The next time we read this Torah portion is May 02, 2020

Parshat Kedoshim

Torah Portion: Leviticus 19:1–20:27

In Parshat Kedoshim, we learn about laws related to kedusha, holiness, plus the prohibition against idolatry, the mitzvah of charity, the principle of equality before the law, and the sacredness of life.

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How Can I Achieve True Love?

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A self-study guide for: Kedoshim - Social Justice... And Sacrifies?

Parshat Kedoshim Summary

Kedoshim Torah Portion: Leviticus 19:1–20:27

Parshat Kedoshim continues to explore the theme of "holiness" that we read about in the prior parsha, Acharei Mot. It opens with a bold statement from God: "You shall be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy." What follows is a long-list of laws that are meant to help us to attain holiness, so that we can somehow imitate God. Below we have assembled a partial list of these laws, and we invite you to read through the list carefully and see what you notice. Does anything strike you as odd? Are there common themes between these laws?

A partial list of laws from Parshat Kedoshim:

  • Fear your mother and father
  • Observe the Sabbath
  • Don’t serve idols
  • Don’t eat sacrifices on the third day
  • Don’t harvest the corners of your field
  • Don’t pick up the fallen grapes in your vineyard
  • Don’t steal
  • Don’t lie
  • Don’t swear falsely by God’s name
  • Don’t oppress others
  • Don’t steal
  • Pay your workers by the end of each day
  • Don’t curse a deaf person
  • Don’t place a stumbling block before the blind
  • Be unbiased in judgement
  • Don’t spread gossip
  • Don’t hate your brother in your heart
  • You shall surely rebuke your fellow
  • Don’t bear a grudge or take revenge
  • Love your neighbor as yourself (if you want to learn more about this particular law, Rabbi Fohrman has a great video on it here)
  • Don’t crossbreed different species of animal or seed
  • Don’t eat the fruit of the tree of the Land of Israel for the first three years

  • Don’t shave the corner of your beard
  • Don’t cut your skin as a mourning practice
  • Don’t engage in sorcery
  • Respect the elderly
  • Fear God
  • Take care of the stranger
  • Don’t sacrifice your children
  • Don’t commit adultery
  • Don’t commit bestiality… and many more.

You may have noticed that this list contains a combination of mitzvot bein adam l'Makom (laws between people and God) and mitzvot bein adam l'chaveiro (laws between people). Many of these laws are inspiring examples of what we might call "social justice" — the imperative to relate with compassion and kindness to those in need and to provide for them. But many of the laws, particularly the ones that govern man's relationship with God, seem dry and technical: like the prohibition on leaving a sacrifice over until the third day.

The text goes back and forth between these different kinds of laws with seemingly no rhyme or reason, and you may have wondered why that is so. Rabbi Fohrman raises this question in his video, "Social Justice...and Sacrifices?" Rabbi Fohrman focuses in on the progression of laws that include the improper bringing of sacrifices, of leaving parts of your harvest for the poor, and of not lying/stealing/etc. — and instead of concluding that the laws of Kedoshim are a random assortment, in no particular order, Rabbi Fohrman argues that there is a very intentional — and very powerful — logic behind their presentation.

If you're interested in further probing this list of laws, you may have noticed something else strange — that not only does this list seem to be in random order, but it's far from clear what all of these laws have to do with "holiness" in the first place! (And that is the introduction to this parsha, after all!) Serving God and helping the poor seem like very "holy" things to do... but not shaving the corners of your beard? Not eating fruit from a tree's first three years? These are just two examples from the parsha, but there are many more to be found. In their video, Imu Shalev and David Block suggest that the key to understanding Parshat Kedoshim and its array of strange laws is to understand the concept of holiness — an idea that is plagued with misconceptions. Holiness doesn't mean hanging out in the clouds with God and the angels. What is holiness and how do these laws help us to achieve it? And how does that relate to God's holiness? Watch here to find out.