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Behar - Doing It MyWay!

By Rabbi Aron Tendler

Sefer Vayikra has been all about Kedusha - sanctity. In the next few week's we conclude Sefer Vayikra and wrap up the basics of that Kedusha. As G-d's "Kingdom of Priests and Holy Nation" it is extremely important that we understand the function of Kedusha and our responsibilities as its recipients.

Before gifting us with the Torah, G-d designated us as His "Kingdom of Priests and Holy Nation." That characterization has two components. The first, "Kingdom of Priests" describes our responsibilities as a nation in relation to all the other nations. The second, "Holy Nation" defines who we are in relation to ourselves.

As a nation among nations we were chosen to facilitate the relationship of all the nations with G-d. Just like the Kohanim in the Bais Hamikdash, we serve humanity's desire to understand G-d and be closer to G-d. Through our words and our deeds we must teach the world what it means to have been created in the image of G-d. It does not suggest that "our students" must be like us, no different than any other teacher-student relationship. Some students may elect to themselves become teachers and for that there is the process of conversion; however, all others are taught the basic Seven Laws commanded to Adam and Noach and how to integrate them into their daily lives.

As G-d's "Holy Nation" we must follow G-d's laws. As stated in Parshas Kedoshim, "Be holy because I am holy," which means we must be like G-d. The only way we know how to be like G-d is to listen to His instructions. G-d is a supreme and intelligent being. G-d does not act randomly or recklessly. G-d always has a reason for what He does. Sometimes the reason is apparent, but more often than not, the reason will only be revealed over the course of time and history. Because we are mortal and therefore time bound we have no choice but to accept G-d at face value and trust that His reasons are the essence of kindness, benevolence, caring, compassion, and love.

Therefore, Kedusha is a function of listening to G-d's Torah and trusting His reasons for demanding those specific laws. Therefore, Kedusha is a function of using the world in the manner that G-d desires and commands because it advances and accomplishes His reasons for having created the universe and all it contains.

In all of Sefer Bereshis (Genesis) the words Kadosh, Kedusha, Kodesh, or Kedoshim doesn't exist. The closest usage of the word is when naming the biblical city of Kadesh; otherwise, the word is not used at all. The first time the word Kodesh is used in the Torah in relation to sanctity is in Sefer Shemos (Exodus) by the Burning Bush (3:5) when G-d commanded Moshe to remove his sandals because the land he was standing on was "holy" land." From then on, every use of the word directly relates to one of G-d's commandments.

The bottom line is that Kedusha is more a function of doing what G-d commands, more so than understanding why G-d commanded us to do it.

We can now turn our attention to the first verse of this week's Parsha. "And G-d spoke to Moshe on Mt. Sinai" What follows is a presentation off the laws of the Shemitah (Sabbatical year) and Yovel (Jubilee). Rashi references the obvious question. Why did the Torah introduce the laws of Shemitah and Yovel with their association to Moshe receiving the Torah from G-d on Mt. Sinai? All of the Mitzvos in the Torah were commanded by G-d and delivered to the nation through Moshe. Why aren't all the Mitzvos introduced in the same way?

Rashi explains that, "Just as the laws of Shemitah and Yovel were presented (in this week's Parsha) in great detail, so too all the Mitzvos (even those that are not presented in great detail) were commanded to Moshe with all their nuances and details.

Torah observant Judaism is more the product of the Oral Tradition than the written, Chumash. Other factions within Judaism accept the divine quality of the written text of the Torah but reserve judgment on the Oral Tradition - the Torah SheBal Peh. This is not a new controversy within Judaism. Starting with Korach's rebellion the issue of "must we listen to the rabbinic teachings with the same trust and acceptance as the Written Law?" has been an issue. As King Solomon wrote, "There is nothing new beneath the sun." Of course, there are also many Jews who do not believe in the divinity of the Torah and certainly feel no allegiance to the rabbinic teachings contained in the text of the Talmud; however, Torah observant Judaism fully embraces the divine origin of the Written Torah as well as the divine origin of the Talmud - the Oral Torah.

I recently had a conversation with a wonderful, observant, and knowledgeable young man who questioned the Halachik requirement for married women to cover their hair and for women in general not to wear pants. Our Socratic method of teaching Torah not only allows all questions, it encourages all and any questions. However, Torah teaching for and within the Torah observant community is predicated on accepting Halacha at face value. Meaning, we challenge each other and ourselves to understand every written and oral commandment. However, if in the end we remain unsatisfied with the reasons and explanations we do the commandment anyway. This young man started the conversation by telling me that he had personally researched the topic of hair covering and wearing pants and that he had not found a satisfactory source and explanation for the demands and therefore he personally would not care if his wife wore pants or did not cover her hair.

