kedoshim: The Pharisees


© 2017 by Rabbi Zvi Aviner
Torah Weekly Classes for the Children of Noah/
Parshat Kedoshim (Leviticus 19) The Pharisees!

Know your CREATOR, know yourself and know the difference

En explosion of Commandments
Our Parshah looks like an explosion of commandment: 51 in just a few chapters!
Moreover, the Commandments seem to appear at random, with no common theme.

Two opposing ends.
In fact, the Commandments come as a long chain that starts in the previous Parshah, and ends in the next one. It starts by saying:

“And you shall observe my statues and my judgments and my commandment,
which if a man will do, he shall live in them” (18:5)

This means, as several commentaries explain, that the purpose of God’s Commandments is for us “to live” a good life, in this world and in the world to come (Rashi.)
Hence ’good life’ is paramount.
A the same time, the chain ends up in the OPPOSITE notion that says:

“And I shall be sanctified among the Children of Israel” (22:32

This ending of the chain obligates Israel to sanctify His Name by our lives. We should sacrifice our life rather than violating ANY of His Commandments IN PUBLIC. Hence His Commandments are HOLIER than our life; the exact opposite of the previous conclusion.
How then can we reconcile the beginning and the end of the chain?

Be Holy!

For that, let’s observe the chain. After the beginning, the Torah brings the laws of ADULTERY (which we read on Yom Kippur) and then says:

“And YHVH spoke to Moses saying
Speak to the entire congregation of the Children of Israel saying
You shall be holy, for I am holy, YHVH your ELKM
Every man shall fea his mother and his father
keep my sabbat…
Turn not to idols, nor make to yourself molten gods
I Am your YHVH ELKM ” (19: 1-4)

A unique event
This section is told by Moses to “the entire body of the Children of Israel,” an extraordinary event. Instead of delivering this message by circles: first to Aaron and sons, they to Israel’s Princes, they to the Tribal Courts and they to the rest Israel, here Moses spoke directly to the entire people, young and old, all genders and ranks, emphasizing its importance. To EACH ONE he said in YHVH’s name: “Be Holy, for I am holy.” How can anyone be holy?

The people of India would regard a person as holy if he or she would retract from society into a cave, let the hair grow long, wear minimal clothes, sit on the ground crossed legged, and mediate all day long.
The ancient Greek would tend to do the same.
Christians would retreat into a monastery and vow not to speak.
But what does Moses mean by saying “be holy?”
For that we have three major answers:
Rashi says: “be holy: separate yourself from sexual perversions, and other sins.” He learns this by connecting our verse to the previous Parshah where we find a list of sexual perversions and forbidden relationships. This makes sense, since ‘holiness’ in Israel is connected to leading a ‘pure’ sexual life. The G-d of Israel hates sexual promiscuity. In Eden, the moment they eat from the forbidden fruits they acquired the “knowledge of evil” and the awareness of YHVH. Immediately they also became ashamed by their nakedness. Prior to the eating, they went around naked, unashamed, like the Serpent. Like the “beast of the field.” A beast, sophisticated as it might become, would NEVER be aware of YHVH and would NEVER be unashamed by its nakedness.

Hence “be holy,” according to Rashi, is a Command to “stay away from sexual perversions, and any sin”. We need to set up ‘fences’ so that we would not stumble over sins

But the RaMBaN (Nachmanides) disagrees. He quotes the ancient Midrash which actually says “Be holy: separate yourself from things that are allowed to you!” We should not indulge ourselves in eating meat and drinking wine, even though this is not officially forbidden. We should not wear extravagantly, though this is not forbidden by the Law. We should therefore erect fences around things that are actually allowed to us.
The RaMBaN adds: “Be holy” means separate yourself. In Hebrew, separate yourself is “prosh from,” which is the origin of the name Pharisees given to a major sect of Judaism during the Second Temple time.

