Shiur #01: The Connection betweenKedushaandTzedaka

  • Rav Binyamin Zimmerman


Bein Adam Le-chavero: Ethics of Interpersonal Conduct

By Rav Binyamin Zimmerman



In memory of Yitzchak ben Nissan z”l,
by Leah Koenig



Shiur #01: The Connection between Kedusha and Tzedaka



A New Year


As we enter the third and what will probably be the final year of this series on the ethics of interpersonal conduct, let us consider the upcoming topics for study. In particular, I would like to focus on a theme which we have seen over a number of lessons and add to it based on some additional sources. This idea will be a guiding light in our continued study of mitzvot bein adam le-chavero, the interpersonal commandments.


As we have seen over the past two years, the interpersonal mitzvot are central to one's search for a life of holiness (kedusha), not mere secondary commandments that pale in significance to one's ritual obligations to God. Ethical conduct is part and parcel of a life of kedusha. However, reiterating the point does not suffice, as it must be developed further.


In fact, as we have mentioned in the past, one of the longest lists in the Torah of interpersonal mitzvot is Chapter 19 of Vayikra, the first half of Parashat Kedoshim, which opens with the directive (v. 2), “Kedoshim tihyu,” “You shall be holy.” The Jewish people must model their behavior after that of God and sanctify themselves — not through various ritual laws which deal with the seemingly holiest aspects of Judaism, but by fulfilling their interpersonal obligations to each other.


Evidently, the Torah is teaching us that not only are certain interpersonal acts mandated by God; in fact, a life of holiness requires one to adopt and embrace proper interpersonal behaviors. Thus, the call of “Kedoshim tihyu” is a call to become holy through reaching interpersonal perfection, among other things.


This command of “Kedoshim tihyu,” which links interpersonal perfection to a life of holiness, is not the first time that the relationship between sanctity and divinely-ordained ethical behavior is mentioned, although it makes the point very clearly and undeniably. This dual call, which permeates numerous passages in the Torah, in fact, dates back to the patriarch Avraham.


Avraham's Unique Dual Mission


In a recently printed essay from the writings of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik (Abraham's Journey, p. 93), a new understanding of Avraham's exceptional mission comes to light. In Parashat Noach, after two episodes of universal sin and punishment, that of the Flood and that of the Tower of Babel, God "forsakes the idea of spontaneously and instantly redeeming man. He supplants spontaneity with a deliberate, well-planned, gradual educational gesture."


Rav Soloveitchik explains that this educational endeavor is worthwhile because anyone can ultimately succeed in ascending the mountain of God; "it is only a question of speed and tempo. Man cannot be changed overnight; he must slowly learn to live in peace and justice with his fellow man. For this he needs a guide."


God is man's first teacher, through His six commandments to Adam and subsequently giving a seventh to Noach, but humanity repeatedly sinks into degrading behavior. Therefore, God decides that there must be a human being who will assume the duty of educating mankind, a person who will perfect the world by acting as a covenantal teacher. This is the meaning of God's call to Avraham, "Walk before Me and be perfect" (Bereishit 17:1), which is essentially a call to Avraham to take part in the most sublime of tasks: to partner with God in perfecting and ennobling man.


What is the message which Avraham is meant to teach mankind? The Torah notes two distinct objectives, but a deeper analysis reveals the intrinsic connection between the two. In every place where Avraham goes, he calls out in the name of God and builds an altar. This expresses his covenantal undertaking, emphasizing the holiness of commitment to the ways of God, educating mankind about the seven mitzvot binding upon all of humanity.


There is, however, a second mission as well. When God describes why it is that He will inform Avraham of the impending destruction of Sodom, which many understand as the justification of Avraham’s being chosen altogether, He states (Bereishit 18:17-19):


And God said, “Shall I hide from Avraham what I am doing, seeing that Avraham shall surely become a great nation and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?  For I have known him to the end that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of God, to do righteousness and justice (tzedaka u-mishpat), to the end that God may bring upon Avraham that which He has spoken to him.” 


