parshat kedoshim – leviticus 19 – 20
Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on May 5th 2022 as we ask: what does it mean to be holy? Does holiness divide or unite us? Join us as we ask whether the revolutionary perception of holiness contained in the biblical text is eclipsed by puritanism and sectarianism.
Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00 PM Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. Today we ask: what does it mean to be holy? Does holiness divide or unite us? so settle down and cut yourself a slice of pie for this week’s episode divide and sanctify.
Well, welcome to another week of Madlik disruptive Torah. And as we were talking about in the pre-show, usually, Kedoshim, the Parsha that we have this week is kind of wrapped with Acharei Mot, the parsha that we read last week, so it kind of gets buried in the lead. And it's rather exciting to me at any rate, to have the focus today just on the parsha of Kidoshim. And I must say that there is an Israeli expression that I heard recently this amuses me because secular Jews say it when they quote somebody who's passed away. They say Acharei Mot Kedoshim Emor. Is that correct?
Adam Mintz 01:34
Rabbi, that is what they say.
Geoffrey Stern 01:37
And all that is doing and I've heard that from secular Jews. So it's, it's kind of become part of the standard expressions, it combines the first name of the three parshiot , and it means after death, you are holy in what you say. And so when you quote somebody who's passed away, and you give them a little extra credit, you say, Acharei Kedoshim Emor . And just always love instances where things that are innocuous, Jewish halachic. biblical laws have entered the speech of everyday Israelis.
Adam Mintz 02:18
It's a great it's a great saying, isn't it?
Geoffrey Stern 02:20
Yeah, I love it. So anyway, we are in Leviticus 19 and 20. And what I am going to do the word kedoshim means holy, as I said in the intro, I believe that we are all going to be surprised by what the Bible considers holy. And so what I'm going to do is kind of read verses selectively, because my bias is normally when we think of something that's holy, we think of ritual, we think of taboo that you can't touch it, that it's pure. And I think you'll be surprised by where the emphasis of the holiness is. So let's dive right in. God spoke to Moses saying, Speak to the whole Israelite community, and say to them, You shall be holy for I Your God am holy. You shall each revere your mother and your father, and keep my Sabbath. I God am your God. You shall not pick your vineyard bear or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard, you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger, I Hashem am your God. That's the kind of repetition You shall not steal. You shall not deal deceitfully or falsely with one another. You shall not swear falsely by my name. profaning the name of God, I am HaShem. You shall not defraud your fellow Israelite You shall not commit robbery, The wages of a laborer so not remain with you until morning, you shall not insult the deaf or place a stumbling block before the blind, you shall fear your God, I am HaShem your God. You shall not render an unfair decision: do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich; judge your kin fairly. (16) Do not deal basely with members of your people. Do not profit by the blood of your fellow [Israelite]: I am ה'. (17) You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart. Reprove your kin but incur no guilt on their account. (18) You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against members of your people. Love your fellow [Israelite] as yourself: I am ה'. (19) You shall observe My laws. You shall not let your cattle mate with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; you shall not put on cloth from a mixture of two kinds of material. (20) If a man has carnal relations with a woman who is a slave and has been designated for another man, but has not been redeemed or given her freedom, there shall be an indemnity; they shall not, however, be put to death, since she has not been freed.kinds of seed you shall not put on a cloth from a mixture of two kinds of material. If a man has kind of relations with a woman who is a slave and has been designated for another man, but has not been redeemed or given her freedom. There shall be indemnity they saw will not, however be put to death. Since she has not been freed. I kept on reading the last pot, because that's I think what most of us predicted would be here, there would be laws of sexual and chastity, there would be laws of mixing us the seed of flax, these who came that we had talked about earlier. But that's almost the end of it in the middle. All of these laws don't normally refer to us as the holiness laws. And the fact that it starts by saying, kind of you shall be holy, because I am holy. God doesn't have these kinds of relationships. He doesn't pay his workers, so to speak. So to me, it's a really radical definition of holiness. Are you struck in that way as I am rabbi.
Adam Mintz 05:58
Well, I'm struck by the definition of holiness. I'm struck by the fact that the Torah waited until the middle of the book of Vayikra, to talk about holiness. If it's so central, shouldn't the Torah start that way? It kind of sneaks up on us here, does it?
Geoffrey Stern 06:15
Well, maybe we've been preparing for this all this time, right?
