By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
Parshiyot Acharei Mot-Kedoshim
10 Iyar 5764 - April 30, 2004
In the heart of the book of Vayikra, we encounter a wealth of mitzvot designed
to create a society with lofty goals. This society sets its sights on no less
than the emulation of Hashem:
And Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: “ Speak to the entire congregation of the
Children of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, because holy I am,
Hashem, your G-d” (Vayikra 19:1-2).
As enumerated by the Sefer HaChinuch (ascribed to either R. Aharon HaLevi or
R. Pinchas HaLevi of Barcelona, mid-13th Century), 51 never-before-seen
mitzvot appear in Parshat Kedoshim alone.
Moshe is instructed to teach this passage to the entire community as one,
rather than repeating it first to Aharon and his sons and the Elders, before
teaching it to the people (see Eiruvin 54b). This is because, as Rashi quotes
from Torat Kohanim (1:1),
“The majority of the main principles (literally, “bodies”) of the Torah depend
As elucidated by the Midrash (Tanchuma 3; Vayikra Rabbah 24:5), and quoted by
Ramban, this passage recapitulates the Decalogue (Shemot 20:2-13).
On a simple level, parallels can be found between specific commands here and
in the Decalogue. Here are examples from the first five:
• I am Hashem, your G-d (Shemot 20:2) — I am, Hashem, your G-d (here, verse
• You shall have no other gods before Me (Shemot 20:3) — Do not turn to the
false gods (here, verse 4).
• You shall not take the name of Hashem your G-d in vain (Shemot 20:7) — and
you shall not swear in My Name for falsehood (here, verse 12).
• Remember the Shabbat day (Shemot 20:8) — and My Shabbatot keep (here, verse
• Honor your father and your mother (Shemot 20:12) — Each one shall revere his
mother and his father (ibid.).
This continues throughout.
Upon closer examination, however, we find more here than simple repetition of
the Decalogue. Instead, additional dimensions are added. We must not only
“remember” Shabbat, we must “keep” it; we must not only “honor” our parents,
we must “revere” them, and so on. Each is a development, an expansion, of a
Consequently, our passage demonstrates that the Decalogue, revealed to the
assembled Children of Israel at Sinai, establishes categories of commandments.
(In fact, Saadia Gaon [882-942] in his Azharot, a special liturgical poem
written for Shavuot, shows how all 613 commandments are conceptually derived
from the Decalogue; see Ibn-Ezra’s commentary to Shemot 20:2-3.) And now, one
year after Sinai, Moshe duplicates the Revelation by teaching Kedoshim, the
“expanded version” of the Decalogue.
Accordingly, each of the mitzvot of Kedoshim that restates part of the
Decalogue might be said to be the “nucleus” of a “cluster” of connected
Let’s examine one such “cluster” closely:
Do not turn to the false gods, and molten gods shall you not make for
yourselves; I am Hashem, your G-d. And if you sacrifice a peace-offering to
Hashem, for your acceptance shall you sacrifice it. On the day of its offering
shall it be eaten, and the next day; and that which is left on the third day
shall be burned in fire. And if it would indeed be eaten on the third day, it
is an abhorrent thing; it shall not be accepted. And one who eats it shall
bear his transgression, because the sanctity of Hashem he has desecrated; and
that soul shall be severed from its people. And when you cut the harvest of
your land you shall not cut the corner of your field completely; and the
gleaning of your harvest shall you not glean. And of your vineyard shall you
not pick the unfinished clusters, and the droppings of your vineyard shall you
not glean: for the poor and the stranger shall you leave them. I am Hashem,
your G-d (Vayikra 19:4-10).
Three topics are evident here:
1. To reject all manner of idolatry utterly, not honoring it or ascribing
success to it in any way (see Sforno [R. Ovadia ben Yaakov Sforno, c.
1470-c.1550] here and on Shemot 34:17).
2. To offer sacrifices in an acceptable fashion, not to even think of bringing
them incorrectly (see Rashi).
