Author's Notes on Parshat Kedoshim

Parshat Kedoshim
May 11, 2019
6 Iyar 5779
© 2019 Paul M. Hamburger

In Parshat Kedoshim (Ch. 19, v. 14) we are told: “Do not curse the deaf, do not place a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear/have awe for your G-d, I am Hashem.” We typically read these statements as a lesson in how we should treat others. We become better and holier people depending on how we treat others “less fortunate” than ourselves. For example, Ibn Ezra commented that if we are not sensitive to the needs of the deaf or the blind, we need to fear G-d who could just as easily make us deaf or blind.

As true as this is, there is another way to look at what the Torah is saying. Consider not cursing the deaf. Now reconsider who it is that is really the deaf one. How often do we say something about someone who is out of earshot (someone who is deaf to our words) only to have another fully hearing person say to us “Did you hear what you just said?”? No, I suppose we did not; otherwise, we would not have said it. In that case, maybe we have become the deaf person who was cursed by our own words.

When it comes to the blind, of course, we cannot put obstacles in front of them. This is true of those who are physically blind as well as those who are “blind” in that they are not as well-informed as we are in a particular situation. But sometimes, we are the blind ones. We put blocks in front of our eyes and we engage in voluntary blindness when it comes to doing what we should not.

In this respect, we are reminded of Psalm 135 which says, in reference to idols, that they have eyes but do not see and ears but do not hear. What is true of idols is often true of each of us. We indeed have eyes but do we see what we should? We have ears; but do we hear what we should hear?

Now consider the connection between hearing, sight, and fear or awe of G-d in connection with being holy. In Pirkey Avot (Ch. 2:1) we read “Know what is above you; a seeing eye, and a hearing ear, and all your deeds are written in a book.” In other words, we think we can hear and we can see what is really going on. But if we want to be holy people or ethical people we need to acknowledge the One who really hears and really sees what is going on.

At Sinai, we learned that G-d wanted us to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. According to Rabbi Akiva, when we were at that holiest of levels and in the awe of G-d, we saw what was normally heard and we heard what was normally seen. Becoming holy is about learning to see and hear reality in a different way than the one to which we are accustomed. It is not so much about us changing the “other” as it is about changing ourselves and how we look at the world.

Parshat Kedoshim alludes to this in the word holy – Kadosh. When the Torah refers to G-d being holy, the word Kadosh (holy) is written with 4 letters – Kuf, daled, vav, shin. But when the Torah refers to people as being holy, the word Kadosh is spelt with only three letters – Kuf, daled and shin. Why? Perhaps G-d embodies true full holiness and ours is missing something that we need to find. William Wordsworth, an 18th-century British poet, on describing an echo, said “Like, but oh! how different.” We need to understand that for us, in this world, holiness is not a destination, it is a direction. Like an echo to a voice, our sense of holiness is missing something that makes it a full, complete and G-d-like holiness. By learning to listen with our eyes and hear what we see, we can continue on the true path of holiness.