"Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and say to them, 'You shall be holy.' " (19:2)
QUESTION: The meaning of the text would be conveyed with the word, "lahem." Why does the Torah choose the longer word "aleihem"?
The root of the word "kedoshim"
which means sanctified and "separated." When one gives something to the Beit Hamikdash
it becomes "hekdeish,"
meaning that it is no longer available for general use; it is separated and designated for Hashem.
Likewise, when a man marries and puts the ring on his bride's finger, he proclaims, "Harei at mekudeshet li" — "With this act you have become sanctified to me — separated from the entire world and designated only for me."
When Hashem demands that the Jewish people be holy, He means that they must elevate themselves above the mundane, materialistic world and conduct themselves in an exalted way. The word "aleihem" is an acronym for "harei at mekudeshet li" — Hashem told Moshe to speak to the entire assembly of Israel and to declare to them that, in effect, they were separated and sanctified to Hashem, who says "I separated you from the entire world to be specifically My people and, thus, I request of you that you keep yourselves holy — separated from all humanity."
"Speak to the Congregation of Israel and say to them, 'You shall be holy.' " (19:2)
QUESTION: Rashi comments: "This parshah was stated behakheil — in an assembly." Why does the Torah want us to know the circumstances surrounding the transmission of this parshah?
There are people who are pious and careful about matters of Torah and mitzvot
in their homes, but reluctant to appear "too Jewish" in public.
This attitude is summed up in a slogan by the originators of the Reform movement: "Yehudi bebeitecha ve'adam betzeitecha" — "Be a Jew at home and a normal person in the street."
Rashi wants to emphasize that Jews must be holy at all times. They should conduct themselves according to the Will of Hashem not only in the privacy of their home, but even "behakheil" — when they are out in the "assembly" of other people — even there they should proudly display the holiness of the Jewish people.
"Speak to the entire Congregation of Israel and say to them, 'You shall be holy.' " (19:2)
QUESTION: Grammatically, the verse should have said "kedoshim heyu," which would be a command to be holy, rather than saying "kedoshim tiheyu" — "you will be holy" — in the future tense.
The Rambam (Teshuvah
7:5) writes, "The Torah assures us that, at the end of the galut
, all the Jews will do teshuvah
and will be immediately be redeemed." This pasuk
may be alluding to this by promising that, "kedoshim tiheyu"
— "you will
be holy" — and thereby merit the coming of Mashiach
and the complete redemption.
"Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and say to them, 'You shall be holy for I am holy, G-d your G-d.'" (19:2)
QUESTION: Why is the word "kedoshim" written without a "vav" and the word "kadosh" written with a "vav"?
The Midrash Rabbah
(24:9) says on this pasuk
that when Hashem said the words, "Kedoshim tiheyu"
— "You shall be holy" — He asked "yachol kamoni"
— "You may think My intention is for you to be as holy as I am." That is not so because, 'ki kadosh Ani Hashem'
— 'I G-d am holy' — that is to say, 'My holiness is superior to yours'" Hence, He indeed wants us to be holy, but not on the same level that He is, because there are certain levels of understanding which were not given to man. (See Rosh Hashanah
In view of this, "kedoshim" is written without a "vav" to indicate that our Holiness is not absolute. However, G-d's holiness is written with a "vav," indicating that He represents the ultimate degree of holiness.
"You shall be holy, for I am holy, G-d your G-d." (19:2)
QUESTION: On this pasuk, the Midrash Rabbah (24:9) says, "Kedushati lema'alah mikedushatchem" — "My holiness is greater than yours."
Why is it necessary for the Midrash to inform us that Hashem's holiness is greater than ours? Why would we think otherwise?
Indeed, the intent of the Midrash
is not simply to inform us of Hashem's greatness, but to relate an important message to K'lal Yisrael
. Every Jew is able to add
to the holiness of Hashem, by conducting his life in a way which is a Kiddush Hashem
— sanctification of Hashem. People impressed with the behavior of the Jewish people will ultimately praise Hashem.
Thus, in effect Hashem is saying, "Kedushati lema'alah" — "My holiness [in Heaven is] — mikedushatchem" — "dependent on the holiness of your conduct on earth."
"You shall fear every man his father and his mother." (19:3)
QUESTION: The word "ish" usually refers to an adult, someone over the age of Bar-Mitzvah. Why in stating this mitzvah does the Torah use "ish"?
The Torah is teaching us that the obligation to fear our parents does not derive from our dependence on them. Even as adults, with our own households, we must still fear our parents simply because they are our parents.
"You shall fear every man his father and his mother and My Shabbats shall you observe: I am G-d your G-d." (19:3)
QUESTION: Rashi comments: "The observance of the Shabbat is placed next to the law of fearing one's father to inform us that, even though I have admonished you to fear your father, if he should say to you, 'Desecrate the Shabbat,' do not listen to him."
