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, it would seem that it was not necessary for the Torah to
tell us about the fight in which the blasphemer was involved just
before he "blessed G-d," (in the euphemistic language of our
Sages). Why are we given told about his fight?
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 may 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)
"You shall sanctify him, for he offers the food of your G-d;
he shall remain holy to you, for holy am I, Hashem, Who
sanctifies you." (21:8)
R' Elazar Meir Preil z"l (1878-1933; rabbi of Elizabeth, New
Jersey) writes in the name of his brother R' Yehoshua Yosef Preil
z"l (1858-1896): This verse teaches that Judaism does not
attribute special status to its priests in the sense that some
other religions do. For example, we do not believe that any
person needs a kohen's help to pray successfully or to enter
heaven after death. We do not attribute divine or semi-divine
status to any person.
R' Preil continues: This is the meaning of the Gemara's
statement (Chullin 139b), "Where is Moshe alluded to in the
Torah? In the verse (Bereishit 6:3), `Hashem said, "My spirit
shall not contend evermore concerning Man, `beshagam' / since he
is but flesh; his days shall be a hundred and twenty years"'."
[The gematria of "beshagam" equals the gematria of Moshe's name.
Also, Moshe lived 120 years.] What does the Gemara mean when it
asks, "Where is Moshe alluded to in the Torah?" The Sages
obviously knew that Moshe is mentioned hundreds of times in the
Torah! And, why does the Gemara answer its question with a verse
that does not mention Moshe?
The answer, writes R' Preil, is that the Gemara was looking for
an allusion to our lesson. Where in the Torah is there a hint
that we do not deify Moshe (and certainly not any other leader)?
It is in this verse, which teaches that all men are but flesh.
"Speak to Bnei Yisrael and say to them - Hashem's appointed
festivals that you are to designate as holy convocations -
these are My appointed festivals. For six days labor may be
done, and the seventh day is a day of complete rest, a holy
convocation, you shall not do any work; it is a Shabbat for
Hashem in all your dwelling places." (23:2-3)
Rashi comments (quoting a midrash): What relation is there
between Shabbat and the festivals? [In other words, why is the
introductory verse which refers to the festivals followed by a
verse about Shabbat? Rashi answers:] By putting both into
juxtaposition, the Torah intends to teach you that he who
desecrates the festivals is regarded as though he had desecrated
Shabbat, and that he who keeps the festivals is regarded as
though he had kept Shabbat.
R' Zalman Rotberg shlita (rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Bet Meir in
Bnei Brak) explains: We are taught that one's success in a given
week is dependent in part upon the manner in which he observed
the preceding Shabbat. One's Shabbat-observance sets the tone
for the entire week to come. Thus, one cannot absorb the
holiness and the message of the festival unless he has observed
the prior Shabbat. If one transgresses the festival [either
literally, or by failing to realize the full opportunity for
growth that the festival provides], it is a sign that his
observance of the prior Shabbat was somehow lacking.
(Tuv Da'at p.16)
"Speak to Bnei Yisrael and say to them, `Hashem's appointed
festivals that you designate as holy convocations - these
are My appointed festivals'." (23:2)
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)
"You shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of
a citron tree . . ." (23:40)
Chazal say: Why is the fifteenth day of Tishrei called "the
first"? It is the first day in the reckoning of transgressions.
R' Yehuda Laib Sobel z"l (20th century Hungarian rabbi) offers
the following explanation: Each of the three festivals - Pesach,
Shavuot and Sukkot - atones in part for the sin of Adam. There
are four opinions in the Talmud as to what fruit the Etz Ha'daat
bore. Some say that the Etz Ha'daat was a grape vine, others say
it was a stalk of wheat, still others say that it was a fig tree,
and a fourth opinion is that it was an etrog tree.
On Pesach, we perform the mitzvah of matzah, which is made of
wheat, and we drink four cups of wine, which is made from grapes.
In this way, we atone for Adam's sin according to two opinions.
On Shavuot, we bring bikkurim / the first fruit, a major part
of which was figs. This atones for Adam's sin according to the
third opinion. Also, on Shavuot, we received the Torah. The
gematria of the word "Torah" equals 611, which is the combined
gematria of "chitah / wheat (22), "geffen" / grape (133), and
"te'ainah" / fig (456).
Finally, on Sukkot, we perform the mitzvah of etrog, which
atones for Adam's sin according to the last opinion.
Significantly, the gematria of the phrase "ha'rishon pri aitz
hadar" / "the first [day] the fruit of a citron tree" (209 + 160
+ 290 + 562 = 1221) equals the combined gematria of "chitah"
(22), "geffen" (133), "te'ainah" (456), and "etrog" / citron
(610). Thus, Sukkot is the first day in the reckoning of
transgressions, i.e., it is the day that alludes to the first of
transgressions. [It also appears to be the first day in the
cycle of the festivals starting with Pesach that the
transgression is atoned.]
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."
(Pirkei Avot, Chapter 4)
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 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." Many society's
preach this ideal, but if you wish to convert, you must practice
it as well.
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)
Sponsored by the Rutstein family,
in memory of mother and grandmother,
Pesha Batya bat Zemach a"h (Bessie Rutstein)
The Vogel family, in memory of mother and grandmother
Bluma bat Shabtai Hakohen a"h (Blanche Vogel)