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An Extra Bit of Encouragement

Our Parashah, which introduces the special laws that apply to Kohanim, begins by stating that Hashem commanded Moshe אֱמֹר אֶל הַכֹּהֲנִים בְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם, say to the Kohanim, the sons of Aaron, and say to them [the following laws…] (Vayikra 21:1). What does the verse mean to convey by this seemingly repetitive language, “say…and say”?

The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 26:5) explains that the double expression of the command of our verse is in contrast with commands given by Hashem in a different context. That is, when Hashem commands His angels, our Sages note that there is no need for Him to give them multiple exhortations.  Rather, as the verse says, בִּגְזֵרַת עִירִין פִּתְגָמָא וּמֵאמַר קַדִּישִׁין שְׁאֵלְתָא, the matter is by the decree of [Gd upon] the angels, and the inquiry is by the word of [Gd to] the holy ones (Daniel 4:14). When it comes to malachim (angels), one command (a single word) suffices to get the job done. The commentators (Maharzu ad loc.) explain, this “one command” refers to the very command of Hashem that produced the malach to begin with! Malachim are produced to fulfill a particular role in Hashem’s Plan. Once produced, they simply follow through, irrespective of the “difficulty” of the task at hand.

Humans, by contrast, need multiple exhortations. And even then, our Sages exclaim הלואי לשתי אמירות יעמדו, “If only they would stand [steadfast] with two exhortations!” We, who possess a yetzer hara, need more encouragement to do what we are supposed to do, even when we know that what we are supposed to do is actually for our own good. For it is specifically here, in our parashah, where the demands made of the Kohanim confer honor and distinction upon them, that the Torah teaches this lesson of the human need for additional prodding! Even here, the verse recognizes human frailty and our tendency to need more encouragement (Eitz Yosef, ad loc). Indeed, this is true of all commands of the Torah. We are certainly the ultimate beneficiaries of the goodness that emerges from the positive fulfillment of the Torah’s mitzvos, and yet we still need a little extra hand holding.

The terminology of our Sages cited above is (as always) very specific. They note הלואי לשתי אמירות יעמדו, “If only they would stand with two exhortations!” The term עמד, stand, is reminiscent of the very angels to whom we are being compared. Angels are described as עֹמְדִים, standing or stationary, as opposed to humans who are described as מַהְלְכִים, in movement (Zecharia 3:7). Humans have the unique ability to grow, but also face the danger or regressing. We are in constant flux, and the human experience is such that we have our ups and downs. We have days where we have an expansive outlook and feel spiritually supercharged. And then we have the other type of day; where we have a constricted outlook, doubting ourselves and our future, and feeling like we are moving in the wrong direction. For both situations there is an אמירה, a statement of encouragement from Above! (Shemen HaTov).

When we are in an upward swing, feeling a little more angelic, we get an אמירה, a statement, prodding us to stay strong and steadfast. And when we feel the opposite, we get another type of statement. We get the encouragement we need to once again see the world of possibilities that is before us. Hashem sends us that extra nudge, inspiring us to stop looking down, and instead to start looking up. He sends us that reminder that just beyond the horizon of the present challenge, lies the greatness that flows from the positive fulfillment of that which we knew to be for our good all along.

Wishing you a good Shabbos / shabbat shalom

Rabbi Moskovitz


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“Love Your Neighbor As Yourself” … But How?

Many of the interpersonal mitzvos of the Torah, mitzvos bein adam l’chaveiro, are contained in this week’s parashah. For example, the Torah commandments against cheating, stealing, withholding wages, cursing one’s fellow, gossiping, hating, taking revenge, bearing a grudge and more can all be found in this week’s parashah, Parashas Kedoshim. Arguably, though, the most well-known interpersonal commandment contained in our parashah is the mitzvah obligation of וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ, often translated as “love your fellow as yourself” (Vayikra 19:18).

This mitzvah, notes Rabbi Akiva, is a klal gadol ba’torah – a fundamental tenet of the Torah (Sifra 4:12, cited by Rashi ad loc.). Yet, as basic as basic and fundamental as this commandment is, it seems difficult to understand. Ramban (ad loc.) questions whether it is even humanly possible to love someone to the same degree that one loves oneself, for after all, our survival instinct may not allow for such comparisons. Furthermore, if the Torah is literally requiring us to love our fellow Jew no different than ourselves, then it emerges that this commandment is demanding something rather peculiar of us; something that is in fact contrary to halachah; namely that we equate the life of our fellow to that of ourselves. Thus, if you and your fellow were lost in a desert, and you had a bottle with just enough water to allow you to reach civilization, while your fellow had none, then a simple reading of our mitzvah would seem to require that you share the water with your fellow, rather than assuring your own survival. However, Rabbi Akiva rules otherwise. He teaches that חייך קודמין, your life takes precedence over your fellow’s life Metzia 62a). Halachah dictates that you are to drink the water and survive, rather than share it with your fellow and die together. Now, this is the same Rabbi Akiva who said that loving your neighbor is a “fundamental tenet of the Torah”! How are we to understand that?

Ramban explains that what the Torah here is demanding of us is an attitude. We all want to be surrounded with blessings in our lives. Everyone wants the good things that life has to offer, whether it is health, success, wisdom, family, friends, joy, etc. What this mitzvah demands of us is that we want those same blessings – in equal measure – for our fellow as well. In fact, a more precise translation of the pasuk yields this very idea. The verse does not say, וְאָהַבְתָּ אֶת רֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ, which would translate to love your fellow as yourself, rather it says וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ, love for your fellow as [you would for] yourself. Be happy, not jealous, for his or her successes and the goodness in their lives. And if we think about it honestly, we can begin to see that the default position of so much of humanity is the opposite. In the words of Ramban, “there are times where one will love for his fellow certain things, [for example] he would want him to be successful but not that he should be wise, or … [even] if he would love for his fellow to have it all, wanting him to have wealth, possessions, honor, intelligence, and wisdom, [nevertheless] he would not want this fellow to be on equal footing with himself, but rather that he himself should be more successful. So the verse commands that we not have this lowly jealousy in our hearts. On the contrary, we should love [and hope for] an abundance of good for our fellow just as we would want for ourselves, and not give limits to that love!”

That, says Ramban, is what the Torah commands in this mitzvah. Let your fellow Jew’s joy be your joy! Don’t see them as competitors breathing your air and taking away your joy, for there is more than enough air and more than enough joy to go around. 

Who benefits the most from such an attitude? We do! Because finding joy in the successes of others just means that we have so many more opportunities to be happy! And who wouldn’t want to be more happy?

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom / Good Shabbos

Rabbi Moskovitz

Mon, May 16 2022 15 Iyyar 5782