Eilu devarim …These are matters whose fruits a person enjoys in this world while the principal remains intact for the World-to-Come; honouring parents, acts of kindness, early attendance at the Bet Midrash …, hospitality, sick-visitation, dowering a bride, escorting the dead, devotion in prayer, making peace between friends; but Torah study equals them all!! (Shabbat 127a; daily morning service p 16 ArtScroll Siddur).
This seemingly indiscriminate melange of man-man and man-G-D mitsvot is deliberate. Coming as it does in the wake of the three blessings over the Torah, it was selected as the token piece of Talmud to fulfil our bare-minimum daily learning obligation precisely because it showcases a combination of ‘heavenly’ and ‘earthly’ precepts. Fitting then that reward accrues for us both in this world and the next!
It also serves as a worthy complement to the written-Torah selection preceding it, namely the tripartite birkhat kohanim, priestly blessings which seek to bestow earthly wellbeing, heavenly inspiration and a synthesis of the two. (Numb. 6:24-6).
There is a celebrated section of the Torah which also presents a potpourri of well-known ‘ritual’ and ‘ethical’ duties. Be holy ……revere your mother and father and observe My Sabbaths ……don’t turn to idols …..the fallen fruit of your vineyard ..leave for the poor …..don’t steal, deny or lie …..nor cheat …nor gossip ….nor hate your fellow in your heart …nor take revenge or bear a grudge … but love your fellow as yourself …don’t plant your field with mixed species …nor wear a shaatnez-mixture of wool and linen …treat tree-fruit as forbidden for [the first] three years….rise before the elderly, honour a Sage and reverence your G-D; I am G-D! (Lev. 19:1-32, extracts).
Kedoshim tiheyu are the title words of this parasha. Be holy! The all-encompassing mitsvot which ensue aid our understanding of what “be holy” means in Judaism. Not to be exclusively-other-worldly, although mitsvot like Shabbat afford us a taste of the future spiritual bliss, but also to be devoted to elevating the material bounty of this world. To lift ourselves up to G-D but also to bring Godliness and goodness down into the lives of others. To be apart from the world yet to be part of this world.
Now we can better understand why our Sages chose the Eilu devarim section to be recited, or ‘learned’ daily following the Torah blessings. Fundamental to living a Torah existence is to be holy. Basic to being holy is understanding that kedusha is found in earthly as well as heavenly realms, or, optimally, in the synthesis of the two realms.
Now too we may better understand Rabbi Akiva’s famous statement (Yerushalmi Nedarim 30b) that “love your fellow as yourself’ (Lev 19:18) is klal gadol baTorah, the key principle of the Torah. It is well-known that biblical citations are often left unfinished in the Talmud. In teaching the golden rule, Rabbi Akiva would assuredly have cited the verse in full. Love your fellow as yourself, I am G-D. Zehu klal gadol baTorah.
Indeed the sacredness and the synthesis of the human-to-human and the human-to-Divine love relationship is both the essence of the Torah understanding of kedusha and the most basic lesson of Torah!