Wearing pants or covering hair are not the great burning issues of the day. I only share this with you to illustrate the attitude referenced by Rashi at the beginning of this week's Parsha. I decided not to engage this young man in a discussion of the sources. Instead, I challenged his entire Hashkafa - outlook and attitude regarding the oral tradition and the place of the rabbi in the ongoing process of applying the Written and Oral Torah. Primarily, I challenged his understanding and acceptance of the present day rabbi in defining the parameters of a Torah way of life.

The fact is that the great Poskim (legal minds) of last generation and this generation, such as my Grandfather Zt'l, were unequivocal in support of covering hair and not wearing pants. They were asked the questions, they were familiar with the arguments, and many wrote responsa for the Halachik record. The proper Torah Hashkafa is to trust our great Poskim and adjust our behavior accordingly - even if we still do not agree or understand. I intentionally did not respond to the young mans quest for a source. Regardless of the source, regardless of his understanding, there should be acceptance of the Halacha as taught by the acknowledged Poskim of the generation. Had he told me that he follows the ruling of Rabbi So and So who permits women to wear pants and not cover their hair, and Rabbi So and So was an acknowledged Posek, my response would have been far different. However, I sensed that the presenting issue was much less critical than his attitude toward Halacha and the process of its application.

In his Sefer, Darash Moshe, my Grandfather Zt'l addresses the entire issue.

"The association of Mt. Sinai at the beginning of the Parsha and the lesson we can apply to the rest of the Torah regards those Mitzvos that were commanded to the Jews before Mattan Torah. (Eg. Bris Milah) Even those Mitzvos that were commanded before the time of the giving of the Torah we must do today because they were re-commanded to Moshe at Mt. Sinai. (We circumcise our sons because G-d commanded Moshe to do so, not because Avraham circumcised his son Yitzchak.) As The Rambam records in 8:11 of the Laws of Milachim, even non-Jews must do the Seven Laws commanded to Adam and Noach because they were re-commanded to Moshe at Mt. Sinai and not because they were commanded to Adam and Noach.

The difference between G-d's commandments before the giving of the Torah and after the giving of the Torah (those Mitzvos commanded to Adam and Noach and the Mitzvos commanded to Moshe on Mt. Sinai) is in the human motive for doing them. In both cases G-d expected his humans to do as they were told. However, before the giving of the Torah G-d expected humans to listen because the commandments made sense to them. They were Mitzvos that resonated with their human intelligence. However, after the giving of the Torah, Hashem expected us to do his Mitzvos because He commanded us to do them, regardless of whether or not we understood or agreed with them.

This explains why there is no record of what happened to all the students of the academy of Shem and Ever, or the many students that Avraham and Sarah had inspired to believe in G-d and follow His ways. Their inspiration and commitment was one-generational. Those who were taught by Shem, Ever, Avraham, and Sarah, were inspired to do as they were taught. However, their motive and inspiration was intellectual.

It made sense to them! However, their children and friends did not necessarily agree with their reasoning. In fact, as is very common, the children often thought that they were more educated and knowledgeable than their parents and teachers. Therefore, they did not do as they were taught, they did as they desired and then rationalized. A system of education predicated on agreement before acceptance will never perpetuate itself. Therefore, there is no record of the decedents of those early "converts." On the other hand, the Torah that was given at Har Sinai was predicated on doing the Mitzvos because G-d commanded them and no other reason.

The reason why the Torah chose the laws of Shemitah and Yovel to record this fundamental concept is because Shemitah and Yovel are laws that do not make any rational sense, yet we must keep them! Even if the concept of letting a field lay fallow does make sense, the idea of not working any field for an entire year and expecting to keep financially afloat till after the harvest of the following year is certainly irrational. Farmers rotate their fallow fields from year to year so that they can stay in business.

Yovel is even more ridiculous! The fields must lay fallow for two years! Yet, the Torah promised (see 25:20 - 24) that the year (6th or 48th) before the Shemitah (7th or 49th) that preceded the Yovel (50th) would produce enough food to feed the nation through the next three years! (49, 50 and 51) Therefore, the only way a person would follow the seemingly irrational of Shemitah and Yovel is if they were motivated to do G-d commandments regardless of whether or not the commandments made rational sense. (Relatively accurate but loose translation by me)

The bottom line is that Kedusha is more a function of doing what G-d commands, more so than understanding why G-d commanded us to do it.


Copyright © 2003 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA.

 






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