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Morally Sound Mitzvot

The double parsha of Acharei Mot - Kedoshim is full of mitzvot. In fact, Kedoshim on its own has more mitzvot than any other parsha! A majority of these mitzvot are related to moral behavior. The Torah states קְדשִׁ֣ים תִּֽהְי֑וּ or “be holy”, referring to holy behavior on the part of each individual Jew.

אִ֣ישׁ אִמּ֤וֹ וְאָבִיו֙ תִּירָ֔אוּ וְאֶת־שַׁבְּתֹתַ֖י תִּשְׁמֹ֑רוּ

Every man shall fear his mother and his father, and you shall observe My Sabbaths (Vayikra 19:2)

This is not just a reiteration of the commandment to honor your parents. Here the Torah says that one should fear his parents. It’s interesting to note that the mother is mentioned first. Rashi explains that children naturally fear their fathers more than they fear their mothers. But the commandment is to fear both equally, so to counter that natural feeling, the mother is mentioned first. But in the commandment to honor (respect) your parents, the father is mentioned first, because it is more natural for a child to honor their mother first.

The passuk continues with a reminder to keep Shabbat. Rashi explains that you cannot allow your parents to tell you to desecrate Shabbat.

The final phrase of the passuk, seems to be a recurring theme in this parsha, the phrase אֲנִי ה' אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶֽם “I am the Lord your God” after many of these commandments. This serves as a reminder that despite the fact that one must fulfill commandments between man and man, they are still commandments from God, and must therefore be observed in conjunction with all other mitzvot, and cannot contradict other mitzvot, such as the observance of Shabbat. Thus even though many of these commandments seem to have a moral basis and not a religious basis, they still come from God and are to be treated as such. Other examples would be the commandments not to place a stumbling block before a blind person and not to curse a deaf person (who would not hear your curse). These are all obvious to any morally behaving person, but they are mitzvot from God nonetheless.

לֹֽא־תִקֹּ֤ם וְלֹֽא־תִטֹּר֙ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י עַמֶּ֔ךָ וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ לְרֵֽעֲךָ֖ כָּמ֑וֹךָ אֲנִ֖י ה':

You shall neither take revenge from nor bear a grudge against the members of your people; you shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. (Vayikira 19:18)

Another excellent example of this type of mitzvah, is the famous commandment to love your neighbor as you love yourself. This is preceded by the commandment to not take revenge or to bear a grudge. These 2 commandments flow nicely, as you would not want someone to take revenge against you, or to bear a grudge against you, so if you loved your neighbor the way you wanted to be loved, you would not take revenge against him!

Specifically about וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ לְרֵֽעֲךָ֖ כָּמ֑וֹךָ - to love your neighbor as yourself, Rabbi Akiva famously states זֶה כְּלָל גָּדוֹל בַּתּוֹרָה - this is a fundamental (or all inclusive) commandment of the Torah. And again, we are reminded at the end of this pasuk אֲנִ֖י ה - I am the Lord. Because this commandment is directly from God. And while it is a basic commandment, it must be fulfilled as a part of all of God’s other commandments. There is a famous story in the Gemara about a would convert approaching Shamai, one of the 2 great rabbinic leaders of his generation, to convert him while standing on one leg. Shamai chased him away.

The same man then went to Hillel, the other great rabbinic leader of the day, with the same request. Hillel responded וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ לְרֵֽעֲךָ֖ כָּמ֑וֹךָ - the rest is commentary, go learn it! Hillel treated this commandment as a fundamental and all-encompassing commandment in the same way that Rabbi Akiva later did. This man, along with 2 others eventually did convert. But the story has a bittersweet ending. Because the 3 new converts got together to speak lashon hara and gossiped about Shamai. Clearly, this new convert did not take to heart the commandment to love his neighbor as himself. He did not treat this commandment as a part of the overall system of mitzvot.

May we all remember to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and to live morally sound lives in observance of the Torah.

שבת שלום



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