FROM THE TORAH
The maintenance of purity in the life of Israel comes to a climax in the opening verses of this double Sedra with the purification from accumulated impurity on the Day of Atonement. The issue is continued with respect to the slaughtering of animals for food and domestic human intimacy, but it is also demarcated as an anticipated distinction of Israel, presently to possess the Land of Israel, from which previous violators of purity will be expelled. Another perspective of purity is developed as well: the earned holiness of Israel, as an analog to that of the Eternal.
THE DAY OF ATONEMENT
After the death (Acharey Mot) of Aaron’s two sons (cf. Leviticus 10:1 ff.), when they drew near before the Eternal, the Eternal charges Moses to warn Aaron his brother that he may not enter the inner side of the Dividing Curtain (Parochet) of the Sanctuary, before the Propitiatory (Kaporet), which is over the Ark and over which the Eternal may be seen in a thick cloud, unless he brings a bull of the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering, lest he die. Moreover, he must first bathe his body in water and then be dressed with a sacred linen tunic, linen breeches directly against his skin, a linen sash, and a linen turban. He shall also take from the congregation of the Children of Israel two male goats for a sin offering and one ram for a burnt offering.
Casting of Lots
Aaron shall offer his bull of sin offering to seek atonement for himself and for his household, and he should position the two male goats before the Eternal at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, casting lots concerning them: one for the Eternal and one for Azazel. He shall offer up as a sin offering the goat for which the lot came up for the Eternal. The other goat, for which the lot came up for Azazel, shall be left standing alive before the Eternal for seeking atonement, and shall ultimately be sent for Azazel into the wilderness.
In the meantime, Aaron should slaughter his bull of sin offering and bring a panful of glowing coals from upon the Altar, from before the Eternal, and two handfuls of finely-ground aromatic incense, to the inner side of the Dividing Curtain. He shall put the incense upon the fire before the Eternal, creating an incense cloud to obscure the Propitiatory which is over the Testimony, so that he does not die. He shall sprinkle some of the blood of the bull with his finger over the Propitiatory on the east side, and on the front of the Propitiatory he shall sprinkle some of the blood seven times with his finger. Then he shall slaughter the people’s male goat of sin offering and bring its blood inside of the Dividing Curtain. As he did with the blood of the bull, he shall sprinkle some of the blood of the people’s male goat of sin offering both over the Propitiatory and in front of it.
Thus shall he seek atonement for the Sanctuary from the impurities and iniquities of the Children of Israel, with respect to all of their sins, and thus shall he do for the Tent of Meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their impurities. Let no man be in the Tent of Meeting when he enters to seek atonement in the Sanctuary, until he leaves. He shall seek atonement for himself, for his household, and for all the community of Israel. Then he shall go out to the Altar, which is before the Eternal, and seek atonement for it, applying some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat to each of the horns of the Altar. He shall also sprinkle upon it some of the blood with his finger seven times. Thus shall he purify it and sanctify it from the impurities of the Children of Israel.
Then Aaron shall bring forward the living goat and place both of his hands upon its head, confessing over it all of the iniquities and transgressions of the Children of Israel. Bearing upon it all of Israel’s sins, the goat is conducted into the wilderness by a specially-designated man, to a place from which there is no return.
Aaron shall then come to the Tent of Meeting, remove the linen garments and leave them there. He shall bathe his body in water in a holy place, put on his garments, and go out and offer his burnt offering and the people’s burnt offering, seeking atonement for himself and for the people. He shall cause the fat of the sin offering to smoke upon the Altar. The conductor of the goat for Azazel shall wash his garments and bathe his body in water. He may thereafter enter the camp.
The bull of sin offering and the goat of sin offering, the blood of which was brought to seek atonement in the Sanctuary, shall be removed to outside of the camp. Their hides, their flesh and their dung shall be burned in fire. The burner shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water. He may thereafter enter the camp.
Moses does as the Eternal commanded him.
This shall be an everlasting statute for you. On the tenth day of the seventh month you shall afflict yourselves and not do any work, both the native and the alien who sojourns with you, for on that day atonement shall be made for you to purify you from all of your sins before the Eternal. It is a Sabbath of complete rest. The anointed Kohen who succeeds his father and puts on the sacred vestments of linen shall seek atonement for the Most Holy Sanctuary, for the Tent of Meeting, for the Altar, and for the Kohanim and for all of the people of the community, as an everlasting statute, to seek atonement of the Children of Israel from all of their sins, one time in the year.
