Parashat K’doshim-The Portion of Holiness
Rabbi Hillel: “This Is The Entire Torah; The Rest Is Commentary!”
Israel Independence Day 74
By Hazzan David F. Tilman
The portion of Kedoshim, Leviticus 19:1-20:27, is a relatively short Torah reading. In most years, this Parashah is read together with the preceding portion, Acharei Mot. In a Jewish leap year, such as this year, 5782, K’doshim stands alone. It is such an important Sidrah, that Hillel the Elder, one of the greatest scholars in the early Rabbinic period, declared that this portion contains an essential verse to understanding the entire Torah.
This section is the peak of Leviticus, the one most often read and quoted (Plaut: page 797, notes). Although relatively brief, it contains a list of major ethical duties for which we are all responsible.
The Sidrah begins with a brief restatement of the Ten Commandments that had been given the Jewish people from G-d transmitted by Moses. “You shall each revere your mother and your father, and keep My Sabbaths. I the Eternal am your G-d. Do not turn to idols or make molten gods for yourselves: I the Eternal am your G-d….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 G-d. I am the Eternal (19:3-4, 11-12).
Verse 18 is the basis for what is popularly known as the Golden Rule:
“Love your fellow (Israelite) as yourself: I am the Eternal.”(19:18).
This is the verse that Hillel the Elder considered so epochal! Hillel was born in Babylonia in the first century B.C.E. After studying for 24 consecutive years, he became the major Rabbinic scholar of his time. Once, a non-Jew came to him, wanting to convert to Judaism if only a Rabbi could teach him the entire Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel’s frequent debating partner, Shammai, considered the request so ridiculous that he threw the man out of his house. Hillel, however, accepted this challenge, and told him, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; the rest is explanation of this, go and study it! (Babylonian Talmud: Shabbat 31a).” Hillel’s formulation is an inverse version of the Golden Rule, based on Leviticus 19:18.
Rabbi Akiva was another early Torah scholar. His came to Jewish tradition relatively late in his life, yet his learning was so overwhelming that he had over 24,000 students. Rabbi Akiva also considered this portion and the Golden Rule contained in these verses to be crucial to our understanding of what G-d expects from us!
K’doshim contains many Mitzvot that are incumbent on all of us to keep as guideposts in our ethical and ritual behavior. The portion establishes a connection between our observance of the Holiness Code and our right to live in Israel. “I shall give the land to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey. I the Eternal am your G-d who has set you apart from other peoples.”(20:24)
Holiness is defined as being set apart from others by our ethical, moral, and ritual behavior! The Hebrew word “Kadosh,” translated as holy and separate, is found many times in this portion. So many of our prayers found in our Siddur/prayer book are derived from this word: Kiddush-prayer over the wine; Kaddish-prayer recited by prayer leaders and mourners; Kedushah-the third prayer in every Amidah; K’dushin-the Jewish wedding ceremony recited under the Chuppah. These are all instances where we assert repeatedly our need to be separate, special, sanctified, and under the watchful eye of G-d Almighty.
In K’doshim, each law ends with the same two words: “Ani Adon-i/I am the Eternal.” There are laws regarding the treatment of the resident alien/Geir. There are laws commanding deference to the aged. The people are warned against falsifying measures of length, weight, or capacity (19:35).
In chapter 20, The Torah portion concludes with a listing of gruesome punishments for committing forbidden sexual practices. These punishments are drastic and certainly not part of our lives today! We understand them as illustrative of just how revolutionary were the laws of the Torah during Biblical times. There must have been those who violated these rules, and they had to understand the seriousness of their transgressions.
As I am writing these words, Jews the world over are celebrating the newest Jewish holiday, Yom Ha-atzmaut/Israel Independence Day. This celebration occurs on the fifth day of the month of Iyyar. This year’s observance and celebration has been moved one day early, to Thursday, May 5th, so as not to interfere with Shabbat. This is the 74th year since modern Israel became a sovereign state in 1948.
I am always looking for the latest new Israeli songs that commemorate the joy, the miracle, and the reality in our time of this celebration, and I always ask friends and colleagues who are in Israel to send me both the recordings and sheet music for the latest Israeli national musical hits. Over the years, there are so many songs that mark important events in Israeli history, that we proudly sing every Yom Ha-atzmaut/Israel Independence Day.
I want to teach a class on modern Israeli history by analyzing both the music and the lyrics of popular Israeli songs. In June 1967, the great and immortal Naomi Shemer wrote her eternal classic, Y’erushalayim Shel Zahav/Jerusalem the Golden, which has come to be associated with the Six Day War and the resultant re-unification of Jerusalem. Shir LaShalom/The Song of Peace was written in 1969, and teaches us about the War of Attrition on the Israel/Egypt border over the Suez Canal. The song was revived in 1995, and a copy was found in the pocket of Yitzhak Rabin as he lay dying by an assassin’s bullet. Noladeti LaShalom/I Was Born to Peace, written by Uzi Chitman, teaches about the Camp David Accords signed by President Jimmy Carter, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in September 1978 that established a framework for the historic peace treaty concluded between Israel and Egypt.
The great song Hallelujah, by Kobi Oshrat and Shimri Or, was the Israeli entry into the Eurovision Song Contest in 1979. It won the second prize, but it has become an eternal first place song in the hearts of Jews the world over. I always enjoy teaching our great volunteer choir, Shir KI, the latest Israeli songs, and I am sure that this year’s 74th anniversary celebration will be reflected in new music and lyrics.
All the Tilman’s wish you Shabbat Shalom U’m’vo-rach.
** For your enjoyment, here are the links to the songs mentioned in the article.
Yom Ha-Atzma-ut/Israel Independence Day-In Musical Celebration
Hag Sameach, and sing along!