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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


You shall be holy, for holy am I, Hashem, your G-d. (19:2)

The Sifri makes what seems to be an ambiguous statement in interpreting this pasuk. Hashem says Yachol kamoni, "Perhaps, you think that you can be holy like Me." Therefore, the Torah adds, Ani Hashem, "I am Hashem; My kedushah, holiness, is greater than yours." This statement begs elucidation. Can one conceive that man can even remotely aspire to a kedushah equivalent to that of Hashem? What, then, is the meaning of Yachol kamoni?

Horav Yosef Cohen, zl, cites his father-in-law, Horav Tzvi Pesach Frank, zl, who explains that this pasuk refers to a pasuk in the previous parsha, 16:16, where the Torah says that the Shechinah, Divine Presence, "dwells with them amid their contamination." The Shechinah reposes in Klal Yisrael, despite their spiritual contamination. This is why the Mishkan provides atonement for Klal Yisrael's sins, since the essence of the Shechinah's holiness never leaves the sanctuary. Rav Frank explains that perhaps the Jew might think Yachol kamoni: Just as Hashem resides among the spiritually defiled, so, too, can I remain among those who have serious spiritual shortcomings, who have contaminated their spiritual essence and distanced themselves from Judaism. If Hashem does it, why can I not do the same? Therefore, he is told "Ani Hashem": My kedushah transcends your kedushah. Only I can repose among the spiritually profaned.

Rav Cohen cites an incident that occurred concerning the Rebbe Reb Heshel, zl. He once arrived in a city where two wealthy men resided, each of whom requested that he stay with him. One was a great Torah scholar, but regrettably his erudition went to his head, rendering him very arrogant. The other was a fine person, but regrettably he was not very meticulous in his mitzvah observance. The Rebbe chose to stay with this man. When questioned regarding his choice, he explained that the sinner had the advantage of still retaining Hashem in his presence. Hashem says the Shechinah still reposes among the spiritually defiled. "If Hashem can stay with him - so could I," said the Rebbe. On the other hand, regarding haughtiness, Hashem says, "'I and he cannot live together.' If Hashem will not stay, how can I?"

Rav Cohen is careful to emphasize that this story is to be viewed purely from a homiletic perspective, since halachically - as mentioned before - only Hashem continues to stay with those who have strayed spiritually - man does not. He must protect himself and reside only in a place where he is among those whose lifestyles are spiritually strong.

With righteousness shall you judge your fellow. (19:15)

We judge people all of the time. Interestingly, to become a judge, one must have training. He must have profound knowledge of the law coupled with an acute understanding of people. Yet, we sit in judgment of people - all of the time. We certainly are not qualified for this position. Chazal teach us that in addition to its simple meaning, our pasuk is teaching us to be dan l'kaf zchus, give everyone the benefit of doubt. Regrettably, this does not coincide with human nature. The average person judges people according to his proclivity towards them. Horav Yaakov Beifus, Shlita, cites the Chazon Ish in his Emunah u'Bitachon who posits that the sign of a great man is to blame himself and to always find merit in his fellow's actions. The Chafetz Chaim writes in his Shemiras Halashon that the fulfillment of the mitzvah of judging our fellow favorably is dependent upon the mitzvah of "loving your fellow as yourself." One who truly loves his friend will always find a way to advocate his actions.

In his sefer Asaprah Kevodecha, Horav Yitzchak Goldwasser, Shlita, explains the concept of judging people favorably in the following manner: Chazal teach us that one who judges others favorably will himself be judged favorably. They relate an incident that occurred concerning Rabbi Akiva, in which he demonstrated exemplary trust in someone and judged every one of his ambiguous actions favorably. In the end, the man blessed him, saying, "As you judged me favorably, so should Hashem judge you favorably." This statement begs elucidation. We do not know the real motivation for another's actions. We do not know if they are favorable or not. We are told to judge favorably - regardless of what we might think. Hashem, however, knows. He knows what goes on in someone's mind and what motivates his actions. How does the concept of judging favorably apply to Hashem?

Rav Goldwasser explains that judging favorably does not mean that one looks for a far-out explanation to validate his fellow's actions. To judge favorably means to view the positive, to look for something constructive and productive in every action that our fellow does. Searching for far-out excuses is a tangent of this affirmative way of looking at things. We do not conjure up stories or scenarios; we do not make up excuses. We just look for a favorable way to view someone's actions. Think positive: look positive, and you will see the positive. Thus, Hashem will look positively at our actions. He will not look at the negative, only at that part of our actions that may be deemed worthy and admirable.

