Skip to main content

SALT 2015 - Parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim

Rav David Silverberg


            The Torah in Parashat Kedoshim (19:17) introduces the famous command of “hokhei’ach tokhi’ach et amitekha” – generally known as simply “tokheicha” – which requires “reproving” offenders for their wrongdoing.  If a person is in a position to effectively change his fellow’s wrongful conduct, then he is obligated to do so.

            The Gemara in Masekhet Shabbat (119) attributes the fall of Jerusalem to the people’s failure in the particular area of tokheicha: “Jerusalem was destroyed only because they did not reprove one another.”  The Maggid of Duvna, in his Ohel Yaakov, suggests reconciling this remark with the Gemara’s far more famous comment elsewhere (Yoma 9b) attributing the fall of the Second Commonwealth to the sin of sin’at chinam – baseless hatred among the people.  Quite simply, the Maggid explains, tokheicha is only possible in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust.  People who compete with one another for wealth, prestige or influence are in no position to accept constructive criticism from one another.  Any such attempt would immediately be dismissed as yet another stage of the ongoing battle.  When we are divided into different factions struggling against one another, there is no possibility of any faction accepting sound guidance or advice from any other.  Each is out to defend itself and assert its supremacy.  In such an environment, the mitzva of tokheicha is practically inapplicable.

And thus the Gemara’s comment in Masekhet Shabbat simply echoes the more famous passage in Masekhet Yoma.  The tragic condition of rampant sin’at chinam negated the possibility of meaningful tokheicha, of people growing together by respectfully caring for each other’s spiritual wellbeing.  Collective growth can only occur in an environment of respect, which did not exist at the time of the Second Temple.

For this reason, the Maggid adds, the Torah introduces the command of tokheicha with the command, “Lo tisna et achikha bi-lvavekha” – “Do not despise your fellow in your heart.”  Eliminating hatred is a precondition for the mitzva of tokheicha.  Our only hope to positively influence others lies in a mutual attitude of respect, sensitivity and concern.  Criticism and advice spoken amid an aura of strife and competition will only strengthen barriers and further lessen the likelihood of productive communication.  The Torah thus urges us to first eliminate negative feelings as a vital prerequisite for attempting to inspire and impact other people.



            The opening section of Parashat Acharei-Mot outlines the procedure of the avodat Yom Ha-kippurim, the special series of sacrifices brought on Yom Kippur, which marked the only time a ritual was performed in the kodesh ha-kodashim – the innermost sanctum of the Mikdash. The Torah instructs that nobody is permitted anywhere in the Beit Ha-mikdash during the time the kohen gadol spends inside the kodesh ha-kodashim performing the Yom Kippur service, from the moment he enters until he leaves (16:17).

            Rav Yerucham Perlow, in his work on Rav Saadia Gaon’s listing of the mitzvot (vol. 2, lo ta’aseh 183), notes that the Rishonim who listed the 613 Biblical commands did not include this prohibition in their lists.  The Torah here forbids entering the Mikdash while the kohen gadol performs the Yom Kippur service inside the kodesh ha-kodashim, yet, for some reason, this is not listed as a Biblical command.  Rav Perlow suggests that the Rishonim omitted this law because it is not, in truth, a prohibition.  The Torah issues this command as a procedural requirement, instructing the kohen to ensure nobody is present in the Temple at the time he enters the sanctum.  It is a condition that must be met for performing the rituals inside the kodesh ha-kodashim, as opposed to a prohibition against entering the Mikdash during this time.  As such, this command was not listed as one of the 365 Biblical prohibitions.

            Rav Perlow draws proof to his theory from a famous passage in the Talmud Yerushalmi (Yoma 5:2) which applies this rule to angels.  Shimon Ha-tzaddik, who served as kohen gadol for forty years, described how every year on Yom Kippur (until his last), as he made his way into the kodesh ha-kodashim, he was escorted by a mysterious “zakein” (“elderly man”), whom the Yerushalmi initially assumes was an angel.  The Yerushalmi then questions how an angel could accompany the kohen gadol in the Mikdash during the Yom Kippur rituals, in the light of the rule requiring that the kohen gadol be alone.  The answer, the Yerushalmi explains, is that the image that accompanied Shimon Ha-tzaddik was a representation of the Shekhina itself, and not an angel.  In any event, the Yerushalmi explicitly applies this rule to exclude the permissibility of angels being present when the kohen gadol serves in the kodesh ha-kodashim.  Quite obviously, the Torah’s laws are given only to us human beings, and not to angels.  If this rule applies to angels, we have no choice but to view it as a procedural law, and not as a religious prohibition.  The Torah commands that the kohen gadol enter when nobody is present, as opposed to forbidding other people from entering during that time.

