19 Yehuda Hanasi St., POB 437, Netanya 4210300, Israel
Aharei Mot Kedoshim 2017
The most famous passage in our parshot is undoubtedly: Love your neighbor as yourself. According to Rabbi Akiva this is the essence of the whole Torah, the rest, he said, is just commentary. The Talmud and midrash can’t let statements like that go unchallenged and so in both sources we find a disagreement between Rabbi Akiva, with his love your neighbor as yourself as the great principle of the Torah, and Rabbi Ben Azzai who said that the sentence before the list of begats in the book of Bereshit, “and this is the record of Adam’s line (meaning progeny),” reflects the great principle of the Torah.
We can understand what Rabbi Akiva means about love, but “this is the record of Adam’s line (progeny)” from Bereshit? What is Ben Azzai talking about?
Perhaps he’s talking about the potential flaw in Akiva’s statement. Yes, love is important but what if you are a perfectionist who can’t stand mistakes in yourself and others? What if you don’t love yourself, why should you bother loving your neighbor? Why should he have it better than you?
But that’s not what Ben Azzai is saying. His message in essence is – we are ALL from the line of Adam. We are all created in the divine image and therefore, we all deserve to be treated with the same respect and honor that we would show to God. It is not a matter of love. It is a much more basic principle and therefore it is one up on Akiva.
A moment’s reflection will probably convince us that Ben Azzai is correct. Respect for all is more inclusive than love your neighbor as yourself. But in both cases the quotes are only partial. They are the pithy parts that we remember. What comes after them is what truly distinguishes them.
“And love your neighbor as yourself – I am the Lord.” The first part is a universal statement, this is what is good for everyone. The second part makes it a religious statement. Love your neighbor and you are following my orders – this is what I’m telling you to do.
This is the record of Adam’s line, is how the sentence begins. It continues: “…on the day God created Adam, male and female He created them.” This is a truly universal statement because it says that we are all created in the same mold, male and female, and no one is better than another (at least not when we start out).
So far we have focused on the basic precept of the second parsha that we read, Kedoshim, which means holy people. The parsha is a guidebook for how to be holy. What does being a holy people mean in actual practice?
Right off the bat I can tell you that most of us can fulfill many of the requirements of being holy, as they are outlined in today’s reading, without breaking a sweat. No, you don’t have to have a long white beard or walk around in a white robe or a black kapote, praying for hours on end each day to be holy.
Honoring your father and mother, treating people fairly, honestly and openly, telling a person when he makes you feel bad (which is good psychology too!), treating strangers fairly, maintaining proper relations with your spouse, paying workers on time. These are among the main building blocks.
Of course there are other things, like not mixing seeds when planting (which may be an early form of environmentalism), not wearing garments of certain mixtures of cloths, bringing sacrifices, not eating unclean animals, keeping the Shabbat, etc. etc. But you can see the trend. Being a mentsch is two thirds of the way to being holy.
The meandering order in which the many mitzvoth are listed is deceptive in a way. Its seeming randomness may actually be its message. The message is that living a holy life does not mean retreating from life. You have to be involved. You have to have contact with other people and you have to treat them properly. You have to accept the other. As Rabbi David Stav points out, even the High Priest, the holiest of the holy people, cannot be a bachelor or a widower. He has to be married so that he can know what love is and what it means to have earthly responsibilities, to interact with other people, to be able to experience what “real life” is like.
Today’s first parsha, Aharei Mot, begins with a detailed account of the Yom Kippur service, the holiest service of the holiest day of the year. In essence, it instructs us how to be separate and distinct from others, and not to be together with others. The introductory phrase to the parsha tells us that these instructions were issued after the death of two of Aharon’s sons when they brought an offering that did not follow the protocols. Here, then, are the protocols. Follow them and you are safe. Violate them and you are in trouble.
But taking all of the mitzvoth together, those for Aharon and the priests as well as those for the nation at large, what we have here is the blueprint for us to follow to be a holy nation. We must be separate but at one with the others at different times. What this does not mean is that we are privileged, unless you understand privileged to mean that we have more responsibilities, more obligations and more monitoring of our actions.
The general impression today is that we as a nation do not really seem to be living up to these responsibilities, especially in terms of mentchlichkeit. On the other hand, those around us are even worse. So do two wrongs make a right? A point to ponder.