OzTorah: Torah reading – Acharei Mot – K’doshim.



Street of the Old Zfat. Credit: Alex Levin. Judaic Fine Art.

K’doshim says, “Keep my Sabbaths and respect My sanctuary” (Lev. 19:30). Targum Onkelos adds two words for the sake of greater clarity: “Keep My Sabbath Days” (which shows, says Sforno, that the phrase includes festivals) and “respect My sacred House” (which Rashi and others say includes all the Temple precincts).

Both innovations are important: the festivals must be observed with Sabbath-like dedication, and not only in the Temple itself but in its surrounds people must behave reverently.

Another possibility is that the original verse is an example of Biblical parallelism in which the two halves of the passage say the same thing in different words, and thus “respect My sanctuary” refers to the Sabbath. Shabbat is the epitome of holiness. Being holy people, which is what the Torah commands at the beginning of K’doshim, means investing time’s peaks with sacredness.

The other verses in the portion speak of ethical relationships, further illustrating the concept of holiness. Being holy means attaching sanctity to every place, every moment, every thought and every situation.


A shochet once came to Rabbi Yisrael Salanter and said,

“I want to change my job. It’s too hard to be a shochet – too great a responsibility. Imagine, if I do something wrong the community will be eating t’refah!”

Rabbi Salanter asked,

“So what job are you planning to move to?” “I think I’ll open a shop,”

came the answer.

“Not a good idea at all,”

replied Rabbi Salanter.

“You’re worried about the responsibility of being a shochet? It’s even harder to be a shopkeeper! Parashat K’doshim is full of commandments for shopkeepers – ‘Do not steal’, ‘Do not defraud’, ‘Do not deal falsely’, ‘Do not exploit others’, ‘Do not have false weights and measures’… running a business is so demanding, and God expects so much of you!”


A verse in K’doshim tell us,

“Do not spread gossip among your people” (Lev. 19:16).

Baal Shem Tov and the Geula of the Jewish people. Credit. beismoshiachmagazine.org

Taken literally, it means, “Don’t be a gossip-mongerer amongst the members of your community” – important advice at any time. But the Baal Shem Tov read the words differently. According to him, the verse is a warning against spreading nasty comments about the people of Israel.

What a pertinent interpretation for our own time! The Baal Shem was saying, if you can’t speak positively about your own people, don’t speak at all. Enough, too many, outsiders already say malicious things about Jews and Israel. Jews don’t have to join their band-wagon.

Isaac Deutscher wrote a book called “The Non-Jewish Jew”. The non-Jewish Jew of today is the person who maligns Israel and other Jews, who thinks it’s smart, clever, pleasant to join our enemies. As a rule they go to other countries to do it, and all they achieve is bringing themselves into disrepute and making things worse for those who are doing their level best to support Jews, Judaism and the Jewish State.


The duty is clear: “V’ahavta l’re’acha kamocha” – “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Lev.19:18).

How much love can one be expected to show to a neighbour? Hillel’s answer is:

“What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow” (Shab. 31a).

Mendelssohn explains,

“If the text means that man must love his fellow as himself, how could the Almighty command something which is beyond human capacity? To fulfil such a command to the letter, man would have to grieve for his fellow’s sorrows just as he grieves for his own. This would be intolerable, since scarcely a moment passes without hearing of someone’s misfortune. Hillel therefore interpreted this passage in a negative manner. At least do nothing to your neighbour which you would not like to be done to yourself.”

Nachmanides says,

“‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ is not meant literally, since man cannot love his neighbour as his own soul. The Torah implied that we should wish our neighbour to enjoy the same wellbeing that we wish ourselves. Sometimes a person will be interested in his neighbour’s welfare in certain respects only; he may wish him wealth, but not scholarly attainments and the like. But even if he wishes him well, in everything, he will still not want him to be absolutely equal with him. He will still want to be superior in some respect. It was this form of selfishness that the Torah condemned. A man should wish his fellow well in all things, just as he wishes his own self.”

A further problem. What does “kamocha” – “as yourself” really mean?

Mendelssohn’s answer is, “‘Kamocha’ is not usually used adverbially, but rather adjectivally, meaning, ‘similar to you’. Love your neighbour who is as yourself. Every man was created in the image of God. Love him because he is as yourself.”

Nachmanides says,

“The text is concerned with love in its qualitative and not in its quantitative sense. A person will not love his animal in the same way as he loves his son. A man’s wife, his silver, gold, fig and vine may all be the objects of his love. In each case, the nature of the love is different. But in objects of the same category, the strength or intensity of love may vary. God commanded us to love our fellow man, just as we love ourselves. The quality and nature of our love must be of the highest category – parallel to that which we employ in promoting our own welfare.”


Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, and was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesperson for Jews and Judaism on the Australian continent. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem.

Blog: http://www.oztorah.com

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