Brief thoughts on קדושים

This past Shabbat we read the Torah portion of קדושים, referred to commonly as the Holiness Code. Friday night our intern gave a sermon that referenced the fact that God commands Moses to speak to the entire congregation of Israel (kol adat Yisrael) and not just the children of Israel (b’nei Yisrael) that we usually read. So, as I prepared for our Torah study session Saturday morning, reading through my Rashi commentary and the commentary in the Eitz Chaim, I kept this in mind. And something occurred to me. In the entire section of the portion that follows “kol adat Yisrael” and the injunction that “You shall be holy because I, Adonai your God, am holy,” there is not one reference to death as a punishment for not obeying the commandments. There is reference to punishment, to being cut off from the people, but not specifically to death. It is not until chapter 20 when Moses is again commanded to speak to the children of Israel (b’nei Yisrael) that we have a mention of death as a punishment–this time in reference to worship of Molech). It had been brought up that it is believed that whenever God told Moses to speak to the children of Israel he wouldn’t speak to everyone all at once, but rather explain the laws in smaller groups of people. But, with the Holiness Code the entire congregation of Israel is commanded to hear and to be present, therefore emphasizing the importance of what was to follow. I feel that it is significant that death is not mentioned when speaking of holiness, almost as if God did not want the idea of death as a punishment brought up while the entire congregation was hearing about how they should be Holy. What a wonderful concept–that holiness involves behavior and punishment, but excludes the idea of death. I think it emphasizes on doing good and holy things for the sake of them being good and holy, and not because we fear the consequence of death. (For a more in-depth meditation on the idea of being holy, see Chavi’s post here.)

I don’t know if any commentators have addressed this; we only took a few minutes with it Saturday morning and Rashi, Rambam, the Eitz Chaim, the Plaut, and the Women’s Commentary all were silent on this. As my rabbi pointed out, when no one else is saying anything about it, you’re either a genius or an idiot (he usually says this in reference to himself; I was amused that I have finally warranted the phrase). Granted, there was not a lot of time to check all of his books, but you can bet I’m going to look into this further.


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5 Responses to “ Brief thoughts on קדושים ”

  1. Stellar post! I always love hearing d’var Torah, and I’m glad others are throwing their hats in with it.

    I have a thought though: Despite there being no direct mention of the word death, being cut off (kareit) from the community essentially implies spiritual death. The rabbis disagreed, some saying that kareit meant death without surviving descendants, others that it meant death at an early age, and Maimonides held that it meant the destruction of one’s free will.

    And for what it’s worth, says that by doing proper teshuvah, kareit can be avoided 🙂

  2. Excellent!  This particular post really gets to the root of why Judaism is so appealing…it makes perfect SENSE!  I think this was always the problem I had with my grandfather’s version of fire and brimstone religion – you only acted because you were looking out for YOU.  If you don’t want YOU to be destroyed…do this.  As opposed to, as you point out, doing it for the sake of doing it with no punishment attached for NOT doing it.  This positions Judaism as a very PROACTIVE system as opposed to a reactive system such as Christiantity has fashioned itself with it’s worry about divine retribution and the reaping of a so-called “afterlife.”


  3. I agree with Chavi  and Elianah: wonderful thoughts on the Torah portion, and a good point made about the proactive nature of Judaism…doing something for its own sake, and not out of fear.

    I read somewhere that G-d hardened Pharoah’s heart not to take away his free will, but to give him free will. Without a heart hardened against a fear of the Supreme Being, Pharoah would have had no choice but to submit. Similarly, the people of Israel are given that freedom of choice by not being threatened with death.

    Thanks for another well-done, thoughtful post, d’varim. :) I enjoy hearing what others think on these things.

  4. Thanks! I’m glad that I wasn’t just spouting complete nonsense.


  5. The angst over death, and placing it as a polar opposite to kedushah is an idea that Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik invokes in several places.  In addition, if you consider the tension between death as THE source of tumah, and life and taharah, then the intuitive relationship is strengthened.  I don’t know if it plays here in K’doshim or not; but the general notion seems to have validity.

    Nice work on the parsha!

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