The Rest is Commentary: Go Learn: The Week's End, May 10, 2024
May 10th 2024

This week’s Parashah is Kedoshim. Rashi comments that this parashah holds the keys to the holiness of the Torah. It begins, “You shall be holy, for I, A-donai your God am Holy.”

In the Parasha, several commandments are given for actions that one should take to maintain the functioning of society within the new land of Israel. They include everything from rules for justice in mediating disagreements, to just practices in an ecological sense, to rules governing what are allowable spiritual practices. The reading then leads to rules on how we should act amongst our fellow Jews, with our neighbours, and towards strangers. 

One verse that jumps out in the context of recent events in Toronto and around the world is Leviticus 19:17,

יז לֹא-תִשְׂנָאאֶת-אָחִיךָ, בִּלְבָבֶךָ; הוֹכֵחַתּוֹכִיחַאֶת-עֲמִיתֶךָ, וְלֹא-תִשָּׂאעָלָיוחֵטְא.

You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart; reprove your kinsman but incur no guilt because of him.

This week the Jewish community, led by University of Toronto students, rallied to show support for students who are currently experiencing hate daily. Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin and I joined a group of Beth Tzedec members who came together with hundreds of others from across the GTA in peaceful protest this unjust treatment. Afterward, some of the protesters approached the encampment in King’s College Circle and shared messages of peace, not hate. It is difficult in these situations to not give in to the temptation to hate, but it is critical - and holy - to do just that. 

In the following verse we are commanded,

יח לֹא-תִקֹּםוְלֹא-תִטֹּראֶת-בְּנֵיעַמֶּךָ, וְאָהַבְתָּלְרֵעֲךָכָּמוֹךָ: אֲנִי, יְהוָה.

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself:I am the Lord.

From the Babylonian Talmud, we are told the famous story from the 1st century BCE about the sage Hillel, which is generally interpreted in the context of the above verses from Kedoshim:

It happened that a gentile came before Hillel asking to learn all of Torah while standing on one foot. He said to him: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. This is the whole entire Torah; the rest is its commentary. Go and learn.”

Clearly, there is still a lot to learn! We need to focus on continuing this learning; from this present challenge we are facing, which we need to overcome while maintaining the holiness of loving one’s neighbour, and from the past thousands of years of tradition and scholarship. This level of ethical behavior is not easy, but it’s what we do: it’s what makes us Jews. It’s why the above teaching from Hillel is known as “the Golden Rule” because it is so universally powerful.

Shabbat Shalom,