ALL OFFERINGS TO THE TENT OF MEETING
The Eternal charges Moses to warn Aaron, his sons, and all the Children of Israel, against slaughtering an ox, a sheep, or a goat, either inside or outside of the camp, without bringing it to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting as an offering to the Eternal before His Tabernacle. Failing to so bring it shall be imputed as bloodguilt for the violator: he has shed blood and will be cut off from among his people. The purpose of this warning is to end sacrificing in the open by the Children of Israel. Instead, they should bring their sacrifices to the Kohen and slaughter them as peace offerings to the Eternal. The Kohen shall dash the blood of the sacrifice upon the Altar of the Eternal and cause the fat to smoke for a pleasant aroma to the Eternal. No more shall they offer their sacrifices to the goat demons after which they stray. This shall be an everlasting statute for them throughout their generations.
Anyone of the House of Israel or of the aliens who sojourn in their midst who offers a burnt offering or a sacrifice that is not brought to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting shall be cut off from his people.
PROHIBITION OF BLOOD
If anyone of the House of Israel or of the aliens who sojourn in their midst partakes of any blood, I shall oppose that person and cut that person off from among its people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have provided you the blood upon the Altar to seek atonement for your lives as it is the blood underlying the life that achieves expiation. Further, if any of them hunts an animal or a bird in order to eat it, he must pour out its blood and cover it with earth, because the blood of all flesh underlies its life.
PROHIBITION OF DEAD OR TORN ANIMAL
If anyone, native or alien, eats an animal which has already died or is torn, he shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be impure until the evening, at which time he shall be pure. Otherwise he shall bear his sin.
PROHIBITION OF ALIEN IMPURITIES
The Eternal charges Moses to warn the Children of Israel: Do not follow the practice of the land of Egypt in which you dwelled, and do not follow the practice of the land of Canaan to which I am bringing you. Follow My laws, not theirs, “I, the Eternal your God.” Observe My statutes and ordinances, “by which a person may live” (Leviticus 18:5).
Do not have an intimate encounter with any of your blood relatives. These include:
Your father, that is to say, your mother or your father’s wife;
Your sister, whether your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter, whether born in the household or outside;
Your granddaughter, whether the daughter of your son or the daughter of your daughter;
The daughter of your father’s wife, born in the household of your father, as she is your sister;
Your father’s sister, as she is your father’s flesh;
Your mother’s sister, as she is your mother’s flesh;
Your father’s brother, that is to say, his wife, as she is your aunt;
Your daughter-in-law, as she is your son’s wife; and
Your brother’s wife, as she is your brother’s intimate.
Do not have an intimate encounter with a woman and with her daughter, nor may you take in an intimate encounter the daughter of her son or the daughter of her daughter, as they are blood relatives and it would be incest.
Do not take your wife’s sister as a second wife to be intimate with her in your wife’s lifetime.
Do not approach a woman for intimacy during the period of her impurity.
Do not have intercourse with the wife of another and become impure through her.
Do not offer up your offspring to Molech, so that you do not profane the Name of your God, I the Eternal.
Do not lie with a male in the manner of lying with a woman; it is an abomination.
Do not lie with any animal to become impure through it, and let no woman lie down before it; it is unnatural.
Do not subject yourselves to impurity by engaging in any of these practices as did the nations that I am expelling from before you. When the Land is defiled, I visit its sin upon it, and the Land disgorges its inhabitants. This is the consequence of the abominations performed by your predecessors in the Land. So observe My statutes and My ordinances, both native and alien who sojourn among you. Let the Land not disgorge you as it did your predecessors. Whoever violate these laws will be cut off from the midst of their people. Keep My charge, I, the Eternal, your God.
The Eternal charges Moses to speak to all the congregation of the Children of Israel these words:“You shall be holy (Kedoshim) as I, the Eternal, your God, am holy” (Leviticus 19:2):
You shall fear, each man, his mother and his father, and you shall observe my Sabbaths.
Do not turn to false gods, and do not make molten gods for yourselves.
Perform your peace offerings to the Eternal in a manner that is acceptable on your behalf: It should be eaten by the first and second days; any that remains on the third day shall be burned in fire. If it is actually eaten on the third day, it is refuse and unacceptable. One who eats it then shall bear his iniquity for he has profaned what is holy to the Eternal, and such a one shall be cut off from his people.
When you reap the harvest of your field or your vineyard, do not collect everything. Instead, leave the corner of your field, the gleaning of your harvest, and the fallen fruit of your vineyard, for the poor and for the stranger.
You shall not steal or deal falsely with another or use My name in a false oath, thereby profaning the Name of your God.
You shall not extort your fellow or commit robbery.
Pay the wages of your hired worker immediately: do not wait until the next morning.
Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but fear your God.
Do not be unfair in judgment; do not favor the weak or defer to the great, but judge another in righteousness.
Do not go about as a tale-bearer among your people.
Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.
Do not hate your brother in your heart, but do indeed reprove your fellow so that you do not bear sin because of him.
Do not act vengefully or bear a grudge towards the children of your people, but love your fellow as yourself.
