In this week's Sedra the Torah instructs us: “do not turn to the elilim and do not make elohei-masaicha”. The Rishonim differ regarding the exact explanation of this passage (what is clear is that both are references to avoda zara).
Rashi explains that although a person may initially view them as elilim – fallacies –, once one has turned to these erroneous beliefs -- for whatever reason -- one ends up viewing them as actual powers. Rashi understands the Passuk as meaning that although originally when we experiment with these false gods we view them as being close to worthless, through using them however, we end up changing the way we look at them and eventually we see them as some sort of force. The Ibn-Ezra however, seems to understand this passage slightly differently. He explains that elilim is just a term used for referring to idols. The Ibn-Ezra explains that the difference between the first half and the second half of the Passuk is as follows: when the Torah tells us not to turn to elilim it is telling us not to engage in idol worship; when the Torah tells us not to manufacture elohei-masaicha the Torah is telling us not manufacture any go-betweens between us and Hashem - this is because we need no intermediaries to serve Hashem.
If we carefully analyze these two explanations we will find a number of discrepancies between the way Rashi explains the Passuk and the way Ibn-Ezra does. There is, however, one fundamental underlining difference in approach. Rashi explains that although the starting point is fairly innocent – that we do not believe in these powers as anything significant, eventually however, once we start to consider them on any level we will succumb to complete worship and faith in them to the point of worship. Ibn-Ezra’s approach is almost the complete opposite: he understands that the Passuk is telling us at the beginning not to turn to Avoda Zara as Avoda Zara, and now that this is said and done the Torah is continuing and telling us not to use them even just as mediums to worshiping Hashem – that even their being mediums consecrates them as idols.
Both the approaches of Rashi and of Ibn-Ezra are ways that we approach nonsense throughout life. Sometimes we get sucked into following trends that are anti-Hashem by convincing ourselves that we don’t really think that these trends are going to bring us results, yet somehow we convince ourselves that it’s worth a try. Eventually we become convinced that without it there is no way to succeed. This is often the case with all sorts of Segulos (charms) and the like.
Likewise we sometimes find ourselves rationalizing the exact opposite: although we understand that in of itself some act or trend is wrong we somehow find a way of turning it into a religious Jewish practice with some “leShem Shamayim” mixed in. this may very often be the source of many of the Segulos and fads.
Rashi and Ibn-Ezra argue as to how to explain the Passuk, but they agree that any form of other powers being mixed in to our Avodas Hashem is really only a confusion and distortion of Avoda Zara for Avodas Hashem.
This week’s Sedra opens with one of the Torah’s most famous statements to Klal-Yisroel: קדושים תהיו. The Torah commands us to be holy. Rashi (as well as most of the Meforshim) point out that this commandment of being holy was prefaced by Hashem’s instructing Moshe to convey this commandment to the entire Assembly of Israel, in other words (see Rashi) through Hakhel – a general assembly of Am-Yisroel.
Rashi suggests this is because all vital parts of Torah are somehow dependent on this commandment of being holy; that being holy is somehow a precursor to fulfilling all other Mitzvos. All the Meforshim seem to agree that this injunction is extremely vital and relevant to each and every individual member of Klal-Yisroel.
Interestingly, later in Parshas Korach, Korach uses the idea of the entire Am-Yisroel being Kadosh against Moshe Rabeinu. Korach in essence asked: since each and every member of Am-Yisroel is holy, what gives Moshe Rabeinu the right to preside over the entire “holy” nation?
The Malbim points out that Korach’s logic was flawed. The Malbim explains that just because an entire nation is described as being ‘holy’ does not mean that it does not need a leader to show it how to be holy. On the contrary, the presence of a strong leader is inextricably linked to its ability to become and be holy. While the desire and the effort may be made by each and every individual to be Kadosh there must still be someone who has, so to speak, almost ‘mastered’ Kedusha to can act as a teacher of Retzon Hashem to a receptive nation, to serve as the embodiment of Holiness. At the same time, there must in the first place be a certain degree of holiness in the Nation for the leader to imbue it with the Ways of Hashem.
There is a certain truth to some of what Korach said. The Jewish concept of Kedusha, of Holiness, is in a sense a group concept – it encompasses the Nation as a whole. From Korach’s faulty claim we learn that Kedusha is actually what allows us to be a nation that adheres to the Torah. It is also clear from the whole Korach episode that Kedusha is something that exists amongst the masses of Klal-Yisroel.
The Meforshim in our Sedra discuss different possibilities as to the exact meaning of ‘Kedoshim Tehiyu’. What is quite clear, however, is that ‘Kedoshim Tehiyu’ represents an overarching concept that in effect is more than the sum of its parts (laws). It is also extremely clear that being holy isn’t something just for the elitists, or Gedolim. It is crystal clear that being holy is the very identity of Am-Yisroel, and as such we must all be holy, at all times and in all situations.
