Parshas Kedoshim: Understanding the Great Principle of Torah

In the second of this week’s double parshios, Parshas Kedoshim, we learn of a multitude of mitzvos that govern interpersonal relationships, including, but not limited to: thou shall not steal; thou shall not lie against your fellow; thou shall pay a workers wages on the day that he works; thou shall be honest and righteous in justice; thou shall revere your mother and father; thou shall not hate your fellow in your heart; thou shall not take revenge, nor bear a grudge; thou shall not be a gossiper amongst your people; thou shall not curse a deaf person, nor set a stumbling block before a blind person; thou shall leave the corner of a field, and the gleanings of the harvest, to the poor person and the convert; thou shall love the convert; thou shall rise before the elderly and honor the Torah scholar.  

How important are these commandments?  The parsha opens with the following words: And G-d spoke to Moshe saying, דַּבֵּר אֶל כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם קְדֹשִׁים תִּהְיוּ, speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and say to them: thou shall be holy, for I, Hashem your G-d, are holy (Vayikra 19:2).  Why does the pasuk specify that these mitzvos were given to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel?  

Rashi (ibid) teaches: מְלַמֵּד שֶׁנֶּאֶמְרָה פָרָשָׁה זוֹ בְּהַקְהֵל מִפְּנֵי שֶׁרֹב גּוּפֵי תוֹרָה תְלוּיִּין בָּהּ, this teaches that this parsha was said at a gathering of the entire nation, because the majority of the body of Torah depends upon it.  

These mitzvos that govern social interactions and behaviors are considered so fundamental, that the Sages went so far as to say that the majority of the body of Torah depends on this parsha! 

Perhaps the most climatic of all the mitzvos bein adam l’cha’vairo recorded in this parsha is the mitzvah to “love for your fellow what you love for yourself”, וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ לְרֵעֲךָ֖ כָּמ֑וֹךָ (Vayikra 19:18).  Rashi (ibid) famously quotes the great sage Rabbi Akiva, who teaches: זֶה כְּלָל גָּדוֹל בַּתּוֹרָה, this is the great principle in Torah.  

While much has been written, said and taught in regard to this great principle of Torah, Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski zt’l offers a beautiful, unique and important perspective into this mitzvah.   

He writes, “Rabbi Akiva’s statement זֶה כְּלָל גָּדוֹל בַּתּוֹרָה, is sometimes translated as, ‘This verse – to love for your fellow what you love for yourself – is the cardinal or primary rule of Torah.’  This is an inaccurate translation.  Rabbi Akiva’s words are that this is a klal gadol, which means ‘a great, all-encompassing principle’ of Torah, and this definition has a broad implication.

A klal is a general principle under which there are many pratim (specifics).  Each specific item must have the characteristic of the klal.  If any specific item does not have the characteristic of the klal, then it does not belong there.  For example, ‘animate objects’ is a klal.  A rock lacks the characteristic of animation, hence it cannot be classified under that klal. 

“One of the ethicists said that inasmuch as ‘You shall love your fellow as yourself’ is the ‘great klal’ of torah, this means that it encompasses all six hundred and thirteen mitzvos, and that each mitzvah must partake of the characteristic of the klal.  Hence, every single mitzvah must relate to ahavas Yisrael (love for a fellow Jew), and must contribute to ahavas Yisrael.  Therefore, if a person does not have an increase in ahavas Yisrael after the performance of a mitzvah – any mitzvah! – then that mitzvah was not done properly.  A properly performed mitzvah must (emphasis in the original) contribute to ahavas Yisrael. 

“To me, this teaching is nothing less than shocking.  I had considered some mitzvos I had done as being properly performed.  My tefillin are top quality, and there were at least some times when I had proper kavanah (concentration) when laying tefillin and praying.  The matzah I ate at the Pesach seder was of the highest quality shmurah.  The sounding of the shofar that I heard on Rosh Hashanah was without fault, and the esrog that I used for the mitzvah of the Four Species on Succos was free of the slightest blemish.  I felt that I had fulfilled these mitzvos properly.  But I must confess that I did not feel an increase in ahavas Yisrael after performing these mitzvos.  And yet, the argument that Rabbi Akiva’s klal necessitates ahavas Yisrael as an ingredient in every mitzvah is unassailable…” (Twerski on Chumash, p.238-239).

As we count towards Chag Ha’Shavuos, zman matan Tora’sainu, we would do well to remember that when the RS”O granted us the gift of Torah, He gave it not to only one individual, not to one group exclusively, and not to one section of Am Yisrael.  When our people stood at the foothills of Har Sinai and accepted the Torah, we epitomized the great klal of Torah, of ahavas Yisrael, of love and respect for our fellow Jew.  וַיִּֽחַן־שָׁ֥ם יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל נֶ֥גֶד הָהָֽר, and Israel (singular) camped there opposite the mountain.  Rashi teaches: כְּאִישׁ אֶחָד בְּלֵב אֶחָד, like one man with one heart (Shemos 19:2).  

If we put our hearts into the fulfillment of mitzvos, then a Torah life will bring us, not only closer to Hashem, but closer to each other.  

תּוֹרָה צִוָּהלָנוּ, מֹשֶׁהמוֹרָשָׁה, קְהִלַּת יַעֲקֹב, the Torah that Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the congregation of Yaakov (Devarim 33:4). And so, the parsha of Kedoshim was said at hak’hel – at a gathering of the entire nation together – because the great klal, the general principle, of Torah, into which all pratim must fit, is that the fulfillment of all mitzvos should bring us to a heightened awareness and state of ahavas Yisrael, love for one’s fellow Jew.  With this we will truly be living by Rabbi Akiva’s klal gadol ba’Torah.  

The great gaon, Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz zt’l (1870-1940) remarked, “With what merit will I come to the World of Truth?  With Torah?  Do I truly have Torah?  With fear of Heaven?  Do I truly have fear of Heaven? … With but one merit will I come – that I love Jews!” (Great Jewish Wisdom, p.63).  

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


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