Our parashah opens: "And these are the civil laws that you
shall place before them." The Midrash Rabbah states: "What is
written previously? `They shall judge the people at all times'
(18:22). This may be compared to a noblewoman who has a guard on
this side and a guard on this side. The Torah [i.e., the Ten
Commandments] too has civil laws on one side and civil laws on
the other side."
R' Shlomo Algazi z"l (see page 4) explains: The gemara
(Berachot 6a) states that whenever two or three (or more) people
study Torah together, the Shechinah is present. The gemara asks:
"If this is true when two people study, need I be told that it is
true when three people study?" The gemara answers: "One might
have thought that the Shechinah is not present when three people
meet as a bet din / court. Therefore the gemara teaches that
such a thought is incorrect. Judging a case also qualifies as
This is the lesson that our midrash is teaching as well. The
Ten Commandments, which most people view as the core of the
Torah, are surrounded by references to judges and civil laws. Do
not think that the Torah's civil laws are merely a convenience, a
way of organizing society. Rather, those laws are an integral
part of the Torah, no less than the Ten Commandments.
R' Algazi adds that this is alluded to in the first word of our
parashah: "ve'aileh" / "And these." Rashi comments that the
initial "vav" / "and" indicates that this section is a
continuation of what came before. "Just as what came before [the
Ten Commandments] is from Sinai, those what is presented here
[the civil laws] is from Sinai." (Shaima Shlomo)
"If a man shall act intentionally against his fellow to kill
him with guile -- from My Altar shall you take him to die."
Rashi explains: Even if the murderer is a kohen and we find him
offering a sacrifice on the altar, we do not wait for him to
finish before we execute his punishment.
R' Chaim Yosef David Azulai z"l (1727-1806; Eretz Yisrael and
Italy) offers another explanation for this verse in the name of
the "German Rabbis." He writes: According to halachah, one does
not incur the death penalty for killing a treifah / a person who
had a condition which would have killed him soon in any case.
(Killing such a person is, of course, forbidden, but it is not a
capital offense.) Thus, in theory, every murderer could avoid
the death penalty by arguing, "Perhaps the person I killed was a
treifah. Because of this doubt, you cannot execute me."
Our verse responds to this argument. An animal which is known
to be a treifah may not be brought as a sacrifice. Yet, we do
not check whether animals that are brought are or are not treifot
(plural of treifah). In fact, some sacrifices must be burnt in
their entirety and there isn't even an opportunity to examine
them. Halachah permits us to assume that since most animals are
not treifot, the animals brought as sacrifices also are not.
"From My Altar shall you take him to die" - from the altar,
where we are permitted to bring sacrifices without examining
them, we learn that we assume that most living things are not
treifot. Accordingly, "You shall take [the murderer] to die."
"When you lend money to My people, the poor person with you,
do not act toward him as a creditor; do not lay interest
upon him" (22:24)
R' Shlomo Algazi z"l (see page 4) observes: This verse is
teaching that when you lend money or give charity to a poor
person, you are not doing only him a favor. "When you lend money
to My people, the poor person with you" - you are doing a
kindness for yourself as well.
Rambam writes: There are eight levels of charity. The highest
level is achieved by one who puts the poor person back on his own
feet either through a gift, a loan, taking him as a partner, or
finding him a job. The other levels, in descending order, are as
Giving charity in such a way that the giver and the
recipient do not know each other (for example, by putting money
in a pushka);
Giving in such a way that the giver knows the recipient,
but the recipient does not know the giver;
When the recipient knows the giver, but the giver does not
know the recipient;
Putting money directly into the pauper's hand without being
Giving a respectable donation after being asked;
Giving less than a respectable donation, but with a smile;
Giving any amount with a frown.
(Hil. Matnot Aniyim 10:7-14)
"Moshe, Aharon, Nadav and Avihu and seventy of the elders of
Yisrael ascended. They saw the G-d of Yisrael . . . Against
the great men of Bnei Yisrael, He did not stretch out His
hand - they gazed at G-d, and they ate and drank." (24:9-
Rashi explains that the elders "looked" at the Shechinah
without the proper reverence - indeed, while they ate and drank.
R' Akiva Sofer z"l (rabbi of Pressburg, Czechoslovakia; died
1960 in Yerushalayim) offers another explanation. He writes:
Moshe was on the mountain for 40 days and nights, and he ate
nothing the entire time. How was this possible? He became so
attached to G-d that he was oblivious to any physical needs.
