The last part of our parashah tells the story of the
blasphemer. The Torah relates that this individual fought with
another Jew and ended up cursing G-d. Not knowing the punishment
for that sin, Bnei Yisrael placed the blasphemer in custody and
sought instructions from Hashem.
In response, Hashem informed Bnei Yisrael that one who
blasphemes incurs the death penalty. He also taught them the
punishments for killing another person, killing an animal,
injuring another person, and hitting one's parent. R' Eliezer
Ashkenazi z"l (1513-1585; rabbi in Egypt, Italy and Poland) asks:
Why did Hashem teach these laws at this time?
Also, not only are these laws seemingly unrelated to the story,
it would seem to have been unnecessary for the Torah to tell us
about the fight in which this person was involved just before he
blasphemed. Why are we given this information?
R' Ashkenazi explains: The Torah wishes to teach us the danger
of becoming angry, and to warn us that particularly when a person
is angry, he must consider the consequences of his actions. What
started as a fight between two Jews ended with one combatant
losing control of himself, cursing G-d, and incurring the death
penalty. One who does not control his anger will kill an animal
one day and may kill a person the next day. Or, he may intend to
slap another person lightly and end up injuring him. An angry
person may even go so far as to strike his parent. This is what
the Torah warns us to avoid. (Ma'asei Hashem)
"But an ox or a sheep or goat, you may not slaughter it
[literally: 'him'] and its offspring on the same day."
The halachah is that if one slaughters a female animal and its
offspring on the same day, he is liable for the punishment of
makkot/lashes. However, if one slaughters a male animal and its
offspring on the same day, he is not liable for lashes.
According to Rashi, it is even permitted.
How can the law regarding a female animal be more stringent
than the law regarding a male animal, considering that the above
verse uses the masculine "him and his offspring" rather than "her
and her offspring"? R' Yochanan Luria z"l (died 1577) explains
that notwithstanding the language, the above interpretation is
the only one possible. The reason for this is as follows:
The halachah is that when one is in doubt regarding the
application of a Torah law, he must act stringently. [For
example, if one does not remember whether he has recited kriat
shema or birkat hamazon, he must recite them (again).] Therefore,
were it prohibited to slaughter a male animal and its offspring
on the same day, it would be virtually impossible to ever
slaughter a male animal, for it is usually not known who an
animal's father is, and maybe an offspring of this father has
already been slaughtered today. Yet, the Torah explicitly
permits slaughtering male animals (e.g., as certain sacrifices).
This forces us to conclude that despite using a masculine form,
the Torah actually meant to refer to females.
"Speak to Bnei Yisrael and say to them, 'Hashem's appointed
festivals that you designate as holy convocations - these
are My appointed festivals'."
R' Shmuel Yehuda Katzenellenbogen z"l (also known as R' Yehuda
Mintz; 1521-1597; Italy) writes: One of the oldest and most
widespread Jewish practices is to make the holy Torah the center
of all of our joys. Whereas others devote their holidays to
food, drink and frivolity, we, the people of Hashem, have our
Torah in our hearts, and, on our holidays, we devote the better
part of the day to expounding upon the Torah.
This is the meaning of the above verse: If you designate the
festivals as holy convocations, then they will be My appointed
festivals. If you sanctify yourselves on the holidays and devote
yourselves to Torah study, then they will be G-d's festivals. If
not, the prophet Yishayah has already said (1:14), "Your new
moons and festivals, My soul hated."
R' Katzenellenbogen continues: This applies not only to
festivals but also to weddings and even to social gatherings.
Thus we read in Pirkei Avot (chapter 3), "If three people eat at
one table and do not exchange divrei Torah, it is as if they have
eaten from sacrifices to idolatry."
(Derashot Mahari Mintz No. 4)
Rabbi Yishmael the son of Rabbi Yos‚ said: "One who studies
Torah in order to teach is given the means to study and to
teach. One who studies in order to practice is given the
means to study and to teach, to observe and to practice."
(Chapter 4, mishnah 6)
R' Menachem Nachum Friedman z"l (the heir-apparent to his
uncle, the "Stefanesti Rebbe," at the time of his own death in
1933) observes that there are manuscripts which have a different
version of this mishnah. They state: "One who studies Torah in
order to teach is not given the means to study and to teach."
