This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Kedoshim (5763)
In the beginning of this week's section G-d tells the Jews to be 'holy' and then explains Himself with tens of new commandments.
Two of them are found in sentence 19:16;
"Don't spread slander among your people, don't stand on your fellow man's blood (i.e. save a life if you can), I am G-d."
At first glance this is not understood:
Why are these two commandments in the same sentence, what do they have in common?
Why are they followed by the obvious statement "I am G-d?"
What do they have to do with being holy?
To understand, here is a story.
Some three hundred years ago a lone old wanderer entered the Jewish section of Baghdad. He was weary from the road and didn't notice that the streets were unusually empty for the middle of the afternoon. He looked down the street and headed for the highest building, the Synagogue.
It was hot, and he was hungry and thirsty as well. He entered the gate of the Synagogue courtyard, found a seat by a table under the shade of a tree, took a small package out of his pack, put it on the table and went to the outdoor sink. He washed his face, had a drink of water, then washed his hands for bread, sat down, took a sandwich out of the bag and began to eat. But as he was chewing he noticed that muffled sound of hundreds of voices plaintively reading Psalms coming from the Synagogue.
He finished eating, said the blessing after eating, walked to the Synagogue door and pushed it open. The Synagogue was full, hundreds of people were reading Psalms aloud, swaying back and forth and weeping. He walked in and to the first person that glanced up at him he bent over and asked "What happened? Was there some sort of disaster?"
The answer was devastating; "The Sultan has decreed that if we don't find someone to do miracles like Moses he's going to evict us tomorrow morning! The entire Jewish population of Baghdad, tens of thousands of people! It's insane! What can we do but fast and pray to G-d to help us?!" And he turned back to his Psalm book.
The visitor asked a few more people until he got the entire story. The Sultan's advisor, an evil Jew-hater called Mustafa somehow convinced the Sultan that the Jews, besides being infidels who denied the 'prophet' Muhammed, were thieves and traitors in disguise that must suffer for their crimes; all their riches must be confiscated and they should be kicked out of Iraq.
But the Sultan was apprehensive. He had read in the Koran a mixed up version of what Moses did to Pharaoh and he was afraid; if the Jews had a leader like Moses maybe they could bring all sorts of plagues on him as well. Better not to take any chances.
So his evil advisor cooked up this new decree to sooth the Sultan's doubts. He invented this new decree; the Jews had to either produce a 'Moses' or leave Iraq immediately.
The old traveler thought to himself for a minute, went up to the front of the room where the Rabbis sat and began whispering something to one of them. Eventually he had all the Rabbis on their feet around him, a lively conversation ensued in low tones, they all shook their heads in agreement and finally one of the Rabbis went to the high podium in the middle of the room, clapped his hands for attention and announced.
"Our visitor claims he has a plan to save us. He has volunteered to go to the Sultan. If he succeeds, with G-d's help, we will be saved. But if, G-d forbid, he does not then we can say that he was just some old fool that acted alone. We must pray for his success.
The old man set off for the palace and in a half hour he was knocking on the huge door and demanding admission. "I am the Jew that has the power!" he announced "I demand to see the Sultan immediately!"
In moments he was ushered royally into the palace by several guards and stood bravely before the Sultan seated on his magnificent throne. The Jew's long white beard, walking staff and fiery eyes added a theatrical effect to his appearance that impressed everyone in the room.
"So" said the Sultan, "You claim that you can do miracles like your Prophet Moses! What are these miracles?"
"Ha!" The old man answered as he scanned the audience around him. Hundreds of courtiers, and other important- looking people were all staring at him with a mixture of ridicule, curiosity, and fear in their eyes.
"If your majesty will allow me, I can do a miracle that even Moses could not do! Yes, your highness, even greater than Moses himself!!"
"And what is this miracle?" asked the Sultan incredulously.
"I can CUT a man's head off with a sword thus KILLING him and then RETURN his head TO HIS BODY and REVIVE him." He used sweeping hand motions with each of the key words to impress the crowd.
The Sultan smiled and looked around shrugging his shoulders not knowing what to think. Was the man mad? If so he would have him killed on the spot! But on the other hand he seemed very sure of himself. If this old fellow really had such powers then maybe it was best to leave the Jews alone!
"But," the Jew continued, the crowd was abuzz from his previous announcement and took a few seconds to quiet down. "There is a condition. The man whose head I remove must be truly wise, if not, the head will not return properly."
The Sultan swallowed the bait. He was worried and the only thing that would assuage his doubts was to see for himself.
He began looking around at his advisors; staring deeply at them one after another. Each one lowered his eyes to the ground and prayed that he would pick someone else, until his eyes fell on …. Mustafa!
"Mustafa! The wisest of the wise!! My chief advisor!!"
"No! Your majesty!" he cried out in a squeaky voice. That is…. Not me, your majesty, I'm not ….. that is I can't …. Err, he's faking your majesty! The old Jew is an imposter, he wants to kill me!"
"Could be… but I'm not taking any chances." Answered the Sultan calmly. "But what if he is not? Do you want to endanger our entire nation? And what about me?? The Sultan shuddered as he said the last three words, clapped his hands loudly three times and announced "Bring the sword!!"
"NO!!" Yelled out Mustafa. "I admit it! I confess! I am a fool, I'm not at all intelligent! I was the lowest in my class! I hardly know how to read. Forget my idea about the Jews it was a foolish idea!! I'm not fit to be your advisor. Take someone else… anyone else!!" And saying this he ran from the palace never to be seen again.
Of course when the old man returned to the Synagogue with the good news the happiness was boundless. Somehow in the festivities he slipped out of town also never to be seen again.
Some say that he was Elijah the prophet but others just say that it was a Jew that couldn't bear to 'Stand on his fellow man's blood'.
This helps to answer our questions. One of the biggest dangers to the Jewish people is slander.
The Torah tells us how Pharaoh (Exodus 1:9,10), Bilam (Num. 22:4,5) and Haman (Magilla 3:8,9) did it. And how Korach slandered Moses, the Scouts slandered the land of Israel (Num. 13:28-32) Abshalom slandered King David etc.
And in our generation it’s worse than ever. Not only are all the nations of the world slandering the Jews and vilifying Israel but even the Jews in the Israeli government (including the Prime Minister himself (!)) are doing it).
Today Jews speak openly against Jewish education, against Jewish identity against the Torah against the Commandments and especially against each other. (In the recent Israeli elections, which itself is one big slander-fest, the biggest 'success' story was a party called 'Shinui' whose ONLY platform is open hatred of the religious Jews).
What is the solution? It's found in the last half of the sentence; "Don't stand on your fellow man's blood". In other words if you see someone suffering; someone that lacks education, that lacks identity that is spiritually bleeding to death don't stand idly by. Do something positive! Teach him, befriend him, try to provide what he lacks.
But perhaps you will ask "How can I do that? I myself lack so much. In fact, I lack all those things myself!!
That is why the sentence finishes with "I am G-d."
The same G-d that took us out of Egypt can take care of all our problems as well. It just depends on us to act, to open our hearts and take the chance, like the old traveler in our story; to be G-d's emissaries. (as the Lubavitcher Rebbe said; 'Every Jew is a 'Shliach'' - a representative of G-d.)
That is the Lubavitcher Rebbe's message to the world: Don't stand idly by!! The world is suffering and even one person, even one good deed can change it all. And there is no greater good deed than to bring a Jew into the awareness that he is HOLY; above time and above all obstacles with infinate powers of doing good.
All we have to do is try, and soon we will see….
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