Observe My statutes:
Do not let your animal mate with a different kind, do not sow two kinds of seed together, and do not wear a garment made of mixed kinds.
If a man should have intercourse with a maidservant designated for another man, but she has not been redeemed or freed, there shall be an investigation followed by a fine, but they shall not be put to death since she was not freed. He shall bring a ram as guilt offering to the Eternal at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and the Kohen shall seek atonement for him for the sin that he committed, and he shall thereby be forgiven.
When you enter the Land and plant any tree for food, you shall consider its fruit as uncircumcised for three years; it may not be eaten. In the fourth year it shall be considered sacred celebration. Then, in the fifth year you may eat its fruit, to increase its yield for you.
Do not eat anything together with its blood.
Do not practice divination or soothsaying.
Do not round off the corner of your head or destroy the corner of your beard.
Do not make a bodily incision in your flesh, and do not make imprinted writing upon yourselves.
Do not profane your daughter by making her a harlot; do not make the Land licentious and full of perversity.
Keep My Sabbaths, and revere My Sanctuary.
Do not turn to necromancers or knowing spirits; do not seek to be defiled by them.
Rise before the hoary head, showing respect for the aged, and be in awe of your God.
When a stranger sojourns with you in your Land, do not oppress him; rather, treat him as a native among you, and love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Do not falsify measures of weight, length or capacity: you shall have an honest balance, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin.
I, the Eternal your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt: Keep all of My statutes and all of My ordinances, and do them—I, the Eternal.
The Eternal charges Moses to teach the Children of Israel:
Anyone of the Children of Israel or of the alien sojourning in Israel who gives of his offspring to Molech shall be put to death by stoning at the hand of the people of the Land, and I shall oppose that man and cut him off from the midst of his people. His act would defile My Sanctuary and profane My holy name. If the people of the Land should fail to recognize that man and his offense, then I shall oppose not only that man but also his family and cut off not only him but also all who go astray after him with respect to the Molech.
I shall also oppose anyone who turns to necromancers or knowing spirits to go astray after them, and I shall cut him off from the midst of his people.
Sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I, the Eternal, am your God. Keep My statutes and do them. I, the Eternal, make you holy.
Indeed, anyone who curses his father or his mother shall be put to death: his bloodguilt is upon him.
If any man commits adultery with another man’s wife, both adulterers shall be put to death. A man who lies with his father’s wife has violated the intimacy of his own father; both of them shall be put to death; their bloodguilt is upon them.
If a man should lie with his daughter-in-law, they shall both be put to death; they have committed incest; their bloodguilt is upon them.
If a man should lie with another man in the manner of lying with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall both be put to death; their bloodguilt is upon them.
If a man should take a woman and her mother, it is incest: both he and they should be burned in fire, in order to prevent such incest in your midst.
A man who lies with an animal shall be put to death, and you shall kill the animal.
If a woman approaches any animal to lie with it, you shall kill the woman and the animal; their bloodguilt is upon them.
If a man takes his sister, whether the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother, and they are intimate with each other, it is a disgrace: they shall be cut off in the sight of the children of their people. He has been intimate with his sister; he shall bear his iniquity.
If a man lies with a woman when she is infirm and is intimate with her, he has uncovered her flow, and she has uncovered the flow of her blood: both of them shall be cut off from among their people.
You shall not be intimate with the sister of your mother or with the sister of your father, one’s being intimate thereby with his own flesh: they shall bear their iniquity.
If a man lies with his aunt, he has violated the intimacy of his own uncle: they shall bear their sin and die childless.
If a man takes the wife of his brother, it is impurity; he has violated the intimacy of his own brother: they shall be childless.
Keep My laws, and do not follow the laws of the nation that I am expelling from the Land because they followed those practices which I despise. You shall inherit their land, which I am giving to you, a land flowing with milk and honey, you whom I separate from other peoples. You should make a separation between clean and unclean animals and birds so that you do not bring abomination upon yourselves, through any land animal or bird or anything that tramples the earth which I have separated for you, to cause impurity. Be holy to Me, as I the Eternal am holy and I separate you from the other peoples to be Mine.
If a man or a woman possesses a necromancer or a knowing spirit, they shall be put to death by stoning; their bloodguilt shall be upon them.
FROM THE PROPHETS
Haftarah for Shabbat Acharey Mot—Kedoshim
Destiny of Israel and the Fallen Sukkah of David
Like the children of the Ethiopians
are you to Me, O Children of Israel:
I brought up Israel from the land of Egypt,
I also brought up the Philistines from Caphtor
and the Arameans from Kir.
Now I observe your evil kingdom,
and I shall destroy it from off the face of the earth!
Yet I shall not utterly destroy the House of Jacob,
declares the Eternal.