- If a father wants his son to desecrate the Shabbat, he is a rasha, and thus, it seems unnecessary for the Torah to tell the son not to respect his wishes.
- Why is Shabbat written in the plural ("Shabtotai")?
In addition to the actual Shabbat
, which begins at shekiah
— sunset — and concludes at tzeit hakochavim
— the appearance of three stars — the following night, a person must also add time to Shabbat
by beginning Shabbat
earlier than sunset on Friday and ending it later Saturday night (Yoma
81b). This is known as "Tosafot Shabbat
." Thus, in a sense there are two Shabbat
— the actual one from shekiah
to tzeit hakochavim
, and the additional time one adds to that.
This pasuk is talking of an instance when the son had accepted the Shabbat earlier in the day than his father. And the father thinking that it is still weekday, asks his son to do work for him. The Torah instructs the son, that even in "Shabtotai" — the time that he added to the actual Shabbat — he may not listen to his father to desecrate it.
"When you slaughter a feast peace-offering to G-d, you shall slaughter it to find favor for yourselves." (19:5)
QUESTION: From the word "tizbachuhu" — "you shall slaughter it" — the Gemara (Chullin 29a) learns that one Kohen may not slaughter two animals at the same time. However, with respect to "chullin" — "animals not consecrated for Beit Hamikdash purposes" — it is permissible (see Shach, Yoreh Dei'ah 24:2).
What is the reason for this distinction?
There is a rule, "Ein osin mitzvot chavilot chavilot"
may not be performed in bundles." Therefore, one Kohen
may not give two suspected women the water to drink at the same time, nor are two lepers purified at the same time, nor are the ears of two slaves bored at the same time (Sotah
8a). One of the reasons for this is that, when a person performs a mitzvah
, he must be entirely involved in it and devote to it his undivided attention (see Mo'eid Katan
According to the Gemara (Chullin 31b), if someone throws a knife and in mid-flight it properly cuts through the throat of an animal, the shechitah is kosher. This indicates that slaughtering does not require any "kavanah" — proper intention. This rule applies only to non-consecrated animals. However, for "kadeshim" — "consecrated animals" — "mit'aseik" — "an unintentional slaughtering — is disqualified" (ibid. 13a).
Consequently, by "kadeshim," where kavanah is essential, mitzvot cannot be done in bundles, and therefore two animals cannot be slaughtered by the same Kohen with one stroke of the knife. However in the case of "chullin" where kavanah is not required at all, it is permissible to slaughter two animals simultaneously.
"On the day of your slaughter shall it be eaten and on the next day, and whatever remains until the third day shall be burned in fire. But if it shall be eaten on the third day, it is rejected; it shall not be accepted. Whosoever eats it...that soul will be cut off from its people." (19:6-8)
QUESTION: Rashi explains that the first pasuk is referring to a Kohen whose intention at the time of the slaughter is that the offering be eaten "chutz lizemano" — "after the designated time." The offering immediately becomes "pigul" — "rejected" — and one who eats it is liable to kareit (premature death). The second pasuk is referring to a Kohen who had in mind that the offering will be eaten "chutz limekomo" — "out of the limited place where it may be eaten." It, too, immediately becomes "pigul," but the punishment for eating it is not as severe as kareit.
What lesson can be derived from the two forms of "pigul" and their respective punishments?
A Jew should keep the Torah at all times and under all circumstances. Unfortunately, there are Jews who are occasionally lax in their Torah observance. Some justify it with the thought that Torah is currently "chutz lizemano"
— not for contemporary times. Although they dwell in a community saturated with Torah and Yiddishkeit
, they choose to go in a different direction, claiming that Torah is outmoded. Others excuse themselves by reasoning that they are "chutz limekomo"
— residing outside of the heavily-populated Torah communities, and thus find it too difficult to be Torah observant Jews.
Both these perspectives are "pigul." However, the person who has the opportunity to be observant but "writes off" Torah as belonging to another time is much worse than the one who would like to observe Torah, but finds it difficult because he lacks the proper community and environment.
"When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap the corner [leave it for the poor]." (19:9)
QUESTION: Why does the pasuk start with plural ("uvekutzrechem") and shift to singular (lo techaleh)?
In a European city there was once a meeting about how to obtain whiskey for Simchat Torah
. It was decided that someone would go around town with a barrel, and that every household would contribute a glassful. The first person visited thought to himself, "Since every family will give a glassful, I will pour in water and no one will notice it." Strangely, everyone made the same calculation and to the townspeople's great dismay, on Simchat Torah
, instead of a barrel of whiskey, they had a barrel of water.
