Our parashah opens: "You shall be holy, for holy am I, Hashem,
your G-d. Every man: Your mother and father shall you revere and
My Shabbat shall you observe, I am Hashem, your G-d. Do not turn
to the idols, and molten gods you shall not make for yourselves -
- I am Hashem your G-d." What is the message in the threefold
repetition of the phrase, "I am Hashem, your G-d" (or a slight
R' Avraham Abale Posveler (1764-1836; dayan/rabbinical judge in
Vilna) explains: These verses allude to various types of Jews.
There are Jews who are holy, i.e., who limit their pursuit of
even permitted pleasures. Of them, Hashem certainly says, "I am
Hashem, your G-d."
There are also Jews who do not qualify as "holy" but who
observe all of the mitzvot (e.g., honoring their parents and
keeping Shabbat) meticulously. Of them, too, Hashem says, "I am
Hashem, your G-d."
Finally, there are Jews who observe no mitzvot. However, lest
you think that it is your duty to pursue such Jews and seek their
destruction, the Torah tells you, "So long as they do not turn to
the idols or make molten gods, I am Hashem, [their] G-d."
(Quoted in Itturei Torah, Vol. IV, p. 105)
"You shall be holy." (19:2)
R' Moshe Feinstein z"l writes: This verse commands us to be
aware of the holiness that we possess by virtue of being Jews.
It is because of this holiness that we are commanded to fulfill
mitzvot, as indicated by the phrase (in the berachot that we
recite over mitzvot), "Who has sanctified us with His mitzvot."
This concept, writes R' Feinstein, serves to answer a question
on a Tosfot (to Shabbat 118b), as follows: Tosfot states that
there appears to be no prohibition for a non-kohen to ascend to
the bima to recite Birkat Kohanim except for the fact that this
non-kohen would thus recite a blessing in vain. (The blessing
referred to is the berachah before Birkat Kohanim, "Who has
sanctified us with Aharon's sanctity and commanded us to bless
His nation Israel with love.") R' Feinstein asks: Why would the
blessing be in vain if a non-kohen recited a berachah over a
mitzvah which he is not obligated to observe? After all,
halachah permits women to recite blessings over mitzvot that they
are no commanded to observe, such as, the mitzvot of sukkah and
The answer is that one needs the special holiness of Aharon to
perform Birkat Kohanim, as alluded to in the blessing itself
(quoted above). A non-kohen has no such holiness, and his
blessing over Birkat Kohanim would be in vain. A woman, on the
other hand, does possess the holiness of Yisrael, and therefore
she can say, "Who has sanctified us."
Every Jew must remain aware of this holiness. Furthermore, one
must be aware that this holiness is subject to being profaned.
(Darash Moshe, Vol. II)
Regarding the above Tosfot, R' Shmuel Eliezer Eidels z"l (the
"Maharsha"; 16th century) writes: The prohibition that a non-
kohen violates if he recites Birkat Kohanim is the verse
(Bemidbar 6:23), "So shall you bless Bnei Yisrael," from which we
infer, "You, the kohanim, shall bless, but someone who is not a
kohen shall not bless." Tosfot does not disagree with this;
rather, Tosfot means only that a non-kohen who ascends to the
bima but does not recite Birkat Kohanim and does not recite the
blessing does not transgress any prohibition.
(Chiddushei Halachot, Shabbat 118b)
"Rabban Gamliel, the son of Rabbi Yehuda Ha'nassi, says,
'Torah study is good together with derech eretz [literally,
"way of the world"], for the exertion of them both makes sin
(Chapter 2, mishnah 1)
"Derech eretz" can mean either "work" or "good manners." R'
Samson R. Hirsch z"l (Germany; 19th century) explains why the
same expression is used for both:
"The term "derech eretz" includes all situations arising from
and dependent upon the circumstance that the earth is a place
where the individual must live, fulfill his destiny and dwell
together with others, and that he must utilize resources and
conditions provided on earth in order to live and accomplish his
purpose. Accordingly, the term derech eretz is used primarily to
refer to ways of earning a living, to the social order that
prevails on earth, as well as to the mores and considerations of
courtesy and propriety arising from social living, and also to
things pertinent to good breeding, and general education."
