This week's parashah contains civil laws and laws regarding the
judicial system, two types of rules without which no society
could exist. Rashi writes that the parashah begins with the
conjunction "And" to remind us that just as the Aseret Ha'dibrot
in last week's parashah were given at Sinai, so the laws in this
week's parashah were given at Sinai.
Why must the Torah remind us of this fact? R' Yitzchak Meir
Alter z"l (died 1866; the first "Gerrer Rebbe," known as the
"Chiddushei Ha'rim") explains that because these laws are both
essential and logical, there is a risk that one would think that
they are man-made. The Torah therefore instructs us that they
were given at Sinai and that they should be observed, not because
they are logical, but because they are G-d's will.
Rashi writes that Moshe might not have taught Bnei Yisrael the
reasons for the mitzvot in this parashah, but Hashem commanded
that he should. The Sefat Emet (1847-1905; the second "Gerrer
Rebbe") explains similarly that Moshe did not want the Jewish
people to observe the mitzvot because they agreed with the
reasons. He wanted to ensure that Bnei Yisrael observed the
mitzvot as G-d's decrees.
Hashem told Moshe, "No! Teach them the reasons. The real
challenge is to understand the mitzvot and nevertheless to
observe them solely because that is the will of Hashem." (Quoted
in Ma'ayanah Shel Torah)
"When you lend money to My people, to the poor person who is
with you . . ." (22:24)
The gemara (Ta'anit 24b-25a) relates that the sage Rabbi
Chaninah ben Dosa was so poor that his weekly consumption of food
was limited to a quart of carobs. (Rashi writes that R' Chaninah
could not even afford bread for Shabbat.) The gemara continues:
His wife said to him, "How long will we suffer so?" He
responded, "What shall I do?" She answered, "Pray that you
be given something." He prayed, and he was presented with a
golden table leg. Thereafter, he [some say, she] dreamt
that all of the tzaddikim in Heaven sat at tables with three
legs, while R' Chaninah sat at a table with only two legs.
He discussed this with his wife and then prayed that the
table leg be taken away from him.
R' Yehonatan Eyebschutz z"l (died 1764) asks several questions
regarding this gemara: Why was R' Chaninah's wife complaining?
Surely she was righteous like her husband and was not troubled by
poverty! Also, why do all tzaddikim sit at three-legged tables,
and what is the meaning of R' Chaninah's losing a table leg? He
explains as follows:
R' Chaninah's wife's complaint was not that she was hungry but,
rather, that she could not perform the mitzvah of tzedakah. It
pained her to see a poor person, knowing she could do nothing to
ease his suffering. She therefore asked her husband to pray that
Hashem give them the means to give charity.
However, what happened as a result of R' Chaninah's prayers was
the opposite of what his wife intended. When a person truly
desires to perform a mitzvah but he is prevented from doing so by
circumstances that are completely beyond his control, Hashem
views it as if that person had, in fact, performed that mitzvah.
Thus, so long as R' Chaninah and his wife were paupers and were
unable to give charity, Hashem judged them as if they actually
had given a great deal of charity.
On the other hand, when a person does have money and actually
gives charity, he can never be sure that he has performed the
mitzvah properly. Has he given as much as he should? Has he
prioritized his donations properly? Has he, in fact, given
substantial sums of money to people who were not deserving?
The three-legged tables in R' Chaninah's (or his wife's) dream
represented the three pillars on which the world stands: Torah
study, prayer and acts of kindness. Tzaddikim who have served
Hashem in each of the three areas sit at tables with three legs.
Had R' Chaninah and his wife remained poor, they also would have
sat at a three-legged table, because Hashem would have credited
them with the mitzvah of charity (i.e. kindness) that they wanted
to perform but couldn't. However, once they became wealthy, they
became obligated to give charity, and they risked losing a table
leg if they did not perform the mitzvah properly.
(Ya'arot Devash Vol. I, end of Drush 4)
"Three regalim / pilgrimage festivals shall you celebrate
for Me during the year." (23:14)
The midrash applies to the pilgrimage festivals the verse (Shir
Hashirim 7:2), "How lovely were your footsteps when shod in
pilgrim's sandals, daughter of nobles!" Why? asks R' Yaakov
Yosef z"l (Chief Rabbi of New York; died 1902). After all,
pilgrims who entered the Bet Hamikdash were required to remove
R' Yosef answers: Surely it was a difficult challenge for a Jew
to leave his property unattended and ascend with his family to
Yerushalayim. Once he arrived in Yerushalayim, however, he felt
so spiritually uplifted that any earlier misgivings were surely
forgotten. If so, what part of the Jew's journey was the most
praiseworthy? The part when he first left his house, before he
reached the Temple and experienced the spiritual rewards that
told him that the risks he was taking were worthwhile. And, at
that point, when he first left the house, the pilgrim was still
wearing his sandals.
