By Noga Brenner Samia
The Torah Portion between Passover and the national holidays of Memorial Day and Independence Day, begins with Leviticus 19, which opens with the verse: “Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, the LORD your God, am holy.”
What is the holiness that God seeks for His people? And how can we attain such holiness? According to the parasha, if we maintain a moral and honorable way of life, we will succeed in creating a “holiness” in the form of a worthy and exemplary society. The Torah offers us a list of commandments, a kind of checklist, if you will, that, if fulfilled both on a personal and a collective level, we will merit to be “Kedoshim” (holy). So what do we need to do for an idyllic life according to Parashat Kedoshim? On the face of it, not anything too complicated, for example: to honor our parents, to respect the elderly, to care for the poor, to love the stranger. And what should we NOT do? We shall not steal, not lie, not defraud, not delay wages, not curse the deaf, nor put obstacles in front of the blind, not gossip, not stand idly by, and so on. The guidelines relate to every aspect of life: to family, friends, community, as well as in the context of food, clothing, agriculture and commerce. The commandments concern each and every one of us – from our leaders all the way down to the very last resident of society. If we had to describe a perfect society, we would write Parashat Kedoshim.
If there is one instruction in the parasha that is more relevant today than eve, it is in Leviticus 19:15, where it is said: “You shall not render an unfair decision: do not favor the poor or show deference to the great; judge your kinsman fairly.” In other words, do justice, and do not discriminate on any basis – economic, social or otherwise.
Rashi interprets the verse, “And you shall not show deference to the great” by telling us “thou shalt not say, ‘This is a rich man, or, this man is of noble descent [lit., the son of great people] how can I possibly put him to shame and be witness to his shame? There is punishment for such a thing!’ It is for this reason that Scripture states, ‘thou shalt not show deference to the great’.”
No matter who faces the law, whether poor or rich, strong or weak, large or small – they should be judged justly. Hence, to this day, it is crucial to establish an objective, independent legal system that is not influenced by narrow considerations, by the interests of a single person or party, or by personal circumstances.
The attitude towards the Supreme Court, in certain segments of the Israeli public, as something that needs to be “defeated” and the attempt to create a parallel between the Supreme Court and Hamas, raises concern of potential detriment to the independence of the courts. Incitement against judges and the judicial system could harm their ability to do the job of justice. Legislation of the so-called Override Clause enabling the Knesset to curb the Supreme Court’s power of judicial review, could give unlimited power to politicians and lead to an increase in political corruption. Having the appointment of the Minister of Justice influenced by the investigations against the Prime Minister and petitions against his continued tenure under indictment – all these are modern expressions of the “injustice in law” that the Torah warns against.
Later in the chapter it is stated: “You shall not falsify measures of length, weight, or capacity. You shall have an honest balance, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin. I the LORD am your God who freed you from the land of Egypt” (Lev. 15:35-36).
The Torah specifically warns against injustice in the context of commerce and business. According to the commentator Kitzur Ba’al HaTorim, “distorting measurements is like violating all the commandments at once”. When it comes to financial transactions – small or large, at sea or on land, whether pertaining to submarines or to the media – one must be extra careful. The Torah even mentions the Exodus from Egypt here, perhaps to emphasize that just as freeing the people from Egypt was very difficult (like the “splitting of the Red Sea”), that is how very difficult (and critical!) it is to maintain justice, especially if the financial temptations are great.
These are the days of the Omer. Traditionally, this is a period of tension and counting down the days: the countdown between Passover and Shavuot, between the Exodus from Egypt and the receiving of the Torah, between the beginning and the end of the harvest. This is the time to remember that holiness, according to Parashat Kedoshim, is not confined to a certain period, such as a holiday or Shabbat, it is not dependent on a specific place like a synagogue or a temple, nor limited to certain people like priests or presidents. It deals with holiness that exists everywhere, at all times and in all spheres of life. The instructions were given to us all, including our leaders and even prime ministers. Damage to one of the values listed in the parasha violates the sanctity of the entire nation, and harms our ability to establish a praiseworthy society of which we can all be proud.
Noga Brenner Samia is Deputy Director of BINA.