How Does One Perceive His Fellow Jew?
By Rabbi Yosef Kalatsky
1. How Does One Perceive His Fellow Jew?
The Torah states, "You shall not taunt or oppress a stranger (ger), for
you were strangers in the land of Egypt." Rashi explains that one is not
permitted to say anything hurtful to a ger simply because he is a
stranger. This applies not only to the convert but also to anyone who is
a stranger in the community. The Torah says that the reason for this is
that the Jewish people were strangers in Egypt. Thus, they could
appreciate what it means to be treated in this manner. Rashi cites the
Gemara in Tractate Bava Mitziah which states, "If you taunt the ger
because he is a stranger, he can respond by saying that you yourselves
were strangers in Egypt. One's own blemish should not be projected onto
another." What is the linkage between our experience in Egypt and
mistreating a "stranger in our midst"?
A person speaks critically of another because he believes that he does not
possess the same shortcomings as that person. The Torah tells us that one
should not view his fellow Jew in such a light, although he is a stranger,
because we ourselves were strangers in Egypt. Meaning, that although we
were part of our own community, we were still not accepted by the Egyptian
society. If one appreciates the feeling of being rejected due to being
different, then it is not possible to reject the person who comes from a
different background and orientation.
The Torah tells us that Egypt was a depraved and corrupt, pagan society.
If this were the case, why would the Jewish people feel unwanted and
unaccepted by the Egyptians when they would not even want anything to do
with that caliber of individual? Apparently, regardless of the type of
community or society in which one lives, there is a need to be accepted
even if it is on a subconscious level. One wants to be valued,
acknowledged, and appreciated for what he is.
However if one lives his life to serve G-d he will not be concerned how he
is viewed by others. He will not need the validation of others to give
him a sense of worth. To be concerned about what others think is
considered a failing in one's level of humility. If one is doing the Will
of Hashem, then why should he be concerned with not being accepted by
those who do not value that which is correct and special? By
stating, "You shall not taunt..." the Torah is addressing the individual
who only appreciates a person who is similar to himself rather than
looking at the quality of that person. If he would look at the other
individual as he is seen by G-d, there would be no basis to reject or
taunt him even though he is different. If he bases his self worth on how
he is viewed by Hashem, then in turn, he will view the stranger according
to his intrinsic value rather than how others perceive him.
The Torah states in the Portion of Yisro, "You shall not ascend My Altar
with steps, so that your nakedness will not be uncovered upon it." One
ascended the altar on a ramp and not with steps. This was because when
one lifts his leg it is considered a disrespectful gesture although his
body is covered. Rashi cites Chazal who state that exposing oneself to the
stones while ascending the Altar is disrespectful to the stones that have
a specific function vis-à-vis the Altar. The Torah is teaching us the
degree of sensitivity one must have towards his fellow man. If one is
sensitive and does not behave in a disrespectful manner towards stones
(which have a specific purpose), yet are inanimate, how much more so
should one behave with sensitivity towards one's fellow, who is created in
the image of G-d for a specific function, i.e. serving Him.
2. The Jew's Participation in Creation
Regarding the building of the Mishkan (Sanctuary), the Torah
states, "Hashem spoke to Moshe saying: Speak to the Children of Israel and
let them take for Me a portion (Terumah), from every man whose heart
motivates him you shall take My portion." The Torah is telling us that
the only gift that qualified for the building of the Mishkan was one that
was given out of the generosity of one's heart. Rashi cites Chazal who
explain, "take for Me a portion" means that whatever was given for the
building of the Mishkan had to be given for the sake of G-d.
The purpose for building the Mishkan was to create a setting for Hashem to
dwell in our midst. As the verse states, "Make for Me a Sanctuary so that
I can dwell in your midst." One would think that such an important and
crucial task of building the Mishkan would be incumbent upon every Jewish
person. As we find regarding the giving of the Machtzis Ha'Shekel (the
half silver coin that was compulsory for every Jewish male above the age
of twenty to be given for the sake of purchasing communal offerings).
However, the Torah tells us that the materials that were presented for the
building of the Mishkan were not given as a tax or an obligation but out
of the generosity of one's heart. In fact, this was the only circumstance
under which they were found acceptable. How do we understand this?
