Parshat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim
In this cycle, through the Torah, we will be taking a mystical journey. Our guide will be Rabbi Larry Tabick’s book, The Aura of Torah, published in 2014 by the Jewish Publication Society and the University of Nebraska. Translations of kabbalistic texts are by Rabbi Larry Tabick. Translations of the Torah and other commentaries are from Sefaria, except where otherwise noted. Translations of the Talmud are the Steinsaltz, William Davidson Talmud, on Sefaria.
Another double parshah this week. Acharei-Mot describes the Yom Kippur service and sexual prohibitions. Kedoshim is the Holiness code and is the center of Leviticus.
You shall keep My laws and My rules, by the pursuit of which people shall live: I am the LORD.
Avodah Zarah 3a:2
Rabbi Meir would say: From where is it derived that even a gentile who engages in Torah study is considered like a High Priest? The verse states: “You shall therefore keep My statutes and My ordinances, which if a person do, and shall live by them” (Leviticus 18:5). It is not stated: Priests, Levites, and Israelites, but rather the general term “person.” From here you learn that even a gentile who engages in the study of Torah is like a High Priest. This demonstrates that gentiles are rewarded for fulfilling mitzvot, despite the fact that they are not commanded to do so.
Avodah Zarah 27b:10
The Gemara asks: And what would ben Dama have said? What verse did he intend to cite as proof that it was permitted for him to be healed by a heretic? The verse: “You shall therefore keep My statutes, and My ordinances, which if a man do, he shall live by them” (Leviticus 18:5). This teaches that one should live by God’s mitzvot, and not that he should die by them. This verse serves as a source for the halakha that one may violate a prohibition in order to save a life.
The Gemara asks: And should one not transgress the prohibition of idol worship to save his life? But isn’t it taught in a baraita: Rabbi Yishmael said: From where is it derived that if a person is told: Worship idols and you will not be killed, from where is it derived that he should worship the idol and not be killed? The verse states: “You shall keep My statutes and My judgments, which a person shall do, and he shall live by them” (Leviticus 18:5), thereby teaching that the mitzvot were given to provide life, but they were not given so that one will die due to their observance.
Rabbi Shimon ben Menasya said: It is stated: “And the children of Israel shall keep Shabbat, to observe Shabbat” (Exodus 31:16).The Torah said: Desecrate one Shabbat on his behalf so he will observe many Shabbatot. Rav Yehuda said that Shmuel said: If I would have been there among those Sages who debated this question, I would have said that my proof is preferable to theirs, as it states: “You shall keep My statutes and My ordinances, which a person shall do and live by them” (Leviticus 18:5), and not that he should die by them. In all circumstances, one must take care not to die as a result of fulfilling the mitzvot.
Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, 19th century, Poland
You should do commandments with vitality, and not like “a human commandment learned by rote” (Isaiah 29:13).
The larger message from both the Talmud and the Kotzker is that mitzvot are intended to be life-affirming. If they deaden us, literally or figuratively, we are doing something wrong.
You shall be holy, for I, the LORD your God, am holy.
Sefaria has a bad link. It links to 19:2 but it should link to 19:27, which is about haircuts. In any case, this is an interesting talmudic discussion of a non-binary gender.
Mishnah Bikkurim 4:1-5
The hermaphrodite is in some ways like men, and in other ways like women. In other ways he is like men and women, and in others he is like neither men nor women.
In what ways is he like men? He causes impurity with white discharge, like men; He dresses like men; He can take a wife but not be taken as a wife, like men. [When he is born] his mother counts the blood of purification, like men; He may not be secluded with women, like men. He is not maintained with the daughters, like men; He transgresses the law of: “You shall not round” (Leviticus 19:2) and “You shall not defile for the dead,” (Leviticus 21:1) like men; And he must perform all the commandments of the Torah, like men.
And in what ways is he like women? He causes impurity with red discharge, like women; And he must not be secluded with men, like women; And he doesn’t make his brother’s wife liable for yibbum (levirate marriage); And he does not share [in the inheritance] with the sons, like women; And he cannot eat most holy sacrifices, like women. At his birth his mother counts the blood of her impurity like [they do when they give birth to a] girl; And he is disqualified from being a witness, like women. If he had illicit intercourse, he is disqualified from eating terumah, like women.
In what ways is he like both men and women? One who strikes him or curses him is liable, as in the case of men and women; One who unwittingly kills him must go into exile, and if on purpose, then [the slayer] receives the death penalty, as in the case of men and women. His mother must [at his birth] bring an offering, as in the case of men and women. He may eat holy things that are eaten outside of the Temple; And he may inherit any inheritance, as in the case of men and women.
And in what is he different from both men and women? One does not burn terumah if it came into contact with his discharge, Neither is he liable for entering the temple while impure, unlike men or women. He must not be sold as a Hebrew slave, unlike men or women. He cannot be evaluated, unlike men or women. If one says: “I will be a nazirite, if he is neither a man nor a woman,” then he becomes a nazirite. Rabbi Yose says: the hermaphrodite is a unique creature, and the sages could not decide about him. But this is not so with a tumtum (one of doubtful), for sometimes he is a man and sometimes he is a woman.
Hayyim ibn Attar, 18th century, Morocco
[This] expression is in the future tense. The explanation is that there should be no pause in [the fulfillment of] this commandment, for whichever gate of holiness you enter, there still exists another gate beyond the boundary of the gate you are entering. For there is no limit to progress in the holiness that is appointed for anyone who wishes to take it on.
Go and learn this from the levels of the prophets, each higher than the other, with Moses above them all. But perhaps there is a level higher than [that of] Moses, and that would be the level of our holy king, our Messiah, who will be crowned with all manner of crowns….
Therefore, it says, “you shall be,” for this commandment has no pause and there is always [more to achieve] within the boundary of this commandment to be holy.
And it gives a reason for its teaching, “for I, the Eternal your God, am holy,” for there is no limit to God’s holiness, and the Eternal desires that the beloved children of the divine should imitate their Creator in the divisions of holiness. So now consider within your mind the levels through which you may pass.
You shall have an honest balance, honest weights, an honest ephah (dry measuring cup), and an honest hin (wet measuring cup). I the LORD am your God who freed you from the land of Egypt.
Bava Metzia 49a:6
The Gemara raises an objection: Rabbi Yosei, son of Rabbi Yehuda, says: What is the meaning when the verse states: “A just ephah, and a just hin, shall you have” (Leviticus 19:36)? But wasn’t a hin included in an ephah? Why is it necessary to state both? Rather, this is an allusion that serves to say to you that your yes [hen] should be just, and your no should be just. Apparently, it is a mitzva for one to fulfill his promises. Abaye says: That verse means that one should not say one matter with his mouth and think one other matter in his heart. It is prohibited for one to make a commitment that he has no intention of fulfilling. Rav Kahana made his commitment in good faith and reneged due to changed circumstances. That is not prohibited.
Yehudah HeHasid, 12th century, Germany
Even your yes [hen] and your no should be honest. And how do we know that even your gesticulations should be honest? Because it says, “[A scoundrel, an evil man lives by crooked speech,] winking his eyes, shuffling his feet, point his finger” (Proverbs 6:12-13), and it is written: “extend a finger and speak evil” (Isaiah 58:9). Even the movement of your head should be truthful, for it people want to say yes, they nod their head, and they want to say no, they shake their head from side to side. And even all your limbs should be truthful, as it is said: “the upright love you” (Song of Songs 1:4).