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The Chassidic Dimension - Volume 5
Interpretations of the Weekly Torah Readings and the Festivals.
Based on the Talks of The Lubavitcher Rebbe,
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson.


Compiled by Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg, Edited by Sichos In English

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"Like an Ox"

The Zohar[428] states that a Jewish servant, an Eved Ivri, who is sold to a Jew is freed of "the yoke of the divine kingdom," ol Malchus Shomayim, for which reason he is "freed from [observing] the commandments."

The Zohar's first statement that a Jewish servant is freed of "the yoke of the divine kingdom" lends itself to explanation. Since the person is subject to the yoke of a human being, it is impossible for him to be at the very same time completely under G-d's yoke.

However, with regard to the actual performance of the commandments, how can it be said that he is "freed from [observing] the commandments," when even an Eved Ivri who is sold to a gentile is obliged to observe all the commandments?

This will be understood in light of the fact that the Zohar -- quoted by the Alter Rebbe in Tanya[429] -- goes on to explain the concept of accepting the heavenly yoke with an analogy of "an ox that has first placed upon it a yoke, so that benefit will derive from him for the world ... So, too, must man first place upon himself the yoke of heaven ... If this is not found within him, then holiness will not reside within him."

What is gained by the Zohar's analogy of the ox that first has a yoke placed upon it? Furthermore, since the Alter Rebbe quotes this analogy (although he omits many other statements of that section in Zohar), we understand that this explains a crucial point in the concept of accepting the divine yoke. What crucial lesson do we derive from this analogy?

The reason why the Alter Rebbe cites this analogy -- and by doing so explains it as well -- is not to prove that a Jew must generally possess ol Malchus Shomayim, for that goes without saying: Since the root of all prohibitive commandments is fear of G-d,[430] it follows that a Jew must possess fear -- ol Malchus Shomayim -- in order that he not transgress these commandments.

Rather, the Alter Rebbe seeks to emphasize that for the sake of the positive commands as well, ol Malchus Shomayim is a prerequisite. In the words of the Alter Rebbe:[431] "Although fear is the root for 'turning away from evil' and love for 'doing good,' still, it does not suffice to only arouse love in order to 'do good.' At the very least, he must first arouse fear..."

Thus the analogy of the yoked ox from whom "benefit is derived" (and not only that he does not gore). So, too, with regard to man: accepting ol Malchus Shomayim means (not only assuring that he "turn away from evil," but) that "holiness reside within him" -- something that is accomplished by performing the positive commandments as well with ol Malchus Shomayim.

This, however, begs the following question. The Alter Rebbe also goes on to quote the analogue in Zohar, that "If this (ol Malchus Shomayim) is not found within him, then holiness will not reside within him." This, in itself, adequately demonstrates that ol Malchus Shomayim is a prerequisite for the indwelling of holiness brought about through the performance of the positive commandments. Why, then, does he cite the analogy of the ox?

This will be understood by explaining why the Alter Rebbe mentions "Although fear is the root for 'turning away from evil'" in his statement with regard to the necessity that positive commandments as well must possess not only love of G-d but also ol Malchus Shomayim. By doing so, he clearly explains why fear and ol Malchus Shomayim are necessary for the proper performance of the positive commandments:

We may have posited that we are speaking of a situation where the person is entirely lacking the aspect of fear and ol Malchus Shomayim. Thus the necessity of rousing this fear and yoke, for one's lack of these elements repudiates and stands in opposition to having holiness reside within the individual. For if one lacks ol Malchus Shomayim then he is not nullified to G-d and holiness cannot dwell within him, since "Holiness only resides within something that is nullified to Him."[432]

The Alter Rebbe therefore adds that "fear is the source of 'turning away from evil,'" thereby indicating that this individual does indeed possess ol Malchus Shomayim -- he merely lacks its application in the performance of positive commandments. Even in such an instance, explains the Alter Rebbe, if he does not apply ol Malchus Shomayim to positive deeds, holiness will not reside within him.

In order to give this added emphasis the Alter Rebbe quotes the analogy of the ox, which calls attention to this theme, as the yoke is placed upon the ox "so that benefit is derived from him."

The Zohar's statement that the Eved Ivri is "free" from the commandments, the mitzvos, will be understood accordingly:

The essential aspect of mitzvos is -- as indicated by its name -- "command," mitzvos are to be performed because we have been so commanded. Since the Eved Ivri is freed from ol Malchus Shomayim, he is therefore "freed" from performing the mitzvos in a manner of "command."

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VII, pp. 179-182.

