Vort from the Rav: Vayikra

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Lev 5:21:

נפֶשׁ כִּי תֶֽחֱטָא וּמָֽעֲלָה מַעַל בַּֽיהוָֹה וְכִחֵשׁ בַּֽעֲמִיתוֹ
If a person sins, betraying the Lord by falsely denying to his fellow. (Lev. 5:21)

The Tosefta states: Rabbi Chanania Ben Chachinai said, it is written that one sins against God when he falsely denies having stolen from his neighbor (Lev. 5:20). This is so since one does not steal from his neighbor unless he also denies the existence of God. (Tosefta Shevuos 3:5)

The Rabbis apparently did not understand why the Torah had employed the words one sins against God in reference to one who embezzles funds from his neighbor. They answered that where there is real faith in God, there can be no social immorality, no embezzlement, no perjury. Stealing, embezzling, and perjury are the result of a secular ethic, of a man who wants to build his own moral world and be the legislator of a moral law which he himself has created.

The Tosefta continues with a very strange story. Rabbi Reuven once spent a Shabbos in Tiberias. He met a philosopher who asked him a question: Who is to be held in contempt and hated? Whom should society consider a contemptible creature? Rabbi Reuven answered that society should hate the atheist, the agnostic, the skeptic, one who denies the existence of his Maker.

The philosopher did not understand. He asked, “How is this so? Why should a non-believer he held in contempt and hate? Isn’t faith the private affair of the individual? His skepticism is not harmful to society!” Rabbi Reuven answered, “Honor thy father and mother, Thou shall not kill, Thou shall not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal; there is no man who can violate these precepts unless he has denied the existence of his Maker.”

The philosopher had expected Rabbi Reuven to answer that only the fiends of society, the arch-criminals who inflict harm upon others, deserve to be hated, but not the innocent agnostic or atheist. The answer to the philosopher’s question came swiftly and unequivocally. The absence of faith in God will eventually lead to the breakdown of social morality. Corruption of man is ushered in by the lack of faith in God.

The crux of social ethics is faith in a transcendental, personal God, who expects man to imitate Him. At the beginning, the skeptics said that I am the Lord your God…You shall have no other gods before Me are socially irrelevant, since it is possible to organize a society on the foundations of a man-made morality. They have finally realized that without I am the Lord your God, man forfeits his ethical sensitivity and becomes oblivious to the most elementary principles of morality. (Noraos Harav, Vol. 5, pp. 20-23)

About Arnold Lustiger

Dr. Arnold Lustiger is a research scientist and has edited multiple volumes of the Rav's Torah, including the recently published Chumash Mesoras HaRav.

One comment

  1. Yasher Koach. Really appreciate the weekly vort. Maybe for a yom tov or special parsha, like Hachodesh, we can also get an extra vort relevant to the day.

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