This alternative version appears to be more correct, R' Friedman
writes, for the person that the mishnah describes is in fact a
He explains: The second part of the mishnah refers to a person
who studies Torah with the intention of implementing what he has
learned. The first part of the mishnah, then, must be referring
to a person who does not plan to practice what he learns. This
is nothing short of evil, and therefore the mishnah states that
Hashem will ensure that this person does not have the opportunity
to teach others.
Judaism does not permit man to separate theory and practice.
Thus, when one of the sages of the mishnah, the teacher of the
great Rabbi Meir, became a heretic, he was expelled from the bet
midrash and is forever known by the appellation "Acher"/"The
Other One," instead of by his own name. This is also what Hillel
meant when, in the famous story of the convert who wanted to
learn the entire Torah while standing on one foot, he said, "That
which is hateful to you, do not do to others - this is the entire
Torah and the rest is commentary."
R' Yom Tov Lipman Heller z"l (16th century) accepts the
standard reading ("is given the means"), and writes: Of course,
the first part of the mishnah does not refer to someone who
intends to teach the Torah, but not to observe it. About such a
person it is written (Tehilim 50:16): "But to the wicked, G-d
said, 'What business do you having discussing My decrees?'"
Rather, the first part of the mishnah speaks of someone whose
primary motivation is to teach Torah in order to be honored or in
order to earn a living. The mishnah teaches that such a person
will be assisted from Heaven even though his motives are not
pure. This person will not, however, be assisted to observe the
In contrast, the second part of the mishnah teaches that a
person whose motivation is pure - he studies Torah in order to
observe its laws - will be aided in all aspects of his
relationship to the Torah, teaching and mitzvah observance
(Tosfot Yom Tov)
Letters from Our Sages
This week's letter was written in 1936 by R' Yitzchak Isaac
Halevi Herzog z"l, then Chief Rabbi of Ireland. Shortly
afterward, the author became Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of
Palestine, and he served as Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel
until his death in 1959.
For centuries, the identity and origin of techelet - the
blue dye that the Torah says should be applied to tzitzit -
had been lost, but in 1887, R' Gershon Henoch Leiner z"l (the
"Radzhiner Rebbe") claimed to have rediscovered it. He said
that the source of techelet was the common cuttlefish (sepia
officinalis). A great deal of scholarly debate followed, and
R' Herzog himself wrote many articles on the subject, even
devoting his Ph.D. thesis to the subject.
The following letter appears in R' Herzog's She'eilot
U'teshuvot Be'dinei Orach Chaim, no. 11.
To the editors of [the journal] Ha'hed: Peace and blessings!
For various reasons, I have ceased [writing] the series of
articles on "Techelet in Yisrael" which were so well received in
their time. I may resume them, G-d willing, in the near future.
In the interim, however, I feel obligated to publicize the
Regarding the opinion of first-rate scientific experts that it
is impossible to derive the Radzhiner techelet from the colored
excretion of the sepia officinalis, I presumed that the true sage
[the Radzhiner Rebbe], in his awesome wisdom must have devised a
chemical process which brings out the blue color of that black
fluid. I assumed that the author of "The Process for Making the
Radzhiner Techelet," which is in my possession, must have omitted
that step, and therefore the scientists could not reproduce it.
This is what I assumed then. However, now, the Rebbe's nephew,
R' Yerucham Leiner who lives in London, researched the matter and
learned that the techelet is made to this day  exactly as
stated in that process. It is made openly, and nothing is
hidden. It turns out, therefore, that those scientific
"experts," although they stated with certainty that it is
impossible, actually had conducted no experiments and were only
speculating. This is an interesting outcome, and one can apply
this lesson to many other situations. "Give [a hint] to the wise
man and he will become wiser" [Mishlei 9:9].
Marcia Goodman and family
on the yahrzeit of
father and grandfather
Yehuda Zvi ben Shlomo Halevi a"h
Drs. Jerry & Barbara Belsh
of Edison, NJ in honor of
the bar mitzvah of their son
Sammy (Shmuel Dovid)