Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Kdoshim – Vayikra (Leviticus) 19-20

"And YHVH spoke to Moses, saying, 'Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: `You shall be holy [plural -kdoshim], for I YHVH your Elohim am holy'" (19:1-2 emphasis added). The rest of this Parasha, like the previous one, constitutes a portrait of the 'holy,’ or ‘set-apart’ Israelite, whose Elohim is Holy, a fact which could render him of the same status - as it says in Genesis 1:27: "So Elohim created man in His own image; in the image of Elohim He created him" (italics added).  In fact, in chapter 19, “I am YHVH” (“your Elohim” being added to some of them) is repeated 15 times and tagged to the various injunctions. Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:3-4: “Blessed be the Elohim and Father of our Lord Messiah Yeshua, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Messiah, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (italics added).

In contrast to most of YHVH's addresses in the previous Parashot we have been studying, here the “entire congregation of the sons of Israel” – kol ah’dat b'ney Yisrael (v. 2), is being addressed on the matter of being as set-apart as their Elohim. We have here an assortment of directives, of both commission and omission. The penalties described (and mainly found in chapter 20), even if not exercised and carried out in our day and age, are indicators of the way YHVH views the transgressions to which they are appended.

The theme of Parashat Kdoshim is encapsulated in 20:25-26: "You shall therefore distinguish between clean animals and unclean, between unclean birds and clean, and you shall not make yourselves abominable by beast or by bird, or by any kind of living thing that creeps on the ground, which I have separated from you as unclean. And you shall be holy to Me, for I YHVH am Holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine." This clearly illustrates the contaminating effect which the unclean has upon Elohim's People. At the same time, it highlights the separateness of those who belong to Him and who are rendered set apart by this fact.

Going back to chapter 19, we will notice that most of the injunctions or clusters thereof end with "I am YHVH your Elohim." Thus, we read about reverence for father and mother and keeping the Shabbat. This is followed by a command to reject idols. The issue of peace offerings is succeeded by how one is to treat those less fortunate than one’s self (the poor and the sojourner), by leaving for them the gleanings of the fields and vineyards, for “… I am YHVH your Elohim." Theft, deception, lying and swearing falsely in YHVH's name are enumerated next. These constitute "profaning" His Name (vs. 8, 12, 29, in the latter the translation says “do no prostitute”), which is “chalel” (ch.l.l., chet, lamed, lamed) meaning, “to make hollow or burrow,” and is also the root for "casualty" (such as in war). Dealing unjustly (a.sh.k – ayin, shin, kof, oppressing and stealing) with one's fellow man, cursing the deaf and putting a stumbling block in front of the blind, diverting justice in court, tale bearing and not taking responsibility when a friend's life is in danger… all are sealed by "I am YHVH." Obviously we are moving here into more subtle matters that may not be necessarily noticed by society at large, but will be seen by Him whose "eyes run to and fro throughout the whole earth" (ref. 2nd Chr.16:9; Zech. 4:10b). This takes us to even deeper issues of the heart, such as, "You shall not hate your brother in your heart" (19:17).

"Brother," aside from its obvious meaning, could also relate to one's “fellowman,” just as do the following terms: "Associate" - amit (v. 11, translation says ‘one another,’ 15, 17 the translation renders it as ‘neighbor’), and "re'ah," that is, “friend or fellowman” (again, more commonly rendered "neighbor" in the English translations. See 19:16, 18). The utilization of these terms clarifies that ‘others’ are equal to one’s self, and therefore should be treated accordingly. In verse 17 there is also an instruction of commission, relating to the action that should be taken when the need arises to reprimand or rebuke one’s fellow man (rather than harbor hatred and bitterness in one’s heart). If "open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed” (Prov. 27:5), how much more does this apply when hate is the option? One is not to nurse vengeance nor bear a grudge against one's own people, logically leading to the highest dictum; that one is to love one's fellow man as one's self (v. 18), while in Hebrew the word used is “re’ah” – friend, associate. Again, this is sealed by "I am YHVH."

After the prohibitions regarding mixing of seeds and improper nuptials, chapter 19 continues with the tending of trees in YHVH's Promised Land - which for the first three years are to be considered  “uncircumcised” – “arelim,” and in the fourth are to be “praises to YHVH" -  “hiluleem” (ref. 19:23-25), and with prohibitions concerning all pagan idolatrous customs. "I am YHVH" seals these passages, and is also appended to the Shabbat’s observance and to the honor due the elderly. The next cluster deals with the sojourner, because of the Israelites’ own experience in Egypt. Chapter 19 ends with the injunction to utilize strictly honest and just measurements, as befitting a Nation of a just Elohim. "You shall observe all My statutes and all My judgments, and perform them…" (v. 37) brings this chapter to a close, to which words we must append 18:5 (of the previous Parasha) “…which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am YHVH.”  It is no wonder, therefore, that the Renewed Covenant's mandate is to do just that – to enable His People to live out this Torah of Life (or life of Torah) through Him Who is the very Giver of Life.

Chapter 20 echoes chapter 18 (in Parashat Acharey Mot), in dealing largely with various forms of incest, forbidden forms of cohabitation, and abominable sexual practices, which are described by the phrase, “exposing the nakedness” (again, nakedness is tantamount to not having a “covering” – “kippur”). “Nakedness” here is “erva” of the root a.r.h. (ayin, resh, hey). A similar word, stemming from the root a.r.r (ayin, resh, resh) and means “stripped” and “childless” is “ariri” (e.g. Gen. 15:2; Jer. 22:30). Thus we read verses 20 and 21: “And if a man shall lie with his uncle's wife, he has uncovered his uncle's nakedness - erva. They shall bear their sin. They shall die bereft of children – arireem. If a man takes his brother's wife, it is an unclean thing. He has uncovered his brother's nakedness - erva. They shall be childless - arireem” (italics added).  This makes evident the fruitlessness and lifelessness of sin, and symbolizes the fact that sin results only in death (childlessness in this case).