קדשים תהיו וכו’ איש אמו ואביו תראו
You shall be holy . . . You shall revere every man his mother, and his father
The commandment to revere one’s father and mother is placed after the commandment to be holy, because, as Rashi explains, this is where they were commanded not to engage in any forbidden relationships and to maintain the holiness of marriage. But the Ramban explains that the commandment to be holy encompasses the entire Torah, so that one is required to avoid certain acts even though they are not explicitly prohibited by the Torah, for you are required to sanctify yourself through that which is permitted to you (קדש עצמך במותר לך).
And our master adds that the commentators have already explained that a person who, even in his youth, forsakes physical pleasure and does not pursue his physical desires, will merit to have children who are faithful, who are of good character and great ability, and who accept the Torah in purity. Such a child can then follow in his father’s footsteps, because he will have a proper role model of his own flesh to follow. For if the child is conscientious, he will understand that his parents have conducted themselves righteously and uprightly and did not yield to the desires of their hearts. The child will then revere his parents, according to them the reverence of honor (יראת הכבוד).
But if he is a rebellious son, of bad character, he will not revere his parents and will not revere their greatness, because his soul will attribute to his parents his own imperfections (as our master explained in seder Toldot [ויאמר הקול קול יעקב והידים ידי עשיו] why Jacob revered his father more than his brother Esau did). Thus, after the Scripture says “קדשים תהיו” (you shall be holy) it immediately says “every one of you shall revere his mother and his father.” For in the place of holiness is found the nest of reverence, as the Sages deduce in the Talmud from the verse (Leviticus 19:30) “מקדשי תיראו” (and reverence my sanctuary) that ” ממקודשי תיראו” that we must revere those who are holy unto me.” (שביבי אש)
ואהבת לרעך כמוך
But you shall love your neighbor as yourself
Rashi comments: R. Akiva said this is a great principle of the Torah (Torat Kohanim, Kedoshim 19:18; See also Talmud Yerushalmi, Nedarim 9:4)
In the Talmud (Shabbat 31a) an incident is recounted concerning a Gentile who came to Shammai and said, “Make me a proselyte on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.” Shammai chased him away. The Gentile came to Hillel who converted him saying, “whatever is hateful unto you, do not do to your friend. This is the whole Torah, while the rest is commentary thereof. Go and study.”
Revealing wonders about this incident, our master explained that this Gentile did not believe that the wicked would be judged or that the righteous would be rewarded in the world of eternity, because such judgment and reward are not explicitly mentioned in the Torah. So, the Gentile wanted to know what is to be gained by observing the commandments of the Torah and what is lost to be lost by acting wickedly. That is why he asked Shammai to teach him what benefit accrues to someone who keeps the Torah, while he stood on one foot, by which he meant while standing here on the earth. In other words his challenge was: do not tell me that the explanation can’t be understood in this world, so that I can only understand the benefit of observing the Torah by taking a long step to the grave with my other foot.
Shammai therefore chased the Gentile away, replying angrily that if he did not believe that there would be reward and punishment in the world of eternal life, then all would be lost, because, here in the valley of tears, the wicked rejoice and thrive while the righteous suffer in spite of their righteousness. In this world, the houses of the wicked are full of bread and tasty dishes, while in the pot of the Godly man there is death. Only in the courtyard of God will the righteous exercise dominion, taking pleasure in the abundance of peace, while the sinful are destroyed and the wicked cut off at last.
However, when the Gentile came to Hillel, Hillel explained to him that, although a single individual is neither punished nor rewarded for his deeds in this world, there is reward for the entire nation here on earth. If the nation keeps all the commandments and the statutes, it will go on its way in peace and security without disturbance. The nation achieves happiness and success when all its people conduct themselves righteously and uprightly according to the Torah.
It was the nation as a whole that the Torah was addressing when it said (Leviticus 26:3): “אם בחקתי תלכו וכו” (If you will walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them) and (Leviticus 26:15) “אם בחקתי תמאסו וכו’” (and if you will spurn my statutes and your soul abhors my ordinances, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant). But if just one man from the entire nation sins, every evil will not befall him, God bring judgment upon him for his actions only in the world to come.
It was in this way that our master explained the verses at the end of seder Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29:17-19):
פן יש בכם שרש פרה ראש ולענה. והיה בשמעו את דברי האלה הזאת והתברך בלבבו לאמר שלום יהיה לי כי בשרירות לבי אלך למען ספות הרוה את הצמאה. לא יאבה ה’ סלח לו כי אז יעשן אף ה’ וקנאתו באיש ההוא ורבצה בו כל האלה הכתובה בספר הזה ומחה ה’ את שמו מתחת השמים.
perchance there is among you a stock sprouting poison weed and wormwood. When such a one hears the words of these sanctions, he may fancy himself immune, thinking, “I shall be safe, though I follow my own willful heart”—to the utter ruin of moist and dry alike. The Eternal will never forgive him; rather will the Eternal’s anger and passion rage against that man, till every sanction recorded in this book comes down upon him, and the Eternal blots out his name from under heaven.
This passage is amazing, for does the person believe himself to be immune from punishment because he has heard God’s sanctions? Would it not have been more appropriate for the Scripture to have written “והיה בשמעו את דברי האלה הזאת לא יפחד” (when he hears the words of these sanctions, he will not be afraid)? Moreover, what is the reason for the great anger directed at this person beyond that directed against other sinners?
But according to what was said above, the words of the Scripture are easily understood. For the Eternal established these covenants with the whole congregation of Israel so that they would observe His ordinances and keep His laws for the sake of the happiness and welfare of the entire nation. If, therefore, a single individual should arise to do any sin or transgression and to act wickedly, saying to himself, even though for the sake of the nation it would be fitting that I act uprightly, and although the entire community is obligated to act justly and righteously to promote the good of all, nevertheless, I, myself, will transgress the law to do whatever I choose to do, because my private conduct will not break the ties of the community to cause its foundations to collapse. This is why the person believes himself to be immune from punishment, assuming that if he alone acts wickedly, he will be safe on account of the righteousness of the rest of the community, so that no punishment will befall him. That selfish attitude is what incites the anger of the Lord causing His wrath to be poured on this transgressor. For if one person feels safe in removing himself from the community, then so will his neighbor, and his neighbor’s neighbor, until the nation collapses on its foundations. That foreseeable result is what enrages the Eternal and why the transgressor will be punished sevenfold for his transgressions curses will be visited upon him measure for measure.
We now return to what was said above. A person of kind spirit and good heart who loves every man as he loves himself will find a great incentive to fulfill the entire Torah for the sake of the nation as a whole. He will not exclude himself from the community, because he loves the community as much as he loves himself. He will therefore take care to do what is good and upright even with no expectation of reward after his death when he will ascend to the mountain of the Eternal and will rise up to His holy place. These are the beautiful words that Hillel told the Gentile:
What is hateful unto you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the great principle of the Torah and in this you will find an explanation for all the ordinances while standing on one foot here in this world. And the rest [by which Hillel meant, reward and punishment in the eternal world] is not explained clearly. It is only commentary (פירושא הוא) that you may infer from punishment of “being cut off” (כרת) and from many other Scriptural derivations. Go and study and you will understand. (שביבי אש)