This D’var Torah is dedicated to the Refuah Shleima of Chaya Gabriel Masoda Bat Sarah
This week's Parsha of Kedoshim contains the whole Torah. I know it sounds crazy but hear me out. Much of the book of Vayikra is devoted to the service of the priests in the temple. In most of the book, G-d tells Moshe his instructions and Moshe passes them on to the Kohanim (priests). This week's Parsha starts with the line “The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, the LORD your G-d, am holy” (Vayikra 19:1-2 trans. JPS). The medieval commentator Rashi picks up on this and says that this teaches us that this chapter was spoken to the entire people of Israel because the most fundamental rulings of the Torah are taken from it. Perhaps the most important of these is the Mitzvah of loving your neighbor.
The Talmud Bavli in tractate Shabbat tells a story of a Gentile who approached the great sage Hillel and asked him to teach him the entire Torah while standing on one foot! Hillel actually agreed and said to him, “That which is hateful to you do not do to another; that is the entire Torah, and the rest is commentary. Now go and learn.” Hillel took this lesson from this week's parsha where it says “love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD” (Vayikra 19:18 trans. JPS). The question of how to love your fellow human as yourself serves as the basis for what it means to be a Jew adding kedusha (holiness) to your life through mitzvot. The Tanya, the foundational book of the Chabad movement, says every human has a Nefesh HaBahamit (Animal Soul), and a Nefesh HoElokit (Godly Soul). Torah seeks to help us bring the Nefesh HaElokit to a position of authority and control over the Nefesh Bahamit. Throughout Parshat Kedoshim, we are commanded to do things that go against the animal instinct in human nature. We are commanded to not hold grudges, give mostly unconditional respect to our parents, not take revenge, not steal and always leave food for the poor at the corners of our fields. We are also commanded to do things we may not understand such as not shave the corners of our face, not mix types of seeds or type of fabric. Our animal instinct will tell us to do what we need to do to survive, no matter the consequences, and not follow rules that don’t make sense to us on the surface while our Godly instinct will seek to find meaning, be kind to others, and follow God’s will. The project of Torah is to be more Godly.
Rabbi Louis Jacobs comments that Judaism’s emphasis on the legal side of religion is because when we do things in obedience to lofty ideals, we are bringing them down from heaven. He says that by caring for others, practicing charity and benevolence our character changes for the better. In other words, he is saying that we start from a place of obligation, doing these things because G-d says so in the way the Torah tells us, and our inner nature is eventually changed to fully embrace the values as our own, just as G-d does. That is the whole Torah. As we are living in a time where the world is full of hatred and malice, we need to remind ourselves of our sacred mitzvah to love. Many people have the custom each morning to recite, “I accept the obligation of fulfilling my creator's mitzvah in the Torah: Love your neighbor as yourself.” I hope that as Jews we take this obligation seriously, and through Parshat Kedoshim, holiness, we transform our world into one of sacred relationships between each other and between us and G-d.
Mateo Levin, Manhattan BBYO Regional Shaliach
Read commentary on this week's Parsha from BBYO teens around the world.
All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.
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