In the harvest season, some individuals may think, "Since all the fields are now being harvested, the poor have enough and I will keep my entire crop for myself." The Torah, therefore, stresses that every individual must give his share and not calculate that all the others will contribute and so the poor people will have enough regardless of his own contribution.
Alternatively, the Gemara (Shabbat 23a) says that the Torah designates the last remaining corner of the field as pei'ah and not any other part because of the unscrupulous farmers. If the corner is designated, the poor people will have their eyes on the last corner of the field and receive their just due. If a farmer is caught harvesting the last corner of the field, he will not be able to absolve himself by claiming that he had left over a piece in the middle.
However, it is still possible for the unscrupulous farmers to rob the poor of their portion if two people who own adjacent fields agree between themselves to tell the poor people that it is really one field, thereby allowing them only one corner for the combined area.
Thus, the Torah warns "uvekutzrechem" — "When two neighbors will harvest their fields" — "lo techaleh" — one should not try to deceptively bypass the obligation to leave the corner of the field, because though the poor may not find out, I am G-d, your G-d, and I know the truth."
"When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap the corner... You shall not pick the undeveloped twigs of your vineyard... For the poor and the proselyte you shall leave them, I am G-d your G-d" (19:9-10).
QUESTION: In the commandment to give gifts to the poor, why is it necessary to emphasize, "I am G-d your G-d"?
There are many catchy and memorable slogans employed by charitable organizations to encourage people to be generous. Appealing to logic and common sense they persuade many people to share their blessings with the less fortunate. However, the reason that we are to give tzedakah
is not because, "no one loses by giving" or because "it is better to be a giver than a receiver" etc., but because it is a mitzvah
like all the other mitzvot
which Hashem has commanded us to perform.
There is a great difference between the two attitudes: If we give because our logic and intuition dictates that it is the proper thing to do, then sometimes the human mind goes astray and can justify not giving and not sharing. If one gives in order to fulfill Hashem's commandment we can be sure that charity will be performed always.
It is noteworthy that the laws of leaving the corner of the field unharvested for the poor and not taking the leket — gleaning — of the harvest, as well as the laws of leaving for the poor the single grapes that have not formed clusters and the grapes that fall during the harvest, are discussed in the tractate Pei'ah, which is the tractate that follows the first tractate of the Talmud, Berachot.
The juxtaposition of these two tractates emphasizes that, just as Berachot, which discusses the laws of reciting the Shema, accentuates kabalat ol malchut shamayim — absolute submission to the yoke of Heaven — tzedakah should be practiced because Hashem commanded us to do so, and not because of human logic or rationale.
Incidentally, in the English language, the word for helping the poor is "charity." This is commonly translated as "alms," gratuitous benefactions for the poor. The giver of charity is a benevolent person, giving when he does not have to. He does not owe the poor person anything, but gives him because of his generosity.
"Tzedakah" has a completely different meaning. Its root word is "tzedek," which means "justice." Thus, it connotes that it is only right and just that one gives tzedakah. There are two reasons for this:
- A person is obligated to give to another, for the money is not his own. Hashem has given the money to him on trust for the purpose of giving it to others.
- Hashem is not indebted to man, yet gives him all that he needs. A Jew must act in the same way; he must give to others although he is not indebted to them. In return, Hashem rewards him in the same way. Because the person has transcended his natural instinct and given when not obligated, Hashem in turn grants him more than he would otherwise deserve.
"You shall not steal." (19:11)
QUESTION: Why is this commandment in the plural?
The Torah is teaching that, in addition to the person who actually steals, one who witnesses the theft and remains silent is also considered a thief. It also teaches us that one who knowingly purchases stolen merchandise from a thief is considered a partner in the robbery because he is encouraging crime.
The tzadik Rabbi Meshulam Zusya of Anipoli, learned a number of methods to serve Hashem from a thief: 1) The thief works quietly without others knowing. 2) He is ready to put himself in danger. 3) The smallest detail is of great importance to him. 4) He labors with great toil. 5) Alacrity. 6) He is confident and optimistic. 7) If he does not succeed the first time, he tries again and again.
"You shall not steal." (19:11)
QUESTION: Why is the violation, "You shall not steal" written in plural whereas in the Aseret Hadibrot — Ten Commandments — it is written "lo tignov" in the singular (Shemot 20:13)?
In the Aseret Hadibrot
the commandment, "You shall not steal" refers to the stealing of a person — kidnapping. In our parshah
, however, it is an admonition against stealing money. When one steals money, his punishment is to repay double the amount stolen, while the penalty for abducting and selling a person is death.
Since it is impossible to divide the death penalty between the two abductors, when two people kidnap jointly they are exempt from the death penalty. On the other hand, two partners in a robbery, jointly receive the penalty of double payment. Thus, the pasuk about stealing money uses the plural.