At My command,
the House of Israel
shall be scattered among all the nations
as in a sieve,
yet none shall be lost.
But all of the sinners of My people,
who consider themselves protected,
shall die by the sword.
On that day
I shall reestablish
the fallen Sukkah of David
and its ruins
as in days of old,
in order that they may possess
the remnant of Edom
and all the nations
upon which My Name is called.
Indeed the days are coming,
declares the Eternal,
when the yield will be so abundant
that the reaper will have more to reap than he can finish
before the ploughman of the next planting
catches up with him!
Similarly with the vintage,
the sower of seed for the next planting
will catch up
with the treader of grapes from the previous,
so that the mountains will drip sweet wine
and all the hills shall melt!
So I will return the captivity of My people Israel,
who will rebuild cities from their waste
and inhabit them,
plant vines and drink their wine,
make gardens and eat their fruit.
I shall plant them upon their Land,
never more to be uprooted,
declares the Eternal your God.
FROM TALMUD AND MIDRASH
Leviticus Rabbah 21:8
Preparation before Entering
“The Eternal is speaking to Moses
after the death of the two sons of Aaron
when they drew near before the Eternal…”:
“Let Aaron not enter the Sanctuary
at any time…lest he die…
except under these conditions…”
A similar note of caution:
“You shall make the robe…around its hem you shall make ornamentation
resembling pomegranates of blue, purple and crimson,
alternating with actual bells of gold.
Aaron shall wear this robe when he officiates,
so that the sound may be heard
when he enters the Sanctuary before the Eternal and when he leaves it.
Then he shall not die.”
Rabbi Chananiah ben Chachinai and Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai went to learn Torah with Rabbi Akiba at B’nei B’rak, and they stayed there for thirteen years. Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai corresponded, so that he knew what was happening in his home. Rabbi Chaninah, on the other hand, did not correspond, so he did not know what was happening in his home. But his wife sent him a message: Your daughter has come of age, so come home to arrange her marriage! But he did not go.
Rabbi Akiba, informed by the Holy Spirit, said to all of them: Whoever has a daughter come of age should go home and arrange for her marriage. Rabbi Chaninah understood what he meant, so he obtained permission to depart. When he arrived home, he did not find his wife at home. So he went to the place where women fill their pitchers with water, and eventually he heard someone call her name to fill her pitcher and leave.
He followed after her until she entered their house. Then he entered after her without any warning. Before she could recognize him, her spirit departed. Master of the universe, he exclaimed, is this a just reward for this poor woman after waiting for me for thirteen years? Whereupon her spirit returned to her body.
Said Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai: Among practices of which the Holy One, blessed be He, disapproves is to enter one’s own house without warning, not to mention the house of another.
Regarding the daughter who has come of age, Rav taught that if you are holding a male servant, free him and give her to him.
When Rabbi Yochanan went up to greet Rabbi Chaninah, he used to knock on the door, in accordance with, “that the sound may be heard when he enters the Sanctuary before the Eternal” (ibid.).
Leviticus Rabbah 21:10
Defender of Israel
“Thus shall Aaron enter the Sanctuary…
dressed with a sacred linen tunic,
linen breeches directly against his skin,
a linen sash,
and a linen turban….”
Why did the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) not enter wearing gold vestments?
Rabbi Simon taught in the name of Rabbi Joshua: Because the accused cannot be believed as a defender! If the Kohen Gadol, who defends Israel, wore gold vestments, they would give Satan an opening to accuse: Yesterday they made a golden god, and today they want to serve in gold vestments!
Rabbi Joshua of Sichnin taught in the name of Rabbi Levi: In order to spare the treasury of Israel!
Rabbi Levi taught: To eschew prideful behavior, in accordance with, ”Do not exalt yourself in the presence of the King…” (Proverbs 25:6)!
Leviticus Rabbah 25:3
Following After the Eternal
“You shall be holy
as I the Eternal your God am holy.”
“When you enter the Land and you plant a tree for food…”
Rabbi Judah son of Rabbi Simon opened his discourse with the verse:
“Follow after the Eternal your God…and cleave to Him.”
But is it possible for flesh and blood to follow after the Holy One, blessed be He?
Of Him it is written, “Your way is through the sea, and Your path is through the mighty waters!” (Psalms 77:20) And you say, “Follow after the Eternal your God…and cleave to Him?” (Deuteronomy 13:5)
Is it possible for flesh and blood to ascend to heaven in order to cleave to the Divine Presence?
Of Him it is written, “The Eternal your God is a consuming fire!” (Deuteronomy 4:24) And you say, “Cleave to Him?”