In this week's Sedra the Torah mentions a number of interpersonal Mitzvos. These Mitzvos vary in their nature. Some are positive commandments while others are negative commandments. There is something that stands out quite strongly with many of them. Many of these interpersonal Mitzvos are prefaced or followed by the Torah's telling us to do or not to do such and such to our fellow Jews. The Torah uses such words as Bnei Amecha, Reiacha, Amecha, and Amosecha. Chazal tell us that these words mean that we are commanded to observe these Mitzvos only towards other Torah observant Jews (nowadays it could be that it would apply to almost every Jew even if they are not Torah observant). Why is it that the Torah differentiates so starkly between Torah Jews and all others? After all don't Chazal explain to us that all of mankind was created Betzelem Elokim?
The end of our Sedra almost mirrors its beginning. The Torah tells us at the end of the Sedra "And you should be for Me holy because I, Hashem, Am Holy, and I have separated you from the nations to be for Me". The obvious question is what are we for Hashem? The passuk tells us that we are for Hashem, but it doesn't tell us for what purpose.
The action Hashem Tells us He did in order to make us His is that he separated us ואבדיל אתכם. ‘Separating’, however, doesn't entail taking. Hashem may have separated us, but Hashem didn't remove us in any way per say.
While many aspects of interpersonal relationships are a basic given in any code of social interaction, exceptions to any such code are a given as well. While it may not be right to harm someone, the desire to take revenge can sometimes be understood. The Torah, however, does not tolerate taking revenge on another Torah observant Jew even though the person was wronged. While many a time simply avoiding someone we disdain because of his/her inappropriate conduct could be justified, the Torah nonetheless forbids us to do so. The Torah instructs us to rebuke them.
In a utopia everyone would act kindly towards one another. There would be no reason to make an exception to doing the right thing because all would act perfectly towards one another. As we well know, the world isn't a perfect place and cannot become one on its own. Rather it is we who must create whatever perfection can be achieved. We unfortunately so often find reasons to insert exceptions to what would otherwise be correct interpersonal behavior.
While the Torah recognizes the need for these exceptions, it nonetheless wishes to provide the means to create the perfect "nice" world. This utopia begins when we have a club of members who must act unconditionally with proper social norms towards one another. This club is Am-Yisroel and we are potentially the nucleus of a ‘could-be-perfect’ world. We, Am-Yisroel, can create a utopia by keeping Hashem's laws and dictums, both in the social realm and in the more spiritual Bein Adom Lemakom realm.
This week’s Haftorah, a short Nevuah by the Prophet Amos, reflects both of this week’s Sedros (it is the Haftorah for Shabbos Kedoshim but often Acharei Mos and Kedoshim are read as one). In Achrei-Mos Hashem forbids all sorts of relationships thereby declaring them to be illicit. The Torah tells us that in the event we do in fact allow such forbidden relationships, Eretz-Yisroel will actually ‘spit out’ Klal-Yisroel. In Parshas Kedoshim Hashem again warns us not to tolerate these various unlawful relationships.
The Navi echoes in the Haftorah the words of the Sedra by conveying Hashem’s words that since there were those within Klal-Yisroel who acted in the ways of the Mitzraim and the Canaanite nations, Hashem would have to destroy the people who sinned. The Navi tells us that “the Nation that sinned will be wiped off the face of the Land”. It is unclear whether this is referring to all of Klal-Yisroel, in other words that the entire Nation will be wiped out of Eretz-Yisroel, or whether it means that those who sinned will be wiped off the face of the planet. What is, however, quite clear is the next Pasuk. The next Pasuk tells us that Hashem will not wipe off the entire Bes-Yaakov – Am-Yisroel. There is an obvious question there: what is the purpose of such a Passuk? If only individuals sin, why should Hashem wipe out all of Am-Yisroel? And if all of Klal-Yisroel were to sin, why would Hashem wipe out only some of the sinners?
Chazal tells us (Berachos) that Hashem, while creating Mankind also created a Yetzer Horah (evil inclination). This Yetzer Horah, say Chazal, is so powerful that Man cannot overcome it. Chazal then explain that Hashem gave us Torah as the antidote. It is the study of Torah that allows us to overcome this otherwise overpowering Yetzer-Horah.
Most of the world is permeated with illicit and inappropriate relationships. Unfortunately, we live in a time were illicitness has become an accepted norm.
The only thing that keeps Am-Yisroel a unified Nation is the Torah. If one were Chalila to deny the Torah, Am-Yisroel would have little or no legitimacy to continue to exist as a distinct entity.
There may be many individuals within Klal-Yisroel who at one time or another become influenced by these horribly inappropriate social norms. Nonetheless, it is impossible for Am-Yisroel as an entity to stoop so low. Since Am-Yisroel is only Am-Yisroel through Torah, so long as we exist there must be Limud Torah. As long as there is Limud Torah it cannot be that we will all sin.