"You shall not cheat your friend and you shall not rob him." (19:13)
QUESTION: Why does the Torah emphasize "rei'acha" — "your friend?"
Once two good friends came to the Chassidic
Rabbi, Reb Yitzchak of Vorka seeking his berachah
to enter into partnership. The Rebbe asked them if they had written a partnership agreement, to which they replied in the negative. The Rebbe said, "In that case I will write one for you." He took a piece of paper, wrote on it, and handed it to the two friends saying, "Now you have your partnership agreement."
They opened the paper and saw only four letters: a;ef, beit, gimmel, daled. The Rebbe, noticing their amazement, said, "These four letters are the secret to your success. alef stands for emet, the beit for berachah, the gimmel for gezel, and the daled for dalot.
"If you will deal among yourself with emet — truth and honesty — there will be berachah — blessings in your enterprise. However, if you deal with gezel — cheating each other — then you will have dalut — poverty — i.e. your partnership will not succeed and you will end up in poverty."
The Torah is informing us that even if your partner is a good friend and you think he would not mind, you may not deceive him. Doing so will destroy both the friendship and the enterprise.
"You shall not withhold a worker's wage until morning." (19:13)
QUESTION: To what extent should one go to fulfill this precept?
The famous Chassidic
Rabbi, Reb Meshulam Zusya of Anipoli was very poor. His wife once complained to him that she had not bought a new dress for many years. She demanded that he get money so that she could have a new dress sewn. He complied.
On Erev Shabbat Reb Zusya noticed that his wife was very thoughtful and subdued. "Why aren't you more cheerful?" he asked in amazement, "You already have your new dress. Be happy!" She told him that when she came to the tailor to pick up her new dress, she noticed that he was very sad. When she inquired about his sadness, he told her that his daughter became a kallah not long ago. Recently, the chatan visited his home and noticed that he was sewing a new dress. The chatan was under the impression that the dress was for his kallah and was quite pleased. However, when he found out that it was not for her, he became extremely despondent. "Now I am afraid that because of his disappointment, the engagement will be cancelled, and my daughter will not get married," the tailor said.
"The tailor's dilemma moved me so," concluded Reb Zusya's wife, "that I told him to keep this dress as a present for his daughter, and thus I am where I began. I still do not have a new dress."
After hearing his wife's story, Reb Zusya asked her: "Did you at least pay the tailor for his work?"
In amazement, his wife replied: "I do not understand you. Did you expect me to pay him, when I already gave him the dress to keep?"
Reb Zusya said to her: "This is no excuse. The poor tailor worked an entire week to sew a dress for you, expecting to receive money to buy food for Shabbat. If you want to do a mitzvah and give your dress to his daughter, that's your business, but he deserves to be paid for his work."
She immediately ran to the tailor and paid him.
"You shall not withhold a worker's wage until morning. You shall not curse the deaf, and you shall not place a stumbling block before the blind." (19:13-14)
QUESTION: What is the link between these three commandments?
There is a story in the Gemara (Shabbat
127b) about a person who hired himself out and worked for a period of three years. Erev Yom Kippur
he asked for his salary so that he could return home and provide for his family. The employer told him, "I have no money." The man said, "If so, please give me produce." Again, the employer responded that he had none. "Perhaps a piece of land?" the man asked. The employer said he had no land and the employee returned to his home empty handed and depressed.
After Sukkot, the employer arrived at the home of his worker with his entire salary and a large gift. After they had eaten together, the employer gave the man his wages and inquired, "When I told you I had no money, produce, land, etc. what did you think about me?" The employee replied, "At the beginning I thought your money was tied up in business. When you told me that you had no produce, I thought that perhaps you had not yet put aside ma'aseir so that you could not give me any produce. When you responded negatively for the other things I asked you, I thought that perhaps you made all your belongings hekdeish — sanctified to Hashem."
The employer said, "Indeed you are right, my son Horkinus was not studying Torah; therefore I decided to give everything away to Hashem. Later, the Rabbis released me of my vow. Since you judged me favorably and gave me the benefit of the doubt, may Hashem judge you in the same way."
By citing these three laws together, the Torah is instructing an employer that he should be extremely careful in paying his employees' wages of immediately when due. In the event that the employer misses a payment, the employee is told not to curse his employer for not meeting his obligation. On the other hand, the employer must scrupulously try to meet his obligations and not place a stumbling block before the employee, who may, G-d forbid, suspect him of violating Torah law.
"With righteousness shall you judge your fellow. You shall not be a tale-bearer among your people." (19:15-16)
QUESTION: What is the connection between these two pesukim?
