This week’s parshah, Kedoshim, is possibly one of the most significant in the Torah. Not only does this parshah signify the middle section of the Book of Leviticus, but it is also considered by some to be the “heart” of the entire Torah, Pentateuch, or Five Books of Moses. In this parshah, we are reminded of the ever-so-important commandment, “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Lev. 19:18). There is a famous Talmudic story that tells of the great Rabbi Hillel conversing with a potential convert. The intended-convert approached Rabbi Hillel and said, “Teach me the whole Torah while I stand only on one foot.” Rabbi Hillel responded quickly, “That which you despise, do not do unto your neighbor. This is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary. Now go and learn.” While Rabbi Hillel was not undermining the value of the vast remainder of the Torah not mentioned, this reductionist comment seemed to be driving home the fact that the essence of Judaism is the ability to relate to other human beings in a positive way, full of good will. If we cannot treat our fellow human beings with respect, we are not setting ourselves up for spiritual success in any fashion.
Of particular interest in parshah Kedoshim is the consideration for the poor. In Leviticus 19:9-10, we read: “And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corner of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleaning of thy harvest…thou shalt leave them for the poor and for the stranger.” The Torah tells us that when we are gathering our bounty, we should refrain from stockpiling crops from a corner of our field. We are also encouraged not to pick up the gleaning, or fallen crops, from the ground.
Even the gathering of our food is a task which contains holiness. “kadosh” is holy, and “kedoshim,” the name of the parshah, roughly translates to “holy ones.” Let’s run with that translation.
We can be “kedoshim” by always leaving a little for someone who needs a bit more than we do. The challenge is certainly not always in the giving, but it is in the giving for the sake of giving, and not for the receiving of any attention. How can we truly aspire to altruism? Notice how the Torah asks us not reap a “corner” of the field. This “corner” is different from the “center” of the field, in that it allows for privacy. We should perhaps feel compelled to give without causing undue embarrassment or shame to one who is in need. There is a story of Rabbi Yannai who once saw a man giving a shekel to a poor man. This giving was done in the presence of a large group of people. Rabbi Yannai approached the man who gave, and said: “It would have been better not to have given it to him than to have given it and put him to shame” (B. Hag. 5b). The Talmud also asks us “Which kind of charity saves a man from death? Charity given without knowing to whom it is given…” (B. BB 10a). It seems we should aspire to charity for the sake of holiness, not for the sake of the public square’s affirmation.
What “gleanings” can we leave behind for those who need it? When we think of “helping the poor,” money is often the first thing that comes to mind. But, are there other ways to give? How can we part with some of the “gleanings” in our lives? In other words, what do we have enough of, that were it to fall from our possession, we could still survive and thrive? Yes, we can give money to the poor if we are in a financial place to do so. But, we can also give some of ourselves in a myriad of ways. Especially in these trying times, a little means a tremendous amount. When we feel as if we have even a modicum of kindness to spare, we can share it. What of a phone call to a friend or family member with whom we have fallen out of contact? How about a nice card or even a kind email to someone whose spirits seem low? Kadosh is in gesture and the intention. Holiness is the smile that alters an entire day. Kadosh is leaving a care package (while socially distancing) on the doorstep of a friend. As our own Mishkan T’Filah Tell us, “entrances to holiness are everywhere.” If our eyes are open, they certainly are.
Rabbi Hillel has made it clear that the Torah, in all of its beautiful verses and analyzed texts, can be summarized as the way to learning to treat others with kindness, dignity, and respect. Would you want it done to you? If not, then do not do it to someone else. Sir Moses Montefiore, the famous Jewish-English public welfare devotee, said that from the Jewish perspective, the person who gives to the beggar should thank the beggar for the opportunity that has been given him to give. What kind of world would we live in if we all strived to comprehend this unique perspective? Perhaps a world free from selfishness, harshness, and cruelty. One day, when we ourselves are in need, we need not announce our temporary plight in the center of someone else’s field, but simply take from the corner, as we will do for our fellow human beings again when we are able.
I wish to leave you today with a few questions. Do you reap your entire field, leaving not a corner of it unharvested? What areas of your life can you afford to give a bit of yourself without expecting to receive any recognition or attention? If we are to live Jewishly, it seems that we must look at the self-satisfaction gained from giving as we would an idol. “Turn ye not unto the idols…” (Lev. 19:4). “Idols” in this case would literally mean non-entities, or things that do not exist. Pay no mind to the idea of rewards gained from kindness. Leaving a corner of our field, and that which has fallen, or the glean, for others, is the very essence of treating others with kindness, dignity, and respect. The way to “kedusha,” or holiness, is in the manner in which we treat our fellow human beings: the wealthy, the poor, the neighbor, the stranger.
We have a responsibility: “Ye shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy.” (Lev. 19:2). Remember those entrances to holiness as existing in all things. May we all be blessed to leave the corners of the fields of our souls rich with the bounty of a life lived in search of the holiness that is intrinsic in all things.