But at the beginning of Creation, the Holy One, blessed be He, engaged only in planting. This can be learned from, “The Eternal God planted a garden in Eden.” (Genesis 2:8) So for you, when you enter the Land, you will engage at first only in planting. This is the way that you shall “follow after the Eternal your God”: Read the verse, “When you enter the Land, you will plant a tree for food…” (Leviticus 19:23).
Sifra Kedoshim 7 Parshata 1
Fear and Honor of God and Parents
|“You shall fear, everyone,|
his mother and his father…”
|“You shall fear|
the Eternal your God…”
By using the same words, “You shall fear,” before both parents and God,
He compares fear of father and mother to fear of God!
your father and your mother…”
|“You shall fear, everyone,|
his mother and his father…”
The father usually precedes the mother where they are mentioned together:
Does that mean that honor of father is preferred over honor of mother?
No, the verse here (Leviticus 19:3), wherein mother precedes father,
counters that impression and proves that they are equal!
“You shall fear, everyone,
his mother and his father…”
What constitutes fear?
Not standing in their place
Not sitting in their place
Not contradicting their words
Not taking sides in their disputes with others
(cf. Talmud Kiddushin 31b; translated here in the inclusive spirit of 9 above).
your father and your mother…”
|“Honor the Eternal|
from your wealth…”
He compares honor of father and mother to honor of God!
Rabbenu Yonah ben Avraham Gerondi (13th cent.): This verse in Proverbs relates to the issue of faith and confidence (bitachon), whereby we should not worry that generosity in expenditures for the fulfillment of commandments and charity will deplete our wealth; rather, the Eternal will bless us for it and increase our holdings, as the next verse promises, “and your stores will be filled in abundance…” (Proverbs 3:10).
Another possible reading of Proverbs 3:9:
“Honor the Eternal more than your wealth….”
Accordingly, what constitutes honor of parents?
Providing them with food and drink
Clothing them and dressing them
Helping them in and helping them out
Talmud Kiddushin 32a: It could be argued, as you honor God from your own wealth, so do you honor your parents from your own wealth. But the Rabbis ruled: From your father’s wealth! Nonetheless, there will be a cost to the children in time which they devote to caring for their parents.
What if a parent directs him to transgress
a commandments of the Torah:
Should he obey them?
“You shall fear, everyone,
his mother and his father,
and observe My Sabbaths…”
Inclusion of the words, “And observe My Sabbaths..,” following the commandment to fear, everyone, your parents, says to us: And you are all obligated to honor Me as well!
Talmud Kiddushin 30b-31a
Honor of Mother, Fear of Father
Our Rabbis taught that there are three partners in the making of a human being: The Holy One, blessed be He, his father, and his mother. When one honors father and mother, the Holy One, blessed be He, says: I regard it as if I am dwelling with them and they are honoring Me!
It is also taught that Rabbi said: The Creator of the universe well knows that a child honors mother more than father because she influences the child with her words, and for just that reason the Holy One, blessed be He, put honor of father before honor of mother (cf. Exodus 20:12). And it is also well known to the Creator that a child fears father more than mother because he teaches the child Torah, and for just that reason the Holy One, blessed be He, put fear of mother before fear of father (cf. Leviticus 19:3).
Malbim (Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michel, 19th cent.): It is the way of nature for the child to honor the mother more and to fear the father. Therefore He placed first the opposite of what comes naturally to the human mind. This is to teach us that honor and fear should not be left to natural law but rather be activated in accordance with divine commandment.
“Blessed is the one who trusts in the Eternal,
for whom the Eternal is his confidence…
The human heart is oblique,
not readily understood by man himself;
I the Eternal observe the heart,
penetrate its secrets,
providing each one
according to his needs,
according to the fruit of his doings.”
Talmud Sanhedrin 86a
Two Types of Stealing
“You shall not steal…”
“You shall not steal…”
Our Rabbis taught: “You shall not steal” (The Ten Commandments: Exodus 20:13) refers to one who steals people (abduction). – But perhaps it refers to one who steals property? – Interpret from context (based upon the Thirteen Principles by which the Torah is Interpreted): Just as the preceding and following commandments deal with capital crimes, so must this commandment deal with a capital crime (stealing people is a capital crime while stealing property is not)!
Where, then, does the Torah teach the prohibition of theft of property?
Another teaching: “You shall not steal or deal falsely or lie one to another” (The Holiness Code: Leviticus 19:11) refers to one who steals property (theft). – But perhaps it refers to one who steals people (abduction)? – Interpret from context (based upon the Thirteen Principles by which the Torah is Interpreted): Just as the preceding and following commandments (cf. ibid. 13) deal with property crimes (which are not capital crimes), so must this commandment deal with theft of property (which is not a capital crime)!
Sifra Kedoshim 7 Parshata 2
Consequences of Stealing
“You shall not steal,
and you shall not deceive,
and you shall not lie,
one to another;
and you shall not swear falsely by My Name,
then you profane the Name of your God,
I the Eternal.”
