This week’s alumni Dvar Torah is by Davida Kollmar
This week’s Parshah, Parshat Kedoshim, begins:
דבר אל כל עדת בני ישראל ואמרת אלהם קדשים תהיו
“Speak to all the congregation of Bnei Yisrael and you should say to them: Be holy.”
Rashi, noticing the extraneous word “all,” makes the following comment, based on Sifra and Vayikra Rabbah:
מלמד שנאמרה פרשה זו בהקהל
מפני שרוב גופי תורה תלויין בה
“This teaches that this section was said at a gathering (of the whole congregation)
because most of the fundamental teachings of the Torah (gufei Torah) depend on it”.
What does it mean to say that something is a fundamental teaching of the Torah?
The concept of a Guf Torah is mentioned throughout Chazal. Many sources describe various Mitzvot as Gufei Torah. These Mitzvot are generally introduced by the phrase “הן הן גופי תורה” = “these are the very fundamentals of the Torah.״
Tosefta Shabbat 2:1 – Hekdesh, Chataot, and Maasrot are Gufei Torah
Avot DeRabbi Natan 1:27 – Halakhot, Taharot, Niddot, Kinnin
Keritot 5a – Piggul, Notar, Bito MeiAnusato, Niskalim
Shabbat 32a – Hekdesh, Terumot, Maasrot
At least from this list, it is challenging to come up with a common denominator. What is it that makes these Mitzvot into Gufei Torah, while others are not?
Mishnah Chagigah 10a seems to come up with a solution. The Mishnah states:
.היתר נדרים פורחין באויר ואין להם על מה שיסמכו
,הלכות שבת חגיגות והמעילות – הרי הם כהררים התלוין בשערה
.שהן מקרא מועט והלכות מרובות
– הדינין והעבודות, הטהרות והטמאות, ועריות
,יש להן על מה שיסמכו
.והן הן גופי תורה
“The permission of vows flies in the air and there is nothing upon which they can lean.
The laws of Shabbat, Chagigot, and Meilot are like mountains hanging on a thread,
in that they are few in Pesukim but many in Halakhot.
Civil law and temple services, purities and impurities, and sexual laws –
they have something on which to lean,
and they are the very fundamentals of the Torah.”
Based on this Mishnah, it seems that a Mitzvah is considered to be a guf Torah if there is a large textual basis for the Halakhot surrounding the Mitzvah. Many of the Mitzvot we previous listed fit into the categories given in the Mishnah. For example, Halakhot and Niskalim are related to civil law; Hekdesh, Chataot, Kinnin, Piggul, and Notar are related to temple service; Taharot and Niddot, are related to purities; and Niddot and Bito MeiAnusato are related to sexual laws.
However, the Gemara anticipates this interpretation of the Mishnah, and on 11b, rejects it:
?!הן הן גופי תורה” – הני אין, הנך לא”
.אלא, אימא: הן והן גופי תורה
“These are the fundamentals of Torah – these are, and the others aren’t?!
Rather, say: These and these are the fundamentals of Torah.”
The Gemara is saying that it is not only the laws which have a clear textual basis that are considered to be the fundamentals of Torah, but even the earlier mentioned laws with less of a textual basis have this status. By extension, therefore, it would seem that in fact, anything included in the Torah would be considered a fundamental of the Torah.
This idea is supported by two other statements of Chazal. On Chullin 60b, Reish Lakish asserts that there are many Pesukim which are worthy to be burned because of their seeming irrelevance, but yet they are considered to be fundamentals of Torah because of the lessons they in fact teach. And in Bereishit Rabbah Chayei Sarah Parshah 60, R’ Acha says that it is clear that the words of the forefather’s servants are more important than those of the Torah given to the children, because we see that Eliezer’s speech is given more space in the Torah than the rules of Sheratzim, which are a fundamental of the Torah. It could be argued that if Eliezer’s speech is more important than a fundamental of the Torah, perhaps it is fundamental itself.
To return to the beginning of Parshat Kedoshim: The Parshah of Kedoshim Tihiyu is considered to be something upon which other fundamental Mitzvot depend.What does this mean?
