ACHAREI MOS-KEDOSHIM (Leviticus, 16:1-20:27) — “A Torah Crash Course”

A Torah lifestyle is very complex.  We are required to fulfill 613 Biblical Commandments.  Then there are rabbinic injunctions, and countless customs that have developed over the centuries.  It is impossible for one person to fathom it all.

The Talmud (Shabbos, 31a) tells us about one person who tried.

“Shammai,” called out the Gentile to the famous rabbi, “I will convert to Judaism if you will teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one foot.”

Shammai, great scholar and righteous man that he was, was not a man who was known for tolerating mockery.  He threw the guy out.  The questioner decided to try to bring his challenge to Hillel instead.

“Hillel,” he said.  “I will convert to Judaism if you will teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one foot.”

Hillel took him seriously.  It was a deal.  Hillel converted him and taught him a verse from this week’s Torah reading: “…Love your neighbor the way you love yourself… ” (Leviticus 19:18)

“Anything that is hateful to you,” Hillel explained, “don’t do to your neighbor.  That’s it.  That’s the whole Torah.  The rest is commentary.  Now, go study the rest.”

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Nice story.  But is it accurate?  Why did Hillel humor this man with his ridiculous question?  And, did he answer him correctly?  Is it true that 612 Commandments are simply a commentary on the Mitzvah of loving your fellow man?

To be sure, it is a great Mitzvah to love one’s fellow.  We must be kind and considerate.  We must visit the sick and feed the poor.  We must not steal.  But what does that have to do with the Mitzvah of wearing Tefillin and not eating cheeseburgers?

The Kli Yakar gives us some additional insights into the request of the prospective convert, and Hillel’s seemingly incomplete response.  The Gentile wasn’t coming to make fun.  Rather, he wanted to have a simple, general rule that would encapsulate all of Torah thought.  He was looking for a single, easy-to-remember concept that would remind him of everything else.  He wanted one rule, one “leg” upon which all of Torah law and philosophy stand.

Hillel’s response, at first glance, seems to contradict a different “leg’” quoted elsewhere in the Talmud.  (Makos, 24a) Various prophets are quoted as breaking down the Torah’s Commandments to eleven, six, three, and two general principles.  Finally, the Talmud quotes the prophet Habakkuk, who based the entire Torah on one principle: The righteous will live by his faith.  (Habakkuk, 2:4)

So who is right?  Hillel, who summarizes the Torah with, “ . . . Love your neighbor the way you love yourself . . . ,” or Habakkuk, who sums it all up as “the righteous shall live by his faith”?

The Kli Yakar explains that there is no contradiction.  The Mitzvahs of the Torah are divided into two categories.  There are Mitzvahs that are purely between man and G-d.  When I recite the Grace after Meals or refrain from eating pork chops, that’s between G-d and me.  Sometimes I may be inclined to fulfill the Commandment, and sometimes I may not be.  Yet either way, I should do it due to my belief in G-d.  (Or, as Habakkuk, would say, because “the righteous will live by his faith.”)  Other Mitzvahs deal with the relationship between man and his fellow.  I am not permitted to steal from you, and I am not permitted to say negative things about you.  Sometimes I may be inclined to fulfill the Commandment, and sometimes I may not be.  Yet either way, I should do it due to my obligation to fulfill Commandments between man and his fellow.  (Or, as Hillel would quote, because of “. . . Love your neighbor the way you love yourself,,,”)

So why did Hillel only give half an answer?  He seems to have told the Gentile why we must fulfill Commandments between man and his fellow, without addressing why we should fulfill Commandments between man and G-d!

This would appear to be a very dangerous statement.  Many people celebrate the Torah’s requirement of respecting others.  (And so they should) At the same time, however, the Torah’s ritual requirements often end up ignored as old-fashioned and irrelevant.  Doesn’t Hillel seem to support this approach by pushing “Love your neighbor” and skipping “the righteous should live by his faith”?

The Kli Yakar answers that Hillel actually presented the Gentile with two “legs.”  The verse Hillel quoted, “Love your neighbor the way you love yourself . . . ,” concludes with the words,  . . .  “I am G-d.”

The prospective convert asked Hillel to give him a shortcut to understanding all of Torah values.  Very simple, responded Hillel.  If you are tempted to harm another person in any way, remember to “Love your neighbor the way you love yourself”; don’t do anything to someone else that you wouldn’t want done to you.  If you don’t understand why you should keep Kosher or Shabbos, or not wear clothes made out of linen/wool mixtures, remember that “. . . I am G-d”; have faith in G-d; He knows what He’s doing.

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There, you have it – a Philosophy of Torah Crash Course.  Two concepts to live by: Love your neighbor and have faith in G-d.  If you spend every day delving into these two concepts, you will have no alternative but to live according to the Torah.

Two concepts: Love your neighbor and have faith in G-d.  That’s it!  The rest is commentary.

Now, go learn the rest!

