Thursday, April 28, 2011

Parshat Kedoshim - פרשת קדושים

" לא תקם ולא תטר את בני עמך ואהבת לרעך כמוך אני יהוה. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself; I am Hashem."
(Vayikra 19:18)

This week's Parsha includes one of the most well known passages in the entire Torah: the command to love one's fellow as oneself. This is not without reason - Rashi records that Rabbi Akiva called this a "Klal Gadol b'Torah", an important rule in Torah law.

So important, in fact, that when we read in the Talmud about the famous incident in which a would-be convert comes before Hillel and Shamai to ask them to teach him the Torah while standing on one leg, Hillel's response is that "That which is hateful to yourself, don't do to others. This is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Now go and learn." (Masechet Shabbat 31a) Hillel goes so far as to call this mitzvah the central one in all of Torah, and seemingly relegates all others to the status of mere commentary on this one arch-mitzvah.

In Sefer Divrei Shir, a question is posed with respect to this response. How is it possible that all the other mitzvot in the Torah are to be understood as "commentary", interpretations of the mitzvah to love one's fellow? After all, while many mitzvot relate to our relationships with one another, there remain many others that are ostensibly to do with our relationship with Hashem. How are these mitzvot then to be understood as commentary of the mitzvah above?

The answer is given that one who truly loves others will do their best to protect them from all types of evil. Each and every action we make in this life has an effect; often without our knowing so. Implicit in Hillel's words was the recognition that whenever we act in a certain way, we affect others around us. By keeping away from sin, we not only affect our own lives, but the lives of others. Therefore, Hillel told the man that "this" is the whole Torah - all the other mitzvot must be expressed through the understanding that our actions can affect the entire world for the better.

At the same time, Hillel's answer also hints at the need to understand this mitzvah properly - if the rest of the Torah serves as commentary to this one mitzvah, then we need to study the rest of Torah properly in order to understand it fully. Only by taking a look at the entire text can we understand the real meaning of the details found within.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom.

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