The portion of Kedoshim includes moral and ritual laws designed to increase the holiness of the nation, as well as punishments for many of the transgressions mentioned in Acharei Mot.
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 fulfills 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!
Points to Ponder
Why do you think the Torah intersperses social law with ritual law in this chapter?
The final topic in our portion outlines the punishments for many of the crimes mentioned earlier, particularly in chapter 18. One who gives his offspring to Molech is to be stoned to death. Anyone who enables him, or who turns to witchcraft, is cut off from the people. He who curses his parents should be put to death. Those who engage in any of the forbidden relationships are punishable by death, in forms according to the particular transgression. The Torah then reiterates its earlier statement that defiling the land will result in expulsion.
The portion finishes by commanding the people to distinguish between clean and unclean beasts for food, and again forbidding witchcraft.
Points to Ponder
Why do you think cursing one’s parents is punishable by death? Wouldn’t the parents prefer that their child live?