This tells us that if you “steal,” you will come to “act deceptively,” eventually “lying”, and ultimately “swearing falsely by My Name.”
This teaches further that when you “swear falsely by My Name,” “you profane your Name of God,” “the Divine Name” that is with you!
Another interpretation: When you “swear falsely by My Name,” by “profaning your Name of God,” “you are profaned,” you reduce yourself to an existence lower than that of animals. This was expressed by the prophet:
“The Land is profaned under its residents,
because they have transgressed laws…
broken the universal covenant;
therefore a curse consumes the Land,
its inhabitants are to blame,
its inhabitants are profaned,
there remain men of low quality.”
Sifra Kedoshim 7 Perek 4
“Do Not Stand Idly By…”
Whence do we derive that if you have testimony in support of someone, you are not allowed to remain silent? “You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor…” (Leviticus 19:16).
Whence do we derive that if you see another drowning in the river or being attacked by bandits or a wild beast, you are required to rescue him even at the cost of an assailant’s life? “You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor…” (ibid.).
Whence do we derive that if you see someone pursuing another to kill him or a man pursuing another man or a betrothed woman to commit a sexual crime, you are required to rescue the pursued even at the cost of the assailant’s life? “You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor…” (ibid.).
Talmud Arachin 16b
Enmity vs. Reproof
“Do not harbor enmity
for your brother in your heart;
instead you should indeed
reprove your fellow
and not bear sin
How far should you go
in reproving your fellow?
Rav said: Until your fellow strikes you.
Samuel said: Until your fellow curses you.
Rabbi Yochanan said: Until your fellow rebukes you.
The answers of these match, respectively, the answers of three earlier authorities—Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua, and Ben Azzai—each of whom based his opinion on part of Saul’s response to the reproof of Jonathan his son, viz. the rhetorical questions, “Why should David be put to death? What has he done?” (I Samuel 20:32):
“Then Saul became angry at Jonathan, and he said to him, ‘O son of a perverse and rebellious woman, surely I know that you choose the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness!’” (ibid. 30) “Then Saul raised the spear at him to strike him….” (ibid. 33)
For Rabbi Eliezer, who said: Until your fellow strikes you—“Then Saul raised the spear at him to strike him…”
For Rabbi Yehoshua, who said: Until your fellow curses you—“Surely I know that you choose the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness!”
For Ben Azzai, who said: Until your fellow rebukes you—“Then Saul became angry at Jonathan, and he said to him, ‘O son of a perverse and rebellious woman…’”
But then how can Ben Azzai ignore the verses that support striking and cursing by teaching that that you need to reprove your fellow only until he rebukes you? He would argue that the verses of striking and cursing reflect the special situation of Jonathan, who, because of his extraordinary love for David, was prepared to sacrifice his personal safety more than would be required normally.
Sifra Kedoshim 7 Perek 4
Vengeance and Grudge
“Do not act vengefully
or bear a grudge
towards the children of your people…”
In order to understand how vengeance and grudge, respectively, might occur and the difference between them, suppose one farmer comes to the other and asks him to lend him a scythe, but the other farmer refuses. The next day that other farmer goes to the first farmer to borrow a mattock. The first farmer says to him, “I won’t lend you my mattock today just as you refused to lend me your scythe yesterday!” To that it was said, “Do not act vengefully” (ibid.)!
Again, let us suppose afresh that one farmer comes to the other and asks him to lend him a mattock, and the other farmer refuses. The next day that other farmer goes to the first farmer to borrow a scythe. The first farmer says to him, “Here it is; I am not like you who refused to lend me your mattock yesterday!” To that it was said, “Do not bear a grudge” (ibid.)!
Sifra Kedoshim 7 Parshata 2
“Love your fellow as yourself…”
Rabbi Akiba held this as a fundamental principle in the Torah.
But Ben Azzai put forward:
“This is the Book of the Generations of Man…”
He held this as a more fundamental principle.
Genesis Rabbah 24:7: So that you should not say, “Since I despise myself, let my fellow be despised!” Said Rabbi Tanchuma: if you should take that attitude, know that you are denigrating “…the likeness of God in which your fellow was created” (Genesis 5:1b)!
Rabbi Samson of Sens (12th cent. France): Rabbi Akiba’s teaching may be compared with Hillel’s teaching to the prospective convert, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow; that is all of the Torah, the rest is commentary; go and learn!” (Talmud Shabbat 31a) It may be considered the fundamental principle underlying a multitude of commandments.
Mirkin Commentary: Ben Azzai’s teaching stands upon the equality of all human beings, not simply love. All men are descendants of Adam; therefore all of the Torah’s laws are founded upon the principle that all human beings are equal one to another regardless of how we feel about ourselves or others. He also thereby expands our understanding of the fundamental principle to include all of humanity and not just Israel.