Avraham is called upon because of his commitment to executing righteousness and justice as well as his commitment to guarding the way of God, what we might describe as kedusha, following the divine example of holiness. Now, one might read this description of Avraham as explicitly referring to two independent objectives. The verse doesn't identify keeping the ways of God with doing righteousness and justice; instead, it specifies both elements:


To keep the way of God, to do righteousness and justice…


It is this calling which embodies Avraham's mission and the message that Avraham must impart to his progeny and to mankind: firstly, living a life of kedusha by following the ways of God; and secondly, teaching mankind the ethics of interpersonal conduct by practicing righteousness and justice.


However, Rav Soloveitchik (op. cit. pp. 106-7) adds that though it is commonly understood that these two ideals are separate and distinct, they are actually more connected than one might think:


It is commonplace to say that the ideal of tzedaka u-mishpat is related to relations between man and his fellow man, bein adam le-chavero, while the term kedusha refers to the specific relationship between God and man, bein adam la-Makom. This is erroneous. The norm of kedusha is all-inclusive. It embraces the total structure of human activity. In fact, when the Torah speaks of being holy and enumerates the areas where one is called upon to exercise kedusha, most of them are bein adam le-chavero. Indeed, the altar upon which one has to sacrifice his own selfish interests in order to realize the demand for kedusha is much larger than the altar built by the person concerned only with tzedaka u-mishpat.


After citing examples of such conduct, Rav Soloveitchik describes the need to sacrifice one's own dignity and pride in order to help someone in distress. This reflects the kedusha aspect of interpersonal conduct, and fulfilling it is an experience which brings one closer to God. These modes of behavior must go beyond the mere application of tzedaka u-mishpat. "Serving one's fellow man is eo ipso the most sublime service to God."


By the same token, one is not only able to practice tzedaka u-mishpat towards one's fellow man; this pertains to one’s relationship with God as well. God created a world in which man may, by his behavior, chart the course of the future. Therefore, man's righteous actions, as it were, are the exercise of tzedaka with regard to God, allowing Him to bestow greater kindness upon the world.


It is this dual message of kedusha and tzedaka u-mishpat which God calls upon Avraham to teach the world. The Jewish people, his progeny mentioned in the verse, are to continue Avraham's mission by realizing that a commitment to living these virtues and educating humanity about their necessity is a partnership with God to reform mankind. It may take time until this message is heard and heeded, but its inner truth is so palpable that "no matter how slow the process, Abraham will finally emerge victorious and everyone will bow to God" (p. 112).


The Jewish system of values, carrying this message of Avraham, must continue to include both elements, underscoring that holiness and interpersonal greatness are one and the same.


The Implications


The implications of this outlook, which merges the search for holiness with a life of tzedaka u-mishpat, affect one's overall attitude toward the study of Jewish ethics while simultaneously leaving an imprint on every individual mitzva as well.  The interpersonal mitzvot serve not only to ensure proper conduct between different people but to elevate one's entire personality in the process. Therefore, the mitzvot themselves, some of which we have studied and others which we hope to study this year, are not limited to dictating do's and don'ts; they have a spirit of their own. This is the element of kedusha, which permeates their essence and determines their unique characteristics.


For this reason, a commitment to Torah is synonymous with being committed to the needs of one's fellow Jew.


Rav Yehuda Amital (Sicha for Parashat Toledot, 5769) points to Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai as the epitome of such a commitment. As the Jewish leader at the time of the fall of the Second Temple, he has the opportunity to ask the Roman leader Vespasian for three things, as recorded in the Talmud, Gittin 56b. His first requests focus on the need to continue the Jewish tradition of Torah learning and leadership, so that even after the destruction of the Temple, their legacy might continue: "Give me Yavneh and its wise men, as well as the dynasty of Rabban Gamliel." However, he next asks for “a doctor who will heal Rabbi Tzadok," who had fasted for the welfare of the Jewish people over the course of decades, leading to a serious deterioration in his health. Rav Amital notes how Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai's care for the bigger picture, a safe haven for continued Torah study and leadership, does not cause him to forget the pains of the individual. Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai understands that the pursuit of sustained kedusha and Jewish religious life must come alongside the care for every individual as well. This proves his greatness.


Asham Gezeilot: Sin against Man, Trespass against God


This message is repeated a number of times in the Torah, but a particularly striking passage is that of the asham gezeilot, Vayikra 5:20-26.


