Introduction to "the Holiness Codes"
Commentary on Chapter 19 from Etz Hayim Commentary
Leviticus Chapter 19 "is one of the richest and most exalted in the Torah, and begins with the words "you shall be holy" (kedoshim t'hiyu). What is holiness? The term can be applied to God, to good people, to a book, to a period of time, or to an animal to be offered as a sacrifice. To be holy is to be different, to be set apart from the ordinary. The opposite of holy (kadosh) is ordinary (chol). To be holy is to to rise to partake in some measure of the special qualities of God, the source of holiness. Holiness is the highest level of human behavior, human beings at their most Godlike.
S.R. Hirsch defines holiness as occurring "when a morally free human being has complete dominion over one's own energies and inclinations and the temptations associated with them, and places them (his energy) at the service of God's will."
Martin Buber finds holiness in relationships (with other people), in human beings recognizing the hidden divinity in each of us.
As humans, we can be Godlike by exercising our power to sanctify moments and objects in our lives.
Time can be sanctified when it is used to draw closer to God. Objects can become holy when they help people rise toward God. The Torah is holy not because it comes from God, but because it leads to God."
(א) וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר (ב) דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־כָּל־עֲדַ֧ת בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל וְאָמַרְתָּ֥ אֲלֵהֶ֖ם קְדֹשִׁ֣ים תִּהְי֑וּ כִּ֣י קָד֔וֹשׁ אֲנִ֖י יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃
(1) And God spoke to Moses, saying, (2) Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and you shall say to them "You shall be holy, because I, YHVH your God, am holy."
19:2 You shall be holy. In the Hebrew, the summons is phrased in the plural, implying that the capacity for holiness is not restricted to spiritually gifted people, anyone may attain holiness. The plural phrasing suggests further that holiness is most easily achieved in the context of community. It is difficult to live a life of holiness without others (Etz Hayim)
(3) You shall each revere his mother and his father, and you shall observe my Sabbaths. I am YHVH your God (4) Do not turn to idols, and you shall not make molten gods for yourselves. I am YHVH, your God.
19:3 Revere his mother and his father: According to the Talmud, this requires that we refrain from publicly challenging our parents and from "sitting in their chair". The Torah would regard each of our parents equally with reverence and love, and would have each parent represent both discipline and forgiveness in the child's mind. (Etz Hayim commentary)
19:3 - 19:4 Why are parents and Sabbaths put together (smichut) here? It reminds us of the enormous power of the Sabbath to bind a family together. (Richard Elliot Friedman)
(ט) וּֽבְקֻצְרְכֶם֙ אֶת־קְצִ֣יר אַרְצְכֶ֔ם לֹ֧א תְכַלֶּ֛ה פְּאַ֥ת שָׂדְךָ֖ לִקְצֹ֑ר וְלֶ֥קֶט קְצִֽירְךָ֖ לֹ֥א תְלַקֵּֽט׃ (י) וְכַרְמְךָ֙ לֹ֣א תְעוֹלֵ֔ל וּפֶ֥רֶט כַּרְמְךָ֖ לֹ֣א תְלַקֵּ֑ט לֶֽעָנִ֤י וְלַגֵּר֙ תַּעֲזֹ֣ב אֹתָ֔ם אֲנִ֖י יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃
(9) And when you reap your land's harvest, you shall not finish harvesting your field's corner, and you shall not gather your harvest's gleaning. (10) And you shall not strip your vineyard, and you shall not collect the vineyard's fallen fruit. You shall leave them for the poor and for the alien. I am YHVH, your God.
19:9-10 The command to leave the corner of field and fallen fruit is motivated by the desire to have us share our bounty with the poor. Even a poor person must leave a corner of harvest for others. (Etz Hayim commentary)
(11) "You shall not steal and you shall not lie, and you shall not act false, each against his fellow. (12) And you shall not swear by my name falsely, so that you would desecrate your God's name, I am YHVH. (13) You shall not exploit your neighbor, and you shall not rob. An employees wages shall not stay through the night with you until morning. (14) You shall not curse a deaf person, and you shall not place a stumbling block in front of a blind person. And you shall fear/awe your God. I am YHVH.