Malbim (Meir Leibush ben Yehiel Michel Wisser, 19th cent. Ukraine): Philosophers have explained as a fundamental of moral philosophy that the maxim of a person’s action must be universalizable, that is, that he could will it to become a rule that would apply to everyone. By this measure the problem with Rabbi Akiba’s identifying “Love your fellow as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) as fundamental is that it depends on the value that a person assigns to himself and thereby misses the criterion of being universalizable. Against this Ben Azzai raised the fundamental principle to a higher level, citing “This is the book of the generations of Man…” (Genesis 5:1a), implying that all children of Adam are connected as a single body and that all of them were created in the image of God (cf. ibid. 1b) in order to fulfill the image and the likeness of the Highest as if they were all a single body composed of various parts, so that the head would love the hand as itself. With that basis, Ben Azzai could say, “Despise no man!” (Mishnah Avot 4:3) and “The whole world was created as an extension of God!” (Talmud Berachot 6b) Accordingly, a person should want for another person what he wants for himself because he is flesh of his flesh and bone of his bones (cf. Genesis 2:23).
Maharzu (Ze’ev Wolf Einhorn, 19th cent. Belarus) explains a parable here in Talmud Yerushalmi (Nedarim 9:4): If one hand of a person wounds his other hand, would he think to take revenge against his own hand that wounded himself? In the same way, a person should not act upon the calculation that his fellow has harmed him, therefore he should harm him back, rather that he is of your flesh and therefore he would not harm him back anymore than the wounded arm of a person would wound the other arm in retaliation.
Leviticus Rabbah 25:1
Take Hold of the Tree of Life
“When you enter the Land and plant a tree for food,
you shall consider its fruit as uncircumcised (areylim) for three years;
it may not be eaten.
In the fourth year
it shall be considered sacred celebration (kodesh hilulim).
Then, in the fifth year
you may eat its fruit…”
Along with those words, consider the following:
“It is a tree of life
to those who take hold of it…”
Read our verse: “When you enter the Land, then you will plant a tree for food….” The “tree that you are planting for food” is the Torah! — Why do you have to “consider its fruit as uncircumcised (areylim) for three years,” during which time “it may not be eaten,” and “in the fourth year it must be set aside for sacred celebration (kodesh hillulim),” and only “in the fifth year may you eat its fruit in order to increase its yield…?” (Leviticus 19:23-25) Because, “It is a tree of life” only “to those who take hold of it!” (Proverbs 3:18)
Rav Huna explained this in the name of Rabbi Acha: The way of Torah should not be in your eyes like the daughter who has come of age and whose father seeks to marry her off to the first man who becomes available. Rather: “My son, if you accept my teachings and commit to yourself my commandments…then you will understand fear of the Eternal and attain knowledge of God!” (Proverbs 2:1-5) It depends on what you do: if you have practiced my teachings, then you have accepted them! – It is not just a matter of planting the tree but also of taking hold of all of its mitzvot: then it shall be a tree of life for you, and its yield will increase for you!
Rav Huna taught in the name of Rabbi Benjamin ben Levi: This may be likened to a king who was sending his son out into the world to engage in trade. His son said: Father, I fear robbers on the highway and pirates on the sea. What did his father do? He hollowed out a staff for his son and put sacred words inside it. He gave it to his son and said: With this staff in your hand, you will not have to fear any creature at all! Somewhat similarly, the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses: Say to Israel, engage in Torah, and you will not need to fear any nation! So were the Levites commanded to proclaim at Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal: “Cursed is the one who fails to uphold the words of this Torah to do them!” (Deuteronomy 27:26) Had it said, “Cursed is the one who fails to learn…,” there would be no justice against Israel’s enemies. Likewise, if it had said, “It is a tree of life to those who labor in it…,” there would be no justice against Israel’s enemies. Rather: “It is a tree of life to those who take hold of it…” (Proverbs 3:18)!
Leviticus Rabbah 25:5
“Who gave wisdom to the chicken?”
When the hen’s chicks are small, she gathers them under her wings to keep them warm and pecks before them. When they are grown, if one of them wants to stay near her, she pecks at its head and says to it, “Go peck in your own heap!”
Similarly, when the Children of Israel were in the wilderness for forty years, the manna descended (cf. Exodus 16:15), the well came up (cf. Talmud Ta’anit 9a), the quail was abundant (cf. Exodus 16:13), heavy clouds surrounded them to protect them (cf. Talmud Sukkah 11b), and a pillar of cloud traveled before them to show them the way (cf. Exodus 13:21). But when they entered the Land of Israel, Moses said to them: Let each man take up his hoe and go out and plant trees. Thus: “When you enter the Land, then you will plant a tree for food…” (Leviticus 19:23)!