Adam Mintz 06:20
that that itself is a dvar Torah. That dvar Torah 's says that we weren't ready to be holy, yet. We needed all the Torah up to now to get to holiness. I wonder whether that's true. That's a nice Dvar Torah right. I wonder whether that's true?
Geoffrey Stern 06:35
Absolutely. I mean, I think the other thing which comes out clearer in the Hebrew than it does in the English is, I wouldn't say it's a sing song. But it starts by saying, I am holy, therefore you should be holy. And then it rolls out one or two or three verses, and it repeats. It has like a drumbeat. I am your God,
Adam Mintz 07:00
Well, that's, that's the refrain. And that's the refrain from the first verse, Be holy, because I'm holy, and because I am your God, because I am your God. It seems to be that either God is seen as having these moral traits, or we need to have moral traits, because God is our God, meaning that we need to be moral, that's part of our religious obligation. You don't need to say fast on Yom Kippur, because God is God, because that's a part of the ritual. But to be moral, you may think that has nothing to do with God. The answer is yes, Ani Hashem. It's only because God is God.
Geoffrey Stern 07:45
So one fascinating interpretation. And I think one of the themes that we are going to kind of find today, and it's something that always impacts me, is those of you who have ever studied higher biblical criticism, where they look at the texts of the Torah as though they're written in different formats, possibly they were edited and put together. If after you study the higher biblical critics, you go back and study the traditional rabbinic interpretations, you find that this is not a discovery, the rabbi's themselves.... because they lived this language and they live these laws. They were very attenuated to when there was a change in types of phraseology. So one rabbi, Rabbi Hiyya taught: this section, and he says parsha zoo, was spoken in the presence of a gathering of the whole assembly, because most of the essential principles of the Torah are attached to it. Rabbi Levi said because the 10 commandments are included therein. And I quote this In brief, but it goes on to map, literally map every one of the 10 commandments on to these verses. And what I want to focus on for a second is number one, that the rabbi's call it this parsha. This whole sense of having parshat hashavua ... you know you don't really find references in the Talmud, correct me if I'm wrong, Rabbi
Adam Mintz 09:28
No, you're 100% right. The Talmud... in many places they had a triennial cycle. They didn't finish the Torah every year. They finish it every three years. So therefore, they didn't have parshat Hashavua the way we have it. That was something that developed only over the centuries. That's absolutely right.
Geoffrey Stern 09:46
But not only that, you'll never get in the Talmud where they refer like oh, yeah, like we saw in parshat Noach. Or what we saw in parshat Mishpatim. They do have a concept of parsha. And when they refer to a parsha they mean a chapter, a piece that's clearly unique and stands on its own. And that's why again, I find if you study the rabbi's in that way, after you study higher biblical criticism, they're really talking about the same thing in different manners. So the first thing is this Rabbi Hiyya talks about this parsha, and he's not talking about Pasha hashavua, , He's talking about this segment that is clearly stands on its own and is one literary, unitary piece. And then he says that this is a piece that was said in public. And of course, the word that he uses B'hakel. And we know that there is a commandment to gather all the people at certain times and to read from the toe a biblical commandment. So he is really saying this is a very, very important piece. And then when you add to that this Rabbi Levy, who says it's really a restatement, or I'd say, a parallel presentation of the 10 commandments, that becomes fascinating.
Adam Mintz 11:12
That's fascinating. I mean, first of all, you know, it's interesting about the Ten Commandments. So you know, we are all sensitized to the fact that the Ten Commandments are what we like to call the top Ten Commandments, means the top 10 laws, but actually, that's not the way the Torah presents them. You know, the laws and the Ten commandments are not somehow more important than, you know, the little laws, you know, the laws of Shatnes, the prohibition against wool and linen. The idea in the Torah is that all laws are of equal importance. So that's interesting, isn't it?
