One is Holy

By: Rabbi Jay Kelman |

One of the features of the scientific world is classification of different species into their various groupings and subgroupings. The Torah itself introduces the concept of classification of mitzvoth, identifying the categories of edot, chukim, and mishpatim. It is the question of the classification of these three categories of mitzvoth that our Sages identify as that of the chacham. The ability to classify—and to distinguish between—various categories is the basic prerequisite for wisdom and understanding[1].

The most famous classification of mitzvoth is the division between man and man and those between man and G-d, something most pronounced in the aseret hadibrot. There is, however, a third category—mitzvoth between man and himself. On one level, each and every mitzvah, whether between man and G-d or man and man, is a mechanism for self-improvement. Yet at the same time, certain mitzvoth have, as their focus, the development of our character—and many of these are in Parshat Kedoshim.

It is understandable why people might steal, favour the rich (or poor), or hold back the wages of their employees. But one gains very little—and loses much—if one gossips, or bears a grudge, or hates his “brother” in his heart. Such will get one no fame, fortune, or benefit[2]. Rather, bearing a grudge will likely increase your blood pressure, and hating your fellow man offers little reward. We may think we are harming “those scum”, but chances are you will be the one to suffer most.

Many of the commentaries see Parshat Kedoshim as a restatement of the aseret hadibrot, with each of the mitzvoth in our parsha being a subset of one of the dibrot. Some even go a step further and see the aseret hadibrot as ten headings under which can be placed all the mitzvoth of the Torah. However, unlike the “Ten Commandments”, which first lists the mitzvoth between man and G-d and then those between man and man, in Parshat Kedoshim, the mitzvoth are mixed together, with the Torah seamlessly moving between one “category” and the next. Ultimately, all mitzvoth fall into one category—carrying out the will of G-d. Mitzvoth between man and man help to develop our relationship to G-d, and mitzvoth between man and G-d carry a moral imperative that is to be followed in our relationship to our fellow man. The love we demonstrate towards our spouse, for example—generally viewed as a mitzvah between man and man—is also meant to spur us to greater love of G-d; and the eating of matza—viewed as a mitzvah between man and G-d—must sensitize us to the needs of those less fortunate than we. The aseret hadibrot themselves were written on two parallel tablets, allowing them to be read horizontally, thereby linking each one of the mitzvoth between man and G-d with one between man and man. These two “categories” are one. (To see a possible explanation of the linkage between the two sides of the tablets, please click here).

Before the giving of the aseret hadibrot, we were charged with the mission to become “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Shemot 19:6). “A kingdom of priests” represents our relationship to G-d, whereas that of “a holy nation” speaks to our obligations to our fellow citizens. Our parsha opens with the call kedoshim teheyu, to be holy—plain and simple, with no distinction between priest and nation. Holiness is the joining together of man and G-d. No wonder Rashi’s opening comment is that Parshat Kedoshim contains “the majority of the essence of the Torah”.  


[1] One of the features of modern science is its system of classification. Rabbi Soloveitchik would often note how the “Brisker method” of Talmudic study, developed primarily by his grandfather Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik, was a needed response to the scientific way of thinking that attracted the intellectual elite. Its classification of Talmudic concepts into their proper categories through penetrating analysis was one of its great attractions—and the source of criticism. The detractors of this new analytical method of study derogatorily referred to Rav Chaim as a “chemist”.

[2] Sadly, our society has taken gossip to such an art that for some, there is fame and fortune in gossip.