The materials that were given by the Jewish people were used to build the
Mishkan rather than as a medium to purchase what was needed. This is
because just as existence emanated from G-d Himself when He Willed it,
identically the Mishkan had to emanate directly from the Jewish people.
At the beginning of the Portion of Vayakhel, the Torah juxtaposes the
building of the Mishkan to the observance of the Sabbath. Chazal
ask, "What is the significance of the juxtaposition?" They answer that as
important as the building of the Mishkan may be, it did not supercede and
override the observance of Shabbos. In addition, we learn from this that
all the creative activities that were needed for the building of the
Mishkan are the same ones that were forbidden on the Shabbos. What is the
relevance of one to the other?
The Torah states in the Portion of Yisro regarding the Ten
Commandments, "Remember the Shabbos and sanctify it because G-d created
the world in six days and rested on the seventh day." On the seventh day,
He refrained from creative activity. The Yalkut tells us that every
aspect of creation was alluded to and represented in the Mishkan. For
example, the curtains of the Mishkan corresponded to the heavens. As the
verse states in Tehillim (Psalms), "Hashem spread the heavens like a
curtain..." At the time of creation, Hashem had said, "Let the waters
gather..." This corresponds to the laver, which contained water that was
used to ritualize the hands and feet of the Kohen before his service.
When Hashem entered existence, the entire world radiated with His glory.
The lighting of the Menorah corresponds and represents to that radiance.
Thus, the Mishkan was a microcosm of existence in its entirety.
Therefore, all the creative activities that were performed in the building
of the Mishkan correspond to G-d's creativity that brought about
existence. Since the Jewish people are the testament to the world that
Hashem created existence, they must emulate Him by being involved in
creativity for six days and refraining from it on the seventh day.
It is stated in Tehillim, "LeOlam chesed yiboneh -the world was created
out of chesed (the kindness of Hashem)." Creation was an expression of G-
d's chesed to give mankind an opportunity to merit the ultimate goodness.
Just as creation came into existence because of chesed, identically the
Mishkan, which is a replication of existence, must emanate in a similar
manner. Therefore, all the materials that were given for the building of
the Mishkan had to meet the prerequisite of the characteristic of chesed -
"take for Me a portion (Terumah), from every man whose heart motivates
him." It was only then that Hashem could "dwell in our midst."
3. The Exodus from Egypt - A Re-Enactment of Creation
The Gemara in Tractate Chullin tells us that if a person is an apostate
regarding the observance of Shabbos, he is the equivalent of one who
rejects the entire Torah. Rashi explains that the observance of Shabbos
is a testament to the world that G-d is the Creator of existence. Just as
He created for six days and refrained on the seventh, so too the Jew (who
is Hashem's representation vis-à-vis mankind) also works six days and
rests on the seventh. If the Jew does not observe the Shabbos, he is
denying the fact that G-d is the Creator. Thus, he is classified as a
The Mishna in Pirkei Avos (Ethics of Our Father) tells us that the world
was created through the Ten Utterances of Hashem. We find that the
number "ten" manifests itself many times during the developmental period
of the Jewish people. Rabbeinu Bachya explains in the Portion of Bereishis
that because there were the Ten Utterances, which brought about creation,
there were Ten Plagues in Egypt concluding with the Ten Commandments at
Although the Jewish people became G-d's people at Sinai, the process began
in Egypt. Initially when Hashem sent Moshe to tell Pharaoh to release the
Jewish people from bondage, He said to Moshe "Tell Pharaoh... Release My
son, My firstborn (Beni Bechori)." Hashem identified the Jewish people as
his first-born child, which signifies a close relationship, as between a
father and his son. Subsequently, the Torah tells us that Hashem said to
Moshe "Tell Pharaoh in My Name Shlach Ami - Send out My people." This
verse identifies the Jewish People as "My People." Meaning, that at that
moment the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people was as a King to
The evolution of the Jewish people as a Nation began with the Ten Plagues
in Egypt. It is interesting to note that during the period of the
Plagues, the Jewish people played a passive role. They did not need to
take any action in order to bring about the Plagues. Just as Creation
came about purely because G-d Willed it, so too the Plagues come upon
Egypt because of the Will of Hashem. The moment it was time for the
Jewish people to be redeemed, Hashem brought it about without their
participation. Just as creation came about without anyone's initiative,
it was only G-d Himself who Willed it to be. In addition, the Jewish
people were passive regarding the splitting of the Sea. As the verse
states, "Do not fear! Stand fast and see the salvation of Hashem that He
will perform for you today...Hashem shall do battle for you, and you shall
The only prerequisite for the miracles to have taken place was that the
Jewish people should maintain their faith in Hashem. The period between
the exodus from Egypt and culminating with the giving of the Torah at
Sinai was a re-enactment of creation. Before the Jews left Egypt, they
were not deserving of redemption because of their pagan beliefs. Just as
creation came about as a result of the Chesed of Hashem, so too, the
redemption and all that transpired during that time (revealed miracles)
came about because of G-d's unlimited Kindness.