Instead, the spiritual sustenance that his soul drew from his
closeness to G-d was sufficient to sustain him.
In contrast, the elders achieved great closeness to G-d, yet
they did not allow the experience to change them. They remained
attached to their physical beings, and that was a sin. (The fact
that they sinned is implied in the words, "Against the great men
of Bnei Yisrael, He did not stretch out His hand" - apparently,
they were deserving of having His hand outstretched against
them.) When a person has an opportunity to attain a higher
spiritual level, and he lets the opportunity pass him by, he has
R' Ben Zion Rabinowitz shlita (the "Biala Rebbe") offers yet
another explanation: Hashem commanded that no one but Moshe
ascend to the top of Har Sinai. Most people were not permitted
to even touch the mountain. Aharon was allowed to ascend part
way, as were Nadav and Avihu and the elders, but each one only to
his own level.
The very reason that Hashem established such boundaries was to
teach that a person should not try to reach a higher spiritual
level than he is prepared to attain at that moment. This is
alluded to by Rashi in his comment on the verse (19:6), "You
shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation; these are
the words that you shall speak to Bnei Yisrael." Rashi comments:
"These are the words - no more and no less." The "no more" part
of this statement means that a Jew should not attempt to attain
more spiritually than he is ready for, writes R' Rabinowitz.
The elders did not understand this. "They gazed at G-d, and
they ate and drank." Instead of "gazing" with proper reverence,
they did so lightly, as if they were eating and drinking. This
improper attitude resulted from their not preparing themselves
for the experience.
In contrast, when Moshe first gazed at the Shechinah, it says
(Shmot 3:6), "Moshe hid his face, for he was afraid to gaze
(Mevaser Tov: Sha'arei Avodat Hashem pp. 10 & 60)
R' Shlomo Algazi z"l
The Algazi family is one of the most distinguished families in
the Sephardic Torah world. R' Shlomo was born in Bursa, Turkey
in approximately 1610. His first teachers were his father, R'
Avraham, and the poet and scholar, R' Yosef Gansu. Later, he
studied in Gallipoli, Turkey.
For many years, R' Shlomo lived in Smyrna (Izmir), Turkey,
where he was the rabbi and headed a yeshiva. Many distinguished
sages were among his students in Smyrna, including R' Aharon
Lapapa (later R' Shlomo's son-in-law), R' Chaim Algazi (later
rabbi of Rhodes), and R' David Conforte.
When the false messiah Shabbtai Zvi, a native of Smyrna, began
his ill-fated adventure in the spring of 1665, R' Shlomo and his
son-in-law were among the first to oppose him. However, the
false messiah's following was so strong in Smyrna that R' Shlomo
was forced to flee for his life. After Shabbtai Zvi converted to
Islam a year-and-a-half later, the community called on R' Shlomo
to return, but he refused, leaving the rabbinate to his son-in-
law. In about 1670, R' Shlomo settled in Yerushalayim.
(Sometime during this period, he began to use the name "Nissim
Shlomo," perhaps because of an illness.)
R' Shomo was a prolific author. In his younger years, he was
known as "Harav Ha'mifulpal" / "the sharp-witted rabbi," but he
later realized that using sharpness was not the best way to serve
his students and congregants. This led him to write the work
Yavin Shemuah, a commentary on Halichot Olam by R' Yeshuah
Halevi, a handbook of Talmudic and halachic methodology. (These
two works were recently republished together with another
commentary, Klalei Ha'gemara by R' Yosef Karo.) Other works by
R' Shlomo include Talmud commentaries, works on the aggadic
portions of the Talmud, an index to Midrash Rabbah, collections
of sermons, and a Torah commentary, Shaima Shlomo. (Two excerpts
from that work appear in this issue.)
R' Shlomo's many distinguished descendants included his
grandson, R' Shlomo Algazi, Chief Rabbi of Cairo for 45 years; R'
Yisrael Yaakov Algazi, rabbi in Yerushalayim; and R' Yom Tov
Algazi, Chief Rabbi of Yerushalayim, whose work on Tractate
Bechorot is printed in the standard Vilna edition of the Talmud.
Bobbi and Jules Meisler in memory of mother Anne Meisler a"h
Elaine and Jerry Taragin
on the yahrzeits of Mrs. Shirley Taragin a"h
and Mr. Irving Rivkin a"h