TORAH FOR THE NATIONS
The weekly Torah portion and its lessons for all people
Acharey Mos & Kedoshim
Leviticus Leviticus 16:1-18:30 & 19:1-20:27
The Greatest Love
The two consecutive Torah portions known respectively by their Hebrew names of ACHAREI MOS and KEDOSHIM are in some years read each on their own separate Shabbat, while in other years they may be read together on the same Shabbat, according to the requirements of the Jewish lunar calendar (as discussed in the previous post ).
Each of these two portions has its own unique content, but they also contain the shared theme of moral purity, one of whose chief foundations lies in the observance of certain basic incest prohibitions that apply in all human societies. The concluding section of ACHAREI MOS (Leviticus chapter 18) sets forth the various kinds of incestuous unions that are forbidden specifically to the Children of Israel, while the concluding section of KEDOSHIM (Leviticus chapter 20) sets forth the specific Biblical punishments for violating those prohibitions.
The incest prohibitions that apply to all humanity under the Noahide code are set forth by Rabbi Moses Maimonides ("Rambam" 1137-1204) in his comprehensive Torah code (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 9:5). They are: relations between a son and his mother or his father's wife or with any woman that is married to another man, with his maternal sister, with a transvestite, and bestiality.
Violation of these fundamental prohibitions may lead to many evils both for their practitioners and for the wider society, while the observance and practice of God's fundamental statutes for humankind brings to the greatest good.
Introducing the list of Torah incest prohibitions, God says:
"And you shall guard My statutes and My laws which, when a man (Hebrew: Adam) does them, he shall LIVE through them, I AM HASHEM" (Leviticus 18:5).
In commenting on this verse, the most ancient rabbinic midrashic commentary on Leviticus, SIFRA DEVEY RAV, goes to some lengths to prove that this applies to all mankind. "It does not say 'which, when a Cohen or Levi or Israelite does them' but 'when a MAN -- HaAdam -- does them', including a GENTILE".
"Sandwiched" in between the list of incest prohibitions (Leviticus 18:6-29) and the list of their penalties (Leviticus 20:1-27) is the beautiful lengthy section of detailed laws of good human conduct from whose Hebrew opening words the portion of KEDOSHIM gets its traditional name: "Be holy, for I HaShem your God am Holy" (Leviticus 19:2).
These laws begin with the reverence one must show to one's parents, the observance of God's Sabbaths, the prohibition of making idols, leading into the rules that must govern every good society: support for the poor, the prohibition of theft, lying and dishonesty, of taking God's name in vain, business malpractice, injustice, slander, causeless hatred and other evil behaviors.
"Do not steal, do not deceive and do not lie to one another. Don't impound your friend's money, don't delay payment for services rendered. Don't unjustly favor either the poor or the rich. Don't hate your brother in your heart, give due reproof, do not take vengeance or nurse a grievance against the children of your people, and love your neighbor as yourself , for I am HaShem" (Leviticus 19:11-18).
Elsewhere the Torah teaches us to love God (Deuteronomy 6:5). In the injunction to "love your neighbor as yourself" we see that the love and service of God includes showing a love to one's fellow humans comparable to the love one has for oneself. For just as I am God's child, so are all my human brothers and sisters.
The word LOVE is used in many different ways. Obviously the Torah cannot here be talking about romantically loving everyone else, if only for the reason that the love one has for oneself is not love in the romantic sense. Our love for ourselves is what generally makes us want what we think to be in our own interests while avoiding what may hurt or harm us. It is a comparable love that the Torah asks us to offer to our neighbors - those we live with in the home, in the neighborhood, at school, at work, in the community and in the wider world - to the maximum extent possible.
So fundamental is this rule that the great Torah sage Hillel said: "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah. The rest is the explanation: go and learn" (Talmud Shabbat 31a).
Some of the basic human loving practices towards neighbors included in this overall rule are listed by Rabbi Moses Maimonides in his Torah code (Laws of Mourning 16:1): "Visiting the sick; comforting mourners; respectful burial of the dead; giving practical assistance to couples who are getting married and celebrating with them, hospitality to travelers, practical acts of kindness to others. all the things that you would want others to do for you, you do for them."
This would surely include showing fundamental human politeness to all others wherever possible, including even to complete strangers and even when no specific "act of kindness" is called for.
Everyone wants good for themselves. The greatest good of all is God, who is all good and all love. Therefore all who connect themselves to God through acts of service and devotion - each in his or her own way - are on the pathway to true and eternal good. If we can help others discover and pursue this good, we are showing them the truest love. At the same time we are also loving ourselves! For through all our words and deeds spreading this love to our fellows, we ourselves gain greater connection with God.
Showing others the path is through trying under all circumstances to behave in the best possible manner in accordance with Torah teaching. One should also where possible practice introducing ideas, words and expressions of faith in God one's various conversations with people at all kinds of junctures in life, endeavoring to speak in way that includes due expressions of thanks and praise to God and acknowledgement that He rules over everything.
One may thus become God's ambassador, each on his or her own level, shining the Torah to one's fellow humans through good deeds and kind words, without force or coercion, through the power of love and compassion, peace and truth.
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