Acharei Mot-Kedoshim: Learning to Love

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Pile of Hands
22 Apr 2010

Everybody but Chazal knows that the aseret hadibrot (Ten Commandments) appear only twice in the Torah (Yitro and Va’etchanan).

In the sharp analysis of R. Levi (1), a third, more eclectic sighting can also be found (2) in the opening section of Kedoshim, wherein he finds explicit and/or strong allusive references to all of the dibrot. While the formal aseret hadibrot (Yitro/Va’etchanan) are rigidly defined and particularly ordered, their presentation here in Kedoshim are interspersed amongst other mitzvot, occupy no apparent order, and are not always obvious. (Several times I have challenged my students to find all ten and it makes for an incredible learning experience.) One may wonder then what’s the point of this radically different presentation.

A famous bad joke goes like this:

The minister had just given a delightful sermon, a paean on the wonder and innocence of childhood, and was now bidding farewell to his parishioners on the church steps. Suddenly he caught out of the corner of his eye some children playing in the freshly poured cement on a few squares of new sidewalk ineffectively fenced off with yellow tape. He rushed over, red in the face, and began scolding them, as close to the verge of profanity as someone in his profession could come. A particularly shocked bystander turned to the minister and said, “Why, Reverend, you just told us how much you love children!” The minister answered, “I love children well enough in the abstract but this is in the concrete.”

In my office, a placard that reads “The Ten Commandments are not multiple choice” (signed by God) often evokes a smile. For the traditional Jew, that is axiomatic. And yet – to many faithful Jews the dibrot still remain abstract realities. By weaving the aseret hadibrot within the rubric of common interpersonal mitzvot, Kedoshim implicitly proclaims that the dibrot are to be found in the very fabric of one’s being and discovered in the rich texture of daily life. After all these years, Shabbos details still require vigilant watching and constant reexamination in light of new technology; sometimes religion and family can create potential chasms; business deals must comport to appropriate honesty and a higher authority. The aseret hadibrot, a paradigm for all of Torah, pulsates anew, alive and well, even (and especially) into the twenty first century!

The great midrash mystery however is the search for lo tachmod (do not covet). Whereas belief in Hashem (Ani Hashem Elokeichem), respecting parents, Shabbos, bearing false oaths, etc. are explicated and murder (3), adultery are intimated, the coveting prohibition appears elusive.

Ibn Ezra and Ramban cite different midrashic traditions (4). The former quotes “lo taashok es reiacha(5) (do not cheat your friend). Apparently, the notion is that cheating a fellow Jew is often the ultimate consequence of coveting. Indeed even when one pays for a coveted object (6), he still violates the prohibition – so long as he caused an unwilling separation between owner and object (salesmen and realtors beware!)

Ramban however finds lo tachmod residing in a completely different neighborhood:

לא תחמוד וכתיב הכא ואהבת לרעך כמוך

There is it is written “do not covet” and here it is written Love your neighbor like yourself

Remarkable! “Do not covet” equals “Love your neighbor like yourself”. Their formulations appear so different and yet in midrashic analysis their fates converge. How so?

Ostensibly, the link is as follows: Jealousy is an impediment to love. The master of lo tachmod will naturally gravitate towards loving his neighbor in a deep and abiding way. If I can figure out how to fargen – how to not begrudge one his success, a natural state of love will reside. In this formulation, v’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha is the result of one who internalizes the message of lo tachmod. A simple formulation however begets a lifetime’s work of implementation. At the end of the midrash, we are still left groping for tools of tachmod transcendence.

Perhaps there is a bit more going one here. We may speculate that the “Do not covet/ Love your neighbor stream” flows in the opposite direction as well. Maybe consideration of v’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha will give us the tools to overcome our natural jealous desires.

Parents are not jealous of children who outperform them – they kvell. Why? Intuitively we understand that a child is part parent – they are united on so many levels. Jealousy only begins when there is an apriori sense of disunity.

That’s precisely the point.

Jews are guf echad (one entity). One united neshama (soul) under God! Multiple sources indicate this idea in the most profound of manners (7). Areivus (the doctrine of mutual halachic responsibility) is not a superimposed halachic category but reflective of a spiritual reality of deep connectedness. If you haven’t fulfilled your obligation, then I can make a blessing for you and it is not in vain, because You and I are one, and therefore I haven’t completely fulfilled my obligation either.

It doesn’t always feel that way. Sometimes, Jews argue. Thus God, in His Torah subtly links the two notions as if to say:

“Dear Jews – think deeply about v’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha, love your neighbor because he is kamocha – an extension of yourself. Your life will be that much happier, that much more doused with joy and liberated from the drain and strain of a covetous (read: keeping up with the Joneses) nature. Learn to unite with your friend.

One final thing dear Jews, and this may be an incentive to you as well. If you find room for that friend in your life, you’ll earn a third one – free of charge. V’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha – ani Hashem. I too shall be your third friend (8).

Good Shabbos, Asher Brander


1. The midrash (ויקרא רבה (וילנא) פרשה כד ) reads as follows:
ה תני ר’ חייא פרשה זו נאמרה בהקהל מפני שרוב גופי תורה תלויין בה ר’ לוי אמר מפני שעשרת הדברות כלולין בתוכה אנכי ה’ אלהיך וכתיב הכא אני ה’ אלהיכם לא יהיה לך וכתיב הכא ואלהי מסכה לא תעשו לכם לא תשא וכתיב הכא ולא תשבעו בשמי זכור את יום השבת וכתיב הכא את שבתתי תשמורו כבד את אביך ואת אמך וכתיב הכא איש אמו ואביו תיראו לא תרצח וכתיב הכא לא תעמוד על דם רעך לא תנאף וכתיב הכא מות יומת הנואף והנואפת לא תגנוב וכתיב הכא לא תגנובו לא תענה וכתיב הכא לא תלך רכיל לא תחמוד וכתיב הכא ואהבת לרעך

2. According to some sources, yet a fourth allusion to the aseres hadibros can be found in the second section of Shema (v’haya im shamoa)

3. 19:16 לא תעמד על דם רעך

4. Ibn Ezra follows the Midrash Tanchuma (Kedoshim 3) whereas Ramban quotes the aforementioned Midrash Rabah.

5. 19:13 Lo ta’amod al dom re’echa

6. Cf. Bava Kamma 62a, Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 34:13

7. Along these lines, the Yerushalmi (Nedarim 9:4) explains the prohibition of revenge in a most dramatic fashion. כתיב לא תקום ולא תטור את בני עמך היך עביד’ הוה מקטע קופד ומחת סכינא לידוי תחזור ותמחי לידיה ואהבת לרעך כמוך. “One who is cutting with a knife in one hand, and accidentally cut his other hand, would the injured hand slap (or stab) the other hand out of revenge?”

8. In addition to the pasuk’s implied equation between loving fellow Jews and loving God, R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, in a stunning manner, demonstrated this notion by means of the following gematria equation: ואהבת לרעך כמוך אני ה’ (And you shall love your neighbor like yourself, I am Hashem) = 6+1+5+2+400 (414) + 30+200+70+20 (320) + 20+40+6+20+ (86) + 1+50+10 (61) + 26 = 907. ואהבת את ה’ אלקיך (And you shall love G-d…) = (414) +1+400 (401) + 26+1+30+5+ 10+20 (66) = 907. Cf. also an amazing midrash

Rabbi Asher Brander is the Rabbi of the Westwood Kehilla, Founder/Dean of LINK (Los Angeles Intercommunity Kollel) and is a Rebbe at Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.