3. To provide for the poor from the produce of the land.
It is interesting that the archetype of sacrifices here is the Shelamim, the
peace-offering, from which all other offerings are derived by extension.
Ramban suggests two reasons for this: since Shelamim are classified among the
“lighter” sacrifices (kodashim kalim), then anything taught about them is
certainly (kal vachomer) true of more severe offerings; alternatively,
Shelamim are unique to the people of Israel (Zevachim 116a), they are the
prototype for all Jewish worship. Abravanel (Don Yitzchak Abravanel,
1437-1508) adds that Shelamim are voluntary offerings, eaten by all, not just
the Kohanim; lest we think that we can do as we like with such sacrifices, the
Torah insists on the same honorable standards as with obligatory offerings.
Why do sacrifices and charity follow the prohibition of idolatry?
Ramban points out that, in forbidding all idolatry, the Torah “directed
[literally, “emptied”] all forms of worship to be for the sake of Hashem
(Sanhedrin 60b).” Service to Hashem, it then follows, must be categorical and
unequivocal: do not serve Him in order to receive reward (Avot 1:3), but only
to do His will and obtain His favor, like a servant whose only desire is to
please his master in all that he commands.
The highest aspiration of such a devoted servant will be to emulate the kindly
ways of his beloved master. Thus, says Sforno, the acts of charity described
by the Torah follow the laws of sacrifice.
Acknowledgement of Hashem leads to proper service of Hashem, and these become
the basis for true compassion for one’s fellow man. Other legal and moral
systems might strive for social justice, but only the Torah’s system leads to
the sanctified society.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
The well-known admonition
not to emulate the ways of the gentile nations appears in this week’s
parsha (Vayikra 18:3-4): “You shall not copy the practices of the land of
Egypt where you dwelt, or of the land of Canaan to which I am taking you;
nor shall you follow their laws. You shall observe My laws, and keep My
ordinances to follow them; I am the Lord, your God.”
Simply understood, the verses teach us that whenever we live among
non-Jews we should be cautious not to learn their ways or adopt their
values. Rashi, however, is bothered by the repetitive nature of the
restricting phrases, and so he understands that God is warning Israel who
are now in the desert that the Egyptians of Goshen “where you dwelt” as
well as the Canaanites of Israel where “I am taking you,” are the most
corrupt of the nations. Thus, you must be especially careful not to be
influenced by their lifestyle.
The Kli Yakar takes a different approach and explains that these phrases
reflect the wrongdoings committed by our people when they were in Egypt
and while they were in the desert. When Yaakov and his sons first come to
Egypt and Yosef arranges a dwelling for them, we read (Bereishit 47:27),
“Thus Israel settled in the country of Egypt in the region of Goshen….”
Many commentaries point out that our forefathers erred when they "settled"
in Egypt instead of treating the country as a temporary residence. And
their wrongdoing in relation to the land of Canaan was that whenever they
faced a difficulty in the desert, they disgraced the Holy Land by saying
that they wished to return to Egypt (Bamidbar 14:4) or even would have
preferred to have died there (Shemot 16:3).
In these verses, God provides us with the formula to make amends for these
mistakes. ‘Come to Eretz Israel where not only can you abide by My
commandments to their fullest, but you can abide by more of My
commandments than you can any where else (Mitzvot hateluyot ba’Aretz).’ In
order not to fall prey to the negative influences of a foreign land -
“bechukoteihem lo telechu - you shall not follow their laws" - and in
order not to make the mistake of deferring your arrival and your
observance of so many Mitzvot, God urges everyone - et mishpatai ta’asu
ve’et chukotai tishmeru, "You shall observe My laws, and keep My
Mrs. Linda Derovan
Ramat Beit Shemesh
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Roness , Exec. Dir., Aloh Naaleh,
At the OU Center, 22 Keren HaYesod
Tel.(02) 566-7787 ex. 254