This week’s parasha, Kedoshim, is the source for the famous dictum “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev.19:18). Each morning and evening we recite in the Shema prayer, “You shall love the Lord your God” (Deut. 6:5). That is a lot of loving! What are we to do should these loves conflict? Our rabbis did not have far to search. They found a conflict of this sort in the very next verse of this week’s parasha, where we read “A garment of mixed fibers shall not come upon you.” (Lev. 19:19). What if, posits the Talmud, we spy our neighbor in the marketplace wearing a garment sewn of a forbidden mixture of fibers? Our love for our neighbor prompts us to perhaps make a note that a more Biblically correct garment would make a good birthday present, but our love for God compels us to take more immediate action. Indeed, according to the Talmud, we must remove our neighbor’s garment – even in the public space of the marketplace! Mediaeval rabbinic authorities, perhaps troubled by the practical implications of such a ruling, amended it to apply solely in cases where we know the transgression to be deliberate. In the vastly more common case that our neighbor could simply be unaware of his/her error, we wait until he/she has returned to the privacy of home before we call in the cast of TV’s “What Not [Halachically] to Wear!” In this way, we balance our regard for God and Torah with taking seriously the honor and respect we ought to feel for our neighbor.
Rabbi Mitch Levine