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Torah Sparks

May 2, 2009 – 8 Iyar 5769

Annual: Leviticus 16:1 – 20:27 (Etz Hayim, p. 679; Hertz p. 480)
Triennial: Leviticus 17:8 – 19:14 (Etz Hayim, p. 687; Hertz p. 486)
Haftarah: Amos 9:7 – 15 (Etz Hayim, p. 706; Hertz p. 509)

Prepared by Rabbi Joyce Newmark
Teaneck, New Jersey

Torah Portion Summary

God instructs Moses about the Yom Kippur rituals, when the High Priest was to cleanse and purify the sanctuary from the effects of the sins of the Israelites. Only on this day was Aaron permitted to enter the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctuary. He was to dress in special linen garments and to bring a purification offering on behalf of himself and his household. He then would cast lots over two goats, designating one for God as a purification offering on behalf of the people. The other, for Azazel, was the “scapegoat,” sent off into the wilderness bearing Israel’s sins. The people were to observe Yom Kippur each year as a day of fasting and abstinence so their sins might be forgiven.

Moses tells the people that whether they were intended for food or as sacrifices, animals were to be slaughtered only at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. Eating blood is strictly forbidden.

God instructs Moses to tell the people that they are not to copy the practices of the Egyptians or the Canaanites. Forbidden sexual relationships are specified.

The second part of this double parasha, Kedoshim, contains the bulk of the “Holiness Code,” characterized by the commandment You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy. The many mitzvot found here call for striving for holiness in all areas of life – ritual (You shall keep My Sabbaths and venerate My sanctuary, 19:30), civil (You shall not falsify measures of length, weight, or capacity, 19:35), and ethical (You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old, 19:32). Its best known commandment is Love your fellow as yourself. Israel is told to observe all of God’s laws and rules.

God tells Moses to warn the people against child sacrifice and witchcraft and divination. The laws of forbidden sexual relationships are repeated. Similarly, God warns Israel not to follow the practices of the Canaanite nations and to remember that God has set them apart to be a holy people.

1. Stop, Thief!

You shall not steal; you shall not deal deceitfully or falsely with one another. You shall not swear falsely by My name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord. You shall not defraud your fellow. You shall not commit robbery... (Leviticus 19:11-13)

  1. Stealing is secretly taking money or any article from another person. The category includes shoplifting, picking pockets, using an item that someone asked you to watch for him but did not give you explicit permission to use, or, when you are an employee, covertly taking something from your employer, even something as small as pencils or envelopes... The prohibition against robbery applies to taking an article forcibly from another person. Examples include grabbing someone’s possession from his hand, entering his house against his wishes and stealing his possessions, or going into his field openly and taking his fruit... Rabbi Hayyim of Brisk used to say that robbing people of their sleep is included in this prohibition. The Hafetz Hayyim commented that robbing people of their sleep is worse than robbing money. Money can be returned, sleep cannot... An employee must not waste time during his hours of employment. When a person is hired for a job and paid by the hour, week, or month, his time belongs to his employer. Any waste of time is considered robbing, and he must ask his employer for forgiveness. Moreover, even if the employee performed a mitzvah during the time when he should have been working, he is guilty of transgressing. In the Talmud (Taanit 23b) we find that Abba Hilkiyah would not even take the time out to return the greeting of Torah scholars while he was working for an employer. (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, “Love Your Neighbor,” pp. 241, 248, 249, 251)
  2. One who sees another steal and remains silent is also a thief. (Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra, 1092-1167, Spain)
  3. One may not buy wool, milk, or kids from any shepherds. Nor may one buy wood or fruit from the watchman of orchards... In all cases in which the seller asks that the goods be hidden, it is forbidden [to make such a purchase]. (Mishnah Bava Kamma 10:9)

Sparks for Discussion

The vast majority of us never would steal – that is, we would never consider robbing a bank or mugging a little old lady for her Social Security check. But what about copying software without a license, making non-work-related copies on the office copy machine, or keeping the excess change you received in a retail store? Does it matter that management is aware that employees sometimes take home office supplies, make personal phone calls, or do their online shopping at work, and consider it a cost of doing business? What common practices would you include in your definition of theft? Which would you exclude?

2. But I Didn't Do Anything!

You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind. You shall fear your God: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:14)

  1. Before the blind in a matter. Should he ask you: Is the daughter of so-and-so qualified to marry a priest? Do not answer him Yes she is qualified when she is really unfit. If he comes to consult you, do not give him inappropriate advice. Do not say to him Go out early when robbers would waylay him or go out at noon that he should get sunstroke. Do not say to him sell your field and buy yourself an ass and then by a trick take it [the field] from him. (Sifra Kedoshim)
  2. Rabbi Nathan said: How do we know that a person should not serve a cup of wine to a nazir [who has made a vow to abstain from alcohol] or meat cut from a living animal to a non-Jew? The Torah says, “Do not place a stumbling block before the blind.” (Pesahim 22b)
  3. The text refers to one who hits his adult son. (Rashi: Since he is grown-up, he might resent it and hit his father, who will then be prompting his son to commit a crime.) (Moed Katan 17a)
  4. Rabbi Yehudah said in the name of Rav: Whoever has money and lends it without witnesses [to attest to the validity of the debt] violates the prohibition of “do not place a stumbling block before the blind.” (Bava Metziah 75b)
  5. This is a section of the most far-reaching import. It warns us against carelessness in word or deed through which the material or spiritual well-being of our fellow men could in any way be endangered. By “blind” is understood not only the actual blind, but also those who are in any way spiritually or morally blind, dazzled by passion or ignorance. So that not only anybody who actually places a stone in the path of a blind man, but also he who deliberately gives wrong advice, who gives the means or prepares the way for wrong to be done, who in any way actively or passively assists or furthers people in doing wrong transgresses this prohibition. (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, 1808-1888, Germany)

Sparks for Discussion

Playing a cruel trick on someone who is handicapped is so obviously wrong that the rabbis are certain that this verse has much more to teach us. They see two principal prohibitions here – tempting someone else to do wrong and giving someone else inappropriate advice. What contemporary examples of “placing a stumbling block before the blind” come to mind?

The rabbis teach (Kiddushin 42b), “There is no agency in a matter of transgression” – that is, a person cannot do something wrong and then claim he should not be held responsible because someone else made him (or dared him to or paid him to) do it. How do you reconcile this with our understanding of “placing a stumbling block before the blind”? If Reuven urges Shimon to perform a transgression and Shimon refuses, has Reuven committed a sin?

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