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

Some years the two Torah Portions of Acharei Mos and Kedoshim are read together, and some years they are read on two separate Sabbaths.  For your convenience, here are links to both Portions:

Links to Acharei Mos:

“Our Man in the Holy-of-Holies” (2011)

The High Priest had a daunting task.

Once a year, on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, the High Priest was required to enter the Holy-of-Holies…. According to Tradition, if his thoughts were not totally pure during his visit to the Holy of Holies, he would be struck down on the spot, and would have to be removed via a rope that was attached to his leg…It must have been a very lonely time for the High Priest…

One day, each one of us will have to take our leave from this world…

We will be ushered into the Holy-of-Holies.  We will, after a lifetime of hopefully doing the right thing, be called upon to meet our Maker.  On that final Day of Judgment, we will enter G-d’s Presence, and we will be very much alone…There will be no Kohain to bring incense and sin offerings on our behalf.  It will just be us, G-d, and our deeds…

When we go before G-d to stand in judgment, each one of us goes, all alone, as his own High Priest.  AND THERE IS NO ROPE!…

Read more.

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“From the Summit to the Gutter” (2003)

… Does the Torah really have to address such behavior on Yom Kippur? We are fasting. We are depriving ourselves of creature comforts and spending the day immersed in thoughts of holiness and devotion. We have confessed our transgressions of the past year and promised to avoid the pitfalls of sin in the coming year. We have witnessed the purity of the High Priest coming out of the Holy of Holies. We are on a spiritual high. Is this the time to talk about resisting X-rated temptations??!!…

Read more.

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“Cardiac Judaism” (2002)

… The Torah describes in great detail the very busy schedule of the Kohain Gadol, the High Priest, on Yom Kippur… By the end of the day, the High Priest succeeded in achieving forgiveness for the sins of his People.

What a system!  You can sin with impunity!  Do whatever your heart desires!  The Torah is telling us that once the Kohain performs the requisite ceremonies on Yom Kippur, all is forgiven!  … Is this what Judaism is all about?!  Do whatever you want, just make sure the High Priest gets you forgiven for it on Yom Kippur?! …

Read more.

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Links to Kedoshim:

“How to be Holy” (2011)

1) Be  Normal…   2) …But  Not  TOO Normal …

Read more.

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“Honor Thy Father’s General” (2010)

… Michael embraced the religious values of his mother.  However, the court had granted ample visitation with his Dad, who was antagonistic toward his ex-wife’s Judaism.  Leslie argued that Mark’s hostility toward religion was detrimental to Michael’s well being, but the court would not get involved.

Mark insisted that Michael come with him in the car on Saturday.  …Leslie was in a quandary.  Should she tell Michael to fight his father?  If Michael refuses to ride on Saturday, his father will drag him, kicking and screaming, into the car.  Should she tell him to ride in the car with his father?  If she would tell Michael to ride on Saturday in his father’s car, she would undermine the very Judaism that she was trying to teach him!  What should she do?

What she did was turn to Rabbi Shimon Schwab, of Blessed Memory… Rabbi Schwab came up with an insightful solution to this problem…

Read more.

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“A Torah Crash Course” (2006)

A Torah lifestyle is very complex.  We are required to fulfill 613 Biblical Commandments.  Then there are rabbinic injunctions, and countless customs that have developed over the centuries.  It is impossible for one person to fathom it all.

The Talmud (Shabbos, 31a) tells us about one person who tried.

“Shammai,” called out the Gentile to the famous rabbi, “I will convert to Judaism if you will teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one foot.”

Shammai, great scholar and righteous man that he was, was not a man who was known for tolerating mockery.  He threw the guy out.  The questioner decided to try to bring his challenge to Hillel instead…

Read more.

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“Exodus from Belarus” (2005)

In 1904, an 18-year old boy from Postavy, a Russian/Polish/Lithuanian town in what is now Belarus, got on a boat and went to America.  He married, settled in Connecticut, and went into the cattle and chicken farming business.  By the time the Second World War began, his family was well-settled in its pursuit of the American Dream.  His family never experienced the Holocaust.

That farmer raised a family of nine children.  One of his sons had four children.   I am one of those children.

That farmer’s name was Rachmiel Tzeplyevitch (Zeplowitz at Ellis Island; Seplowitz in Connecticut).  I, Yerachmiel Seplowitz, am his grandson…

Read more.

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“Hanging Out on the Corner” (2003)

As the story goes, a secular Jew got on a subway in New York City.  This fellow, who had come to America from Poland, shuddered when he found himself face to face with two VERY Jewish looking fellows with long beards and big black hats…

He was repulsed.  He could barely hold back the venom in his voice.  “What’s the matter with you Chassidim?” he demanded in his still-Yiddish-accented English.  “Why must you call attention to yourselves in front of the Goyim?  This is America, not Poland!  I’m embarrassed to be seen with you!”

The two “Chassidim” looked at each other and then at him with confusion.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said one of them.  “What’s a ‘Goyim?’  We’re not from Poland.  We’re from Pennsylvania Dutch Country.  We’re Amish.”…

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2012 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com)  and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on May 4, 2006 at 9:22 am  Leave a Comment  

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