Parshas Kedoshim: Of Reverence & Respect

This week’s parsha (in chutz la’aretz), Parshas Kedoshim, instructs us regarding many mitzvos bein adam la’chavairo – between man and his fellow.  After many parshios (from Vayikra through Achrei Mos) full of esoteric concepts related to the Mikdash, korbanos, tumah and ta’harah, with Kedoshim we come to a parsha replete with relevant, applicable, important and fundamental mitzvos regarding the treatment of our fellow Jew.

The parsha opens with: And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying: דַּבֵּר אֶלכָּלעֲדַת בְּנֵייִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם קְדֹשִׁים תִּהְיוּ: כִּי קָדוֹשׁ, אֲנִי ה, speak to the entire assembly of Israel, and say to them: you shall be holy, for I Hashem, your G-d, am holy; ‘אִישׁ אִמּוֹ וְאָבִיו תִּירָאוּ, וְאֶתשַׁבְּתֹתַי תִּשְׁמֹרוּ: אֲנִי ה, a man shall revere his mother and father, and my Sabbaths you shall guard, I am Hashem, your G-d (Vayikra 19:1-3). 

Rashi (v.3) teaches us that to revere one’s parent is: not to sit in his seat, not to speak in his place, and not to contradict his words.  To honor one’s parent is to feed him, give drink, dressing and putting on his shoes, escorting him in and escorting him out.  

While one is naturally inclined to honor the mother more than the father, and revere the father more than the mother, the Torah cautions us that both the mother and father must be equally respected and equally revered (Rashi to v.3).  

So important is this area of avodas Hashem, that it has a prominent place as the fifth of the Aseres Ha’Dibros (the Ten Commandments), where the Torah dictates: כַּבֵּד אֶתאָבִיךָ, וְאֶתאִמֶּךָHonor thy father and thy mother (Shemos 20:11 and Devarim 5:15).  

And so, the parsha that commands us regarding matters of holiness – kedoshim ti’hi’yu! – opens by exhorting us to revere, and honor, our mother and father.  When one honors and reveres his earthly father, he will come to honor and revere his Heavenly Father, Who provides and sustains us with each and every need and Who is the Ultimate Giver of all that we have! 

In their sefer, “Honor Them, Revere Them” (Artscroll), R’ Zechariah Wallerstein z”l, and yblc”t R’ Shimon Finkelman, share the following powerful, novel Torah insight:

When Yaakov came in to get the brachos from his father Yitzchak, dressed in the hunting garments of his brother Eisav, the pasuk tells us: וַיִּגַּשׁ, וַיִּשַּׁקלוֹ, וַיָּרַח אֶתרֵיחַ בְּגָדָיו, וַיְבָרְכֵהוּ; וַיֹּאמֶר, רְאֵה רֵיחַ בְּנִי, כְּרֵיחַ שָׂדֶה, אֲשֶׁר בֵּרְכוֹ ה And he (Yitzchak) drew Yaakov close and kissed him; he smelled the fragrance of his garments and blessed him; he said, ‘See the fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of the field that Hashem has blessed’ (Bereishis 27:27).

Rashi comments that the hair of a goat’s skin, which Yaakov was wearing on his hands and neck so that Yitzchak would think he was Eisav, normally emit an offensive odor.  However, when Yaakov entered the room, he was accompanied by the fragrant scent of Gan Eden – “the field that Hashem has blessed”.

Rav Shimon Schwab explains that the mitzvah of kibbud av that Yaakov was fulfilling at this time  (by serving his father food) is what imbued his garments with the scent of Gan Eden.  Why, specifically, did the mitzvah of kibbud av elicit a scent of Gan Eden?  

“Adam and Chava were placed in Gan Eden לְעָבְדָהּ וּלְשָׁמְרָהּ, to work it and to guard it (Bereishis 2:15), which Chazal interpret to mean to perform positive commandments (לְעָבְדָהּ – to work it), and refrain from transgressing negative commandments (וּלְשָׁמְרָהּ, and to guard it).  When Adam and Isha partook of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad, writes the Zohar, they impaired for all time the spiritual effect in Heaven of the mitzvos that mankind would perform.  

“However, their sin affected only those mitzvos which they potentially could fulfill at that time.  Since Adam and Isha did not have parents, kibbud av va’eim was not part of their avodas Hashem.  Therefore, their sin did not affect the spiritual impact of this mitzvah!”

With this unique chiddush and perspective, we can now understand why Yaakov emitted the scent of Gan Eden when he entered to serve food to his father.  As kibbud av va’eim was not affected by the first sin, it was this mitzvah specifically that carried the pure and untainted scent of Gan Eden along with it (Honor Them, Revere Them, Artscroll Mesorah, p.86-87).

Later in the parsha, we are commanded: מִפְּנֵי שֵׂיבָה תָּקוּם, וְהָדַרְתָּ פְּנֵי זָקֵן before a hoary head you shall rise, and glorify the face of an elderly person, and you shall fear your G-d, I am Hashem (Vayikra, 19:32).  Unlike other cultures and societies, the Torah way of life is that we honor our parents, and our elders.  We understand that they are one link closer to Matan Torah, while we are one degree more removed than they are.

R’ Wallerstein z’l, and R’ Finkleman shlita, relate the following vignette: “The Chazon Ish visited his mother every day. One day, he did not feel well, and therefore did not pay her his usual visit.  Rav Chaim Kanievsky, who was a child then, was at his grandmother’s house the next day (R’ Chaim’s mother was a sister to the Chazon Ish) and he heard her say, ‘I wonder why Avraham Yeshayah did not come yesterday.’  The young Rav Chaim went home and repeated to his uncle, the Chazon Ish, what he overheard.  Immediately, the Chazon Ish grabbed his hat and jacket and started running to his mother’s apartment.  Rav Chaim recalled, “I could not catch up with him, no matter how hard I tried.  He ran because of kibbud av va’eim, because his mother was worried” (Honor Them, Revere Them, p.25).

May indeed, we be worthy to live lives of Kedoshim Tihiyu – You shall be holy – in all realms of avodas Hashem.

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום, 


Dedicated l’zecher nishmas Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstein z’l, niftar 1 Iyar 5782, whose untimely petirah is a staggering loss for Klal Yisrael.  May his harbatzas ha’Torah bring zechuyos la’rabim and may Hashem wipe away tears from upon every face (cf. Yeshayahu 25:8).  

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