After G-d created light by saying, "There shall be light," the Torah
states, "It was evening it was morning it was yom echad (Day one)." The
Midrash asks, "Why is the first day referred to as yom echad (day one) and
not yom rishon (first day)?" Seemingly, the proper reference should have
been the "first day" of the seven days of creation. The Midrash answers
that the reason the Torah uses the term yom echad is to indicate that the
only thing that existed on that day was G-d Himself. Even the angels were
created on the second day. The first day of creation is referred to
as "yom echad" to indicate that only the unity of Hashem existed and
nothing else. Once the angels, who were spiritual beings of various
dimensions, came into existence, the obviousness of G-d's Unity became
Prior to receiving the Torah at Sinai, the Torah states, "They journeyed
from Rephidim and arrived at the Wilderness of Sinai and encamped in the
Wilderness; and Israel encamped (vayichan) there, opposite the mountain."
Rashi cites Chazal who explain that the Torah uses the term "vayichan -
encamped" in the singular form rather than the plural to indicate that the
Jewish people gathered opposite the mountain like a single person with
a "single heart." Being unified was a prerequisite for the Jewish people
to receive the Torah because that oneness reflects the unity of Hashem -
which is the commonality between the Jewish people and G-d.
Through their unity, the Jewish people reached the level of "Naaseh
v'nishma - we will do and we will listen." This astounded even the angels
in heaven. When the Jewish people negated themselves by stating that they
were committed to the Torah without knowing the extent of its obligation,
they were acknowledging that there is nothing in existence except G-d
Himself. This moment at Sinai was similar to the "yom echad" of
creation. Just as on the first day of creation when all that existed was
G-d and there was nothing to detract from Him, so too at Sinai the Jewish
people had a level of clarity that enabled them to see that nothing
existed other than Hashem. Thus, when the Jewish people declared, "Naaseh
v'nishma" they became G-d's people - a holy and priestly nation.
4. What is the Significance of "Make for Me a Dwelling Place?"
The Ramchal writes in his work Derech Hashem that when G-d created the
world it had the capacity to accommodate His Presence. This was the
intent of creation. However, because of the sin of Adam and the spiritual
impurity that resulted, existence could no longer function in that
context. It was not until Sinai that existence was elevated and restored
to its original level of spirituality, thus having the capacity to
accommodate Hashem's Presence.
The Gemara in Tractate Shabbos tells us that when the Jewish people
said, "Naaseh v'nishma - we will do and we will listen" the world was
restored to the spiritual level that existed before the sin of Adam. Had
the Jewish people not participated in the sin of the Golden Calf, they
would have lived eternally as initially intended. Rashi cites the Midrash,
which says that at the giving of the Torah at Sinai G-d, brought heaven
down to earth. However, due to the sin of the Golden Calf, existence
reverted to the post-sin status. Consequently, the world could no longer
accommodate G-d's Presence.
Since the world was not able to contain Hashem's Presence, which was the
initial intent of creation, Hashem said to the Jewish people, "Make for Me
a Sanctuary so that I may dwell in your midst." This commandment needed to
be carried out by the Jewish people themselves. Until Sinai, they were in
a passive capacity vis-à-vis redemption, the miracles, etc. Hashem carried
them all the way and there was no need for them to take any initiative.
