When we look at the commandments given in this week’s parashah, a very God-centered moral system emerges. The Torah warns us sternly against idolatry, even to the point of commanding us to destroy any remnants of it in the Land of Israel. Our loyalty to God is of central importance to this model of morality. We must be ethical because God took us out of slavery in Egypt. We must therefore honor the plight of those not as free or as prosperous as we may be in our community. We must also centralize the debt that we have to God. We are not servants of Pharaoh, we are servants of God. This leads to a mixing and conflation of mitzvot bein adam lemakom (commandments between human beings and God) and bein adam lechaveiro (commandments that dictate interpersonal conduct). Service of God is paramount. Ethical living is part and parcel of that. 


Vayikra 23:22 gives us the mitzvot of leket and peah; to leave the corners and gleanings of our fields for the poor. What Rashi feels the need to explain is the fact that this verse is placed in the middle of a description of the holidays and their observances. The holidays are times for special sacrifices. Why is this an appropriate place to teach about tzedakah? Rashi brings a teaching from Rab Avdimi bar Yosef: Anyone who leaves the gleanings and corners of their fields for the poor is counted as if they built an altar and offered sacrifices on it.


This week’s parashah also discusses sacrifices, the holiday, and tzedakah, albeit in different forms. We are told to set aside a tenth of our wealth each year; either to consume in Jerusalem as hekdesh (sanctified produce), or to give to the Levites, or to the poor. We are also warned not to be stingy with loans before the Shmitah (Sabbatical year), but to lend to the poor regardless of the year.


Just as we saw in the above mentioned verse in Vayikra, our parashah is replete with some of the most central mitzvot bein adam lemakom and some stern reminders to be ethical and to care for the poor. Our parashah teaches us all of the laws of kashrut, from the prohibition against consuming blood, to kosher slaughter, to what animals are permitted and forbidden, to the commandment not to cook a kid in its mother’s milk. 


Kashrut, through the prohibition against consuming blood, is connected to sacrifices. Blood is the life-essence of the animal. It is not for us to consume. It must be returned to the earth, or offered on the altar. There is no rationale offered from the other laws of kashrut. We are bound to follow those laws because our loyalty to God is of central importance. Kashrut is an act of pure service of God, just as offering sacrifices is. But as Rav Avdimi bar Yosef taught us, so is tzedakah. 


A complete religious life involves acts that are purely devotional and acts that elevate the dignity and prosperity of our fellow human beings. There can be no separation between bein adam lemakom and bein adam lechaveiro in a complete Judaism. They are both essential to a life of avodat Hashem. Those two, along with Torah study, are among the three things upon which the world stands.


Shabbat Shalom!

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