Geoffrey Stern 11:47
You know that they used to say, the Ten commandments in services every single morning. They only changed that, because Christianity thought that the Ten commandments were the only commandments that you had to listen to. And in order to prove the Christians wrong, they took that out of the Davening. But they used to say it in the davening. It is absolutely. The issue that you raise is a complex one, because many non-Jews would come to us and try to focus on the Ten commandments. So for instance, there was a custom to stand for the Ten commandments. And then people said, Well, if we just stand for the Ten commandments, that might be an interpretation that it's more important, and that laws like Shatnes don't mean as much. So we'll stand for the whole thing. So it was a sensitive issue. But there's no question. At the end of some of these re-statements, it does say these are the Ten commandments, even if it's not the one that we target, there's something you know, call it numerology, there was something packed about Aseret Hadibrot because, obviously, Moshe came down with the 10 commandments, you can't dilute that. So this is an ongoing theme in Madlik, where the way we Jews practice and study our Judaism has, through better or worse been affected by non Jews, by Christians, by others, whether we have been a reflex against that, or simply other dispositions. But absolutely, what you're just saying is what I was trying to say. And so there's no question that this is a very important segment. Now one of the things that I think Henry even mentioned it last week, because he read this portion as his bar mitzvah. The second half of our portion today talks about all the forbidden sexual relationships. And I think even last year for this podcast, we focused on same-sex and the prohibition against same-sex. It's all at the end of this portion. And because we operate in this portion of the week, we tend to lump them together. But I want you to listen very carefully to Vayikra Raba. Vayikra Raba says as follows. Rabbi Judah Ben Pazi asked, Why was the section dealing with Consanguineous relationships placed next to the section dealing with holiness? So in Hebrew, it says, Why was parshat arayot connected to parshat Kedoshim. So the rabbi's understood that these were two totally different sections. And just like sometimes they ask, why are the laws of this Sabbath connected or juxtaposed to building the Mishkan; the tabernacle. And they learned something from it. Here, too, these two sections were clearly different. And the laws of the Forbidden incestuous, and other relationships is not kedoshim. It's a way out. It's a section that deals with that topic. And that too, is fascinating to me, because it does impact what Kedoshim is, we can ask why they were put together. But kedoshim by itself doesn't include those things.
Adam Mintz 15:40
Yeah, that's interesting. So what do you make of that?
Geoffrey Stern 15:45
So again, it absolutely emphasizes what I took away when I read Kedoshim this year afresh. And what I was reading about was, yes, there was some things about the Sabbath. We'll get to that maybe in a second. And clearly, it did talk about the mixed species. But for the most part, when it says, Be holy, because I am holy, because I am your God. It's about paying the laborer on time. It's about having scales that are correct. It's about telling the truth. Even when it talks about not taking God's name in vain. It means when you swear an oath against somebody else, it is so interpersonal, it is so social, that I think it's a revolutionary interpretation of a term that we typically associate with ritual and taboo and those types of things.
Adam Mintz 16:46
I think that that's right. I'll just tell you in these months between Peasach and shavuot, there is a tradition each week to study Perkei Avot... , which is the ethics of the Fathers, the laws of morality, begins Moshe kibel Torah Be'Sinai umsur l'Yehoshua it has the list of the trend of the transmission. Moses received the Torah at Mount Sinai and pass it to Joshua. Joshua to the elders and the elders, to the members of the great Knesset; of the great assembly. So the question is asked, Why does the laws of morality give us this line of transmission? Isn't it true about all the Talmud, it's all part of the transmission? The answer is that we know that the obligation to fast on Yom Kippur? Or the obligations, to eat matzah on Pesach. We know that comes from God, you don't need to tell me the transmission. But it could be that the laws of morality have nothing to do with the Torah that the laws of morality have to do with the way people behave in the society that we come from. And the answer is No, the answer is Moshe kibel Torah Be'Sinai, that that that also is part of our tradition, being moral is part of our tradition, which I think is really a nice idea.
Geoffrey Stern 18:08
And I would emphasize that. That when you look at Kedoshim, and you read it on Saturday, on Shabbat, anew, you will see if you take just this segment of kedoshim, and you don't go into the latter stuff that talks about all of these incestuous and [forbidden] sexual [relationships] and passion and all of that you will see it is very ethical when we say ethical, ethical between ben Adam l'chavero between man and his fellow. And it's social. And so it's not "also"... we just heard that this is read in public, this is a rephrasing of the Ten commandments. It's "emphatic", and I think that is so powerful. So I want to go back to what Kedoshim means and how it was taken. But before I do, I can't but talk about one little juxtaposition that came up. And it says in "keep my Sabbath". And I "honor your parents" and Rabbi correct me if I'm wrong, but in the standard tradition of the Ten commandments, you also have the same juxtaposition. You have the fifth commandment is to keep the Sabbath and the sixth is to honor your parents. Am I right?
