the parasha

of Aharei Mot, we are warned not to commit practices

such as those of the land of Egypt.

On

the other hand, the phrase for you were

strangers in the land of Egypt appears four times in the Torah, serving as

a moral and psychological argument that must guide our treatment of the

strangers among us.

In parashat Mishpatim, we read:

You

shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land

of Egypt. (Shemot 22:20)

You

shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having

yourself been strangers in the land of Egypt. (Shemot 23:9)

In

our own parasha:

When

a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. 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 the Lord am

your God. (Vayikra 19:33-34)

And

in the book of Devarim:

For

the Lord your God is God supreme and Lord supreme, the great, the mighty, and

the awesome God, who shows no favor and takes no bribe, but upholds the cause

of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, providing him with

food and clothing. You must love the stranger, for you were strangers in the

land of Egypt. (Devarim

10:17-19)

Some

exegetes explain that the stranger referred to by the Torah is a ger tzedek, a convert to Judaism.

However, it is not necessary to accept this interpretation; in fact, it may

make more sense to assume that these verses are talking about an alien who

lives among us. After all, the second half of the verse, for you were strangers

in the land of Egypt, must be understood in this way; we did not convert to the

religion of ancient Egypt, rather, we lived as aliens there. In addition, the

whole notion of conversion to Judaism as it is known to us was developed later

in our history.

We,

then, are commanded by the law of the Torah to treat the stranger fairly, not

to deceive him, and even to love him. We must do this because it is incumbent

upon us to walk in the ways of the Lord, Who does justice for the stranger, the

orphan, and the widow. The Torah finds it necessary to take the opportunity to

remind us that we were also strangers, and so we know the feelings of the

stranger. Various commentators have related to this statement in different

ways. The RaMBaN offers us a well-developed theory:

The

correct interpretation appears to me to be that He is saying: "Do not

wrong a stranger or oppress him, thinking as you might that none can deliver

him out of your hand; for you know that you were strangers in the land of Egypt

and I saw the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppressed (Shemot 3:9) you, and

I avenged your cause on them, because I behold the tears of such who are

oppressed and have no comforter, and on the side of their oppressors there is

power (Kohellet

4:1) and I deliver each one from him that is too strong for him (Tehillim 35:10). Likewise

you shall not afflict the widow and the fatherless child (Shemot 22: 21), for

I will hear their cry, for all these people do not rely on themselves but trust

in Me." And in another verse He added this reason: for you know the

soul of a stranger, seeing that you were strangers in the land of Egypt (23:9). That is to say, you know that every

stranger feels depressed, and is always sighing and crying, and his eyes are

always directed towards God, therefore He will have mercy upon him even as He

showed mercy to you, just as it is written, and the children of Israel

sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God

by reason of the bondage (2:23),

meaning that He had mercy on them not because of their merits, but only on

account of the bondage [and likewise He has mercy on all who are oppressed]. (RaMBaN on Shemot 22:20, Chavel translation)

The RaMBaN emphasizes that God will seek justice for every

persecuted person, out of divine sympathy for the oppressed. On the other hand,

Rabbi S. R. Hirsch contrasts Egypt's tribal morality with the Torah's universal

ethic:

As

aliens, you had no rights in Egypt; that was the root of the slavery and

troubles which afflicted you. Therefore – such is the formulation of the

warning – you must take care not to base human rights in your state upon any

other foundation than pure humanity, which dwells in every human heart inasmuch

as a person is human. Any neglect of human rights opens a door to arbitrariness

and human persecution – which were the roots of Egypt's abominations. (Rabbi S.R. Hirsch on Shemot

22:20)

These

unambiguous words did not appear in a "Betselem"

manifesto, nor in an advertisement of the Association for Civil Rights; they were written 150 years ago by one of Germany's great

Torah leaders. They awaken wonder and enthusiasm; I would be happy to hear more

statements like this from our contemporary rabbis.

Why,

then, are such voices so rare today? Why do troubling phenomena of exploitation

and discrimination against aliens occur in Israeli society?

There

may be many reasons, but it might be that one source of our lack of moral

sensitivity is connected – quite paradoxically – with the Jewish People's own

experience of the Holocaust and persecution in many lands. One might understand

– but perhaps not justify – a lack of openness in a victim who has difficulty

shaking off his own identity of victimhood. We may

have left the diaspora, but we have not removed the diaspora from within us, and we have failed to take full

responsibility for what happens in our own society.

It

should be noted that these commandments, which require fair and equal treatment

of strangers, are part of the parasha Kedoshim tehiyu (You

shall be holy). Holiness involves self-overcoming and restraint, but it can

exist only in a society based upon justice.