When two Jews have a dispute, Torah requires that they bring it before a Beit Din
. Very often the "scholars" in the community will attempt to guess the outcome and declare how they would have ruled if they had been participants of the Beit Din
. Unfortunately, when the decision is rendered, so-called scholars may ridicule the Beit Din
. They tell the loser that the Rabbis were wrong in not favoring his claim.
In these two pesukim the Torah addresses both the Rabbis of the Beit Din and the "experts." To the Rabbis of the Beit Din the Torah says, "With righteousness judge your fellow." To the "experts" the Torah declares, "Do not be a tale-bearer among your people."
"You shall not be a talebearer among your people; you shall not stand idle while your fellow's blood is shed." (19:16)
QUESTION: What is the link between these two commandments?
To speak evil against another Jew — even if it is true — is a very serious transgression. However, one who knows that a person is planning to harm another is not only permitted but obligated
to warn the intended victim. Remaining idle is a violation of the commandment, "You shall not stand idle while your fellow's blood is shed."
"You shall surely rebuke your fellow." (19:17)
QUESTION: The Gemara (Bava Metzia 31a) states that one should admonish a sinning Jew even one hundred times. If one is a repeat violator of Torah, does not this repeated rebuke seem to be in vain?
Our sages have faith in every Jew and encourage us not to hesitate to admonish the wrongdoer. Eventually, our words will penetrate and the sinner will do teshuvah
. The Torah also describes how to reprimand: One who observes another Jew acting improperly should not be harsh in his rebuke, but rather speak to the person over a period of time, gradually helping him to reform. Harsh or abusive criticism can cause the violator to fall into despair over the gravity of his sin. The Gemara
is thus stressing that one should admonish patiently, even if it involves a process of one hundred
"You shall reprove your fellow and not bear a sin because of him." (19:17)
QUESTION: The word "amitecha" — "your fellow" — seems superfluous?
King Shlomo says that when admonishing, "Do not reprove the jester lest he will hate you; admonish the wise one and he will love you" (Proverbs 9:8). This is puzzling. Why should the wise person require reprove, and why desist from admonishing the jester who has a light-hearted attitude towards Torah and mitzvot?
It seems that Shlomo, the wisest of all men, is suggesting that everyone ranging from the jester to the wise man — can benefit from criticism. He is not instructing whom
to reprove, but giving sound advice about how
In general, in the process of criticizing a person, one should be careful not to ridicule or belittle him. If a person does wrong, he usually regrets it, so that scorning and ridiculing him will only provoke anger. You should say to him, "It is strange that such a wise person as yourself should act so foolishly," and he is likely to be receptive to your words.
The Torah encourages one to offer rebuke, but counsels to emphasize "amitecha" — the friendly relationship between the wrongdoer and the rebuker. The rebuker might say, "My good friend, I feel bad to see you acting in such a way." In addition, when your rebuke someone, bear in mind that, "Velo tisa alav cheit" — "Do not accentuate the transgression and all its ramifications."
"You shall love your fellow..." (19:18)
QUESTION: What is the ultimate ahavat Yisrael?
The famous Chassidic
Rabbi, Reb Moshe Leib of Sassov once said that he learned the meaning of ahavat Yisrael
from a conversation he overheard between two simple farmers. While sitting in an inn and drinking, they became intoxicated and one said to the other, "Do you really love me?" To which the other replied, "Of course I love you."
The first one asked again, "If you really love me, tell me what I need."
"How should I know?" his friend queried, "Am I a mind reader?"
"How can you say you really love me when you do not know what I need?" replied the first.
True ahavat Yisrael entails sensitivity and feeling for the anxieties and needs of another Jew, even one who has not approached you for help.
"You shall love your fellow as yourself." (19:18)
QUESTION: How can the Torah demand that one love a stranger as much as oneself?
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Chassidut
, explains it in the following way: Every Jew consists of two components: a guf
(body) and a neshamah
(soul). While all Jews are separated by virtue of different bodies, they are like one
with regard to the neshamah
. This is because all neshamot
are a part of Hashem, and Hashem is the father of us all. With this realization, it is easy to love the other Jew as oneself, because through our neshamot
we are all one.
"You shall love your fellow as yourself." (19:18)
QUESTION: The word "kamocha" seems superfluous. Should not the Torah simply have said "Love your fellow"?
Regarding the creation of man, the Torah says: "Betzelem Elokim bara oto"
— "In the image of G-d He created him" (Bereishit
1:27). The reason a Jew should love another Jew as himself is because of "kamocha"
— the common denominator that both are "betzelem Elokim"
— "in the image of G-d."
Interestingly, the word "Elokim" and the word "kamocha" both have the same numerical value, 86.
