- “You shall be holy”
- Proper Eating of Korbanot
- Commandments Relating to the Public Good
- Kilayim (Mixtures) and other Prohibitions
- No Child Sacrifice
- More on Forbidden Sexual Relationships
- Haftarah Summary
At the conclusion of the last parsha, Acharei Mot, which is often doubled and read together with Kedoshim, Bnei Yisrael were told to cease offering independent korbanot (sacrifices), to be careful not to follow the ways of foreign nations, and to refrain from forbidden sexual relationships. Further details of these matters are given in Parashat Kedoshim, which emphasizes that Yisrael is to be a holy (kadosh) nation, set apart for G-d, who is kadosh.
“You shall be holy”
Hashem instructs Moshe as follows:
דַּבֵּר אֶל כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם קְדֹשִׁים תִּהְיוּ כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אֲנִי ה’ אֱלֹקיכֶם:
Speak to the whole community of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, your G-d Hashem, am holy.Vayikra 19:2
Importantly, honoring parents, keeping (tishmoru – תִּשְׁמֹרוּ) Shabbat, and the prohibition of idolatry are mentioned again at this juncture.
Proper Eating of Korbanot
A Zevach Shelamim (peace offering) can be consumed one the day it is slaughtered and on the following day, but anything left to the third day must not be consumed and needs to be burned, It should be noted that the laws around this concept of leftover korbanot, called pigul, are complex, and the previous sentence reflects the peshat (literal or contextual meaning) of the text, but can only be applied with reference to the Oral Law.
Commandments Relating to the Public Good
The next commandment is about leaving peah (פְּאַה), the corners of one’s fields, unharvested, and leaving the gleanings (leket – לֶקֶט) in the field (לֶקֶט קְצִירְךָ לֹא תְלַקֵּט). Similarly should one not glean one’s vineyard completely, leaving gleanings for those in need.
Also, stealing and deceit are forbidden, as are swearing falsely, robbing, and keeping the day’s wages from a laborer until the following day. It is forbidden to insult the deaf (who is unable to hear the the insult) or “place a stumbling block before the blind” (לִפְנֵ֣י עִוֵּ֔ר לֹ֥א תִתֵּ֖ן מִכְשֹׁ֑ל). One should not show favor in matters of judgement, neither towards the poor or the wealthy. One should not hate one’s kin, even internally, nor bare grudges or seek vengeance:
לֹא תִשְׂנָא אֶת אָחִיךָ בִּלְבָבֶךָ… לֹא תִקֹּם וְלֹא תִטֹּר אֶת בְּנֵי עַמֶּךָ וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ אֲנִי ה’:
You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart… You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against members of your people. Love your fellow as yourself: I am Hashem.Vayikra 19:17-18
Kilayim (Mixtures) and other Prohibitions
Mixing species (kilayim – כִּלְאַיִם) is forbidden, including allowing cattle to interbreed with other species, sowing a field with two kinds of seed, or weaving cloth from two kinds of material.
A sexual relationship between a man and a female slave who has not been freed but has been designated for another man is forbidden and incurs the need to bring a ram for Asham (guilt offering).
Once settled in Eretz Yisrael, the fruit of newly planted trees must be left to stand for the first three years (Orlah – עׇרְלָה). The fruit of the fourth year is consecrated (kodesh – קֹדֶשׁ); the tree’s fruit may be eaten in the fifth year.
Again, blood is forbidden to eat. Divination and soothsaying are forbidden. Trimming the edges (peot – פאוֹת) of a man’s hair and beard are forbidden. Gashing or incising flesh (כְתֹבֶת קַעֲקַע) is forbidden.
One’s daughter must not be allowed to engage in prostitution. Again, Shabbatot are to be kept (tishmoru – תִּשְׁמֹרוּ) and G-d’s sanctuary (Mikdashi – מִקְדָּשִׁי) venerated. Turning to ghosts (ovot – אֹבֹת) or ancestral spirits (yidonim – יִּדְּעֹנִים) is a no. Rising before the aged is required (מִפְּנֵי שֵׂיבָה תָּקוּם). A stranger (ger – גֵּר) must be treated like a citizen (ke-ezrach – כְּאֶזְרָח)—”because you were slaves in Egypt” (כִּי גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם). False measurements and weights must not be given.
No Child Sacrifice
The next section of prohibitions returns to the absolute prohibition of child sacrifice, mentioned in the last parashah, which was offered to the god Molech. Any among Bnei Yisrael, or resident among the Jews (ha–ger be-Yisrael – הַגֵּר הַגָּר בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל), who “gives” their child for Molech worship (אֲשֶׁר יִתֵּן מִזַּרְעוֹ לַמֹּלֶךְ) is to be stoned to death, and is also subject to karet. Bystanders who fail to report their fellow’s giving of a child to Molech are subject to karet as well. The same goes for the aforementioned ovot, ghosts, and yidonim, also a kind of spirit.
More on Forbidden Sexual Relationships
First: anyone who insults their parents should be put to death. The text then moves to adultery between a man and a married woman, both of whom are subject to death penalty. Adultery between a man and his father’s wife incurs the same for both parties. The same is true if between a man and his daughter-in-law. The same is true for both parties if a man lies with a man as with a woman. If a man marries a woman and her mother, all three must be burned. Bestiality involves a death sentence for the person, man or woman, and also the animal. If a man marries his sister or half-sister, they are excised before the eyes of their nation (וְנִכְרְתוּ לְעֵינֵי בְּנֵי עַמָּם). Sex during niddah (ritual impurity of menstruation) incurs karet for both woman and man. Relations between a man and his maternal or paternal aunt, are forbidden, as are with his aunt by marriage (an uncle’s wife), which results in childlessness. The same is true for relations with one’s sister-in-law (the wife of one’s brother).
Bnei Yisrael are cautioned not to follow the ways of the Canaanites who inhabit the land they are to inherit. Again, G-d says:
:הְיִיתֶם לִי קְדֹשִׁים כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אֲנִי ה’ וָאַבְדִּל אֶתְכֶם מִן הָעַמִּים לִהְיוֹת לִי
You shall be holy to me for I, Hashem, am holy and I have set you apart from the nations to be Mine.Vayikra 20:26
Amos 9:7-15 (Ashkenazi): ואתה בן אדם השפט
The Ashkenazi reading deals with a section of the prophecy of Amos that begins by accusing Bnei Yisrael for acting like the Ethiopians (כִבְנֵי֩ כֻשִׁיִּ֨ים). Alarmingly, it reminds Bnei Yisrael that they are hardly the only people Gd delivered from tyranny, giving the example of the Philistines from Kaftor and the Arameans from Kir. It ends with a note of purification and reinstatement of Yisrael in its land.
Yechezkel 20:2-20 (Sefardi): בן אדם דבר את זקני ישראל
This prophecy of Yechezkel begins by reminding Bnei Yisrael that they have abrogated the things commanded by Gd, in particular to avoid the abhorrent ways of Egypt. Even though they followed the Egyptians while still in Egypt, Gd decided to bring them out and instruct them in the Law, but even then, in the wildreness, Bnei Yisrael failed to listen. Again, Gd acts on behalf of His Name (לְמַ֣עַן שְׁמִ֑י). He does not destroy Bnei Yisrael, but instructs their children in the Law.
Image: Jean-François Millet, The Gleaners, 1857. Oil on canvas. Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Public domain photograph.