Friday, May 2, 2008

Parashat Kdoshim - Vayikra (Leviticus): 19-20

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 the Parasha, like the one which preceded it (Acharey Mot), 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 contrast to most of YHVH's addresses in the Parashot we have been studying, here the “entire congregation of the sons of Israel” – kol ah’dat b'ney Yisrael, is being addressed. We have here an assortment of directives, both of 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 that they are appended to.

The theme of Parashat Kdoshim is encapsulated in 20:25…"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 God's People; yet over and above that, it underscores the separateness of those who belong to Him and who are rendered set apart by this very 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, in chapter 19 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, which follows, is succeeded by how one is to treat those less fortunate than oneself (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. All of these constitute "profaning" His Name, which is “chalel” (ch.l.l., chet, lamed, lamed) meaning, to “make hollow or burrow”, and is also the root for "casualty" (such as those killed in war). Dealing unjustly ( – 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. 4:10). This takes us to even deeper issues of the heart, such as: "You shall not hate your brother in your heart".

"Brother", aside from its obvious meaning, could also relate to one's “fellowman”, just as do the following terms: "Associate" - amit (v. 11) and "re'ah", that is, “friend or fellowman” (more commonly rendered "neighbor" in the English translations) (ref. 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; that is, what one should do when the need arises, rather than accumulate hatred and bitterness, namely, "rebuke". If "open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed,” (Prov. 25:7), 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). Again, this is sealed by "I am YHVH".

The tending of trees in YHVH's Promised Land - which for the first three years were to be considered “uncircumcised” – “arelim”, and in the fourth are to be “praises to YHVH" - “hiluleem”, as well as prohibitions concerning all pagan idolatrous customs, ensue next. However, "I am YHVH" does not seal the passage before the mention of 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 for utilizing only 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…" forms the ending of chapter 19 (v. 37), to which we must append 18:5, where it says…”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 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), that means “stripped” and also “childless”, is “ariri”, (e.g. Gen. 15:2; Is. 23:13) [1]. Thus, in verse 20 we read: “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” (italics added). This makes evident the fruitlessness and lifelessness of sin, and symbolizes the fact that sin results only in death (childlessness).

It is interesting that the names of these two Parashot are often combined, along with next week's Emor ("say, speak out or express”). Strung together they form a phrase: "After the death of the holy ones, speak out…." Notably, it is only afterdeath” (to the old and carnal) that one may give expression to YHVH's Torah - written on one's heart, by which one might lead a holy life.

[1] The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, Francis Brown Hendrickson.
Publishers, Peabody, Mass. 1979.