Alternatively, the Midrash Tanchuma (Bereishit 8) says that although many people have love and affection for others, "Every craftsman hates his rival of the same profession." Therefore, the Torah emphasizes that not only "ve'ahavta lerei'acha" — "you shall love your fellow" — but even if he is "kamocha" — in your field of work — you must still make every effort to love him.
Alternatively, it is human nature not to see any faults in oneself. Even one who has failings will usually not see his failings. This is substantiated by King Shlomo's statement, "Love covers all offenses" (Proverbs 10:12), and what greater love is there than self-love? Nevertheless, it is human nature to see and recognize the faults and wrongdoings of others and even to admonish them for it.
Hence, the Torah is teaching us that one should love his fellow "kamocha" — "as yourself" — just as you love yourself and overlook your own faults, you should overlook the faults of your friend.
"Love your fellow as yourself, I am G-d." (19:18)
QUESTION: What is the connection between "Love your fellow as yourself" and "I am G-d"?
Not only is a Jew required to love his fellow, but it is also a mitzvah
to love Hashem, as the Torah says, "And you shall love G-d your G-d" (Devarim
6:5). Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, says that "Loving your fellow as yourself is a vessel through which one can accomplish loving G-d."
When the Torah tells us that, "You should love your fellow as yourself" and concludes with the words "I am G-d," it is alluding that through ahavat Yisrael — loving your fellow — one can attain ahavat Hashem — the love of G-d.
Incidentally, the words "ve'ahavta l'reiacha kamocha ani Hashem" — "love your fellow as yourself I am G-d" — and the words "ve'ahavata et Hashem Elokecha" — "and you shall love G-d your G-d" — both have the same numerical value, 907.
Alternatively, a Jew was once convicted for a grave infraction against the government, and the king's court sentenced him to death by hanging. At the designated time, a large crowd assembled at the gallows to witness the event. As the noose was being placed around the Jew's neck, a Jew suddenly screamed, "Stop! He is not guilty I committed the crime!"
Everything was immediately brought to a halt, and the king ordered a new trial to determine who was really guilty. To everyone's amazement, the tribunal found them both innocent. The king invited the two Jews to his palace and asked the second one, "Since you knew you were innocent, why did you endanger your life by confessing?"
"Your Majesty," he replied, "the condemned man is my best friend; without him my life would be empty and meaningless. As I saw him being led to the gallows, I realized that I preferred death to the loss of my friend." The king listened, awestruck. Deeply moved, he asked the friends, "I have never seen such true friends; would you accept me in your friendship?"
When Hashem perceives that we are united in a bond of true friendship, He yearns to be accepted into our friendship.
Alternatively, the word "ahavah" has the numerical value of 13. When one Jew loves another as himself, the other will reciprocate the love, and there will thus be "ahavah," which totals 26. The name of Hashem, as it is written in the Torah (yud-hei-vav-hei), has the numerical value of 26. When two Jews feel ahavah for each other, they merit, "Ani Hashem" — G-d's presence in their midst.
Alternatively, the Yiddish word for "Jew" is "Yid" (taken from the word "Yehudi"). When one puts two "yudden" side by side (yud-yud), the abbreviation for Hashem's name is formed. However, a "yud" placed above another "yud," results in a "sheva," a soundless vowel which is equivalent to "nothing."
The Torah instructs a Yid to love his fellow Yid, "kamocha," as his very self. He should see the other as being exactly on his own level. The two "yud"s alongside each other thus form G-d's name, and He will dwell among them.
QUESTION: In printed sefarim we do not write Hashem's holy four-lettered name, but rather two "yudden" (yud-yud). Why is there the vowel "sheva" under the first "yud" and the vowel "kamatz" under the second "yud"?
Among the holiest names of Hashem are yud-hei-vav-hei
. The first name expresses the fact that Hashem is above the limitations of time; He is past, present, and future all in one. The other name accentuates that He is the Master of the universe. The first name starts with a "yud"
and the second name ends with a "yud."
The first vowel in the first name is a "sheva"
and the final vowel in the second name is a "kamatz."
Therefore, as an abbreviation for these two names, we now write Hashem's name with two "yudden"
and a "sheva"
and a "kamatz."
Though Hashem has other holy names, the first "Yud" of the Tetragrammaton (yud-hei-vav-hei), and last "yud" of the Name A-donai are used as a reference to Him, because there is a special connection between these two names. Chassidut (see Sha'ar Hayichud Veha'emunah, Chapter 7) offers a detailed explanation of these two names and the intertwining of the name "Adnut" with the name "Havaye" and the intertwining of the name "Havaye" with the name "Adnut."
"When you shall come to the land and you shall plant any food tree, you shall treat its fruit as forbidden; for three years it shall be forbidden to you; it shall not be eaten." (19:23)
QUESTION: What is the eternal significance of the laws of "arlah" to every Jew in his daily life?
