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The Equality of All Men According to Halacha

May 27, 2015

Many of us are aware that there is a school of thought prominent among many of the medieval authorities which says that Jewish people are spiritually and sometimes even physically different from gentiles. These ideas still might even hold sway among less politically correct or irrational streams of traditional Judaism. The Maimonidean school of thought does not allow for such racist ideas. Instead all people are qualitatively the same in terms of of their intellects’/souls’ abilities to rise to higher levels, and physically there are no differences what so ever between gentiles and Jews. Jews are holier though, but that is a function of their obligation to keep the commandments. Can not one one claim that that is a qualitative difference? In actuality no, because every gentile has the right to consciously decide to convert to Judaism, accept the yoke of the commandments, and achieve the same level of holiness. There in lies the equality: all have the potential to attain the same holiness. Lest one say that not every Jew or convert or even gentile can attain the higher-level holiness of the Levite, that is also not true (MT Sabbatical and Jubilee Years, 13:13):

Not only the tribe of Levi, but any one of the inhabitants of the world whose spirit generously motivates him and he understands with his wisdom to set himself aside and stand before God to serve Him and minister to Him and to know God, proceeding justly as God made him, removing from his neck the yoke of the many reckonings which people seek, he is sanctified as holy of holies.

Lest one claim that not everyone has the chance to be as holy as the Aaronite priests, we see from this week’s parasha, that is also not true. Last year, I wrote about how the nazirite, of his own free will and volition, can take on a battery of commandments that raises his holiness to that of the priest:

In two ways he emulates the priest, and in two ways he does the opposite: The nazirite vows not to partake of grapes and wine, just like the priest is forbidden to drink intoxicating beverages (when he is supposed to serve in the Temple); the nazirite is forbidden to contaminate himself to the dead just like a priest; the priest brings a special offering, a minhath hinnuch, the first time he officiates, while the nazirite brings a special offering when he completes his term; just as the priest is bidden to maintain a specific hair style (no more than thirty-days’-worth of growth) the nazirite must let his hair grow freely for at least thirty days and until the duration of his period of n’ziruth.

The Hebrew word “nazir” is from the root word nezer, meaning a type of minor, symbolic crown, a crown of separation of holiness. By taking his vow (Numbers 6:7):

 לְאָבִיו וּלְאִמּוֹ, לְאָחִיו וּלְאַחֹתוֹ–לֹא-יִטַּמָּא לָהֶם, בְּמֹתָם:  כִּי נֵזֶר אֱלֹהָיו, עַל-רֹאשׁוֹ.

He shall not make himself unclean for his father, or for his mother, for his brother, or for his sister, when they die; because his nezer unto God is upon his head.

And the high priest’s holiness is described similarly (Leviticus 21:12):

  כִּי נֵזֶר שֶׁמֶן מִשְׁחַת אֱלֹהָיו, עָלָיו–אֲנִי יְהוָה

for the nezer of the anointing oil of his God is upon him: I am the Lord.

The opportunity to become holier is always there, and it is what ultimately makes us all equals.

From → halacha, original, parasha

  1. Yigal Saperstein permalink

    Read מורה נבוכים 3-51 that states (in one translation from ) והנה אסביר לך את המשל הזה שהמצאתי6, ואומַר: אלה שמחוץ לעיר הם כל אדם שאין לו אמונה דתית7, עיונית8 או מסורתית9, כמו התורכים שבקצה צפון10 והסודאנים11 בקצה דרום והדומים להם מבין הנמצאים עִמנו באקלימים12 אלה. דינם של אלה כדין בעלי-חיים מחוסרי שׂכל. בעינַי אין אלה בדרגת בן-אדם. הם בדרגות הנמצאים נמוכים מדרגת בן-אדם וגבוהים מדרגת הקוף, שכּן יש להם תבנית ומִתאר של בן-אדם והבחנה גבוהה מדרגת הקוף13.

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