"...his brothers he did not give recognition and his children he did
The Mishna in Pirkei Avos records that Avraham was
subjected to ten trials of faith.1 According to most of the commentaries,
the final and most difficult of these trials was the "Akeida", the binding
of his son Yitzchak. 2 Avraham was called upon to offer his
beloved son as a sacrifice to his Creator. Although his actions reflected a
monumental expression of faith, they were not, by any means, unprecedented.
Throughout the ages, until present day, many religions have required of its
adherents to prove their faith by sacrificing their kin. In this week's
parsha we find that the tribe of Levi slaughtered its family members who
partook in the sin of the golden calf. What then, is the unequalled feat
accomplished by our Patriarch Avraham?
Analyzing the juxtaposition of the verses in this week's parsha sheds
light upon the aforementioned question. The verse states that Levi showed
no favoritism to his father and mother, no recognition of his brothers and
did not know who his children were. Rashi explains that this refers to the
response shown by the tribe of Levi when Moshe summoned assistance to
eradicate those individuals who worshipped the golden calf; without regard
to family ties, the tribe of Levi slew the idolaters.3 The verse
then states that Levi preserved Hashem's covenant.4 Rashi
explains that this is a reference to "Bris Milah" -
"circumcision".5 The Talmud teaches that for the entire
duration of their stay in the desert, Bnei Yisroel abstained from
performing circumcision for they feared that the climatic conditions in the
desert would not allow the wounds to heal.5 The only tribe that continued
to circumcise their children was the Levites. Hence, they preserved the
covenant. The verse immediately following begins "Yoru mishpatecha
l'Yaakov" - "They shall be the teachers of the Law and dispensers of
justice to Yaakov".6 Rashi comments "for they have shown their
worthiness".7 What is the connection between the three above-
mentioned concepts, Levi's actions after the golden calf, their commitment
to circumcise their children and their becoming teachers and judges?
The Ohr HaChaim explains that by displaying steadfastness and objectivity
in the performance of their duty without bias, they proved that they were
worthy of being the teachers and judges of Bnei Yisroel.8 The
Torah is praising Levi for their ability to disconnect themselves from
those emotional frailties which blur an individual's ability to make
dispassionate and impartial decisions. It is this same quality which
allowed them to overcome the natural fear that a parent may have when a
child undergoes circumcision. By emotionally detaching themselves from
their children they were able to behave in a manner which would otherwise
have been impossible for a parent. This is the psychological technique
employed by those adherents to other religions when sacrificing their
The Torah stresses that when Avraham was called upon to sacrifice his
child, his compliance was not accompanied by any indication of his severing
that relationship; on the contrary, he professed his great love for
Yitzchak.9 The greatness of our Patriarch is manifest in his ability to
perform an act which contraverted the very nature of a parent-child
relationship, without emotionally detaching himself from his son. The
ability to fulfill the wishes of his Creator without conflict is what make
Avraham's actions unparalleled.
And Hashem made the two big luminaries, the greater luminary...and the
Among the various prayers recited at the circumcision ceremony
are blessings for the child's future well-being. The onlookers wish for him
to enter into marriage, Torah and the performance of good deeds. "Zeh
hakatan gadol yihiyeh" - "this small child will be big", the statement made
when naming the child, requires further elaboration. What are we blessing
him with by expressing our desire that he become "gadol"?
The Vilna Gaon teaches that in order to understand the true definition of
a word or expression, we should analyze the first time it is used in the
Torah. The first occurrence of the contrast of the words "katan"
and "gadol" is found on the fourth day of Creation, when describing the
luminaries. The Torah initially refers to the sun and moon as the "me'oros
hagedolim" - "big luminaries", but then the verse refers to the sun as
the "me'or hagadol" - "big luminary" and the moon as the "me'or hakatan" -
"small luminary". Citing the Midrash, Rashi explains that the sun and moon
were originally created with equal power, but subsequently, Hashem
diminished the moon's power.1 By what standard is the Torah
gauging the size of the sun and moon by initially referring to them
as "gedolim" and subsequently "gadol" and "katan"?
The Midrash is teaching us that initially the sun and moon were capable of
being their own source of light, but Hashem removed from the moon its
capacity to produce its own light, and left it capable only of reflecting
the light generated by the sun. We see therefore, the Torah defines "gadol"
as one that is its own source and "katan" as one that only has the ability
to reflect that which is generated by another source.
It is this very notion which we express at the circumcision ceremony; a
child grows and learns from his parents and teachers, reflecting that with
which they imbue him. We wish for that child that he reach a stage in his
development when he will harness all he has learned, and become a "gadol",
a source that radiates his own light for others to reflect.2
1.1:16 2.It Has been brought to my attention that the same insight has
been made by HaRav Y.D. Soleveitchik - m.s.
Simchas Torah: Dancing With The Bride
"The Torah that Moshe commanded us is a heritage to the Congregation of
Simchas Torah is a day in which we celebrate the Torah.
Why did Chazal see fit to designate a separate day for Simchas Torah? Would
not Shavuos, the day we received the Torah, be a more appropriate time for
The Talmud instructs a father that as soon as his child is
able to speak, he should teach him. "Torah tzivah lanu Moshe morasha
Kehilas Yaakov" - "The Torah that Moshe commanded us is a heritage to the
Congregation of Jacob."2 Why is this the verse selected when
there are earlier verses in the Torah which convey a similar message, such
as "vezos Hatorah asher sam Moshe lifnei Bnei Yisroel" - "This is the Torah
that Moshe placed before Bnei Yisroel"3?
