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איש איש מבני ישראל אשר יתן מזרעו למלך מות ימות עם הארץ ירגמהו באבן ואם העלם יעלימו עם הארץ את עיניהם מן האיש ההוא בתתו מזכעו למלך לבלתי המית אתו... ושמתי את פני באיש ההוא

Any man from Bnei Yisrael… who shall give of his seed to Molech (Idol) shall be put to death; the people of the land shall pelt him with stones. But if the people of the land avert their eyes from that man when he gives from his offspring to molech, not put him to death – then I shall concentrate My attention upon that man. (20:2,4,5)

Chazal identify a number of ambiguities concerning the pshat, explanation, of this pasuk. We will focus on two of them. The second pasuk states: “But if the people of the land avert their eyes… not to put him to death.” Why are the Jewish people referred to as am ha’aretz, “people of the land”? This vernacular suggests that their primary focus is to settle the land. Second; what is the meaning of the phrase “not to put him to death”? Why not simply say:  “they will not kill him”? The pesukim concerning the Molech debacle are unusually redundant. The Tevuos…

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ואהבת לרעך כמוך

Love your fellow as yourself. (19:18)

Rashi quotes the well-known dictum of Rabbi Akiva, “Zeh klal gadol baTorah:  “This is a great principle of the Torah.” Why is the word “baTorah” added? It would be sufficient to have said simply, “This is a great principle.” The Chasam Sofer explains that the principle of loving one’s fellow kamocha, like yourself, is specifically baTorah, concerning Torah study and other spiritual pursuits. Regarding physical pursuits, one’s personal needs precedes those of his fellow. There is a case in Chazal in which Rabbi Akiva seems to underscore the difference between spiritual pursuits and physical pursuits with regard to helping one’s…

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הוכח תוכיח את עמיתך ולא תשא עליו חטא

You shall reprove your fellow and you shall not bear a sin because of him. (19:17)

The Bialystoker Maggid, zl (cited by Horav Gedalya Schorr, zl), posits that we have two forms of tochachah, rebuke. In one instance, the rebuker chastises his fellow, saying, “How could you commit such a sin?” Another scenario has the rebuker challenging his fellow, alleging, “Who are you (who do you think you are) to have the audacity to commit such a grave sin?” In both instances, the rebuker is magnifying the sin and making it greater/larger than the sinner. He is either too small or the sin is too large, but, in any event, the offense is greater than the…

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כמעשה ארץ מצרים אשר ישבתם בה לא תעשו וכמעשה ארץ כנען אשר אני מביא אתכם שמה לא תעשו

Like the practice of the Land of Egypt in which you dwelled do not do; and do not perform the practice of the Land of Canaan to which I will bring you. (18:3)

The Toras Kohanim derives from the words, yishavtem bah, “in which you dwelled,” that Egypt was the most morally bankrupt nation (followed by the Canaan), specifically because the Jews lived there. Likewise, the moral turpitude of the Canaanim plunged even lower as a result of its Jewish conquerors/inhabitants. This statement begs elucidation. One would think that the moral standard which the Jews set should have served as an example for these pagans to emulate. Instead, Chazal indicate that they became worse. Why? In his commentary to Toras Kohanim, the Raavad writes: “This means: as a result of the sin of…

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ונתן אהרן על שני השעירים גורלות - גורל אחד לד' וגורל אחד לעזאזל

And Aharon shall place lots on the two goats – one lot “for Hashem” and one “for Azazel.” (16:8)

We all find excuses to justify our chosen way of life. We blame it on an accident of fate – anything to absolve ourselves of our erroneous decisions. Horav S. R. Hirsch, zl, applies this idea to the diverse fate experienced by the two Seirei Yom Kippurim, goats used to atone for Klal Yisrael on Yom Kippur: one being used l’Hashem as a sacrifice; and one for Azazel. They were two completely identical goats. Why does one end up as a sacrifice for Hashem, while the other goes to Azazel? Likewise, two people are identical in spiritual background, family lineage,…

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והייתם לי קדשים כי קדוש אני ה' ואבדיל אתכם מן העמים להיות לי

You shall be holy for Me, for I Hashem am holy; and I have separated you from the peoples to be Mine. (20:26)

There has to be a separation between the Jew and the gentile. This does not mean that we should not act properly. On the contrary, by acting with dignity and mentchlichkeit, we earn their respect and admiration. This also does not suggest adopting their culture and lifestyle. We are distinct, and our distinctiveness is an inherent part of our essence. Rabbeinu Bachya writes that we are separated as a result of the chochmas haTorah, wisdom acquired through the Torah, which impels us to distinguish ourselves in what we eat, the manner that we eat, our mode of dress (and our…

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ולא תשבען בשמי לשקר

Do not swear falsely by My Name. (19:12)

Swearing falsely occurs in one of four formats: two referencing the past; either falsely confirming that something occurred, or denying its occurrence; or two referencing the future, either by promising that he will carry out a specific activity, or affirming that he will not. In any event, swearing falsely, using Hashem’s Name to validate the oath is a grievous sin from which any decent, G-d-fearing Jew should be repulsed. Having said this, a story which Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, heard from Horav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita, which occurred concerning the holy Maharsha, comes to mind. A widow came before the Maharsha,…

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איש אמו ואביו תיראו

Every man: Your mother and father shall you revere. (19:3)

Reverence and fear (which is the literal translation of tirah) are closely related. I think fear born of reverence is unlike fear which is the result of retribution. Thus, one is to fear his/her parents through the lens of reverence and esteem in which he holds them. This mitzvah prohibits anything negative, such as sitting in a parents’ seat, contradicting or interrupting them. One should act toward a parent in much the same manner in which he respects a monarch. The Torah should have simply written: Your father and mother shall you revere. Why does the Torah add ish, every…

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קדשים תהיו כי קדוש אני

You shall be holy, for holy am I. (19:2)

For a Jew, being “good” is insufficient. We are to be a holy people, holy to Hashem, because He is the Source of holiness.  It would make sense that His nation is expected to strive to be G-d-like. The choice of words, ki kadosh Ani, “For holy am I,” begs elucidation. No human being, regardless of his spiritual stature, can aspire to achieve such holiness. In the sefer Sifsei Tzaddikim, the author offers an insightful exposition based on an incident that he heard from Horav Aharon Klivaner, zl (a maggid). When Rav Aharon was a youth studying in the yeshivah…

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קדשים תהיו כי קדוש אני

You shall be holy for holy am I. (19:2)

Be holy because holiness means to be G-d-like. Ki kadosh Ani, “because I/Hashem am holy.” It is not enough to be observant — or even to be virtuous or righteous. One must strive for kedushah, holiness, sanctity, because that defines Judaism. Kedushah means to be separate, distinct, different, to be unlike other peoples. Our laws are different; our definition of virtue and kindness is not subject to human rationale. It is all mandated by the Torah. Hashem sets before us the Law which, as interpreted by our Sages, defines what is right and what is wrong, what is virtuous and…

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