The asham, or guilt-offering, is brought by one who has committed very specific offenses, as part of the process of repentance and restitution, the first of which is me’ila, trespass or misappropriation, taking consecrated property. The Torah introduces this (ibid. v. 15) by stating: “A person may commit a trespass, sinning inadvertently with God’s holy things.” The final case, however, relates to various instances where one unlawfully has his fellow Jew's property and swears falsely as part of denying his obligation to return it.


Nevertheless, the Torah characterizes this act of withholding another's property unjustly as another form of me'ila against God:


A person may sin and commit a trespass against God, by lying to his comrade regarding a pledge, a loan, a robbery (gezel), or through the defrauding of his colleague; or he may find something lost and lie about it; or swear falsely about any of the sinful things a person may do.


Essentially, the Torah lists six instances of trespassing against a neighbor's trust and property, yet it characterizes such an offense not by the harm it may cause others, but as an act of me'ila against God.


Thus, the first time me’ila appears in the chapter, it refers to one who misappropriates consecrated items belonging to the Temple. This clearly constitutes an act of trespass against the holy, but where is the divine trespass in lying and taking an oath to deny the legitimate monetary claims that one's colleague has against him?


Evidently, the Torah is informing us that such an act of treachery against a fellow Jew is considered an act of divine betrayal. In fact, it is specifically here, regarding these crimes, that the Torah terms it not only as an act of me'ila but me'ila against God.


A possible approach is to associate the diverse elements of the atonement process with the different facets of the crime. One who transgresses by denying money owed to another is only obligated to bring this offering if he backs up his claims with a false oath. In addition to the offering, he also must restore the property, plus an additional twenty percent.


One might reason that an individual who has done so has perpetrated two separate transgressions. The first, against one's comrade, is forgiven after returning the money with the added fine, but, the second, a sin against God via one's false oath, is only atoned for through the bringing of the asham.


This understanding may suit us well in disconnecting our transgressions against our fellow man from treachery against God, but the language of the Torah itself, as well as explicit remarks by the Sages and the commentaries, indicates otherwise. In fact, the language of the verse itself states this explicitly: the treachery against God is the crime against one's fellow man, as the false oath is only mentioned three verses later, in verse 24. This is probably what leads the commentaries to understand that the severity of the crime lies not only in the false oath, but in the initial act of betrayal towards one’s fellow Jew.


Rav David Tzvi Hoffman adds that the terminology of me'ila, used to describe the severity of the crime, is used in the contexts of moral sins against man, but not in similar cases of false oaths. Evidently, the me'ila against God here is the very act of depriving one’s comrade of his rightful property.


The Meshekh Chokhma explains that the oath here is not the focus of the crime, but a compulsory action that someone trying to deny his debt must perform "in order to confirm his words and to release himself from his fellow litigant." He has no intention to desecrate God's name, and therefore he may bring an offering even if he takes the oath with the willful intention to lie, as he merely does so to get away with his monetary crime against his colleague, and therefore he is taken to task primarily for his interpersonal offense and not for his false oath.


Consider the language of the Midrash (Sifra 12:22):


Rabbi Akiva says: “What is the meaning of ‘a trespass against God’? Loans are customarily made… when backed up with documents and witnesses. Consequently, when one of the parties retracts, he disavows the witnesses and the legal contract. But he who deposits an object in his fellow's safekeeping and wishes to do so in secret only allows the third party (God) to be aware of his dealings. Therefore, when the keeper denies any knowledge of the matter, he is simultaneously disavowing the Third Party.”


Rav Levi (Bava Batra 88b) cites this verse to prove that stealing from one's colleague is treated more severely than stealing from God and misappropriating Temple property.  Could it be that crimes against one's fellow man are treated more harshly than crimes against God?


The Torah may take such a hardline approach specifically because this offender fails to recognize that he has simultaneously committed a heinous crime against God while wronging his brother. One who feels that there is no need for human morality, what we might term tzedaka u-mishpat, in his search for kedusha fails to realize that the two go hand in hand. One who thinks that a commitment to ritual and a tendency to harm others are not mutually exclusive will actually come to use a false oath to back up his statement, defying God's knowledge of the situation in the process. Therefore, the Torah classifies this behavior as a trespass against God which will lead to total religious confusion.


