We are not expected to die for another person – but we are expected to feel their pain as if it were our own.
This week there is yet again a double Torah reading, as we read the Torah portions of Acharei Mot and Kedoshim (Leviticus 16:1 – 20:27). Our first portion, Acharei Mot, deals extensively with the Yom Kippur service. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the one day a year when Jews spend the day in prayer, seeking forgiveness for their sins. In Temple times, the Yom Kippur sacrificial service was one of the most elaborate of the year – the only time the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies chamber in the Holy Temple.
What this essentially means is that Yom Kippur is when the holiest man in the world would enter the holiest place in the world on the holiest day of the year. One highlight of the Yom Kippur Temple service was the sacrifice of the two goats. One goat was offered to God, while the other was offered to Azazel, often translated as “Satan” or “the Evil Spirits.” The former was offered in the Temple, of course, while the latter was thrown off a cliff in the desert.
The reading of Kedoshim is one of the most exciting and action-packed readings in the entire Torah. Almost every other verse is a new and unique mitzva (commandment). The word “Kedoshim” means “to be holy” in English. And indeed, this is the theme of tKedoshim and the intention of all the mitzvot that are found within it – to keep us holy. When a person studies the Torah and obeys its commandments, holiness is a natural result.
Some of the mitzvot of Kedoshim include: respecting one’s parents, keeping the Sabbath, rejecting idol worship, showing compassion, giving charity to the poor, the requirement to be honest, and saving the life of another individual. The business dimension is also addressed extensively: no lying, stealing or slandering. Paying your workers on time is a big one too! Family law is also well represented in the portion of Kedoshim.
The Primary Point of Judaism
There is one mitzva in the reading of Kedoshim that our sages teach is the primary and focal point of all of Judaism: V’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha – “You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.” In fact, when a gentile came to the great sage, Hillel, and asked him to explain him the entire Torah “on one foot,” Hillel replied, “Do not do to others what you wouldn’t want others to do to you.”
There is a story that is told about two best friends, Moshe and Meir, who each lived in two different towns that were at war with each other. Moshe was captured by the enemy and was condemned to death by the king. Moshe’s last wish was to speak to the king before the execution – a wish that he was granted.
“Your majesty”, he said, “I understand that I deserve to be killed, but if you kill me, my children will be left in poverty forever. I beg you – allow me to return to my home for a short while in order to put my debts in order and ensure my family’s financial security. I promise to come back within a month.”
“And how do I know you will actually return?” said the king.
Moshe told the king that he had a good friend in this town, Meir, who would likely be willing to take his place until he returns. Meir not only agreed to take his place – but he even agreed to accept the execution sentence in place of Moshe if he failed to return!”
The day of execution arrived and Meir was being taken out for beheading, since Moshe had not yet returned. But at the very last second, Moshe appeared and called for Meir to be released so that he could receive the sentence. To the surprise of all present, Meir refused! He didn’t want to have to see Moshe killed and would rather die himself! For several long minutes Moshe and Meir were fighting with each other as to whom should be executed! When the king saw such genuine love between two people, he freed them both.
The lesson of this story is clear. We are not expected to die for another person – but we are expected to feel their pain and plight as if it were our own. We are expected to care, show concern and do all that we can for another person. If we would only internalize this message, we would all be become Kedoshim – very holy people.
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s double Torah portion, click on the links below:
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