We read in this week's parashah (19:28), "You may not cut your
flesh for the dead . . . I am Hashem." Rashi writes earlier in
the parashah (19:17) that the expression "I am Hashem" usually
means "I can be trusted to pay the reward for your good deeds."
Look in what context Hashem promises to reward us! says R'
Isaac Sher z"l (Rosh Yeshiva in Slobodka and of the transplanted
Slobodka Yeshiva in Bnei Brak; died 1952). "Don't injure
yourselves, and I will reward you."
This is just one reminder of Hashem's immense love for us,
notes R' Sher. Another is the verse in Shir Hashirim (6:3), "I
am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me." Hashem actually
allows us to call Him, who is so exalted, our "Beloved." Not
only that, but that verse concludes, "Who shepherds us amongst
roses." What does this mean? That Hashem desires to make our
lives as pleasant and "sweet-smelling" as possible.
The above mitzvah (regarding injuring oneself) is taught again
in Devarim (14:1): "You are Hashem's children; do not cut
yourselves . . ." Again, we see that Hashem rewards us as His
children even for doing what is obviously good for us. However,
we also see what is expected of us. Chazal say that the term
"children" also means "students," particularly, students of
Torah. We must therefore act like Hashem's children, firstly, by
learning Torah, and also by carrying ourselves with the regal
bearing and pride in our Torah that befits children of the King
of Kings. (Leket Sichot Mussar II p.7)
"Speak to Bnei Yisrael and say to them: `I am Hashem, your
R' David Zvi Hoffman z"l (1844-1926; rosh yeshiva at Berlin's
Hidesheimer Seminary) writes: G-d introduces the laws of incest
and other forbidden relationships, and stresses their importance,
by reintroducing himself, so-to-speak. "I am Hashem" - your
merciful Father. "I am Elokim" - the Creator of the laws of
nature. "I am your Elokim" - I have chosen you to be a holy
nation living a holy life.
"I am Hashem." Hashem, which signifies the Attribute of Loving-
kindness, is one of the Names He used when He gave Adam a wife
(see Bereishit 2:18). In His love for man, G-d gave him a wife
to be his aizer / helper. Therefore, man has no need for
"I am Elokim." This Name signifies G-d as the Creator. G-d
has established what is a natural relationship and what is
"I am your Elokim." Many of the forbidden relationships are
prohibited to all of the descendants of Noach, but Hashem has
placed additional restrictions and laws upon Bnei Yisrael as a
means to achieve kedushah / holiness.
(Sefer Vayikra Meforash B'ydai R' D.Z. Hoffman)
"You shall love your fellow as yourself -- I am Hashem."
The Gemara (Shabbat 31a) relates the story of a would-be
convert who approached the sage Hillel and said, "Teach me the
entire Torah while I stand on one foot."
Hillel replied, "What is hateful to you, do not do to others.
This is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Go learn it."
How does this statement encapsulate the entire Torah? R'
Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z"l (1865-1935) explains: It is
impossible to love another as you love yourself unless you see
the two of you as organs of the same body. This, in turn, can
only come about if you see all of the Jewish people as working
together to accomplish the Divine plan - the unification of all
of creation under G-d's banner.
This Divine purpose is alluded to by the concluding teaching of
the Mishnah (Uktzin 3:12), "G-d did not find any vessel that
could hold a blessing for Yisrael except for shalom / peace or
harmony." The ultimate goal of all our service is for Klal
Yisrael, and then the world, to unite in the recognition of G-d.
But until this is achieved, G-d cannot shower His full blessing
on us, for the vessel - peace and harmony - is yet incomplete.
(Midbar Shur: Hadrush Harishon)
"Any man from Bnei Yisrael and from the proselyte who lives
with Yisrael, who shall offer of his descendants to Molech,
shall be put to death; the am ha'aretz / people of the land
shall pelt him with stones." (20:2)
This verse refers to a certain idolatrous practice that
involved passing one's child through a fire. Why, asks R' Akiva
Yosef Schlesinger z"l (1835-1922), does the Torah specify that
the "people of the land," the common folk, shall pelt him with
stones? He explains:
There are two kinds of people who sin. One sins to satisfy his
own desires (for example, because he loves the taste of this or
that non-kosher food), while the other sins to spite G-d, so-to-
speak. The one who sins to obtain pleasure is not likely to try
to entice others to sin. To the contrary, he knows deep down
that he should control his desires, and he hopes that his son
will grow up to be better than he is. On the other hand, the one
who sins to anger G-d is likely to recruit others to his cause.