Horav Shalom Schwadron, zl, relates a story that occurred in Yerushalayim during World War I, which illustrates the tragic consequences of not judging people favorably. Furthermore, we derive from the story that it is the usually the spectator, the one who originally was not connected to the incident, who will ultimately be held accountable for his malignant view. Indeed, this story is paradigmatic of so many other instances in which we foolishly mix into situations which really do not involve us personally, in which we get carried away for no reason, and for which we will one day have to answer.

During the first World War, Eretz Yisrael was, for the most part, poor and underdeveloped, since support from Europe was completely severed. Hunger was a way of life, as people literally starved. Yet, there were some who had incredible good fortune, who were able to raise themselves out of the financial straits that were so common. This story is about one such family whose father was a mohel, ritual circumciser, and also well-to-do. In fact, he kept a gold Napoleon in his desk. A gold Napoleon was very valuable, worth enough to feed a family for six months.

One day, the father told his seven-year-old son to take a coin from the desk and buy himself some candy at the grocery store. A few hours later, when the father went to take something from the desk, he noticed to his chagrin that the gold Napoleon was missing. After questioning his son, it became apparent that the child had taken the wrong coin. Instead of taking a simple metal chirale (a cheap metal coin), he took the Napoleon.

Now the father was in a rage. How could the grocer have taken such advantage of his son? The boy claimed that he gave a coin for the candy and received no change. This was highway robbery! Yet, the father - being a distinguished person - felt he could not go to the grocer and accuse him of taking advantage of his little son. This did not prevent the mother from going to the store and heaping accusations and scorn on the grocer, who vehemently denied receiving anything more than a chirale from the boy.

As is regrettably part of the Jewish landscape, whenever there is a dispute, especially a loud one, a crowd will gather - and take sides. This incident was no different. It did not take long for a small crowd of neighbors to become the judges and jury and to find the grocer guilty of stealing. People demanded that the grocer take an oath, but the father of the boy refused to cause the grocer to swear "falsely." The grocer was humiliated beyond repair. He lost his customers; after all, he was a thief! The mohel lost his Napoleon and never believed the grocer's side of the story. The neighbors who involved themselves where they did not belong succeeded in destroying a family. Why should anybody have believed the grocer? Perhaps he was telling the truth. Whatever happened to judging people favorably? Regrettably, history has such a way of repeating itself.

The story is not over. It goes on. Three years after the tragic ending to the episode, the mohel received an anonymous letter from a young man who felt he had to finally confess to a terrible misdeed that he had committed three years previously. He had been overwhelmed with debt, with no visible means of supporting his starving family or paying off his debt. He saw a young boy playing with a gold Napoleon. Imagine, a coin that could pay off his debts and feed his family. He would "borrow" it from the child and pay it back one day. He did just that by convincing the child to exchange his Napoleon for a chirale - and the rest is history. Heartbroken, and begging forgiveness for any problems it "may have caused," he was now repenting and returning the Napoleon.

It seems like a happy ending, but Rav Shalom explains that when we analyze the entire scenario, we see that in the end, the story has a bitter ending. By now, everybody had passed on to their eternal rest. Let us see how they fared when they came before the Heavenly Tribunal. The grocer certainly went to Gan Eden. His humiliating and destroyed life earned him his entrance ticket. The mohel really did nothing wrong. Indeed, he had refused to allow the grocer to make an oath, "just in case" it would be false. His wife also simply reacted to a situation involving her and her child - personally. Even the young man who "exchanged" the gold Napoleon for a chirale can be viewed in a positive light. His family was starving; he had nothing. He was driven to a point that was beyond his control. The only ones who will be prosecuted for this episode are those who "mixed in," the neighbors who took sides, who immediately blamed the grocer and who ultimately drove his business to the ground. They had no reason whatsoever to involve themselves in this incident. Why did they not judge the grocer favorably? There will always be the spectators who involve themselves in areas that are of no concern to them - and they will ultimately pay for it.

