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Ethical Mitzvot

Kedoshim is one of a series of three parashiot whose focus is the development of societal norms and the creation of what has come to be called the Holiness Code. The name of the parasha Kedoshim comes from the imperative with which it opens "You shall be holy people (kedoshim ti'hyu) for I the Eternal your God am holy." As beings created in the image of the Divine we are meant to be holy. The parasha explains what this means by listing numerous rules focusing on holy behavior within the framework of creating a new society. The central mitzvah of this parasha, indeed of the entire Torah, is "v'ahavta l'rayakha kamocha" - "you shall love your fellow human being as yourself." All of the mitzvot, as arcane and absurd as some of them may seem to us today, are meant to teach us how to treat others with love as fellow human beings created in the image of God.

Whether the mitzvah is to leave the corners of the fields and the forgotten sheaves of grain for the poor or not to put a stumbling block before the blind, the parasha is filled with ethical mitzvot meant to enable the creation of a just society. Indeed, in keeping with the celebration of Yom Ha'atzmaut this week, the State of Israel was also founded on the principles of Torah - including those in this week's parasha. The modern state was also founded with the belief that we must treat our fellow human beings as ourselves. That is why it pains so many of us that violence is being perpetrated by young Israeli men and women in response to the violence instigated by the Palestinians. Many years ago Golda Meir, z"l, former Prime Minister of Israel, stated (and I paraphrase here) "What saddens me even more than the fact that our young people are killed in wars is that our young people are forced to kill their young people!" Indeed Golda celebrated perhaps more than anyone when the peace treaty was signed between Begin and Sadat because she believed that this marked the beginning of the end of Israeli men and boys killing Arab men and boys.

How sad that all these years later Israeli soldiers are being forced to kill not only soldiers, but civilians, in this bloody conflict (and yet, in contrast to Golda, I don't believe that we can say that this is sadder than the fact that our innocent men, women and children are being murdered by their fanatical suicide bombers). Though a significant number of young men and women have refused to serve in the territories at this time because they are against the occupation and what it does to those who must defend it, the majority believe that, often regardless of politics, the current situation forces them to take up arms in order to protect innocent civilians within the borders of the State of Israel.

In trying to remain an optimist (something that is awfully difficult these days), I use the names of today's parashiot as a reminder of what must happen next. The names (taken from the first words of the parashiot) Acharey Mot - Kedoshim literally mean "after death" and "holy ones." A midrashic (interpretive) translation of these names could read "after the killing let us become holy people." After we find a way to end the fighting and bloodshed we must find a way to make ourselves holy again - as the Palestinians must as well. The citizens of the land of Israel and the territories must begin to use the ideals of the Holiness Code of the Torah (which is also a part of both the Christian and Muslim canons) as a guide to behavior. They must all learn how to treat their fellow human beings as themselves. In following the commandment to be holy people they will hopefully be able to create a society that will begin the difficult work of rebuilding so that all peoples in the region will know that most precious of Divine gifts - the gift of true Shalom, Salaam, Peace.
Topics: Divrei Torah
Type: Dvar Torah