19:11 The words "you shall not steal" follow directly (smichut) after the laws of leaving part of the harvest for the poor. Does this teach that keeping everything for ourselves is a form of stealing? (Ibn Ezra)
Or, are we commanded to help the poor find enough to eat so that they will not be driven to steal?(Kara)
19:14 You shall not curse a deaf person You shall not insult anyone, even a deaf person, whose feelings will not be hurt by your words, because the use of coarse language diminishes you as a person. (Talmud)
19:14 You shall not place a stumbling block in front of a blind person The term "blind" refers not only to the one who is physically blind but also to one that is intellectually deficient, lacking appropriate information, or morally blinded by emotions. (S.R. Hirsch)
For example, one violates this law by deliberately giving bad advice, by providing someone with the means to do wrong whom you know cannot resist the temptation, or by provoking a short-tempered person to lash out in anger. (Talmud)
19:14 You shall fear/awe your God One might think that he or she has nothing to fear from the deaf or blind person who cannot know who is wronging them, but one is warned that God knows and that one should be afraid of the consequences. (Richard Elliot Friedman)
(15) You shall not do an injustice in judgement. You shall not be partial to a weak person, and you shall not favor a big person. You shall judge your fellow with justice. (16) You shall not go with slander among your people. You shall not stand by your neighbor's blood. I am God.
19:16 stand by at your neighbors blood To stand by when someone's life is in danger and one could do something to save it (also, to come forward as a witness when one has knowledge concerning a taking of life). This is the opposite of the principal in American law that one does not have an "affirmative duty to rescue". The biblical principal is that one has to help a fellow human being if one is able. (Richard Elliot Friemdan)
(17) You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall criticize your fellow so you shall not bear sin over him. (18) You shall not take revenge, and you shall not keep on at the children of your people. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am YHVH.`
19:18 you shall not keep on Meaning: to maintain hostility over time. One must not go on feeling anger, resentment, or a grudge against someone. Note that these are commands against taking revenge or persisting in hostile feelings do not address the question of whether the revenge or the "keeping on" is justified or not. The issue here is that one believes oneself to have been wrong, and the instruction is: don't get even, don't harbor the feelings forever. It is destructive to one's energy and one's spirit. (Richard Elliot Friedman)
(יט) אֶֽת־חֻקֹּתַי֮ תִּשְׁמֹרוּ֒ בְּהֶמְתְּךָ֙ לֹא־תַרְבִּ֣יעַ כִּלְאַ֔יִם שָׂדְךָ֖ לֹא־תִזְרַ֣ע כִּלְאָ֑יִם וּבֶ֤גֶד כִּלְאַ֙יִם֙ שַֽׁעַטְנֵ֔ז לֹ֥א יַעֲלֶ֖ה עָלֶֽיךָ׃ (פ)
(19) You shall observe my laws. Your animals: you shall not mate two kinds. Your field: you shall not seed two kinds. And a garment of two kinds, sha'atnez: it shall not go on you.
19:19 you shall not mate two kinds. One is not permitted to mate one’s animal with an animal of a different species.
19:19 you shall not seed two kinds. One is not permitted to mix seeds of different species of plants together.
19:19 sha’atnez. One is not permitted to wear an item of clothing made of two different species of fabric. This is specified in Deuteronomy as wool and linen together. Wool comes from an animal, a sheep, and linen comes from a plant, flax. Some think that such fabric is prohibited because it was thought to be an unnatural mixture. Others think that it is because the priests have both linen and wool in their clothing, and that “non-priests” should not wear apparel that belongs in the realm of the sacred.
19:18 and 19:19 It is a curious juxtaposition: the commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself, directly followed by three commandments to maintain distinctions. The Torah seems to be saying distinctions among animals, plants, and clothing are appropriate, but making distinctions in one’s love of humankind is an offense.