The last four parshios in the Torah record the events that transpired on
the day of Moshe's death. A major event which ensues is the new covenant in
Parshas Nitzavim. The concept of "kol Yisrael araeivim zeh bazeh" - "each
Jew is a guarantor for his fellow Jew" in regard to mitzvos and aveiros, is
introduced as a result of our responsibility to the covenant.4
The general concept of a guarantor is discussed by the Talmud. The Talmud
teaches that one who accepts upon himself to repay a loan should the
borrower default, is required by Torah law to honor his commitment to
The commentaries raise the following difficulty: Legally, for a person to
be liable to perform a service, there must be consideration, such as money.
What is the instrument which obligates a guarantor to honor his commitment?
The Ritva answers that although the guarantor does not receive money,
nevertheless he receives the satisfaction that the lender is relying upon
his credibility to issue the loan. This benefit serves as the instrument
for the transaction in lieu of money.6 In light of this
explanation, the following difficulty arises: Why are Bnei Yisroel bound to
their commitment to be guarantors? What benefit that they do not already
have, are they receiving?
To begin answering the aforementioned questions, we must analyze another
concept which was introduced on the day of Moshe's death. This is the
concept of "lo bashamayim hee" - "Torah is no longer in the
Heavens."7 This means that as long as Moshe was alive, he
consulted with Hashem concerning all difficult Torah legislation. Since
Hashem was the final arbiter for Torah legislation while Moshe was alive,
Torah was still in the Heavens. However, on the day of Moshe's death, Bnei
Yisroel was given unilateral authority over all Torah legislation. This is
what is meant by "The Torah is no longer in the Heavens." This new
authorization which Bnei Yisroel received was the instrument which
obligates them to honor their commitment to be guarantors.
At Sinai, when Bnei Yisroel received the Torah, Chazal describe the
relationship formed as that of bride and groom.8 Hashem was the
groom and Bnei Yisroel was the bride. On the day that Moshe died, a new
relationship was formed; Bnei Yisroel were the groom and the Torah was the
bride. This is alluded to in the verse, "Torah tzivah lanu Moshe morasha
Kehilas Yaakov". In the word "morasha" Chazal see an allusion to the
word "me'orasa" - "betrothed", i.e. the Torah that Moshe commanded us is
also betrothed to us.9 The notions that the Torah is not in the
Heavens and that Torah became Bnei Yisroel's bride are one and the same.
The Talmud instructs a father to begin teaching his son Torah with the
verse which reflects this new relationship.
Shavuos celebrates Bnei Yisroel becoming a bride to Hashem, while Simchas
Torah celebrates Bnei Yisroel becoming betrothed to the Torah. This is
reflected in the customs of the day. In most Jewish communities, a
representative is chosen to be the "chassan Torah", the groom to the Torah.
Additionally, we dance with the Torah as a groom dances with his bride.
"Behold I have given to you all herbage yielding seed..." (1:29)
Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, the redactor of the Mishna, categorized
the Oral Torah into six Orders. The titles conferred upon each of these
Orders reflect the underlying theme contained within the Tractates of which
the Orders are comprised. The second Order discusses all the laws that are
found in connection to the holidays celebrated during the Jewish calendar
year. It is therefore appropriately named "Moed" - "Designated Time".
Similarly, the third Order, which deals primarily with the laws governing
the interpersonal relationships between men and women is aptly
titled "Nashim" - "Women". The first Order elaborates upon all the
spiritual preparations that a Jew must make before he is permitted to
partake of the physical benefits of this world. The first Tractate in this
Order delineates the various blessings associated with different foods, and
the subsequent Tractates deal with the agricultural laws.1 With the
exception of kilayim (which discusses the laws prohibiting the
intermingling of seeds from different species) all of the laws are only
applicable to produce and foods in their completed form. Why, then, is the
first order of the Mishna called "Zera'im" - "Seeds", a word which
represents the first stage of produce?
At the conclusion of creation, when Hashem instructs Adam as to the foods
of which he may partake, He states that "all herbage yielding seed and
every tree that has seed-yielding fruit shall be yours for food".2 Although
all produce has the quality of self-perpetuation through the seeds
contained within them, this notion has already been discussed on the third
day of creation.3 Why, then, does Hashem repeat this characteristic in His
instruction to Adam? Furthermore, in the very next verse, when the Torah
records the foods from which the animal kingdom may partake, why is there
no mention made of the fact that their food contains seeds as well?4
Hashem is instructing man that even though he has been granted permission
to partake of the produce of this world, it is still man's responsibility
to insure that his consumption does not lead to depletion of the world's
resources. This message is given to Adam by Hashem stressing that all
produce was created with the ability to perpetuate itself. Adam is being
notified that he has access to the benefits of this world, not
indiscriminate rights. This explains why the description of produce
containing seeds is not mentioned in reference to the animals, for such a
message can be delivered to man alone. An animal cannot be instructed to
ensure that the world's resources are not depleted.
The first Order of the Mishna deals with the blessing which we are
required to make prior to eating, as well as all of the agricultural
mitzvos that are prerequisites for the consumption of produce. The compiler
of the Mishna, Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi is delivering the same message that is
found in the Torah; the message of "seeds". Even when we have performed all
the requirements which permit consumption of food, we must still remember
that we may only partake, and not deplete the world of its resources.
1.See Rambam's Introduction to the Mishna 2.1:29 3.1:11 4.1:30