Adam Mintz 19:31
Four and Five, Four is Honor the Sabbath and five is honor your parents.
Geoffrey Stern 19:36
Okay. So Rashi here gives the traditional explanation because when I say he gives an explanation. It's based on a question, why are these two laws always combined? And is two really high, high profile places where they are combined, and he says is, this is the traditional explanation that you have to honor your parents. But in a situation where your parents tell you to break the Sabbath, you don't have to listen to them. And I want to ask you point blank rabbi is, is the question a good question? And how does the answer resonate with you?
Adam Mintz 20:23
I mean, the question is not a good question, but the answer is a good answer.
Geoffrey Stern 20:28
oooooh, I would go the other way. Why do you think the question is not a good question?
Adam Mintz 20:32
You think the question is good? The questions a made up question.
Geoffrey Stern 20:35
When it talks between four and five of the Ten commandments? I think the question is a made up question. But when you look at our verse here, that combined in one verse, Leviticus 19: 3 it says, "You shall each revere your mother and your father, and keep My sabbaths: I ה' am your God." I think that's a good question.
Adam Mintz 20:58
Good. Okay. I think that's a good question.
Geoffrey Stern 21:01
Okay, so now we agree, it's a good question. Now, why do you think it's a good answer?
Adam Mintz 21:09
You you started, you tell me do you like the answer?
Geoffrey Stern 21:13
I don't like the answer. I think the answer? You know, it's a good question. Why are you lumping these two things that have nothing to do with with each other together? And we come up with a innocuous situation of a Ba'al Teshuva, or something, someone who's more religious than his parents?
Adam Mintz 21:34
Let me tell you the reason I think that it's a bad question, is because the only reason they asked the question is because they have an answer. If they didn't have an answer, they would never ask.
Geoffrey Stern 21:47
Okay You know what I mean, right. Before we get to the answer, everything in the Torah is next to one another, right? I mean, they could ask that question on every single verse in the Torah. Why is this next to this? But this is in the same verse? It's in the same verse,
Adam Mintz 22:05
But they could ask the question so many times, the only reason he asked that question is because there's an answer. Now, okay. So the answer is, so what happens if your parents tell you to violate the Shabbos? So it comes to tell you that Shabbos wins over your parents? Because I am God? Now, that's an interesting moral kind of dilemma, which is who do you listen to your parents or God? That's a great kind of question. Because I think you can make a pretty good argument that maybe you should listen to your parents, your parents are your parents.
Geoffrey Stern 22:43
So I am going to give a radical new interpretation... is that okay? Heard first here on Madlik. And this is not a interpretation that I think is the peshat, the original intent, but it is a little bit of drash. And it's looking at it through our modern eyes. For many of us, we will late Shabbat to family, we relate Shabbat to families coming together. There is an Israeli, not for profit, and it's secular, and it is arguing for some sort of public transportation system on Shabbat. And their argument is for people who don't have a car, how do you have Shabbat Friday Night Dinner with your parents. And I have in the source notes their most recent ad from Valentine's Day, and it has a picture of a challah and it says אהבה אמיתית זה לבוא איתה לארוחת שישי אצל ההורים, to come with this collar to the Friday night dinner with her parents. And then it says we should have some sort of public transportation. But what I do believe is that for all of us, it resonates the connection between Shabbat and family and whether that was the original intention or not. But I do think there is a very strong intention and that we should lean over backwards to make sure that of all of the oneg all of the joy that you can celebrate on Shabbat. The one joy that we should lean over backwards to make possible is for children to be with their parents.
Adam Mintz 22:53
Good Good. I like that. I mean, that's first heard on Madlik, but I like it.
Geoffrey Stern 24:49
So I'm going to have to contact Yisrael Hofsheet and give them some material that came out of Madlik. Okay, so let's get back to this concept of Kadosh holy. So, while she says something very interesting, you shall be holy. This means keeping aloof from forbidden sexual relations. So he studies the same Midrash that I quoted a second ago, that refers to the two parshiot the two sections individually, he is follwowing that. But what is amazing is the language that he use, הֱווּ פְרוּשִׁים מִן הָעֲרָיוֹת. So, there is an expression קדושים תהיו פרושים תהיו that means you shall be holy, you shall be separate. And in many sense that falls into the traditional understanding of what holiness is, when I say the mountain is holy, I have to step back, I have to make sure that I don't come into contact with my wife for three days, I have to look at it as a holy mountain sanctified it is a separation, it is holier than now it is an other, it is beyond the material. And that's one level of what he's saying. And therefore it's very natural for him to link our little segment that we read of kedoshim as a holiness with the next one, which was פָּרָשַׁת עֲרָיוֹת, which was the sexual perversions. But I want to talk about the history of this idea. Because the English translation of Peru Shem is actually Pharisees. In other words, Rabbinic Judaism, whether they refer to themselves this way, or this was a label that was put on them were called Perushim. And in a sense, that was their sense of holiness.
