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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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בצדק תשפט עמיתך

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

Judging a fellow Jew judiciously is vital, because we often do not see the entire picture, which precludes us from thinking positively prior to rendering judgment. Furthermore, if we are not prepared to give our fellow the benefit of the doubt, why should Hashem do the same for us – especially when He knows the truth concerning our actions? He might be inclined to acquiesce or gloss over some of our infractions when He knows that we act similarly towards others. Last, by exerting patience and waiting to root out the whole story, not only will we spare ourselves the…

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קדושים תהיו... איש אמו ואביו תיראו ואת שבתותי תשמרו אני ד'

You shall be holy… every man: your father and mother shall you revere and My Shabbasos shall you observe. I am Hashem. (19:2,3)

It was 1945 and Horav Moshe David Tenenbaum, zl, who was then head of the Vaad HaYeshivos in the Holy Land, went for a vacation in a small village in the north. As he was walking one day, a member of a nearby kibbutz approached him and asked if he could serve as the tenth man for a minyan. At first, he thought the fellow was teasing him, since it was a non-religious kibbutz and tefillah b’tzibur, davening with a minyan, was uncommon (to say the least). How surprised he was when he arrived at the kibbutz to meet the…

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לא תלין פעלת שכיר אתך עד בקר. לא תקלל חרש

You shall not withhold a worker’s wage with you until morning. You shall not curse the deaf. (19:13,14)

The Baal HaTurim notes the juxtaposition of the prohibition against cursing a deaf person, or anyone for that matter, upon the prohibition against withholding a worker’s wages. He explains that, despite one’s justification for monetary claim, he may not curse him. He should take him to court to litigate whatever claim he may have against him. The Torah outlines the parameters of dispute for us. Reuven worked for Shimon. It was not easy labor. He put in his time and effort, and now he expects to be paid. He has every right to demand his wages. His children were home…

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מפני שיבה תקום והדרת פני זקן

In the presence of an old person shall you rise and you shall honor the presence of a sage. (19:32)

In the Talmud Kiddushin 32b, a Tannaic dispute is presented concerning a zakein ashmai, iniquitous elder, whether if one must honor him or not. Rashi is the one who defines ashmai as iniquitous. Tosfos disputes this, since it is a mitzvah not to respect an iniquitous elder. Such a person warrants disrespect. Therefore, Rabbeinu Tam explains ashmai to mean a boor, an ignoramus, one who is otherwise unworthy of respect. Nonetheless, since when are we enjoined to respect an ignoramus, simply due to his advanced age? One must earn respect, be worthy of the reverence accorded him by others. True,…

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בצדק תשפוט עמיתך

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

We must be careful not to condemn. While a person may have acted inappropriately, we must give him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps we are unaware of what actually occurred or of the extenuating circumstances that quite possibly played a role in the individual’s decision to act as he did. There is no question that it is, at times, difficult to give a person the benefit of the doubt – especially when we have no doubt. He was wrong; there are no two ways about it. Yet, the Torah enjoins us to judge him righteously. It becomes increasingly difficult…

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