You shall love your fellow as yourself. (19:18)

In his Nusach HoAri siddur, the Baal Hatanya writes that it is proper and correct that one say before davening, "I accept upon myself the positive commandment, "You shall love your fellow as yourself." The mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael is the entranceway to be able to stand before Hashem in prayer. Pardes Yosef interprets this idea into the pasuk in Bereishis 37:26, Mah betza ki naharog achinu, "What gain will there be if we kill our brother?" The letters of the word betza - bais, tzaddik, ayin, form an acronym for: boker, morning; tzaharaim, afternoon; erev, evening, the three Tefillos, prayers, that we recite daily. He explains Yosef's brothers' statement homiletically: "What do we gain by praying to Hashem thrice daily, if we do not care for our brethren, if we let his blood flow without caring about him?" Horav Menachem Mendel, zl, m'Varka added that when one prays to Hashem, he should also concentrate on the needs of Klal Yisrael. If he davens only for himself - it is tantamount to stealing!

You shall love your fellow as yourself. (19:18)

Toras Kohanim cites Rabbi Akiva who says that this is the fundamental rule of the Torah. The Mizrachi cites the Talmud in Shabbos 3/9 in which Hillel says, "What is hateful to you, do not do unto others." This is what Hillel told the gentile who wanted to convert to Judaism. If the Torah conveys this mitzvah in a positive light, encouraging us to love our fellow, why do Chazal seek an interpretation that emphasizes and focuses on the negative? Horav Simchah Scheps, zl, cites Horav Yerucham Levovitz, zl, who explains the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos 3:2 in the following manner:

Chazal teach us to "pray for the welfare of the government, because if people did not fear it, a person would swallow his fellow alive." Rav Yerucham wonders why this Mishnah is placed in Meseches Avos, which deals with ethics and interpersonal relationships with people. He explains that Chazal are teaching us a compelling lesson. If not for fear of reprisal from the government, man is capable of descending to the nadir of depravity to overwhelm and subdue another person who might stand in his way. He is capable of swallowing him up! Veritably, we have only to peruse world history, or even to glance around at those uncivilized countries in which anarchy reigns and fear of reprisal is something of the past, in which murder and plunder are a way of life.

With this idea in mind, Rav Sheps explains why Chazal chose a negative approach towards explaining a positive commandment. It is essential that we understand that the only way we are able to control the forces of evil within us is by understanding with absolute clarity that what we do not want for ourselves, we should not do to our fellow. This means that one can achieve ethical behavior and form humanistic relationships only through Torah study and mitzvah observance. It is impossible to develop true ethical character without Torah. One cannot hope to observe the golden rule, "Love your fellow as yourself," unless he realizes that he must first eradicate his negative attitude towards others. This can only occur with the support and guidance of the Torah. Ahavas Yisrael is the natural consequence of an acute understanding that one may not do to others what he does not want done to him. This can only be achieved through the vehicle of Torah.


Speak to the entire assembly of the Bnei Yisrael You shall be holy.

Moshe Rabbeinu taught the parsha of Kedoshim b'Hakhel, as the entire nation was assembled together. Divrei Shaarei Chaim explains that Moshe was teaching the people that the command to be holy, to maintain kedushas Yisrael, is the opposite of the imperative of many cultures, "be a Jew at home and a person in the street." We must maintain our Jewishness, our holiness and purity "b'Hakhel", in every assemblage - whether it be in the street, in the marketplace, wherever we are. We should be proud of our religion.


Every man: your father and mother shall you revere and My Shabbosos shall you observe. (19:3)

Sefer Haparshios explains the juxtaposition of Kedoshim tiheyu, "You shall be holy" upon the commandment to revere parents. The Torah conveys to us that as long as holiness prevails in the home among the parents, then respect and fear is manifest among the children. With the breakdown of the sanctity of the marriage, an estrangement between the children and the parents develops.

Kesav Sofer adds that the mitzvah to revere parents applies even if the son is an ish, self-sufficient man, who is in no way dependent upon his parents. The enjoinment to revere parents originates from Hashem, not from one's dependency on his parents.

There are three partners in the creation of a human being - two parents and Hashem. Shuvah Yisrael explains that it is not sufficient to revere only two of the partners. Hashem, the "third" partner, claims his portion - observe the Shabbos.


And you shall not lie to one another. (19:12)

The Kelmer Maggid, zl, explains, "The liar is worse than the thief and the robber. A thief steals only at night out of fear that he might be caught. The robber steals by day and by night - but only from an individual. He fears a group. The liar prevaricates by day and by night, and he lies to everyone. He is consistent in his sin.

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