            Interestingly, however, there is one Rishon who disagrees, and seems to have understood this law as a prohibition.  The Gemara in Masekhet Yoma (54) discusses the enactment issued that nobody should be present even outside the Mikdash, in the area near the entrance (“bein ha-ulam ve-la’mizbei’ach”), at the time the kohen gadol entered the kodesh ha-kodashim.  This was done as a safeguard to ensure that nobody would mistakenly enter at that time.  Rashi, in explaining the Gemara (44b), writes that the Sages were concerned that somebody might enter and “violate” the prohibition against entering.  This formulation strongly suggests that Rashi understood the Torah’s command as an actual prohibition, as opposed to a procedural requirement.  Similarly, in his commentary to Masekhet Zevachim (83), Rashi writes that once the kohen entered, “his colleagues were forbidden” from entering the Mikdash, certainly indicating that we deal here, in Rashi’s view, with a prohibition against entering.

            If so, then the question arises as to how Rashi would refute the seemingly compelling proof drawn by Rav Perlow.  If the Torah here issues a prohibition against entering the Mikdash as the kohen gadol serves in the kodesh ha-kodashim, then how did the Yerushalmi apply this law to angels, who are not bound by Torah law?  Apparently, as noted by several Acharonim, Rashi understood this verse as introducing two separate laws: a prohibition, and a condition for the kohen gadol’s entry into the kodesh ha-kodashim.  When the Yerushalmi applied this law to angels, it spoke only of the second aspect – the requirement that the kohen gadol be alone at the time he performs the service.  The first aspect, which forbids others from entering the Temple at that time, clearly applies only to human beings, and not to angels.

(Based on an article by Rav Ally Ehrman)



            The Torah in Parashat Kedoshim (19:6-8) reiterates the prohibition of pigul, which relates to the deadline for the consumption of sacrificial meat.  According to the simple reading of the verses, the pigul prohibition forbids partaking of sacrifices beyond the prescribed time, whereas the oral halakhic tradition explains that it refers to sacrifices slaughtered with the intention of eating its meat beyond the prescribed place or outside the prescribed place.  The meat of such sacrifices is strictly forbidden for consumption.  The Torah issues this prohibition with particular vehemence, warning that one who eats this meat “shall bear his iniquity, for he has desecrated the sacred property of the Lord,” and that such a person is liable to karet (eternal excision from the nation).  How might we explain the especially grave nature of this prohibition?

            The answer, perhaps, lies in the personal enjoyment entailed.  The mitzva of akhilat kodashim – partaking of sacrifices – allows a person to derive physical enjoyment from what the Torah here terms “kodesh Hashem” – “the sacred property of the Lord.”  God shares His food, as it were, with the kohen and, in the case of a shelamim sacrifice, with the individual who brings the offering.  Akhilat kodashim offers the opportunity to personally benefit from something sacred and sublime.  And it is for this reason, perhaps, that the Torah so strictly demands that the consumption be done only on its own terms.  Deriving personal enjoyment from “the sacred property of the Lord” in a manner in which one chooses based on his own convenience and self-interests constitutes chilul – a desecration of the sacred property. 

            There are many aspects of Torah observance that provide enjoyment and gratification.  We are required to enjoy ourselves and rejoice on Shabbat and holidays.  Torah study often offers intellectual stimulation and excitement.  Prayer provides solace and comfort.  The Torah’s interpersonal obligations allow us to experience the often unparalleled gratification of assisting people in need and being part of a community.  The prohibition of pigul should perhaps remind us that this enjoyment loses its validity the moment we want to enjoy on our own terms, the way we want, and not in strict accordance with the Torah’s rules.  If we try to derive personal benefit from mitzvot without submitting to the detailed laws and guidelines, then we “desecrate the sacred property of the Lord,” transforming something holy and sublime into a personal source of pleasure and enjoyment.



            Parashat Kedoshim begins with God commanding us, “Kedoshiim tiheyu” (“You shall be holy”), explaining, “ki kadosh ani Hashem Elokeikhem” – “for I, the Lord your God, am holy.”  The Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 24) comments that this explanation is necessary to dispel the possible misconception that we are to be “holy” precisely as God is holy.  By emphasizing, “for I…am holy,” the Torah clarifies that – in the Midrash’s words – “kedushati le-maala mi-kdushatkhem” – “My holiness exceeds your holiness.”