Here is an opportunity to briefly go over the major fractions of Judaism at the end of the Second Temple, when Christianity was born. According to Josephus Plavius, the Jewish historian who lived in Jesus time, the Jewish world was divided into 25 fractions, four of which were:
(1) The Sadducees, or “the sons of Zadok,” were moistly wealthy priest related to a High Priest named Zadok (around 200 BC.) Rejected by the rabbis of his generation, he declared their Oral Torah as false. He accepted only the Written Torah, he said. In time, his party grew in power and wealth, and at Josephus’ time they controlled the Holy Temple, the High Court (Sanhedrin) and the political arena. They cooperated with Rome, loved Hellenism, and their children were sent to Rome to be educated. Their philosophy was to deny reward or punishment in the world to come. They also rejected the idea of the resurrection of the dead. Although they were only a minority, their influence on Judea was enormous. According to Josephus they were hated by the lay people for their support of Rome. The High Priest who arrested Jesus was a Sadducee, as was the one who sent Paul to Damascus.
(2) The Pharisees, mentioned above, were the Torah scholars. They believed in the Oral Torah, in Resurrection, in reward and punishment in the World to Come. They believed in Resurrection, and hated Rome. They believed in erecting fences around “things that are LLOWED to us.” Josephus describes them as peace lovers, who clashed with Rome with violence only when the Torah was threatened. They became later the authors of the Mishnah and the Talmud. Interestingly, Jesus’ preaching is very much in line with their preaching. For instance: when Jesus rebukes a rabbi saying: “The Sabbath is given in your hands, not you in her hands!” he quotes in fact the EXACT words of the Talmud!
(3) The Isees, were pious Pharisees who lived a communal life, sharing their properties, spending their days in prayers and studying Torah. Josephus revered them more than other parties.
(4) The “Fourth Philosophy” party, in Josephus words, were the Zealots who enkindled the rebellion against Rome. Among them appeared a long line of (false) Messiahs who were either crucified or beheaded by Rome.

So far we’ve discussed Rashi and the RamBaN, who say thath Be Holy” is a command to set up a fence against (1) sin (2) things that are allowed to us.
The RaMBaM (Maimonides) sees it differently. Be Holy is an instruction to follow a set of Commandments, given right here, which if a man would follow them would lead him to holiness.
Earlier we saw that the chain starts with the idea that if a person follows the commandment, he or she would live (nicely) with them.
Now we are given a set of Commandments, which would lead the person to holiness.

The RaMBaM does not count “Be Holy” as one of the 613 Commandments of Sinai, since it is too basic, too large. t is a headline, showing a direction where to go.
What is the direction? It is given in the verses that follow:

“You shall be holy, for I am holy, YHVH your ELKM
Every man shall fear his mother and his father
keep my sabbat…
Turn not to idols, nor make to yourself molten gods
I Am your YHVH ELKM ” (19: 1-4)

Moses gives here five Commandments:

  • Fear your father and mother
  • Keep the Sabbath
  • Turn not to the idols…
  • For I am YHVH your ELKM…

    Close observation shows that these five are actually quotation from the Ten Commandments of Sinai. They appear the first, left Tablet, but in reverse order: from the bottom up. To make this clear, here are the Ten Commandments on the Two Tablets:

    (I )I Am……………………………………………. (VI) Thou shall not murder
    (II) Thou shall not make…………………. (VII) Thou shall not commit adultery
    (III) Thou shall not bear my name…….(VIII) Thou shall not steal
    (IV) Observe the Sabbath…………………(IX) Thou shall not bear
    (V) Honor your father and mother……..(X) Thou shall not covet

    The first Tablet (on the Left) shows the Commandments “between Man and G-d”
    The second Tablet (on the right) shows the Commandments “between Man and his fellowman”

    Thus to be holy, a person is to climb on the first Tablet (on the Left) from the bottom up. He first needs to fear his father and mother, then observe the Sabbath, then deny idolatry, then believe in “I Am YHVH ELKM Who took you out of Egypt.” He then ‘stands’ at the top.

    In fact, Moses adds here a fence around the original Ten Commandments.
    In the Ten Commandment it says “honor your father and mother, whereas here he says “fear your father and mother” which is more stringent.
    In the Ten Commandments he says “remember the Sabbath,” whereas here he says “observe the Sabbath” which a more stringent.
    In the Ten Commandment he says “you shall have no other ELOKM…” whereas here he says “you shall not turn to the idols.” Not only we should not worship them, we should also not even look at them. Thus he add a fence around things that are forbidden.

    Be Holy: Observe the Commandments between Man and Man

    But Moses does not stop at the top of the first Tablets. He continues saying:

    “Thou shall not steal, neither deal falsely,
    Neither lie one to another, and you shall not swear by my name falsely
    Neither shall you profane the name of your ELKM…” (19:11)

    Here Moses counts the Commandments on the Right Tablet, that deal with the relationship of Man and Man. He says: You shall not steal, you shall not swear falsely and you shall not covet, etc.

