Rabbeinu Yonah z"l (Spain; died 1263) writes that there are
three types of mitzvot: those which must be done (e.g. prayer),
those which must be done if the opportunity presents itself (e.g.
circumcision), and those which are optional, but may only be done
according to a certain procedure (e.g. marrying a prisoner-of-war
or taking an egg from a bird's nest). These last two examples
are both found in this week's parashah, and each introduces a
separate line of consequences which follows from a person's
deeds. These two lines can be traced through the parashah:
Our Sages say that if one marries a prisoner-of-war, even
permissibly, he will likely end-up hating her and her son. That
son may end-up stealing from his parents, and thus incur the
penalty of a ben sorrer u'moreh / a rebellious son. Such a boy
is executed, not for what he has done, Chazal say, but so that he
may die relatively righteous. Should he live, the Sages foretell
for him a future as a highwayman and murderer.
By contrast, Chazal say that if one performs the mitzvah of
sending away the mother bird, he will be rewarded with prosperity
and will build a house. This mitzvah is therefore followed by
the commandment to build a railing around a roof. Also, he will
merit to have new clothes, so he is commanded not to wear
sha'atnez / a combination of wool and linen, and to make
tzitzit. This last is among the cheapest and easiest of mitzvot
to perform, but its reward is great, for it reminds a person to
keep all of the other mitzvot, and thus brings merit to the
entire body. (Derashot U'perushei R' Yonah Al Hatorah)
"When you will go out to war against your enemies and you
will see a beautiful woman among the captives"
This parashah teaches us the Torah's attitude toward beauty,
says R' Joseph B. Soloveitchik z"l. "When you will go out to war
against your enemies and you will see a beautiful woman among the
captives"--when you fight your enemies--Canaanites, Persians,
Greeks, Romans, or Germans--you will undoubtedly see beautiful
aspects of their cultures. Therefore, you should know: You are
permitted to bring home everything beautiful that you see, but
don't be fooled by external beauty. This is symbolized by the
Torah's demand that the captive woman change out of her foreign
clothes. The Torah demands a waiting period after the captive
woman is brought into the home--i.e., examine this newfound
culture very carefully. Is it really something that you want in
(Yemei Zikaron p.125)
"Do not observe your brother's donkey or his ox falling and
turn yourself away -- you shall surely help it up." (22:4)
In Parashat Mishpatim, the same mitzvah is given, but there the
Torah refers to the animal of "your enemy." Why this difference?
With regard to the verse in Mishpatim the Gemara asks: How
does one have an enemy? Is it then permitted to hate another
Jew? The Gemara explains that "your enemy" refers to one whom
you have witnessed sinning. If he refuses to repent, you are
obligated to hate him.
However, writes R' Meir Simcha Hakohen z"l (rabbi of Dvinsk;
died 1926), that was only before the sin of the Golden Calf,
which is described in the Torah after Parashat Mishpatim. Before
that sin, all Jews were on such an exalted level that they were
able to hate someone merely because he had sinned. But today,
who can make such a claim?! Rather, we are all brothers.
R' Yaakov Yosef Hakohen of Polnoye (student of the Ba'al Shem
Tov) interprets this homiletically: "Do not observe your
brother's donkey or his ox falling"--it is better not to see your
brother in a state of spiritual decline (becoming like a donkey
or an ox). "Turn yourself away."
But if you do see, "You shall surely help [him] up."
(Toldot Yaakov Yosef)
"He happened upon you on the way, and he struck the
weaklings who were straggling at the rear, when you were
faint and exhausted, and he did not fear G-d." (25:18)
Why do we reserve special hatred for Amalek, more so than for
other nations which attacked us without provocation? R' Yitzchak
Ze'ev Soloveitchik z"l ("R' Velvel Brisker" or the Brisker Rav;
died 1959) explains:
The Gemara (Bava Kama 79) says: Why is a burglar punished more
severely than is a robber? Because a robber equates G-d with man
[he is afraid of neither], while a burglar places G-d lower than
man [he fears man more than he fears G-d, therefore he steals
when man is not looking].
R' Soloveitchik explains: A burglar is a greater sinner than
is a robber because a burglar has begun to think through the
consequences of his action, but has stopped those thoughts before
they can lead him to G-d. This is worse than a robber who has
not thought out his actions at all--therefore he fears no one--
but at least he has not snubbed G-d.