Taking an Active Interest

This week's Torah portion contains the prohibition against giving or taking interest.[433] The passage concludes:[434] "I am G-d your L-rd who took you out of the land of Egypt... to be your G-d."

The Sifra comments on this verse, and notes: "From this verse we derive that whoever accepts the yoke of [prohibitory] interest casts off the yoke of heaven ... For whoever acknowledges the commandment of interest acknowledges the exodus from Egypt; whoever denies the commandment of interest is as if he denies the exodus from Egypt."

Why -- far more so than other commandments -- is the prohibition against interest so closely connected to the exodus from Egypt and the acceptance of the yoke of heaven?

Acceptance of the heavenly yoke -- something that finds its expression in the performance of mitzvos -- implies that G-d Himself participates in a Jew's spiritual service. This is alluded to in the blessing recited prior to the performance of a mitzvah, where we praise G-d for sanctifying us "with His commandments" -- the mitzvos that we perform are His, in that G-d performs them as well.[435]

There are two distinct aspects to G-d's performance of mitzvos:

  1. His performance precedes our performance of these selfsame commandments, as reflected in the saying of our Sages,[436] "What He [first] does, He commands the Jewish people to do";

  2. G-d performs the mitzvos in response to and as a result of our performance, in keeping with the statement of our Sages:[437] "Whoever learns Torah, G-d learns and studies opposite him." And just as this is so with regard to G-d's study of Torah, so too with regard to His observance of the mitzvos.

How do our actions, the actions of mere mortals, so influence and affect G-d that our performance of mitzvos stimulates His performance of mitzvos?

This will be understood by prefacing a more general question: Why is spiritual service necessary at all; why doesn't G-d grant us all of His spiritual bounty and beneficence without our having to labor for it. Especially so, since G-d is the ultimate good, why shouldn't He grant His creations everything they need without demanding spiritual service in return?

The explanation is as follows. The ultimate manifestation of kindness is when a recipient earns the good he receives; a gift dispensed gratis, without the recipient having to exert himself, is considered "bread of shame"[438] -- sustenance accompanied by a sense of shame at not having earned the bread that has been so graciously provided.

This is why G-d chose -- and His choice makes it actually so -- that our spiritual service and labor in mitzvos below result in the selfsame performance of mitzvos above. Were we to receive remuneration for spiritual service that fails to benefit our Employer -- that does not cause G-d to perform mitzvos -- we would still be receiving "bread of shame." For when the recipient knows that his work is of no consequence, he is embarrassed to receive payment.

The fact that the spiritual service of the Jewish people has an effect above is reflected in the commandment of prohibiting interest:

What is interest? Receiving profit because the money lent had at one time belonged to the borrower. By providing the borrower money and enabling him to do business, that is considered reason enough for the borrower to pay interest. Observing the prohibition against interest thus means deriving profit only from one's present possessions, and not from those possessions that one has lent to another.

The relationship between one Jew and another is mirrored in his relationship above. If a person transgresses the prohibition against interest, i.e., if he takes profit for resources only because they were once his, a similar pattern is followed in the spiritual realms -- there is no active investment from above in his spiritual service.

In contrast, when a person observes the prohibition against interest, G-d invests in him. Not only does He endow the person with potential before he begins his service -- "What He [first] does, He commands the Jewish people to do", but G-d remains an active partner -- "G-d reads and studies opposite him."

We now understand the underlying connection between the prohibition against interest, the acceptance of the heavenly yoke, and the Exodus:

The prohibition against interest is of all-embracing significance, reflecting the active partnership of G-d in one's service, an expression of G-d's yoke. By establishing such a connection with G-d, a person transcends all limitations -- the spiritual counterpart of the exodus from Egypt.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III, pp. 1007-1011



  1. (Back to text) Beginning of Behar, 108a.

  2. (Back to text) Ch. 41 (57a).

  3. (Back to text) See Tanya, ibid., and chapter 4.

  4. (Back to text) Ibid., ch. 41.

  5. (Back to text) Ibid., ch. 6.

  6. (Back to text) See Shulchan Aruch Admur HaZaken, beginning of Hilchos Ribis.

  7. (Back to text) Vayikra 25:38.

  8. (Back to text) See Likkutei Torah, Devarim, p. 9d, Shir HaShirim, p. 12a.

  9. (Back to text) Shmos Rabbah 30:9; Yerushalmi, Rosh HaShanah 1:3

  10. (Back to text) Tanna d'bei Eliyahu Rabbah, ch. 18; Yalkut Shimoni, Eichah, sec. 1034.

  11. (Back to text) Cf. Yerushalmi, Orlah 1:3; Likkutei Torah, Vayikra, p. 7d.

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