Parshiyot Acharei Mot and Kedoshim
by Ari Hart
Kedoshim begins by God telling Moses to gather the entire congregation of Israel in order to instruct them. These kinds of mass gatherings happen rarely in the Torah. The normal method of teaching laws to the people was to relay them through a chain: God, Moshe, high priests, elders, and finally people. The midrash asks - what's so special about the laws in kedoshim that demanded breaking the routine?
The answer, according to the midrash, is found in the parallels between kedoshim and another time when all the people were gathered in a similar way: when they received the 10 commandments.
In addition to the parallel between the gathering of the congregation, the midrash notes some similarities in the laws in the dibrot that have parallels in Kedoshim. Here are a three examples from the midrash:
10 commandments: Lo tisa at shem hashem leshav - do not utter blasphemy.
Kedoshim: lo tishbau b'shmi l'sheker - do not vow with my name in order to lie.
10 commandments: lo tirzach - do not murder.
Kedoshim - lo taamod al dam re'eicha - do not stand idly by your friend's blood.
10 commandments: lo tachmod - do not be jealous.
Kedoshim: lo taashok et reecha - do not financially oppress your friend.
We've noticed a parallel between this week's parasha and the 10 commandments - but where does that leave us? Is the midrash only trying to tell us that they're similar, or is there something more?
If we go back and look at the previous 3 examples, we'll see something deeper going on. The laws, as they appear in the 10 Commandments, reflect the minimum for keeping society together. Their parallels in kedoshim represent a higher path.
For example - the midrash transforms the prohibition against murder in the 10 commandments into a call to action to not stand idly while others are suffering in kedoshim. The prohibition against jealousy turns into forbidding the financial oppression of others. The prohibition against blaspheming God is extended to exploiting God's name for personal gain through lying.
Through these examples from the midrash, we see that in how we relate to the world around is there is a "floor" and "ceiling." The floor is represented by the 10 Commandments - basic rules that ensure the social fabric is kept together. However, in order to be kedoshim, holy ones, we must strive higher. The legal protections we enjoy against murder and theft must become actions on behalf of others. We must watch our tendencies to jealous by dealing scrupulously in business dealings. And more. For if we are to create the tzedek God demands, it is not enough to sit back and merely not sin. We must act, imbuing our social framework with the kedusha that God demands.