Leviticus Chapter 18
Applying the prohibition against following the ways of the Canaanites in Leviticus 18:3, the Sages of the Mishnah prohibited going out with talismans like a locust's egg, a fox's tooth, or a nail from a gallows, but Rabbi Meir allowed it, and the Gemara reported that Abaye and Rava agreed, excepting from the prohibition of Leviticus 18:3 any practice of evident therapeutic value. (Mishnah Shabbat 6:10; Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 67a.)
Leviticus 18:4 calls on the Israelites to obey God’s “statutes” (chukim) and “ordinances” (mishpatim). The Rabbis in a Baraita taught that the “ordinances” (mishpatim) were commandments that logic would have dictated that we follow even had Scripture not commanded them, like the laws concerning idolatry, adultery, bloodshed, robbery, and blasphemy. And “statutes” (chukim) were commandments that the Adversary challenges us to violate as beyond reason, like those relating to shaatnez (in Leviticus 19:19 and Deuteronomy 22:11), halizah (in Deuteronomy 25:5–10), purification of the person with tzaraat (in Leviticus 14), and the scapegoat (in Leviticus 16:7–10). So that people do not think these “ordinances” (mishpatim) to be empty acts, in Leviticus 18:4, God says, “I am the Lord,” indicating that the Lord made these statutes, and we have no right to question them. (Babylonian Talmud Yoma 67b.)
Rabbi Ishmael interpreted the words “he shall live by them” in Leviticus 18:5 to teach that a person should live by the laws, not die by them, and thus one could transgress a commandment to avoid death. And Rabbi Johanan reported in the name of Rabbi Simeon ben Jehozadak that a majority in the house of Nithza in Lod voted that a person could transgress any laws to avoid death, except idolatry, incest, or murder. But Rav Dimi taught that one could sin to avoid death only in times when there was no oppressive royal decree against observing the Torah, but in times of such a decree, one needed to suffer martyrdom rather than transgress even a minor precept. And Rabin said in the name of Rabbi Johanan that even absent such a royal decree, sinning to save one’s life was permitted only in private; whereas in public, one needed to suffer martyrdom rather than violate even a minor precept. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 74a.)
The Gemara interpreted Leviticus 18:7 to prohibit a man from lying with his father's wife, whether or not she was his mother, and whether or not the father was still alive. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 54a.)
Rav Awira taught (sometimes in the name of Rabbi Ammi, sometimes in the name of Rabbi Assi) that the words “And the child grew, and was weaned (וַיִּגָּמַל, va-yigamal), and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned” in Genesis 21:8 teach that God will make a great feast for the righteous on the day that God manifests (yigmol) God’s love to Isaac’s descendants. After they have eaten and drunk, they will ask Abraham to recite the Grace after meals (Birkat Hamazon), but Abraham will answer that he cannot say Grace, because he fathered Ishmael. Then they will ask Isaac to say Grace, but Isaac will answer that he cannot say Grace, because he fathered Esau. Then they will ask Jacob, but Jacob will answer that he cannot, because he married two sisters during both their lifetimes, which Leviticus 18:18 was destined to forbid. Then they will ask Moses, but Moses will answer that he cannot, because God did not allow him to enter the Land of Israel either in life or in death. Then they will ask Joshua, but Joshua will answer that he cannot, because he was not privileged to have a son, for 1 Chronicles 7:27 reports, “Nun was his son, Joshua was his son,” without listing further descendants. Then they will ask David, and he will say Grace, and find it fitting for him to do so, because Psalm 116:13 records David saying, “I will lift up the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.” (Babylonian Talmud Pesachim 119b.)
A Baraita was taught in the Academy of Eliyahu: A certain scholar diligently studied Bible and Mishnah, and greatly served scholars, but nonetheless died young. His wife carried his tefillin to the synagogues and schoolhouses and asked if Deuteronomy 30:20 says, “for that is your life, and the length of your days,” why her husband nonetheless died young. No one could answer her. On one occasion, Eliyahu asked her how he was to her during her days of white garments — the seven days after her menstrual period — and she reported that they ate, drank, and slept together without clothing. Eliyahu explained that God must have slain him because he did not sufficiently respect the separation that Leviticus 18:19 requires. (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 13a–b.)
Mishnah Sanhedrin 7:7 and Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 64a–b interpreted the laws prohibiting passing one’s child through the fire to Molech in Leviticus 18:21 and 20:1–5, and Deuteronomy 18:10.
Rabbi Judah ben Pazzi deduced from the juxtaposition of the sexual prohibitions of Leviticus 18 and the exhortation to holiness in Leviticus 19:2 that those who fence themselves against sexual immorality are called holy, and Rabbi Joshua ben Levi taught that wherever one finds a fence against sexual immorality, one will also find sanctity. (Leviticus Rabbah 24:6.)
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