R' Hirsch continues: "We believe that the explanation, 'for the
exertion of them both' implies that the term derech eretz as used
here denotes, above all, the business and occupational activities
carried out for purposes of earning a living. We are not told
that the exertion of them both keeps away sin, but that it causes
sin to be forgotten, that it keeps sinful thoughts from arising.
By this, we believe, is meant that only a way of life devoted to
the pursuit of study as well as of economic independence can take
up our time to such a degree that there will be no unoccupied
hours during which we could indulge in thoughts that are far from
good and that could make us drift away from the path of
(The Hirsch Siddur p. 434)
R' Chaim Yosef David Azulai z"l (the "Chida"; died 1806) writes
that the mishnah's primary concern is that a Torah scholar have a
means to support his family. Thus, he writes, "Torah with derech
eretz" can be accomplished through a so-called Yissachar/Zevulun
relationship, whereby a Torah scholar and a businessman contract
that the latter will support the former and receive a share of
the reward for the scholar's Torah study.
R' Menashe of Ailya
R' Menashe, the son for R' Yosef ben Porat Ha'dayan, was born
in Smorgon, Lithuania in 5527/1767 and died there in 5531/1831.
(He was known as R' Menashe "of Ailya" after his wife's town.)
His first teacher was his father, and he was quickly recognized
as a child prodigy. It is reported that he knew the basic
concepts of Choshen Mishpat/civil law by the age of seven or
R' Menashe developed a unique style of learning, which was
reinforced once he began visiting the Vilna Gaon annually. In
particular, he did not refrain from interpreting the gemara
differently from the Rishonim/medieval commentaries (e.g., Rashi)
when it seemed to him that their interpretations deviated from
the peshat of the gemara.
Unlike the Vilna Gaon and most of his students, R' Menashe
refused to ostracize the chassidic movement. When he was asked
why he did not follow his teacher's (i.e., the Vilna Gaon's)
ruling, R' Menashe reportedly said, "A judge must hear the
arguments of both parties, and I have not yet heard the arguments
of the chassidic movement." Eventually, R' Menashe paid a visit
to R' Shneur Zalman of Liadi (then living in Liozna), the founder
of Chabad. Following this visit, R' Menashe declared: "R' Shneur
Zalman is indeed a great gaon/sage, both in Torah and Kabbalah.
Also in his practices and actions he is a perfect tzaddik, and
through Chabad chassidut one can certainly achieve wisdom."
A number of times, R' Menashe himself was nearly ostracized
because of his independent views, but his closest colleagues
among the Vilna Gaon's students came to his defense.
Nevertheless, R' Menashe's ways made it difficult for him to hold
down jobs, both in business and as a teacher. He was offered
several rabbinic posts, but only near the end of his life did he
accept a position, in Smorgon, his birthplace. He held that
position for a year-and-a-half until he was forced out of it by
the Russian government.
R' Menashe published a number of works, of which the best known
is Alfei Menashe. His first work, published in 1807, was Pesher
Davar, a plea not to rush to condemn chassidut without
investigating or understanding it. (Most of the copies of this
work were promptly burnt.) In Pesher Davar, R' Menashe calls for
a meeting of Europe's sages to work together on finding answers
to questions of Emunah/faith, but he warns that it is difficult
to dissuade even tzaddikim (and certainly ordinary people) from
viewing their own long-held opinions as "Torah from Sinai."
Notwithstanding the controversy that surrounded him in his own
lifetime, later generations of sages praised R' Menashe. R'
Chaim "Brisker" Soloveitchik (1853-1918) reportedly said that two
students of the Vilna Gaon stood out in their greatness - R'
Chaim of Volozhin and R' Menashe. R' Chaim Ozer Grodzenski (the
unofficial rabbi of Vilna; died 1940) wrote: "It is unnecessary
[to give an approbation to someone publishing a work by R'
Menashe], for the name of the gaon R' Menashe is known in the
entire breadth of the diaspora as a mighty sage and an
investigator [of matters] to their end." (Sources: Gedolei
Ha'dorot p. 512; Yeshurun: Ma'asaf Torani, Vol. V, p. 191)