However, once the Jews failed with the Golden Calf, they themselves had to
take steps to bring about change. Their efforts from below brought about
efforts from above. The Jewish people needed to actively participate in
the building of the Mishkan.
As the Midrash explains, the Mishkan was a microcosm of existence. Every
aspect of creation was represented in the Mishkan. It was in the context
of the Mishkan that Hashem would be able to dwell amongst the Jewish
people. This is because the building of the Mishkan was a reenactment of
There were thirteen materials needed to build the Mishkan. The numerical
value of the word "echad- one" is also thirteen. One could say that the
reason Hashem wanted the Jewish people to build the Mishkan comprised of
thirteen materials was that it had to accommodate His Oneness.
The Yalkut tells us that Hashem said to the Jewish people, "Do not think
that you are doing an act of chesed (kindness) for Me by giving Me all the
materials that were needed for the Mishkan. The thirteen materials which
you are giving Me correspond to the thirteen levels of accommodation that
I provided for you in Egypt before the exodus." Meaning, Hashem regarded
the materials of the Mishkan as an expression of a debt of gratitude. If
Hashem commanded them to build a location for Him to dwell in their midst,
why must He stress the fact that by providing the materials they were not
doing Him a favor? Why was it important for them to know that the
materials expressed a debt of gratitude to Him? The question becomes even
more difficult, because the materials, which the Jews were providing for
the Mishkan, were the same valuables that Hashem had given them in Egypt.
The Torah states, "They found favor in the eyes of the Egyptians." Hashem
performed a miracle, which caused the Egyptians to view the Jewish people
in a positive light and thus enabled them to relinquish their wealth to
the Jews. Since this was the case, why would the donor think he was doing
an act of chesed for Hashem when providing these materials to build the
There is a Positive Commandment stated in the Portion of Ki Savo that when
the Jewish people entered into the Promised Land of Israel they were
obligated to bring once a year the new fruits and grains to the Bais
HaMikdosh, on the Temple Mount, and make the declaration of Bekurim (first
fruit). The declaration was an expression of the debt of gratitude for
all that Hashem had done for Jewish people. At the conclusion, the person
proclaimed, "These are the fruits from the Land that You gave us."
The Midrash cites the position of Reb Yossi who rules that one is not
obliged to bring the new fruits and grains from the trans-Jordan side of
the river because they are the produce of a land that was taken by two and
a half tribes and not given to them by G-d. These two and a half tribes,
who took the initiative, approached Moshe Rabbeinu, and asked him if they
could settle the trans-Jordan side of the river because of all the grazing
lands that were needed for their sheep and cattle. Moshe consulted with G-
d and He allowed them to receive that land as their portion as long as
they crossed the Jordan and conquered Israel with their brothers.
If in fact the only reason they received the trans-Jordan side as their
portion because G-d allowed it, then why is that land considered any less
(vis-à-vis the Bekurim obligation) than the other side of the Jordan,
which was considered Israel proper? One can say that although they were
only able to retain their portion on the trans-Jordan side of the river
was because G-d allowed them to; nevertheless, since they had taken the
initiative to ask for that portion, they (in their minds) attributed their
possession of the land to their own initiative. Therefore, the debt of
gratitude for what they had received was not as clear as the level of
gratitude that the Jewish people had for the Land of Israel.
Thus, Reb Yossi is of the position that one has no obligation to bring the
Bekurim from the fruits and grains of the trans-Jordan side of the river.
The quality of the expression of gratitude that is proclaimed regarding
the Bekurim ritual needs to be an acknowledgement that the person is only
giving back to Hashem that which is His. It is not sufficient for one to
think that the fruits he is giving were somehow brought about through his
The concept of "Echad - Unity" is an understanding and recognition that
Hashem is everything and there is nothing but Him. Everything is a
manifestation of His expression. When G-d asked the Jewish people to
provide the thirteen materials of the Mishkan, which is the numerical
value of "Echad," G-d was conveying that He was asking for these materials
as a debt of gratitude for them to understand that what they were giving
was in fact His. The only way the Mishkan had capacity to accommodate
Hashem's Presence was if there was an understanding that there is nothing
but Him. It was imperative for the Jewish people to understand that what
they were doing vis-à-vis the Mishkan was not an act of chesed because
that would have interfered with the understanding of Echad.
