Parashas Acharei Mos – Kedoshim

The last segment of parashas Acharei Mos discusses forbidden unions. The Torah concludes this discussion with the following exhortation (Vayikra 18:26-30):
And you shall keep My statutes and My ordinances, and shall not commit any of these abominations; neither the born Jew nor the proselyte who lives among you … that the land will not vomit you out when you defile it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you. For whoever commits any of these abominations, the people who do so shall be excised from among their people. So you shall keep My charge, to shun these abominable practices, which were done before you, and not defile yourselves through them: I am Hashem your God.
The Maggid raises two issues regarding this passage. First, he suggests that instead of “the land will not vomit you out when you defile it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you,” the Torah should write “the land will not vomit you out, as it vomited out the nation that was before you, when you refrain from defiling it.” This phrasing would be more appropriate, for the Torah’s apparent intent is to promise us that if we keep its laws and refrain from transgression, the land will not vomit us out. Second, why does the Torah state a penalty of excision for engaging in a forbidden union, when apparently it states just before that the punishment for doing so is expulsion from the land?
The Maggid explains the Torah’s intent through a parable. A rich man had an only son. He brought into the house an orphan boy so that his son would have a close friend, like a brother, and a learning companion in his studies with the household tutor. After the orphan became accustomed to his foster home and, well-fed and well cared for, came to consider himself part of the family, he began to belittle the tutoring. He started taking daily strolls in the gardens and orchards, avoiding the lessons. When the rich man found out about this, he threw the orphan out of the house.
Some time later, the rich man’s son began acting the way the orphan had done. When the father found out, he took his son into a room and gave him a severe beating. A few hours later, when the father’s anger had settled down, the son approached him and said: “Let me at least understand why you treated me, your only son, worse than the orphan boy who was living here. When he did what I did, you didn’t do anything to him. You just threw him out of the house. You should have done the same with me, rather than subjecting me to an outpour of harsh anger and a horrible beating.”
The father replied: “Listen, I am not the father of this other boy. It is only because he seemed well-behaved and obedient that I brought him into the house and kept him here to be a companion to you. When I saw him misbehaving, I threw him out. But you are my son. How can I send you away from me? If you misbehave, I have no choice but to beat you until you straighten out and listen. I’ll never let go of you; I’ll keep disciplining you until I get you onto the road to success.”
The parallel is as follows. Hashem warned us not to act like the Egyptians, whose land we had left, or like the Canaanites, who land we were entering (ibid. 18:3). He told us not to defile ourselves with the abominable practices the Canaanites had engaged in, which led Him to cast them out from before us and cause the land to vomit them out (ibid. 18:24-25). And He told us not to think that if we stray from Him and engage in the Canaanite abominations, He will simply cause the land to vomit us out as He had done with the Canaanites. He declared: “The land will not vomit you out when you defile it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you.” Rather: “For whoever commits any of these abominations, the people who do so shall be excised from among their people.” The punishment for engaging in these abominations is not expulsion, but rather the ignominy and pain of being excised from the community. As a result, Hashem told us, we will behave ourselves: “You shall keep My charge, to shun these abominable practices, which were done before you, and not defile yourselves through them.” Hashem ended His exhortation by explaining why He will treat us differently from the Canaanites: “I am Hashem your God.” Hashem was telling us: “I am Hashem your God. How, then, can I possibly cast you away from Me and abandon you? Surely I will not do so. Rather, I will keep My chastisement going until you straighten out and keep My charge.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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