A person whose life is threatened by a dangerous animal may
kill that animal, even on Shabbat. Similarly, one who would
offer his own son as a sacrifice is a (spiritual) danger to
others, for he obviously is sinning only out of spite and is
likely to try to recruit others to his ways. Thus, says the
verse: The people of the land, the common folk, shall pelt him
"If two people are sitting and there are no words of Torah
passing between them, this is called a session of scorners,
as it is written (Tehilim 1:1-2), `[Praiseworthy is the man
who did not walk in the counsel of the wicked . . . ] and
did not sit in a session of scorners. [Rather, his only
desire is in the Torah of Hashem.]'"
(Avot, Ch. 3)
R' Moshe Sofer z"l (1763-1839; the "Chatam Sofer"; foremost
rabbi and rosh yeshiva in 19th century Hungary) asks: The verse
that praises the tzaddik for not sitting "in a session of
scorners" implies that a tzaddik would sit with one scorner. Can
He answers that the verse must be understood as follows: Man is
a combination of two competing parts - the intellect and the
body. The body is naturally drawn toward joining forces with the
yetzer hara, while the intellect remains aloof. The intellect is
the tzaddik, and the yetzer hara and the body are the two
Only through Torah study can the intellect/tzaddik attract the
body/scorner to his side. Thus, if a person is not studying
Torah, his intellect is like tzaddik sitting among two scorners.
"Praiseworthy is the man who did not sit in a session of
scorners." Says our Mishnah: If two people are sitting and no
words are passing between them, each of them is sitting in a
session of scorners.
(Masechet Avot Im Peirush Ha'Chatam Sofer)
R' Dr. Joseph B. Soloveitchik z"l
In December 1940, upon the passing of Yeshiva College / Yeshiva
Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan (RIETS) president, Rabbi Dr. Bernard
Revel, R' Soloveitchik was proposed as a candidate for that
position. However, Dr. Revel's death was followed within two
months by the passing of the institution's rosh yeshiva, R' Moshe
Soloveitchik, and many felt that R' Soloveitchik was the logical
candidate to inherit his father's position instead of the
presidency. In light of the adoration that generations of
students would later have for R' Soloveitchik, it is interesting
to note that there was substantial student opposition to his
appointment. The reason was that R' Soloveitchik was an active
member of the Agudas Harabbonim / Union of Orthodox Rabbis (not
to be confused with the O-U), an association of European-trained,
Yiddish-speaking pulpit rabbis that was often at odds with the
younger, American-trained and often-American-born, secularly-
educated, RIETS graduates. As a compromise, the yeshiva's board
resolved to offer R' Soloveitchik a one-year contract, "during
which time he was to prove his usefulness."
Needless to say, R' Soloveitchik apparently satisfied the
board, as he went on to teach at the yeshiva for 44 years, until
ill health forced his retirement in 1985. Throughout his career
at RIETS, he continued to live in Boston and to take an active
interest in Jewish education in that city. Among his other
activities, he was honorary president of the Zionist Mizrachi
organization. (In 1959, R' Soloveitchik was proposed as a
candidate for Israel's Chief Rabbinate, but he declined to be
considered, explaining that he did not want a position where his
rulings might be debated in the Cabinet.)
It has been claimed that R' Soloveitchik was the teacher of the
majority of American-trained Orthodox pulpit rabbis in the second
half of the 20th century. In part, his popularity derived from
his ability to relate to the changing nature of American youth
over his long career. Another factor was his ability to lecture
equally comfortably on complex Talmudic subjects and profound
philosophical issues, whether in Yiddish, English or Hebrew. (In
the yeshiva, he officially switched from lecturing in Yiddish to
English in 1960.)
For many years, R' Soloveitchik delivered an annual yahrzeit-
shiur in memory of his father. These lectures were attended by
thousands of listeners, including many from outside the Yeshiva
University community, and sometimes lasted four or five hours.
He also delivered regular public lectures in other forums.
In the tradition of his ancestors, R' Soloveitchik published
relatively little until the last decade of his life.
Nevertheless, there are today dozens of books containing his
halachic and aggadic talks, some published from students' notes
and others from cassette tapes of R' Soloveitchik himself. (Some
of these tapes are themselves widely available.) R' Soloveitchik
passed away during Chol Ha'moed Pesach, 18 Nissan 5753/ April 8,
1993. He had three children, Dr. Atarah Twersky, Dr. Tovah
Lichtenstein and Rabbi Dr. Haym Soloveitchik.