Adam Mintz 27:03
So I'm going to tell you a secret. See the Pharisees refer to a group that became the rabbinic Jews. They were a group during the Second Temple period. There were the Pharisees. And there were the Saducees. In Hebrew, we say the Perushim. And the Zadukim, the Zadukim were the priests. They were the ones who ran the show. The Peru Shem, the fat juicy, the SAT and the Pharisee. Sorry, they were not the ones who are the leadership, they were the average person. How did they make themselves special, even though they were not the ones who were the priests who worked in the temple. What they did was they separated themselves from forbidden foods, from foods that were Ta'amei from foods that were ritually impure. So what's amazing is they were known by that practice, and therefore they were called Perushim. So actually, it's exactly the same term. The term is people who separate themselves exactly the same term. Isn't that interesting?
Geoffrey Stern 28:21
It is absolutely interesting. And from a certain perspective, there is in the notes, you'll see modern scholarship that I bring. So there's an argument of whether this was a term that was a derogatory term like these guys are the outsiders, these guys are the rejectionists or whether it was a term of pride, and you are following a line of thought where they separated themselves from and they observe the types and the other laws of purity and are in at a higher level. And I don't think there's the verdict is not really out on this. But what I want to focus on is again, this concept and those of you who are attenuated to Hebrew, now we've used the same shoresh, the same three letter shoresh twice in the same segment, we talked about a "Parasha", which is a division of the Torah into different segments [literary pieces] , and we've talked about now holy is to be separate. And then there was this sect that really either was tagged as separatists or proudly wore the banner of being separate. But they were the same rabbis who wrote in Perkei Avot that you should not be אַל תִּפְרֹשׁ מִן הַצִּבּוּר. So they understood the problems of sectarianism. They understood the problems of this division.
Adam Mintz 30:03
So say it even better. That is it's okay to be separate and ritual matters. It's not okay to be separate and communal matters. And that's amazing.
Geoffrey Stern 30:14
I think they struggled with it. I mean, these are the same rabbis who said the temple was destroyed because of Sinat Hinum. They understood this was a time where they were different sects. And this was a time where we were tearing ourselves apart. And so what I would like to finish with is, and I don't know how I got here, but there was a term that Solomon Shechter came up with, which is a very strange term, and it's called Catholic Israel. And he brought it up in a speech where he dedicated The Seminary, the conservative seminary, and you have to understand when he dedicated that there was no real Orthodoxy in America, he was really trying to address Reform and all that. But what he said was amazing, and what the takeaway was, was amazing, and he says, What unites all of Judaism is that if you look back in history, and you look at, for instance, the Kararites who were literalist or fundamentalists who only listened to the written word and argued with the Pharisees, he says, they triggered a response in Rabbinic Judaism, to focus more on the texts to focus more on our tradition. So what he says is, we do have a lot of separation, we have different portions, we have different sects within us. But if you study those portions, and if you study those different movements, and you bring it all to your present in Torah learning, you have a Catholic Israel, which means a united Israel and a holy Israel. And I think that's a fascinating, fascinating idea, as we focus on the connection between Kedusha; holiness and separation
Adam Mintz 32:10
That's a great way to end because to imagine that he said that 120 years ago and we're still talking about it and trying to figure out its relevance for today that's really a nice idea. So thank you Geoffrey. I think we really kind of try to get to the bottom of what you do shot is but also what the verses at the beginning with Shabbat and parents and try to understand the tension there I think it's a parsah full of great things. Enjoy everybody and next week join us when we'll have a lunch and learn as we study parshat Emor together.
Geoffrey Stern 32:47
It will be at one o'clock Eastern because I will be in the Holy Land. Shabbat Shalom you should all be Kodesh bye bye
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