Hadrian the emperor—may his bones be ground up!—was on the move through the roads of Tiberias when he saw an old man cutting fruits in order to plant trees. To him Hadrian remarked: Old man, if you had been diligent in your youth, you would not have to labor in your old age! The old man responded: I was diligent in my youth, and I have been diligent in my old age; whatever it pleases the Master of Heaven to do, He does!
The emperor asked him his current age, to which the man responded: I am 100 years old. The emperor: So you are 100 years old, and here you are digging holes to plant trees; do you think that you will eat from any of them? He replied: If I so merit, I will eat from them; but if not, just as my fathers labored for me, so will I have labored for my children! Then the emperor said to him: By your life, if you merit to eat from them, let me know.
When some time had passed, the trees that the old man had planted bore him figs. He said: The time has come for me to tell the king. So he filled a basket with figs and presented himself at the entrance of the palace. When he was asked by the guards to state his business, he requested entrance to see the king. When the king asked him to state his business, he reminded the king of their encounter when he was planting trees and the king’s words to him, “If you merit to eat from them, let me know.” So now, said the old man, I have merited to eat from them, and these figs are some of their fruit! With that, Hadrian ordered his servants to bring a golden chair in which the old man might sit. He further ordered them to empty the bag of figs and to refill it with valuable coins. His servants were taken aback: All of this honor you bestow upon this old Jewish man?! The king said to them: It is his Creator who has honored him!
At that time there was a couple living in the vicinity of the palace. The devious wife said to her husband: Dimwit, see how much the king likes figs; he even exchanges them for valuable coins! So her husband filled his saddle bag with figs and went to stand before the palace. When he was asked by the guards to state his business, he said to them: I have heard that the king likes figs and exchanges them for valuable coins. They let him enter and told the king: This man was standing at the gate of the palace carrying a saddle bag full of figs. When the king asked him to state his business, he said: I heard that the king likes figs and exchanges them for valuable coins. The emperor then ordered his guards to station the man at the entrance of the palace and to have everyone who enters or leaves throw a fig in his face.
Towards evening they released him. He went home and greeted his wife: All of this honor I owe to you! She said to him: Go and tell your mother the good news, that they were figs and not etrogs, and that they were ripe!
Talmud Sanhedrin 96b-97a, 98a
When will Mashiach come?
“On that day
I shall reestablish
the fallen Sukkah of David…”
Rav Nachman asked Rabbi Isaac: Have you heard when the son of the fallen is coming? But Rabbi Isaac asked in return: Who is “the son of the fallen?” Rav Nachman answered: The anointed one (mashiach). Rabbi Isaac: The mashiach? You call the mashiach “the son of the fallen?” Rav Nachman: Yes, for it is written, “On that day I shall reestablish the fallen Sukkah of David” (Amos 9:11)! Rabbi Isaac then cited the teaching of Rabbi Yochanan: The son of David shall come in a generation when scholars are few and others’ eyes fail in suffering and distress, with an unceasing supply of new troubles and evil decrees.
Rabbi Chaninah taught: The son of David will not come until there will be no fish even for those whose illness requires it, as the prophet foresaw, “Then shall I lower their waters and cause their rivers to run with oil” (Ezekiel 32:14), only then, “On that day I shall cause prosperity to sprout for the House of Israel” (ibid. 29:21)!
Zeiri reported that Rabbi Chaninah taught: The son of David will not come until the arrogant in Israel cease, as the prophet foresaw, “Then I shall remove from your midst those who rejoice in your pride, and I shall leave in your midst a poor and afflicted people who will take refuge in the Name of the Eternal” (Zephaniah 3:11-12)!
Rabbi Simlai said in the name of Rabbi Elazar son of Rabbi Shimon: The son of David will not come until all corrupt magistrates cease from Israel, as the prophet foresaw, “I shall turn My hand upon you…and remove all of your alloy and restore your judges as at first…” (Isaiah 1:25-26)!
Ulla taught: Jerusalem will be redeemed only through righteousness, as the prophet said, “Zion shall be redeemed in justice, and those who return to her, in righteousness” (Isaiah 1:27)!
Withal, Rabbi Yochanan taught: The son of David will come only in a generation which is altogether righteous or in a generation which is altogether wicked. In a generation which is altogether righteous, for the prophet promised, “When your people, all of them, shall be righteous, they shall inherit the Land for ever” (Isaiah 60:21)! Yet in a generation which is altogether wicked, the prophet wondered, “Even with the lack of a champion for good, God’s own arm would save, and His righteousness would sustain Him” (ibid. 59:16), yes, “For My own sake, for My own sake, I shall do it” (ibid. 48:11)!
Copyright © 2021 Eric H. Hoffman