    By this, Moses continues to describe the path to Be Holy. It is not enough, he says, to climb up on the left Tablets and excel on the relationship between Man and God. If a person is stuck there, he would never be holy. To be holy, one should continue climbing on trhe Commandments between Man and Man.

    Then he adds:

    “And you shall love your fellowman as yourself” (19: 18)

    You may recognize this as the epitome of the relationship between Man and Man.
    Here is the above in a diagram:

    (X) Thou shall not covet
    (IX) Thou shall not bear
    (VIII) Thou shall not steal
    VII) Thou shall not commit adultery
    (VI) Thou shall not murder
    (I )I Am
    (II) Thou shall not make…
    (III) Thou shall not bear my name
    (IV) Observe the Sabbath
    (V) Honor your father and mother

    To be holy, a person should NOT seclude himself in a cave or a monastery. He should rather first climb up on the left Tablet then on the right one. Only then he would really be able to reach the top and love his fellowman as himself.

    A story from the Talmud: A gentile approached a sage named Shami, who was known in his stringent ideas. “Rabbi, I would convert to Judaism if you tell me the essence of the Torah, while I stand on one leg” he said.
    “Go home,” Shamai said, rejecting him.
    The gentile then approached Hillel, the President of Israel, a leader of the Pharisees. “Rabbi,” he said, “tell me the essence of the Torah on one leg and I shall convert.”
    Hillel answered with no hesitation: “Do not do to your friend things that you hate to be done on you…This is the essence of the Torah. If you need to know the rest of it, go and learn…”
    Needless to say, the gentile appreciated Hillel’s answer and joined Judaism.

    Hillel, of course, took the idea from our Parshah. Atr the top of all the Commandments is the obligation “And you shall love your fellowman as yourself.”
    Hillel’s disciple, Rabbi Akiva, said the same thing: “And you shall love your fellowmen as yourself, this is a great (greatest) dictum of the Torah.”

    Now why is it, that holiness is achieved only when we fulfill the Commandments on the right, between Man and Man?
    The answer is that YHVH, as we remember from our Genesis classes, has entered our world on our Sixth Day of CREATION, to join force with ELKM in making Adam. She drew her holiness FROM THE SABBATH into our mundane Sixth Day, to make Adam. She aspires to dwell in our hearts, in our daily life and work. She aspires us to do Her work, to deal with each other with mercy, compassion and forgiveness. This, of course, can be accomplished ONLY by going out and getting involved in the real world.

    Sanctify His Name by leading a holy life
    Bu there is more to it. The long chain of the Commandments here, we’ve noticed, begins with the declaration that Life is paramount. The chain then ends with the opposite Commandment; to sanctify His Name by our lives.
    But we can sanctify His Name not only by surrendering our lives,
    But rather by climbing on the two Tablets and living a righteous, holy life.
    All nations honor their parents, and forbid murder and adultery.
    But when we do this after climbing on the left Tablets, people would attribute our good behavior to our Torah. By this we would increase the Honor of HaSheM, and sanctify His Name by yher virtue of our holy life.

    Desecrating His Name
    The opposite is also true: if we, known to live a pious life, having climbed on the left Tablets, then violate in public the Commandments on the right, we would be guilty of desecration of YHVH’s Name.

    The great three Commandments
    On one hand, the chain starts by “he shall live by them” meaning that Life is paramount,
    On the other hand, the chain ends by telling us to sacrifice our life for his Commandments.
    How can we reconcile the beginning with the end?

    The rabbis in the second century AD in Israel, living under Rome oppression, were faced by this question. People were dying by millions for the sake of the Torah. So what should Israel do to survive?
    So they convened in an attic, where they discussed the issue in pains. Finally they decreed that the first Commandment of the chain: “and you shall live,” diminishes the power of the end of the chain. One may violate all the Commandments and stay alive, apart from three ones: IDOATRY, ADULTERY, BLOODSHED. One should give his life when forced to violate them. Holiness is achieved in life, in conducting holy life style while being engaged in the world’s affairs.

    Npoahide are not COMMANDED to sacrifice life for Torah, since Noah did not speak about this issue. Moses, in his modesty, did not add anything to the Children of Noah, above what Noah had already said.
    But Noahides are expected to follow Israel “by the duty of their hearts.”
    As the Talmud says: a non Jew who has sacrificed his/hers life for the Torah, shares the after-life with an Israeli who has done the same.
    Life is holy, since YHVH is holy. We’ll see that next class.