Parashah of the week: Kedoshim

“Do not go about as a tale-bearer among your people. Do not stand on the blood of your fellow: I am the Eternal” Leviticus 19.16


What are our responsibilities as innocents are killed in the Ukraine, or as the Uyghurs are persecuted, slandered and put to forced labour in camps?

Do not stand on the blood of your neighbour. What can we learn about how to observe this commandment from it immediately following (within a single verse) the instruction, “Do not go about as a tale-bearer”?

Rabbi Ibn Ezra (12th century Spain) comments that “it is known that some have been murdered and killed because of slander”. For him the blood of the second half of the verse is a consequence of the slander of the first half.

Having commemorated Yom Hashoah last week, we recall the murderous power of language and propaganda. We recognise that words shape attitudes, that they obscure and make possible dehumanisation and eradication. Each of us might resist language that dehumanises others and interrogate our news sources, searching for the truth amid our pervasive media.

We might also verbally stand up for the innocent, spreading truth and concern. Rabbi Malbim in 19th century Ukraine teaches: “From the juxtaposition, ‘do not go about as a tail-bearer/ do not stand on the blood’, the verse is saying ‘although I have warned about tail-bearing, nevertheless if you know testimony for your fellow… you need to reveal it and to witness, even though through this some secret matter is revealed, because this is not ill speech”.

As one says in the Talmud in Sanhedrin: you are obligated to save another’s life.

The Malbim thus suggests that the second half of the verse, “do not stand on the blood”, qualifies the first, “do not go about as a talebearer”.

When lives are at risk, it’s not a transgression to speak out, it’s your responsibility.

While Ibn Ezra teaches us the murderous power of speech, the Malbim tells us to apply its power to save. We learn from them together to resist speech that oppresses and to speak up for the oppressed.

Do not stand on the blood of your neighbour. The language reminds us that our brothers’ blood calls out from the ground, and it’s all too easy to go about in the world actively pretending that you cannot see, going about your everyday business. But we must stand up for our fellow, neither standing by, nor standing on their suffering.

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