One possibility is simply that this Parshah has so many Mitzvot in it. This is supported by the continuation of the Vayikra Rabbah upon which Rashi is based, which states that all of the Aseret HaDibrot are included in this Parshah.
In a Sichah given on Parshat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5756 (available here: http://www.etzion.org.il/he/שרוב-גופי-תורה-תלויים-בה ), Rav Aharon Lichtenstein argues that Parshat Kedoshim is given this status because it does not only contain many Mitzvot, but that these Mitzvot are so varied from each other. There are Mitzvot that are about our relationship with God and with man, Mitzvot about major principles of faith and about minor details, interspersed with each other. Rav Lichtenstein argues that the reason for this is that the Torah should be seen as one whole.
I would like to add another possible explanation, namely, that it is not just the Parshah of Kedoshim which is considered the support for fundamentals of Torah, but in fact the Mitzvah of Kedoshim Tehiyu, Be Holy, itself. It is possible that this Mitzvah is considered a support for the fundamentals of Torah because it does not just involve discrete actions, but it is a Mitzvah that by itself encompasses a worldview and a way of life. This idea especially fits with the Ramban’s view of the Mitzvah. Unlike Rashi, who sees the command as a specific warning against sexual immorality, Ramban sees the command as a Mitzvah to separate oneself from excesses, even when they are technically permitted, in order to be holy people.
This fits in with another statement of Chazal, where another concept is called something upon which fundamentals of the Torah depend. Otzar HaMidrashim Gadol UGedoah states the following (note – a shorter version of this is found in Brachot 63a):
גדולה דרך ארץ שהיא שקולה כנגד כל התורה, כדדרש בר קפרא איזו היא פרשה קטנה שכל גופי התורה תלוין בה הוי אומר זו דרך ארץ שנאמר בכל דרכיך דעהו וגו’ (משלי ג’ ו’). גדולה דרך ארץ שהיא שקולה כנגד כל התורה.
“Great is Derech Eretz which is equal to the whole Torah, as Bar Kaparah expounded: What is a small topic that all of the fundamentals of the Torah are dependent on it? Say that it is Derech Eretz, as it is said, ‘In all of your ways you should know Him’ (Proverbs 3:6). Great is Derech Eretz which is equal to the whole Torah.”
Derech Eretz, which is often explained as decency and ethical behavior, is another concept which is not just one isolated Mitzvah, but is in fact a whole way of life. Being ethical affects everything that a person does, including all of the Mitzvot that he keeps.
Another concept that fits into this category, which appears in this Parsha, is that of VeAhavta LeReiachah Kamochah, loving your fellow man. Sifra Kedoshim 2:4 quotes Rabbi Akiva, who called this Mitzvah a “כלל גדול בתורה,” which is also translated as a fundamental of the Torah. This Mitzvah also constantly affects our everyday interactions. It is interesting to note that the Torah Temimah, in his footnotes, in fact states that this Mitzvah is the reason why the Parshah is called the support for fundamental Mitzvot.
I would like to conclude by returning to the Rashi mentioned in the beginning of the Dvar Torah. Mizrachi asks a question on Rashi. Rashi states that because the Parshah of Kedoshim is so important, it was given to all the Jews as a community. However, how is this different from the rest of the Mitzvot? Mizrachi answers that for other Mitzvot, the Jews would enter the Beit Midrash in groups, and only a few would be taught at a time. Here, however, all of the Jews were taught at once.
The Or HaChaim rejects this explanation for various reasons, and instead gives his own resolution to the question. In general, Moshe would only teach the men. However, here, just like Hakhel, women and children were also included, and this is why Chazal use that specific word to emphasize community.
I find it telling that when discussing fundamental Mitzvot, and Mitzvot which shape a person’s worldview, all Jews, men, women, and children, are specifically included. Torah is for everyone, especially those parts of Torah which are so central to Jews’ lives.
Davida Kollmar (SBM 2014) teaches physics lab and Halakhah at Central. She is exciting to be joining SBM this coming summer as Program Administrator.