Man is compared to a tree of the field (Devarim
20:19), and many lessons have been learned from trees about nurturing human development. A little boy is compared to a little tree. For the first three years the fruit of a tree is prohibited so that we may not benefit from it. Likewise, the speech of the young child is undeveloped and unclear.
When he enters his fourth year and is able to talk, it is the obligation of his father to teach him "Torah tzivah..." — "The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the Congregation of Yaakov" (Devarim 33:4), and "Shema Yisrael..." — "Hear O' Israel, G-d is our G-d, G-d is the One and Only" (Succah 42a). With this, the Torah directive, "In the fourth year all its fruit should be sanctified for praising to G-d," is accomplished.
At the age of five, the child starts learning Torah (Pirkei Avot 5:22) and thus commences his development into the human equivalent of a beautiful fruit tree.
"When you shall come to the land and you shall plant any food tree, you shall treat its fruit as forbidden; for three years it shall be forbidden to you; it shall not be eaten." (19:23)
QUESTION: What is the significance of a boy's first haircut (upsherenish) at the age of three?
The laws of "arlah"
— the first three years of a tree's life — are a Biblical source for the widely practiced custom of not cutting the hair of a little boy until the age of three. At the "upsherenish"
— "hair cutting ceremony" — the long hair is cut off, leaving the peiyot
(earlocks), and he is introduced to pesukim
of Torah. The hair of the head is cut to indicate that the first and most important thing a Jew has to be concerned about is that his head (his thinking) should be imbued with a Torah perspective.
After his haircut, the child is trained in the mitzvah of peiyot, which are in front of the ear, hinting to the little boy that he should always use his ears to listen to the words of Hashem.
The word for hair in Hebrew is "sa'ar." The three letters can also be re-arranged to spell the word "osher" — "wealth." Heeding the lessons of the upshernish throughout life will be a source of blessing to merit material and spiritual wealth.
From the day of the "upsherenish" and leaving the peiyot it is customary to take particular care in accustoming the little boy to wear a tallit katan, to recite the early-morning berachot, the Blessing after Meals, and the bedtime Shema.
"You shall not eat over the blood." (19:26)
QUESTION: The Gemara (Berachot 10b) derives from this pasuk that a person should not eat prior to praying for his blood, that is, his well-being. How did they derive this from the pasuk?
In the Torah man is known as "adam."
The title consists of two words "alef"
refers to Hashem who is "Alufo Shel Olam"
— "Master of the World" and "dam"
refers to the blood, which is the life-source of all living beings, as the pasuk
says, "Ki nefesh habasar badam hi"
— "For the soul of the flesh is in the blood (17:11). Before a person prays he is merely "dam"
— "blood." Once he prays he becomes attached to Hashem — the "Alufo Shel Olam"
— and earns the title "adam."
Since the pasuk says "You shall not eat al hadam — over the blood" — our sages derived that we are talking here about a person who is still only "dam" — "blood" — and has not yet prayed and earned the title "adam."
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn of Lubavitch recounted the following story. When his grandmother, Rebbetzin Rivkah, was eighteen years old she became ill, and the physician ordered her to eat immediately after awakening. She, however, did not wish to eat before praying. So she prayed very early, then ate breakfast. When her father-in-law, the Tzemach Tzedek (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the third Lubavitcher Rebbe), learned of this, he said to her: "A Jew must be healthy and strong. The Torah (18:5) says about mitzvot that one must 'Live in them,' that is, bring vitality into the mitzvot. To infuse mitzvot with vitality, one must be strong and joyful." Then he concluded: "You should not be without food. Besser essen tzulib davenin vi davenin tzulib essen — Better to eat for the sake of praying rather than to pray for the sake of eating." Then he blessed her with long life. She was born in 5593 (1833) and passed away on 10 Shevat, 5674 (1914).
"You shall have correct scales, correct weights...I am G-d, your G-d, who brought you forth from the land of Egypt." (19:36)
QUESTION: What is the connection between Hashem taking the Jews out of Egypt and correct scales and weights?
At the Brit Bein Habetarim
(Covenant Between the Divided Parts) Hashem told Avraham, "Know with certainty that your offspring shall be aliens in a land not their own. They will serve them and be oppressed 400 years. But also, the nation that they shall serve I shall judge, and afterwards they shall leave with great wealth" (Bereishit
15:13-14). Commentators ask: Since the Egyptians brought Hashem's promise to fruition, why were they punished for enslaving the Jews?
The Ra'avad (Hilchot Teshuvah 6:5) answers that although the Jews were destined to be slaves, the Egyptians overworked them with exceptionally strenuous labor and for this they had no permission. For taking from the Jews more than they were allowed (analogous to tipping the scales), they were punished, and the Jews left Egypt with great wealth.