Rav S.R. Hirsch states this in no uncertain terms:


Any dishonesty in the relations between man and his fellow is considered a breach of trust against God. God is the Third Party mentioned in the Midrash. He always acts as an unseen third party that is present wherever a man has business dealings with another, even if no other witnesses are present. For God is the guarantor of honesty between men.  Here in our case, this Guarantor is invoked as a witness when one man makes a false denial to his neighbor. Hence, this is not just trespass; for the offender here pledges his priestly character, his relationship to God, as surety for his honesty; and when this priestly character is exposed as a hollow mask, this is full-fledged me'ila.


How can this crime be rectified? Mere offerings are not sufficient; one must placate the victim as well. This seems to be why the Torah requires that one first return the principal which he stole; only afterwards can he attempt to atone for his sin through the offering.


This idea is explicit in the Mishna (Bava Kamma 9:12):


He who brought his guilt-offering before making restitution has not complied with the law.


The Seforno makes note of this in his commentary: the offering atones only if the injured party has first been compensated and appeased. This is very understandable, as one who would try to bring an offering without restitution would be committing a terrible act of twisted morality, displaying a total misunderstanding of his crime. His crime against his fellow man is deemed by God as an act of me'ila against Him, so failing to right the wrong to one's fellow man leaves no room for fixing his relationship with God.


In the first chapter of his book, Yeshayahu criticizes the disconnection between interpersonal conduct and ritual service, naming some of the causes for the impending destruction of the First Temple. God scorns offerings which are brought by the oppressive and the corrupt, as no one can hope to develop a close relationship with God while disregarding the dignity of his fellow human beings.


Trespass against Oneself


Beyond the treachery against one's fellow man and God, one who acts in this manner also transgresses against one's own self and character. The Tiferet Yisrael reasons that this notion is part of the basis for the extensive obligation of a repentant thief to go to the ends of the earth to return even the smallest sum of money. The Mishna (ibid. 5) states:


If a man robbed his fellow of the value of a peruta and swore falsely to him, he must take it to him even as far as Media.


The Tiferet Yisrael explains that the Mishna specifically refers to Media in order to emphasize that even though the injured party is in an affluent country, where gold and silver are plentiful as stones, and he is not in need of the almost worthless peruta, still it must be returned.


This might be partly based on the recognition that the robber's acts, besides harming another, have an extremely detrimental effect on his own personality as well, as it is written:


If iniquity be in your hand, remove it far away, and let not wickedness dwell in your tents. (Iyov 11:4)


This passage is particularly relevant at the end of Parashat Vayikra, which primarily deals with sacrifices. The entire book of Vayikra is classically known as torat kohanim, the law of the priests, yet only a small portion of it seems to deal directly with the rites of the sacrifices and other domains which are related to priesthood.  In fact, a large number of the interpersonal mitzvot are taught in Vayikra.  How do those relate to priesthood?


An alternative explanation is that the kohanim of torat kohanim are not the biological ones, the descendants of Aharon the High Priest, but the entire Jewish people, who are called at Sinai "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (goi kadosh)" (Shemot 19:6). Jewish priesthood is not expressed merely by the offerings, which are the domain of the Aaronic family, but a whole life of holiness. Being a goi kadosh, a holy nation, involves one's interpersonal conduct as well. This is Jewish priesthood, carrying the message of Avraham: kedusha and tzedaka must go together, as this dual commitment is the one road to holiness in the eyes of God.


The Kedoshim Connection


The six forms of dishonesty incurring the asham gezeilot are primarily rooted in mitzvot recorded in Parashat Kedoshim, the portion which teaches us how to be holy, in a large part through inculcating the behavior and the message of interpersonal sanctity.


In this year's lessons, we will begin with the interpersonal mitzvot we have not yet discussed in Parashat Kedoshim, as we seek to uncover the aspects of divine morality manifest in one's interactions with one's fellow man. It is our sincere hope that doing so will allow us to walk in the footsteps of Avraham, on the path to priesthood and holiness.