5. What Determines True Value?
The Torah enumerates the materials that were needed for the building of
the Mishkan. The Torah lists these materials seemingly in descending
order of preciousness - commencing with "gold and silver" which are the
most precious. We see, however, that the last two items mentioned are
the "avnei shoham v' avnei miluim (the shoham stones and the filling
stones)." These were precious colored gems. If the Torah were listing the
materials in order of preciousness, one would think that these items
should have been listed first and then followed by "gold and silver." Why
are the avnei shoham and avnei miluim mentioned last if they are the most
The Torah states that all the Jews were asked to participate in the
building of the Mishkan by donating the necessary materials, "...They
shall take to Me a portion, from every man whose heart will motivate
him..." The Midrash tells us that the Princes of Israel donated the
precious gems (the avnei shoham and miluim) that were needed for the
breastplate worn by the High Priest and the Ephod (garment of the High
Priest). When the Torah writes the word "Niseeim (Princes)" regarding
their participation in the building of the Mishkan, it is written with the
yud deleted even though the yud is usually needed to express the plural
form. This indicated that the Princes were deficient because of their
gifts. The Midrash tells us that the Niseeim initially did not participate
in the building of the Mishkan. They had said, "Let the Jews participate
in the building to the extent that they can and whatever remains
unfinished we will complete." G-d reprimanded the Princes by saying, "How
could you wait to see what was lacking and only then complete the Mishkan
for the sake of your own glory and take a chance that your participation
would not be needed."
The Ohr Ha'Chaim HaKadosh explains that although the intrinsic material
worth of the avnei shoham and avnei miluim was considered of great value,
on the spiritual scale they were considered of inferior worth because of
the purity that the Princes were lacking. Hashem does not recognize value
based on material worth but rather on spiritual purity. Since the intent
and motivation behind the giving of the precious stones was deficient, the
Torah mentions them last.
The Ohr Ha'Chaim HaKadosh offers another reason the gems were mentioned
last, despite their material worth. He cites the Midrash, which says that
the avnei shoham and avnei miluim were given to the Jewish people together
with the mann (manna-spiritual food). Since these precious stones came to
the Jewish people without any effort whatsoever, it was not difficult to
give them away for the building of the Mishkan. If one performs a mitzvah
that is difficult for him to perform then it takes on greater value. The
avnei shoham and avnei miluim are mentioned last relative to the other
materials because they were less difficult to relinquish.
The value of a mitzvah is determined by the effort that one expends to
perform it. For example, there are two aspects to the study of Torah: one
is the gaining of Torah knowledge (yidiaas Ha' Torah) and the other is the
study of Torah (limud Ha'Torah) for its own sake. Even if one is
proficient in every aspect of Torah, he still has the obligation to study
the Torah. If one is endowed with exceptional intelligence and is able to
comprehend the Torah without much effort, this accomplishment is related
to yidiaas Ha' Torah. However, he must toil in the process of limud
Ha'Torah regardless of his abilities. It is the toiling, struggling, and
effort that infuse the mitzvah with greater value.
The Torah tells us that there is a certain sin offering that was brought
to the Bais HaMikdash based on one's financial status. A wealthy man
brought a meat offering while a poor man brought a bird for his sin
offering. The Gemara in Menachos states that although the wealthy man
brought a meat offering of significant value and a poor man brought a bird
offering of little material value, and although when one burns the meat
offering it has a fragrant smell and the bird with its feathers has a foul
smell, the Torah states regarding both of their offerings, "It gives great
pleasure to G-d." The Gemara states that the Torah is teaching
us, "Regardless of how much or how little one does, as long as it is done
with the proper intent for the sake of Hashem, it is identically valued."
