"You Shall Keep All My Statutes And All My Judgments"

  • Harav Aharon Lichtenstein
Summarized by Danny Orenbuch
            Near the end of Parashat Kedoshim, we are commanded as follows: "And you shall keep all My statutes and all My judgments, and do them, that the land not expel you..." (Vayikra 20:22). This pasuk is in fact a repetition of what we learned at the end of the last parasha: "And you shall keep My statutes and My judgments which, if a man do, he shall live by them..." (ibid. 18:5).
            The Or HaChayyim comments on this repetition in our parasha: "The reason that God had to repeat this pasuk - although He had already said it in Parashat Acharei-Mot - is in order to teach that the mitzvot must be fastidiously observed, lest we neglect them and the land expel us. From here we learn that if the mitzvot are not fulfilled, the land will expel even those who observe them - because they did not admonish those who did not observe."
            But beyond this explanation, we can notice a difference between the two pesukim in these parshiot. In our parasha the word "kol" (all) appears: "...all My statutes and all My judgments...". Furthermore, if we examine the two parshiot closely and compare them, we see that their content  differs. Parashat Acharei-Mot provides a minimalist explanation of the mitzvot and issurim: the commandments as brought in this parasha aim to bring the nation to an average level, and no more.
            One example of this relates to slaughtering outside of the Beit Ha-Mikdash. While Parashat Re'eh prohibits shechita outside of the Beit Ha-Mikdash because the holy and elevated nature of the place requires that anything connected with it be carried out within its precints, in Parashat Acharei-Mot a different reason is brought. There it says, "And they shall no longer offer their sacrifices to the demons after which they have gone astray" (ibid. 17:7). In other words, the reason here is avoidance of  similarity to pagan practices. This avoidance is a negative motivation, as opposed to the positive reason full of sublime significance which we find in Parashat Re'eh.
            Another example relates to the subject of arayot (sexual immorality). In Parashat Acharei-Mot this is defined as an abomination and as being similar to the practices of Egypt; hence its prohibition. In other words, this is another negative reason, based on avoidance - to prevent us from adopting the practices and actions of the Egyptians. In contrast, Parashat Kedoshim provides a different reason: We have to imitate God and to strive to be holy as He is, in order to achieve perfection. This is a completely different motivation.
            The Torah has must be fulfilled as one all-encompassing entity, with all its parts and nuances. When a person chooses to fulfil certain parts and leaves out others, his observance is qualitatively impaired. If a person attains perfection in his observance of the laws of arayot, for example, but has no self-control when it comes to forbidden foods, then even though formally he has committed no sin in the first area, nevertheless the entirety of his Divine service is tainted; his whole religious aspect is damaged.
            This, then, is the message the Torah is conveying in our parasha. "You shall keep ALL My statutes and ALL My judgments" - this is not merely a quantitative requirement but rather a demand for all-encompassing quality. The Torah must be fulfilled as a single unity, on all its levels.
            Let us examine the siginificance of this view in relation to one of the mitzvot mentioned in our parasha: "You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not respect the poor person, nor honor the mighty; you shall judge your neighbor in righteousness" (ibid. 19:15).
            Rashi examines each clause separately and enumerates three separate prohibitions and one positive commandment. However, we may analyze the structure of the pasuk differently - in terms of a general principle, an example of it, and another general principle. "You shall do no injustice in judgment" - this is a general principle; "You shall judge your neighbor in righteousness" is another. And in between them we find two examples: "You shall not respect the poor person, nor honor the mighty." Do not judge in favor of the poor person because you have mercy on him, nor in favor of someone who is powerful for fear of his ability to harm you.
            In this case it is clear that if a person fulfils only one part, such as not favoring the poor, but neglects the other, i.e. not favoring the wealthy, then the encompassing principle of "in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor" is damaged, and even the part which he fulfils cannot be complete.
            So it is with the entire Torah. Even if a person is "perfect" in one area but not in another - or even within in a single  area of observance, if he fulfils one part but not another - then, even if the two areas seem unconnected, this affects and reflects on everything. If a part is impaired, then the whole cannot be complete.
            True, "there is no righteous person on the earth who does only good and sins not;" certainly no one is capable of fulfilling the Torah in its entirety, in all its detail and aspects. However, a person must realize and understand that his task and his aim are to strive towards this goal.
            This is the reason why Chazal rule that we do not accept a would-be convert who states that he is prepared to accept the whole Torah except for one detail. The acceptance of Torah cannot be partial. It must be based on a commitment to and striving towards the fulfillment of the Torah in its entirety, in all its aspects and details.
(Originally delivered at Seuda Shelishit, Shabbat Parashat Kedoshim 5752.  Translated by Kaeren Fish.)