This unit begins with an exhortation to “be holy”. The subsequent verses outline how to achieve that holiness. Most of the laws contained in this chapter pertain to man’s interaction with his fellow, but several are also ritual. Examples of the former include required portions to charity, honest business dealings and treating our neighbors as we wish to be treated. Examples of the latter include keeping the Sabbath, being meticulous in the laws of sacrifices and not worshiping idols.
Judaism’s focus on social law is part of what makes it unique. The Israel Bible cites a speech given by David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, four years before the founding of the State. Speaking at a conference for youth groups in Haifa in 1944, he said, This people gave the world great and eternal moral truths and commandments…of the dignity and infinite worth of the individual (because every man is created in the divine image), of social justice, universal peace, and love — ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself’…”
Among the various laws is verse 23, which states, “And when ye shall come into the land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food…” As the Israel Bible points out, planting trees fulfils the commandment in Numbers 33:53, “You shall possess the land and you shall settle it.” From 1901 to 2014, inspired by this verse, Jews hand-planted over 240 million trees in Israel. In fact, Israel is one of the only countries in the world that ended the twentieth century with more trees than it began!
Virtual Classroom Discussion
Why do you think the Torah intersperses social law with ritual law in this chapter?