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Laws and Rules: Aharei Mot 2022

04/20/2022 01:44:04 PM


Rabbi Ben Goldberg

A passage in this week’s Torah portion, Aharei Mot, like many in the Torah, impresses upon its audience the need to observe the mitzvoth.

“My rules alone shall you observe, and faithfully follow My law: I the LORD am your God (Leviticus 18:4), we read.

The passage is potentially redundant: is there a difference between rules (mishpatim) and laws (hukkim)?

Yes, answers the commentator Rashi. “Laws” are those aspects of the Torah that have no evident rational basis, rules that people would not have come up with on their own, such as the rules prohibiting consumption of pork.

Rules, however, are those laws that people would have probably developed on their own, such as the law prohibiting murder.

Often, when people think about Judaism, they turn toward the “laws,” the distinctive practices that Judaism offers, like kashrut, Shabbat, holidays, synagogue ritual and so on.

Yet, mentioned here in one breath alongside these practices is the interpersonal aspect of Judaism.

Indeed, one of the fundamental teachings of our tradition is that those interpersonal matters (who owes what to whom), and how we treat one another even in the most mundane of circumstances, are in fact a matter of deepest religious concern.

It’s easy to emphasize one side of Judaism over the other. Certain segments of the Jewish people can be very good at meticulous observance of the ritual mitzvoth but also commit major ethical lapses, and vice versa.

This verse reminds us to take both seriously as part of a well-balanced Jewish life.

Mon, March 20 2023 27 Adar 5783