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Torah Sparks

May 7, 2005 - 28 Nisan 5765

Annual: Leviticus 19:1 - 20:27 (Etz Hayim, p. 693; Hertz p. 497)
Triennial: Leviticus 19:1 - 37 (Etz Hayim, p. 693; Hertz p. 497)
Haftarah: Amos 9:7 - 15 (Etz Hayim, p. 706; Hertz p. 509)

Prepared by Rabbi Elyse Winick
Assistant Director, USCJ KOACH/College Outreach

Department of Congregational Services
Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director


From ritual concepts of holiness, the requirements broaden in Parashat Kedoshim, which is also known as the "Holiness Code." We are enjoined to be holy because God is holy. We are not to worship idols. Shlamim, peace offerings, are to be offered freely and eaten within the first two days of the offering. In collecting the harvest, we are to leave the corners and the gleanings for the poor. We are not to steal or lie or take God's name in vain. We are to pay timely wages and care for the deaf and the blind. We are to judge justly and not gossip. We shall be forgiving, yet offer constructive criticism. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are not to hybridize cattle or seed or even linen and wool. When we plant fruit-bearing trees, we are to wait four years to harvest, with the fourth year harvest an offering to God, eating of the produce for the first time only in the fifth year. We are enjoined not to eat blood, practice magic, round the corners of our heads, cut marks in our flesh or receive tattoos. We are to honor the old and respect the stranger, the latter because of our own status as strangers in Egypt. We must have fair weights and measures and observe all of God's statutes.

Child sacrifice is forbidden and punishable by stoning. Adultery and bestiality are punishable by death. Improper sexual relations are punishable by karet.

We conclude with a summary return to the laws of kashrut and prohibitions against magic, coupled with a reminder that the reward for our obedience is a land flowing with milk and honey.

Discussion Theme 1: "Holiness as a Mirror"

"…You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy." (Leviticus 19:2)

Derash: Study

  • "And God said, 'Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness…." (Genesis 1:26)
  • "In Our image: in Our imprint; Our likeness: to understand and to comprehend" (Rashi on Genesis 1:26)
  • "You shall be holy: you shall be separate.'" (Rashi on Leviticus 19:2)
  • "To walk in all His ways' (Deuteronomy 11:22). There are the ways of the Holy One: 'gracious and compassionate, patient, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, assuring love for a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, and granting pardon….' (Exodus 34:6). This means that just as God is gracious and compassionate, you too must be gracious and compassionate. 'The Lord is faithful in all His ways and loving in all His deeds' (Psalm 145:17). As the Holy One is faithful, you too must be faithful. As the Holy One is loving, you too must be loving.'" (Sifrei Deuteronomy: Ekev)
  • "Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who made me in His image." (from the Birkhot HaShahar)

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What other things in Jewish tradition are considered kadosh or holy? How do they become holy?
  2. What is the distinction between being holy and being separate? What do they have in common?
  3. To be created in God's image raises a myriad of questions. Take a few moments and consider how you imagine God. Draw a picture or put your image of God into words, but challenge yourself to create something tangible. What do you have in common with this God image?
  4. The passage from Sifrei suggests that we are obligated to behave in God-like ways. What are some of the Bible's anecdotes which give us guidance? How do we grapple with the difficulty of emulating a God known to us only through history? What are we grateful for when we acknowledge being created in God's image?

Discussion Theme 2: "Honor and Fear"

"A man should fear his mother and father, and keep My Sabbaths: I the Lord am your God." (Leviticus 19:3)

Derash: Study

  • "Honor your father and your mother, that you may long endure on the land that the Lord your God is assigning to you." (Exodus 20:12)
  • "Here, mother precedes father because it is well known that the son fears his father more than his mother and in honoring, the father precedes the mother because it is well known that the son honors his mother more than his father because she sways him with words." (Rashi on Leviticus 19:3)
  • "The observance of Shabbat is juxtaposed with revering parents to say that even though you have been instructed to revere your parents, if they tell you to desecrate the Sabbath, you should not listen, and so too with the other commandments." (Rashi on Leviticus 19:3)
  • "Our masters taught: What is 'fear,' and what is 'honor?' 'Fear' means that the son is not to stand in his father's place, nor to sit in his place; not to contradict him, nor to tip the scales against him. 'Honor' means that the son must supply his father with food and drink, provide him with clothes and footwear, and assist his coming in or going out of the house." (Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 31b)
  • "Our masters taught: When a man, his father, and his teacher are in captivity, he has the first right to be ransomed before his teacher and his teacher before his father. But his mother has the first right to be ransomed before all of them." (Babylonian Talmud, Horayot 13a)

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Yir'a is a term alternately used to indicate awe, reverence or fear. To translate the text here as an instruction to fear your mother and father is discomfiting. What might the Torah be directing us to?
  2. We see that the Ten Commandments offer both a different order to the parents and a different verb to characterize the relationship. Using Rashi as a starting point, how do the two sets of instructions differ? Why direct us to reverence of the mother first and honor of the father first?
  3. Both the Exodus and Leviticus texts append a seemingly unrelated clause to the relationship with parents. What is it about Shabbat and long life that make these logical connections?
  4. There are moments in our lives where respect for our parents seems to be beyond comprehensible, when even parents fail to live up to their responsibilities. How do we reconcile these difficult relationships with the idea of honor and reverence? Can a parent do something which would obviate the requirement to offer respect? What constitute the minimum and maximum limitations for demonstrating this respect?
  5. As parents, we strive to provide our children with not only their basic needs, but also their wants and desires. How do we inculcate in them a sense of respect, even as we nurture their growth and development? How do we teach them that respect for parents (and other adults) is an essential component of their lives? Do the traditional Talmudic exhortations speak to them, or can you offer an alternate model?
  6. The text from BT Horayot sets up an interesting hierarchy. Why should the teacher be redeemed before the father? What does this tell us about the vision of Jewish tradition? What does it tell us about ourselves?

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