            On the surface, it would appear that the Midrash here seeks to remind us to exercise reason and common sense in our pursuit of “holiness.”  Different interpretations have been given for the precise meaning of “kedoshim tiheyu,” but regardless of what specifically it requires, the pursuit of this ideal could lead a person to set unrealistic goals, forgetting that, as a human being, he is and always will be limited in his capacity for kedushaChazal instruct that while we are to pursue holiness, we must also remember that “kedushati le-maala mi-kdushatkhem,” we are human beings and must find the delicate balance between ambition and realism.

            The Rebbe of Kotzk, however, explained the Midrash’s comment differently.  He claimed that the Midrash seeks to dispel another misconception – that one does not have to work to raise his standards of holiness.  God is constant and unchanging, and thus one might have assumed that we should follow this example and maintain our current standing of kedusha, without feeling the need to constantly strive to grow further.  The Midrash therefore reminds us, “kedushati le-maala mi-kdushatkhem” – which literally means, “My sanctity is above your sanctity.”  The Kotzker Rebbe explains that God’s sanctity is affected, as it were, by our continued spiritual growth.  Our growth results in an increase in God’s glory in the world, and thus we should continually strive for ever greater heights of spiritual achievement.

            The reality of human limitation yields both a “kula” (measure of leniency) and a “chumra” (measure of stringency).  On the one hand, it means we should not feel overwhelmed by the demanding imperative of “kedoshim tiheyu,” recognizing that our limitations by definition limit the scope of this imperative.  But at the same time, this reality requires us to constantly work and struggle to achieve.  Whereas God’s kedusha is forever consistent and unchanging, our kedusha must be dynamic and an ongoing effort, in light of our natural frailties and weaknesses.  And thus while the reality of “kedushati le-maala mi-kdushatkhem” absolves us of the need to strive for impractical achievements, it also demands that we continually work and struggle to improve, to reach one modest achievement after another.



            The Torah commands in Parashat Kedoshim (20:7), “ve-hitkadishtem vi-hyitem kedoshim” – “you shall sanctify yourselves, and you shall be sacred.”  The Gemara (Berakhot 53b), noting the seeming redundancy in this admonition, interprets it as an allusion to the halakhic requirement of hand-washing.  The command of “ve-hitkadishtem” introduces the obligation to wash before a meal, and “vi-hyitem kedoshim” establishes the requirement to wash after a meal, before birkat ha-mazon.

            Symbolically, the Gemara’s remark perhaps conveys a critical lesson relevant to the imperative to be “sacred.”  Namely, it requires “cleanliness” at all times, both “before the meal” and “after the meal.”  If we maintain proper moral and spiritual standards only at certain times or under certain circumstances, then we are not “sacred” at all.  The obligation of “ve-hitkadishtem vi-hyitem kedoshim” demands that we apply the values and principles of kedusha in all areas of life, and in all situations.

            Indeed, Parashat Kedoshim, which begins by introducing the famous command of “kedoshim tiheyu” (“you shall be sacred”), proceeds to present a long series of mitzvot pertaining to the full range of areas in which we are engaged – interpersonal, financial, ritual, and so on.  The message being conveyed is that kedusha does not manifest itself in only a small number of areas.  We become “holy” only by living with kedusha “before the meal” and “after the meal,” throughout our lives, under all circumstances and in all our areas of engagement.



            The Torah commands in Parashat Kedoshim (19:15), “be-tzedek tishpot amitekha” – “you shall judge your fellow justly.”  While the plain meaning of this verse is that it exhorts judges to perform their duties honestly and fairly, the Gemara (Shavuot 30a) cites a view interpreting this verse as introducing the famous obligation to judge people favorably: “hevei dan et cheveirekha le-khaf zekhut.”  The Rambam includes both meanings of this admonition in his Sefer Ha-mitzvot (asei 177).

            We find different views as to the nature of this obligation to judge people favorably and extend to them the benefit of the doubt.  The Semak (8) includes this obligation under the broader rubric of ahavat Yisrael – dealing kindly with our fellow Jews, as required by force of the famous command of “ve-ahavta le-rei’akha kamokha” (“love your fellow as yourself’).  From this perspective, extending the benefit of the doubt is simply a matter of kind treatment.  Just as we would want others to judge us favorably, and not rashly determine our guilt, we must deal with others the same way and give them the benefit of the doubt.

