Divrei Torah

PARSHAS ACHAREI-KEDOSHIM 5778

When we think of a holy person, we may think of somebody who studies Kabbala or stands 20 minutes for Shmone Esrai. None of my rebbis behaved in that manner. For several of them, their Shmone Esrai was not much longer than mine, yet, they are all holy people. So, what makes a person holy?

In this week’s second parsha of Kedoshim, the Torah defines holiness. The Torah does not demand from us what we cannot do. The Torah defines holy as performing basic Torah deeds and actions. Keep Shabbos, honesty, don’t gossip, don’t withhold wages, respect parents, scholars and the elderly, no tattoos, behave morally, etc. Do what we are supposed to do. Then we are special and holy. You want to do more? That is fine. But, that does not detract from the holiness of a person who does what the Torah demands of us.

One of the mitzvos in this week’s Parsha is judging another person favorably – give him the benefit of the doubt. It is not always easy, but it makes one holy because it can be against human nature.

Giving the benefit of the doubt preserves relationships and character. It preserves society. It does not mean that I do not acknowledge a potentially dangerous situation. Maybe he won’t shoot? He is only joking. I can be a partner with this man because he may not have really cheated his previous partner out of his last dollar. What it means is don’t make a person look bad when there is reason to think otherwise. Don’t be quick to criticize. The Talmud teaches us, “whoever invalidates others, invalidates them with the same blemish that he has.” Before criticizing others, we first must look in the mirror and don’t jump to conclusions.

That is an example from the Parsha of Mitzvos between man and man. There are also mitzvos in the parsha that deal between man and G-d. One of those mitzvos is the prohibition of Sha’atnez – wool and linen within one garment. The Torah introduces the prohibition with the words, “My statutes you shall keep.” Sha’atnez is a mitzva for which we do not know the reason. The Torah labels it as a Chok – a statute. We do it simply because G-d commanded us even though we might not understand it, even if people mock us for following it. 

The Midrash suggests that the reason for the prohibition of Sha’atnez arose from the story of Cain and Abel. Cain brought God an offering of flax - the source of linen - and Abel brought a sheep – the source of wool. Abel’s offering was accepted by G-d whereas Cain’s was not. Cain was jealous of Abel and killed him. So, G-d decreed that the two substances shall not mix.

Generally, the issue of sha’atnez will present itself in more expensive garments – such as suits and fancy intricately designed sweaters, but that is not a 100% rule. Years ago, there was a brand of socks that presented a problem. Even if neither wool nor linen is listed on the label, the garment may still contain both. Manufacturers are not required to list every material within a garment. Even a minute amount of Sha’atnez is prohibited.

There is an exception to the rule of Sha’atnez. One can wear separate garments – one of wool and the other of linen – as long as they are not connected and can be removed one without the other. For example: A linen jacket with woolen pants.

There are exceptions to the Sha’atnez prohibition. We find in the Torah that the clothes of the Kohanim serving in the Bais Hamikdash contained sha’atnez. It is also technically permitted to wear tzitzis that contain sha’atnez. Both of these garments – the Kohanim and tzitzis have a common denominator - they are holy – they are kosher garments. Perhaps a purpose of Sha’atnez is for us to realize that we cannot wear whatever we want. We must always keep G-d in mind in whatever venture we find ourselves – even in our clothing. Our clothing must also remind us of G-d. It must also be holy and kosher. 

The Parsha of Kedoshim teaches us that being holy is more than religious calisthenics during davening. Being holy means doing what G-d commanded us to do – to behave in a kosher fashion whether we are dealing with other people or directly with G-d.