Similarly, had Amalek attacked Bnei Yisrael head-on, we would
not fault him. However, by attacking only the weakest Jews,
Amalek acknowledged that there is something to fear. Despite
that, he showed that he did not fear G-d.
The Gemara states that Hashem gave Noach and his descendants
only seven commandments and the smallest infraction of one of
those laws incurs the death penalty. Bnei Yisrael, by contrast,
were given 613 mitzvot, most of which carry punishments less
severe than death. Furthermore, Hashem has given us a great
gift: the possibility of doing Teshuvah / repenting.
R' Moshe Mi'Tirani (the Mabit; 16th century) writes that the
possibility of Teshuvah exists precisely because we have so many
mitzvot; it is nearly impossible for anyone to go through life
without violating a commandment now and then. This is, in fact,
alluded to by the many verses (e.g. Devarim 30:2; Hoshea 14:20)
which mention the name "Elokim" / G-d's Attribute of Justice in
connection with Teshuvah. Teshuvah was created because the fact
that we have so many laws would likely result in strict justice
being imposed against us.
However, the Torah warns (Devarim 30:2), "You will return to
Hashem Elokim and heed His voice." Do not use the difficulty of
mitzvah observance as an excuse. If you want your Teshuvah to
"count" you must sincerely heed Hashem's word and do your best to
observe the mitzvot in the future. In fact, the Gemara teaches
that a person who tells himself, "I can sin for G-d will forgive
me," will not be forgiven.
(Bet Elokim, Sha'ar Ha'Teshuvah ch.1)
R' Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz z"l
born 5646 (1886) - died 3 Elul 5708 (1948)
R' Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz had a more profound influence on
Torah education in America than almost any other person. Yet, he
was not a posek, a rosh yeshiva, or a chassidic rebbe, and he
insisted on being called only "Mr. Mendlowitz."
R' Shraga Feivel was a leading student in the finest yeshivot
in Hungary before coming to the United States in 1913. After
some wandering, he accepted a job in a Scranton, Pennsylvania
cheder. He was laughed at, though, when he spoke of creating a
full-time day school, so he quit his job and attempted to
manufacture ice cream in the hopes of some day financing his own
Later, R' Shraga Feivel settled in the Williamsburg section of
Brooklyn, where he joined with others to found a newspaper
devoted to raising the spiritual level of New York's Jews. A new
chapter opened in 1923, when he was hired as the rebbe of the 8th
-- and highest -- grade in Yeshiva Torah Vodaath. Through his
influence, there soon was a 9th grade, then a 10th, and so on.
(His influence was felt outside the classroom as well, for
example, in the dramatic increase in the market for more
expensive tefilin and better tzitzit.) When his first students
completed high school, he persuaded them to stay on, and thus
began the new post-high school division of Torah Vodaath. This
was the beginning of a Torah revolution in the Western Hemisphere-
-the first post-high school yeshiva which offered no secular
studies and was not devoted to producing pulpit rabbis.
Torah Vodaath was unique in another respect as well, being the
first yeshiva in the world to combine the Lithuanian method of
learning--R' Shraga Feivel hired many great Lithuanian roshei
yeshiva--with the warmth and teachings of chassidism. Contrary
to the mood in America at the time, R' Shraga Feivel encouraged
his students to be expressive about their Judaism, including
singing and dancing as a means of serving Hashem.
R' Shraga Feivel was instrumental in the founding or growth of
many other yeshivot. For example, beginning in 1938, he refused
to accept students from the area of Brooklyn where Mesivta Chaim
Berlin had just been founded. Later, he would send his best
students to serve as the kernel of such new institutions as
Lakewood and Telz. He also directed substantial amounts of money
to the fledgling Ner Israel Yeshiva in Baltimore.
R' Shraga Feivel's concern for his students' growth did not end
in June of each year. Accordingly, he "invented" the yeshiva
Another legacy of R' Shraga Feivel is Torah U'Mesorah, the
umbrella organization for hundreds of day schools throughout the
United States. This organization provides financial assistance,
educational materials and teacher training to schools in far-
flung communities which might otherwise be bereft of Judaism.