Abarbanel on the Parsha

For the week ending 2 May 2015 / 13 Iyyar 5775

Parshat Kedoshim

by Rabbi Pinchas Kasnett
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Both Ramban and Ibn Ezra mention the Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 24:5) in which Rabbi Levi states that this Parsha was addressed to the entire assembly since it is essentially a summary of the Ten Commandments. If this is so, Abarbanel is puzzled by the order and subject matter of the first several mitzvot mentioned in the Parsha. Two of the mitzvot are not part of the Ten Commandments at all while others are mentioned in a completely different order. Finally, each of these commandments is followed either by the expression “I am Hashem your G-d” or “I am Hashem”, expressions not found in the original listing of the Ten Commandments in Shemot.

Abarbanel explains that the goal of the Torah here is to impress upon us that even when we find that the mitzvot are completely consistent with our logical understanding, we are to obey them only because they are commanded by G-d. Additionally, we are commanded to be holy, because G-d is holy. Just as G-d is completely divorced from the physical world, we, even though we are physical beings, must divorce ourselves from the purely self-serving satisfaction of our desires and attach ourselves to physicality only in the context of doing the will of G-d. This differs from the ascetic thinkers who withdraw from the physical world completely and mortify the body in order to show the preeminence of the intellect.

Unlike the first listing of the Ten Commandments, the first two mitzvot mentioned are honoring parents and observing the Shabbat. Both are completely accessible to the human intellect. All societies emphasize the requirement to honor parents, as all children from a very early age honor and respect their parents. Additionally, unlike in the first listing, the Torah mentions respect for the mother first since the child has much more contact with his mother in his early years. All societies also recognize the need for a day of rest every seven days. In spite of this the statement “I am Hashem your G-d” tells us that our sole motivation for performing even these ‘obvious’ mitzvot is our desire to do the will of our Creator.

These two mitzvot are followed by the commandment not to turn to idolatry. Again, even though we can understand intellectually that there is no substance or efficacy to idolatry, we refrain from the practice solely because of G-d’s command.

Next the Torah mentions the peace-offering. Even though this sacrificial offering is entirely voluntary, the exact order and details of the procedure cannot be voluntary. We cannot apply human logic and say that since I am bringing this offering voluntarily I can follow whatever procedures I choose. Rather, the Torah is teaching that failure to follow the Torah’s exact directive will result in a severe punishment. This section is followed immediately by the commandment to set aside part of one’s field for the poor. Here, the expression “I am Hashem your G-d” takes on a dual meaning. As before, as amenable as this mitzvah is to human logic, we perform it because it is a Divine commandment. Secondly, we are reminded that it is our duty to emulate our Creator. Just as He provides for our needs, we are commanded to provide for the needs of the indigent.

This commandment is followed by the proscriptions against theft, lying and swearing falsely. Here the Torah adds that to do so would desecrate the name of G-d. Again, even though there is universal agreement that we should recoil from these behaviors, failure to do results in a desecration of the name of G-d, as He is their only true source. Finally, the Torah goes on to list several other logical commandments governing interpersonal behavior. Abarbanel again emphasizes that G-d, not human logic, is the ultimate reason for their observance.

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