            Interestingly, however, we find a different approach to this command in the responsa of the Maharil Diskin (end of vol. 1).  He writes that judging favorably is required not necessarily for the benefit of others, but rather for the sake of our own religious observance.  Social pressure plays an important role in our decisions, and thus the higher the esteem in which we hold the people around us, the more we will demand of ourselves.  If we take a negative, cynical view of others, we absolve ourselves of the need to maintain high standards.  Once we assume other people act wrongly, we feel less pressure to avoid wrongdoing.  We are therefore required to look upon others from a positive angle, give them the benefit of the doubt and find legitimate reasons to admire them, as this will motivate us to continue our pursuit of high religious standards.  Cynicism and negativity breeds complacency, whereas a positive outlook stirs ambition. By viewing others in a favorable light, we maintain our own pressure to achieve, rather than excuse ourselves on the basis of the perceived shortcomings of the people around us.



            One of the prohibitions introduced by the Torah in Parashat Kedoshim is that of “lo takifu” (19:27), which forbids removing the hair from the side of one’s face (the pei’ot).  The Gemara (Nazir 57b) establishes that this prohibition applies to both the makif – the one who performs the act of removing the hair – and the nikaf – the one whose hair is removed.  Meaning, if somebody removed the hair of somebody else, they are both in violation of this prohibition.

The Rambam codifies this rule in Hilkhot Avodat Kokhavim (12:1), where he adds that the nikaf is not liable to court punishment for this violation “unless he assisted the one who shaved the hair.”  Seemingly, the Rambam here simply applies the famous rule of “lav she-ein bo ma’aseh,” which means that Beit Din does not punish sinners unless an act of sin was committed.  A nikaf, in most cases, violates this prohibition passively, by allowing his hair to be cut, rather than by committing an act.  Therefore, although he has violated the Torah prohibition by allowing somebody to cut his hair, he is not liable to punishment unless he took some active role in this process.  This is, indeed, how several Acharonim understood the Rambam’s ruling (Lechem Mishneh, Kiryat Sefer).

            Interestingly, however, the Kesef Mishneh understood differently.  In his view, the Rambam maintained that when the Gemara applies the prohibition of “lo takifu” even to the nikaf, it refers only to one who plays some active role in the removal of the hair.  The Rambam absolves the passive nikaf of liability not because of “lav she-ein bo ma’aseh” – the absence of a sinful act – but because the prohibition of “lo takifu” does not forbid passively allowing one’s hair to be cut.  This view was accepted by the Noda Bi-yehuda (Mahadura Tanina, O.C. 76).

Curiously, the author of the Kesef Mishneh – Rav Yosef Karo – nevertheless rules in his Shulchan Arukh (Y.D. 181:4) that it is forbidden to even passively allow one’s pei’ot to be removed.  It seems that he either did not follow the Rambam’s position as he understood it, or felt that there is a rabbinic prohibition against passively allowing the removal of pei’ot, even though the Torah prohibition applies only to active participation in the removal.

            Rav Asher Weiss, in an article on this subject, notes that from a number of sources it appears that even if we apply the prohibition to situations where the nikaf is entirely passive, nevertheless, the violation depends on his consent and approval.  Rashi, commenting on the Gemara in Masekhet Nazir, writes that the Gemara applies this prohibition to the nikaf because it understood the imperative “lo takifu” to mean “lo tanichu le-hakif” – that one may not allow the hair on the side to be removed.  Similarly, the Ra’avad, commenting on the Rambam’s ruling, writes that the nikaf violates this prohibition since the hair removal was done “mi-dato” – with his consent.  It would thus appear that even if the prohibition can be transgressed passively, it requires, at very least, the nikaf’’s knowledge of, and consent to, the act.

            Rav Weiss makes this point in the context of addressing the question of whether patients inadvertently violate this prohibition if their sideburns are removed during surgery while they are under sedation.  (He addresses the particular case of a skin graft using skin taken from behind the ear.)  According to the aforementioned sources, it would seem that no prohibition is transgressed at all in such a case, as the violation requires, at very least, the awareness and consent of the nikaf, which is clearly absent if the nikaf is under anesthesia and was entirely unaware of the fact that his sideburns would be removed.


We will return to a daily presentation of SALT shortly. Kol tuv.  

For the complete SALT - Surf A Little Torah archives, click here


This website is constantly being improved. We would appreciate hearing from you. Questions and comments on the classes are welcome, as is help in tagging, categorizing, and creating brief summaries of the classes. Thank you for being part of the Torat Har Etzion community!