The Gemara in Tractate Sanhedrin states, "All that Hashem desires from a
person is his heart," which means one's feeling and dedication to the
mitzvah. When one performs a mitzvah, Hashem will value it in a special
way only if it is infused with dedication and feeling. We see that
Hashem viewed the precious stones that were given by the Princes as
something of inferior quality because they did not perform this mitzvah
with zeal and proper intent. It is not what one gives, but how one gives
6. Understanding the Value of Inspiration
The Torah states regarding the building of the Mishkan
(Sanctuary), "Hashem spoke to Moshe saying: Speak to the Children of
Israel and let them take for Me a portion (Terumah), from every man whose
heart motivates him (yidvenu leebo) you shall take My portion." In the
Portion of Vayakhel the Torah states regarding the building of the
Mishkan, "Every man whose heart inspired him (yeesah leebo) came; and
everyone whose spirit motivated him brought the portion of Hashem..." We
see from these two references that their were two types of people who
provided for the building of the Mishkan - those who were "motivated by
their hearts"- yidvenu leebo and those who gave with an "inspired heart"-
yeesah leebo. What is the difference between these people?
The Ohr HaChaim HaKodesh explains that the difference is that a person who
has a generous heart will give to the "best of his ability" to support the
cause which he values. Giving to the best of one's ability means giving
to the point that it does not infringe on one's own needs. In contrast,
the "inspired" person gives beyond his means without taking into
consideration his own needs, because of the degree of his own
inspiration. To this person all that exists is the cause that needs to be
supported and all other concerns are not considered. He is consumed with
the cause. Clearly, the person at the level of yeesah leebo "inspired
heart" is at a more advanced level than the person who is "motivated" by
When Hashem said to the Jewish people, "...Make for Me a Sanctuary - so
that I may dwell in your midst," the person with the inspired heart
understood this as the ultimate moment of opportunity. That person gave
whatever was needed to build the Mishkan without consideration of anything
else. However, the Torah tells us that despite the invaluable opportunity
that was at hand, there were those who only gave in a calculated manner.
Those were the people with a "generous" heart. They valued the cause but
were not consumed with it.
Rambam in Hilchos Talmud Torah (The Laws of studying Torah) explains the
manner in which one acquires the "Crown of Torah" (Kesser Torah). Rambam
states, "The Crown of Torah is lying in the corner. It is available for
every Jew who wants to partake of it." He states, "The one who is inspired
by his heart (to acquire the Crown of Torah) should not be distracted by
anything. He must be singly focused." Rambam cites Pirkei Avos (Ethics of
Our Fathers), which outlines how one must live his life to acquire
Torah. "This is the way of Torah - bread with salt you shall eat, water in
measured amounts you shall drink, on the floor you shall sleep, and a life
of deprivation you shall live." Rambam uses the term "the one who is
inspired" by his heart to mean that he is addressing the one who is
consumed with the need to achieve that special level of involvement in
Torah. To this person, what he eats and where he sleeps is irrelevant.
All that exists for this person is the Torah itself. Anything else in life
is an incidental. According to this understanding, what is stated in
Pirkei Avos is not a prescription to acquire the Crown of Torah, but
rather that mode of life which is described is an indication of one who is
sufficiently inspired to acquire Torah.
The Torah refers to the decedents of Esav as "alufim." The Gemara in
Tractate Sanhedrin tells us that the meaning of "aluf" is a "king without
a crown." The commentators explain that only the emperor wore the crown,
but the monarchs of the vassal states (the alufim) did not because they
were not the true kings. A crown identifies the essence of the person.
Thus, if one is not the true king, he does not wear the crown of a king.
Similarly, one who possesses the crown of Torah is an embodiment of Torah.
He is not someone who merely possesses and engages in Torah study. His
entire being is permeated and imbued with Torah. The one who is permeated
and imbued with Torah is the one who is "inspired" by his heart to acquire
If a person, wants to reach this level of inspiration to be driven to
acquire Torah he needs to have a special level of appreciation of Torah,
which can only come about with Divine Assistance (siyata d'shmaya). We
say in the blessing of the Shema, "...instill in our hearts to understand
and elucidate, to listen, learn, safeguard, perform, and fulfill all the
words of Your Torah's teaching with love." We pray that Hashem should
inspire our hearts and give us that special level of appreciation.
Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Yosef Kalatsky and Torah.org.
These are the Torah Commentaries from last year. If you would like to
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Rabbi Kalatsky is the founder of the Yad Avraham Institute, a New York-based learning center whose mission is to disseminate Torah to Jews of all backgrounds and walks of life.