A Jew who has incorrect scales and weights, is showing that he believes that the Egyptians did nothing wrong and that they did not deserve punishment for the additional hard labor that they took from the Jews.
By associating the release from Egyptian bondage with incorrect scales and weights, the Torah is cautioning us to remember what happened to the Egyptians for taking more than they were entitled to.
"You shall sanctify yourself and you shall be holy." (20:7)
QUESTION: When the prophet Elisha visited the home of the Shunamit, she told her husband, "Behold, now I perceive that the G-dly man, kadosh hu — is holy" (II Kings 4:9). According to the Gemara (Berachot 10b), she perceived that he was holy because she did not notice a "zevuv" — "fly" — over his table. How does this prove holiness?
The word "zevuv"
is an acronym for "zeh bochah v'zeh bochah"
— "this one is here and this one is there."
The Shunamit was a very hospitable person, and many Rabbis would stay over at her home when passing through the city of Shuneim. She noticed that when a prominent person came to her home and conducted a "tish" (gathering), some would come and some would not; some would listen attentively while others would walk about the room. However, when Elisha came and conducted his "tish" she did not see, "This one here and this one there," but everyone came to his table and they all listened attentively and respectfully. One who is respected and revered by all is undoubtedly a holy person.
"And I said to you: You shall inherit their land and I will give it to you to inherit it, a land flowing with milk and honey." (20:24)
- What is the reason for the repetition "You shall inherit" and "I will give it to you to inherit it"?
- Why does Hashem now mention the praise of the land, that it is flowing with milk and honey?
Ultimately the Jewish people will inherit Eretz Yisrael
by taking it away from the nations who are in possession of it. Hashem told the Jewish people, "Superficially, the land of Israel is similar to any other land in the world, but when you will inherit it, 'Ani etnenah'
— At that time I will give the land
a gift (etnena
is from the same root word as matana
— gift): I will enhance it with flowing milk and honey. However, the land endowed with this unique gift will be 'lachem lareshet otah'
— an inheritance only
for you; should you, G-d forbid, lose possession of the land and be exiled, the miraculous quality bestowed on the land as a gift will depart from the land together with you."
"A land flowing with milk and honey." (20:24)
QUESTION: There are so many exceptional things about Eretz Yisrael. Why does the Torah choose to emphasize milk and honey?
There is a halachah (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Dei'ah
79:2) that something which comes from tumah
is also tamei
. An exception to this rule is milk. Milk is produced from the animal's blood, which is tamei
, but nevertheless it is permissible. (See Bechorot
The Torah is informing us that Eretz Yisrael is a remarkable land, which has been blessed with a unique quality: Any Jew who comes there, even if at certain times he lacks purity, will find that the air of Eretz Yisrael will help him become tahor.
The land of Israel is praised for "devash" — "honey" — which has the numerical value of 306. This is also the numerical value of the words "Av Harachaman" — "Merciful Father." The uniqueness of Eretz Yisrael is that it is blessed with G-d's mercy, as the Torah states, "A land that G-d, your G-d, seeks out, the eyes of G-d your G-d are always upon it from the beginning of the year to years end" (Devarim 11:12).
Incidentally, the milk referred to in the praise of Eretz Yisrael is not cow's milk but goat's milk, and the honey is date honey rather than bee honey (Shemot 13:5, Rashi).
"You shall distinguish between the clean animal and the unclean and between the unclean bird and the clean." (20:25)
QUESTION: Why in regard to animals does the verse mention the clean animals first, and in regard to birds the unclean birds are mentioned first?
The Gemara (Chullin
63b) says that Hashem knew that there are more unclean animals in the world than clean ones and that there are more clean birds than unclean. Therefore, when the Torah speaks of the clean and unclean animals and birds, it lists the clean animals, and the unclean birds. From this the Gemara
derives that a teacher should always use concise language when teaching his students.
From the fact that the Torah says "zot hachayah asher tochlun mikol habeheimah" — "these are the creatures you may eat from among all the animals" (11:2), the Gemara (Chullin 42a) derives that Hashem held up each animal and told Moshe, "This you shall eat."
Since it is important to be brief when teaching, undoubtedly, Hashem showed Moshe the clean animals, and all the others automatically being designated as unclean. Likewise, with the birds He showed him the unclean ones, and all the others are clean.
This pasuk alludes to this procedure by telling us, "You shall distinguish between the clean animal and the unclean — by My displaying the clean animals, you will be able to distinguish and automatically know which are unclean, uvein ha'of hatemei latahor — and between the unclean and clean birds — that is, by My displaying the unclean birds — you will know that all the other birds are clean."