Our Parasha opens with a most unique command: “You shall be holy, for I, Hashem your God, am holy.” The commentators are in debate as to whether this Mitzva deals with one particular area, the view adopted by Rashi, who maintains that this command refers specifically to the issue of sexual morality, or if this is an overriding Mitzva relevant to all areas of the Torah. This is the interpretation adopted by the Ramban, who claims that this Mitzva guides a person in all areas and applies to every Mitzva. Either way, this Mitzva constitutes the introduction to the series of Mitzvot presented at the beginning of this parasha (the first of many series of Mitzvot found throughout Parashat Kedoshim). Here we will focus on two particularly interesting Mitzvot: 1) “You shall not curse a deaf man, and you shall not place a stumbling block before a blind man, and you shall fear your God” (19:14); 2) “You shall take revenge or bear a grudge against those from your nation, and you shall love your fellow as yourself, I am Hashem” (19:18).
On the surface, the first Mitzva seems simple. One may not place a physical obstacle in the path of a blind person to make him trip and fall. There is, however, an additional dimension to this prohibition. Rashi there defines the word “iver” (“the blind”) in this passuk as “a blind person in this regard.” Meaning, it refers to a person who lacks knowledge in a certain area or does not understand a given topic. At this moment, then, we may consider him “blind” with respect to the subject at hand. Before such a person, Rashi writes, it is forbidden to place a stumbling block; meaning, one may not offer him unsound advice that will cause him to “stumble,” given his lack of knowledge in this regard.
However, the command in this passuk does not end there. It continues, “you shall fear your God; I am Hashem.” What purpose does this addition serve? Rashi comments that this Mitzva does not lend itself to public supervision. Meaning, nobody can testify about someone that he intentionally fooled or misled another by offering bad advice. We must therefore remember that Hashem knows everything, our innermost secrets and intentions are clearly revealed to Him. The moment we remember this and the fact that we must fear Hashem, we will refrain from violating this transgression.
The Sifra (the Midrash Halacha to Vayikra) includes several different cases under this prohibition, such as causing one’s fellow to violate a sin, or causing one physical or monetary harm. The Gemara in Masechet Moed Katan extends this prohibition to passively causing one to sin. That is, if one can prevent another from sinning (or from incurring some other type of damage), he must work to prevent this from occurring. One cannot excuse himself on the grounds that he does not serve as the direct cause and thus bears no responsibility. This Mitzva is rooted in the inner integrity of a person. One can easily absolve himself of this prohibition by claiming that his actions (or inaction) do not, in effect, create a stumbling block. But the Torah here demands of us a particularly high moral standard.
The second Mitzva we mentioned is that of “You shall love your fellow as yourself.” Rabbi Akiva famously describes this Mitzva as “kelal gadol ba-Torah” (“a great principle of the Torah”), but in truth this Mitzva is very difficult to understand. Can we really love another person the way we love ourselves? If we think about it honestly, we will realize that this is almost impossible. A person will always give himself preference over another person. For this very reason, this passuk, too, concludes with the words, “I am Hashem.” In order for us to first and foremost understand the essence of this Mitzva, and, secondly, observe it, we must inculcate within our minds this concept of “ani Hashem.” Here, too, the standard of ethics and integrity demanded of us is exceptionally high. After all, anybody can easily claim to love his fellow and attribute everything he does to his concern for the other person’s well being, he can explain all his actions as evolving from genuine love, while in truth he has only his personal interests in mind.
These two Mitzvot deal with not only that which is forbidden for a person to do, the realm of “issur,” but also within the realm of “mutar” – that which is permissible for a person to do. They teach us and demand of us an exceptionally high level of honesty and morality within that which is essentially permissible, with regard to matters that no rabbinical court will ever come along to admonish us for doing or not doing. This is the very concept of “kedoshim tihyu,” and it is no coincidence that these Mitzvot appear in our Parasha. The imperative of “kedoshim tihyu,” in my humble opinion, extends beyond the specific area of Mitzvot and prohibitions. Rather, it applies to all areas of life, and particularly to those areas where the Torah did not give us specific Mitzvot. The Torah demands of us sincerity, honesty, and a high moral standard even when we do not stand before any particular law or public assessment. Even then, we stand before the knowledge of “ani Hashem” and “you shall fear your God.” A person does not become holier or less holy by observing this stringency or that stringency concerning Mitzvot. His level of kedusha is determined instead in areas where he bears no specific obligation, where he can easily absolve himself from assisting or taking part. If in these situations he remembers “I am Hashem,” then he is capable of assisting his friend rather than causing him to stumble, and he can indeed reach the point of true and genuine love for his fellow. Thus, the knowledge of “ani Hashem” is the path that leads to “kedoshim tihyu.”