Prof.

Nehama Leibowitz, z"l, demonstrated that the expression fear of the

Lord occurs in connection with the treatment of members of minority groups,

of alien peoples, since, quite naturally, the stranger is weak and depends more

upon the good graces of the regime than does a citizen who belongs to the

majority group.

We

should welcome the new awakening of social initiatives – involving rabbinical

participation – which battle social injustice and discrimination. However,

there is still room to raise up a great outcry against

the humiliating treatment of the strangers among us, and for the situation to

be redressed. These aspects of holiness and fear of God are always worthy of

consideration, all the more so in the days between Yom HaShoah

and Yom HaAtzma'ut.

Pinchas Leiser, editor of Shabbat Shalom, is a psychologist

 

 

Do not hate your brother in your heart

Throughout Scripture,

both hate and love are attributed to the soul, because they are independent of

intellect and choice; rather, they are produced by the soul itself, as in the

hated of David's soul (II Samuel 5:8), and tell me of he whom my

soul loves (Shir HaShirim

1:7), etc. And a person has no control over that which is implanted in

his soul, to change his love to hate or his hate to love. God did not command

us to do the impossible; here the Torah only warns us of the hatred of the

heart. The word heart is always used in connection with freely willed

activity and the mind's judgment; it is forbidden for one to decide in his

heart to hate him.

(R. Yitzhak Shemuel Reggio's commentary on Vayikra

19:17)

 

 When

a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him

One is also prohibited

to wrong a stranger in the diaspora. The expression in

your land appears in order to explicate the nature of this wrong: When you

dwell in the land, which I have given to you as a possession, you might say, "It

was given to us as an inheritance," and you will not be considerate of the

stranger who dwells among you, since he has no part or portion in it. You will

wrong him with words that humiliate and degrade him. Similarly, the expression to

wrong is always used by Scripture to speak of the action of the powerful

against the weak, those who benefit from the disadvantage of the weak.

(R. Yitzhak Shemuel Reggio's commentary on Vayikra

19:33)

 

The wages of a laborer shall not remain with you – Then and

Today

Withholding the payment

of wages demoralizes employer as well as employee. The employer loses

sensitivity to the sin he is committing, so much so that one may hear

justifications for such behavior, as if the employer has a right to "borrow

credit" in this way in order to maintain his business. When an employee

waits a long time to receive his wage, he feels as if his work goes unrewarded,

and he will reach the conclusion that his efforts to support himself through

his own labor are pointless. The original Jewish conception views the

withholding of wages as being prohibited by the Torah. The Sages, who

understood the matter deeply, compared it to a capital crime. The Gemara says: "You shall pay his wage on that very

day… for he is poor and sets his soul upon it (Devarim24:15) – Why did he climb up the stool, hang on to the

tree and risk death, if not to obtain his wage?…When anyone withholds a hired

laborer's wage, it is as if he had taken his soul [i.e., life] from him" (Bava Metziya

112a).

(Moshe Unna z'l, a member of Kevutzat Sdeh Eliyahu,

formerly the Chairman of the Law and Justice Commmitee of the Kenesset,

as quoted by Prof. Nehama Leibowitz in her Iyyunim

Hadashim BeSfer Vayikra, pg. 244)

 

Between Holocaust and Remembrance Day and Independence Day

The Holocaust as punishment? As a necessary stage

towards redemption? Are we even capable of knowing?

Many very grave things

have been said about the Holocaust in the past: some claimed that the Holocaust

was an instrument, a kind of price which the Jewish People had to pay for the

creation of the State of Israel. Some said that the State of Israel serves as a

compensation for the Holocaust. Some also said that it was the only way to

cause Jews, in fact to force Jews, to move to the Land of Israel. These are

very grave statements, and it is difficult to listen to such things…

There is no achievement

in the world and no blessing in the world that can serve as compensation for the

burning of those myriad victims who never tasted of sin. Any talk about the

State of Israel being created in its wake is confused talk. Neither the actual

State of Israel, which must occasionally bleed for its

continued existence, nor even the ideal State of Israel of each man under

his grapevine and his fig tree can even begin to justify what the Jewish

People went through during the years of the Holocaust.

(From Rabbi Yehudah Amital's article, Af al

Pi SheMeitzeir U'Meimeir Li,

which appears in Moshe Maya's book, Olam

Banuy VeHaruv U'Vanuy,

published by Sifriyat HegyonotHotza'at Tevunot, of Mikhlelet Ya'akov Hertzog

by Yeshivat Har Etziyon – the book is warmly

recommended.)

 

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