(Le'vait Yaakov: Drush 19)
"Moshe came and told the people all the words of Hashem and
all the ordinances, and the entire people responded with one
voice and they said, 'All the words that Hashem has spoken,
na'aseh / we will do'." (24:3)
"He took the Book of the Covenant and read it in earshot of
the people, and they said, 'Everything that Hashem has said,
na'aseh ve'nishma / we will do and we will hear'." (24:7)
Why did Bnei Yisrael at first say only "na'aseh" / "we will
do," and later change their answer to "na'aseh ve'nishma" / "we
will do and we will hear"? R' Aharon Eliezer Paskez z"l
(Hungarian rabbi; died 1 Adar 5644 / 1884) explains:
When Moshe told Bnei Yisrael "the words of Hashem," Bnei
Yisrael responded "na'aseh" / "we will do what the Torah
requires." Later, however, Moshe read to them the "Book of the
Covenant," i.e., the Book of Bereishit, which describes Creation
and the deeds of the Patriarchs. When Bnei Yisrael heard this,
they experienced a desire to observe the Torah as the Patriarchs
had, i.e., without being commanded; therefore they said, "we will
do and we will hear" - we will do even before we hear Hashem's
How did the Patriarchs know what the Torah requires if it was
never taught to them? Because a person whose eyes are open will
recognize by studying the world around him: (1) the necessity of
observing the Torah, and (2) what the world's spiritual needs
are, and, thus, what the Torah requires. Therefore, hearing the
story of Creation and the other stories of Bereishit caused Bnei
Yisrael to desire to fulfill the Torah without being commanded;
when they studied Creation, they, too, had their eyes opened.
Introductions . . .
In this feature, we present excerpts from the introductions to
famous (and not so famous) works. This week, we offer part of R'
Moshe ben Nachman's introduction to his commentary on the Book of
Bereishit. "Ramban" or "Nachmanides" was born in Spain in 1194
and lived there the majority of his life, and he died in Akko
(Acre), Israel in 1270. Except for Rashi, Ramban is universally
recognized as the most important Torah commentator.
Moshe, our teacher, wrote this book [i.e., Bereishit] together
with the whole Torah, from the lips of the Holy One, Blessed Is
He. Most likely, he wrote it down at Har Sinai, for there he was
told [in this week's parashah - 24:12], "Ascend to Me to the
mountain and remain there, and I shall give you the stone tablets
and the teaching and the commandment that I have written, to
teach them." "The stone tablets" refers to the luchot and the
miraculous writing which appeared on the tablets; in other words,
the Aseret Ha'dibrot. [Ed. note: The writing on the tablets was
miraculous in that it could be read from all directions.] "The
commandment" refers to all of the mitzvot, both the mitzvot aseh
/ affirmative commandments and the mitzvot lo ta'aseh / negative
commandments. [By process of elimination,] "the teaching" must
refer to the stories from the beginning of Bereishit, for these
teach people the ways of emunah / faith.
When Moshe came down from the mountain, he wrote from the
beginning of the Torah until the end of the instructions
concerning the construction of the mishkan. He finished writing
down the Torah at the end of the 40 years, as it is written
(Devarim 31:26), "Take this book of the Torah and place it at the
side of the Ark of the Covenant of Hashem . . ."
All of the foregoing is according to the view (Gittin 60a) that
the Torah was given in sections [i.e., that Moshe wrote down each
section of the Torah as it was taught to him over the 40 year
period]. However, according to the view (also Gittin 60a) that
the Torah was given "sealed," Moshe did not write down any of the
Torah until the end of the 40 years in the desert . . .
It might have been appropriate to write at the beginning of the
Torah, "Elokim spoke to Moshe all of these things, saying."
However, [the Torah] was written without this phrase because the
Torah was not written as if Moshe was speaking. Other prophets
mention themselves [in first person], such as Yechezkel, who
states repeatedly, "The word of Hashem [came] to me. . ."; Moshe
Rabbenu, however, wrote the genealogy of the earlier generations
and his own genealogy and the events that befell him like a third
person narrator. This is why Moshe is not mentioned in the Torah
until his birth, and then he is mentioned as if someone else is
talking about him. . .
The reason that the Torah is written this way [i.e., in third
person] is that the Torah was created before the rest of the
world [see Shabbat 88b], certainly before Moshe was born. We
have received a tradition that the Torah existed at that time as
black fire on white fire. This is for certain: the entire Torah,
from the beginning of Bereishit until "before the eyes of all
Israel" [the last words in Devarim] went from the mouth of G-d to
the ears of Moshe. . .