"ואלה המשפטים אשר תשים לפניהם"
“And these are the laws that you must set before them.” (21:1)

QUESTION: Rashi states: “Like a set table which is ready for the person to partake of the feast.” In what sense is the halachah governing monetary matters like a set table?

ANSWER: Many people are very particular about the kashrut of the food they eat. When they are invited to a party, before partaking of the foods laid out on the table, they inquire about the shechitah of the meat and the bakery that produced the baked goods, etc. Only if the food on the table meets their kashrut standards will they eat of it. Unfortunately, in monetary matters they are often not so stringent and they may even engage in questionable business practices.

Rashi is suggesting that in money matters, one should be as strict as with the food on one’s table.

* * *

The Code of Jewish Law is known as the Shulchan Aruch, which literally means “a set table.” This, too, emphasizes that in all issues of halachah one must act with total integrity, just as one demands the highest standards of kashrut.

(ר' משה ליב מסאסוב זצ"ל)

"ואלה המשפטים...כי תקנה עבד עברי שש שנים יעבד ובשבעת יצא לחפשי חנם"
“And these are the laws...If you buy a Jewish slave, he shall work for six years, and in the seventh he shall go free.” (21:1-2)

QUESTION: Why do the laws concerning a thief sold as a Jewish servant immediately follow the giving of the Torah?

ANSWER: If Jews would constantly bear in mind that Hashem is the Master of the world and its inhabitants, no one would ever sin. Mortals tend sometimes to forget this basic principle and, thinking that Hashem is not looking, transgress His will.

To protect us from this misconception, the laws of the Jewish slave follow the giving of the Torah to emphasize that each individual should strive to be a totally dedicated servant of Hashem.

Moreover, the six years of a Jewish slave’s servitude represent the six millennia of this world, in which the Jews’ adherence to Torah and mitzvot involve struggle. In “the seventh,” i.e., the seventh millennium, “he shall go free”: Jews will be “free” of the struggle to perform mitzvot and will instead perform them in a manner of continuous and tranquil ascent. Thus, the juxtaposition of the parshah concerning the giving of the Torah to the laws of slavery suggests that we should submit ourselves to serving Hashem through struggle during this stage, and that in “the seventh” — “the seventh millennium” — we will merit an altogether different mode of existence.

(לקוטי שיחות חט"ו ע' 428 ועי' תורה אור)

"כי תקנה עבד עברי"
“If you will buy a Jewish slave.” (21:2)

QUESTION: The person becomes a slave only after he is purchased. It should have said, “Ki tikneh Ivri le’eved” — “If you buy a Jew to be a slave.”

ANSWER: All Jews have Hashem as their Master: They must serve Him. The Torah is telling the individual who buys another Jew to realize that his relationship with such a Jew cannot be one of Master and slave, because every Jew is already a slave belonging to another master — Hashem.

In addition, the master should bear in mind that the servant has obligations towards his true Master and that it is imperative to grant him the time to fulfill them.

(לקוטי רצב"א)

"והגישו אל הדלת או אל המזוזה ורצע אדניו את אזנו במרצע"
“He shall bring him to the door or to the door post, and his master shall bore his ear with an awl.” (21:6)

QUESTION: Why was the ear of the slave pierced near the door or the door post?

ANSWER: After a slave works for six years, the “doors are opened” to him and he can go out free. When a slave does not use the “open door,” he is put up against the door to have his ear pierced.

On the door post, there is a mezuzah, in which it is written, “You shall love your G‑d.” Since the slave, instead of saying “I love my G‑d who took me out of Egypt and made me free,” is saying, “I love my master and want to remain his slave,” his ear is pierced near the mezuzah.

(כלי יקר)

"ורצע אדניו את אזנו במרצע"
“And his master shall bore his ear with an awl.” (21:6)

QUESTION: Why was a martzei’a (awl) used and not another tool?

ANSWER: The Jewish people were slaves for 400 years, and Hashem freed them. The word “martzei’a” (מרצע) adds up to 400. In the case of a slave who does not want to go free, the awl reminds him of the 400 years of slavery and the freedom that Jews should enjoy.

(מסכת קידושין דף כ"ב ע"ב תוד"ה מה)

"ורצע אדניו את אזנו במרצע ועבדו לעלם"
“And his master shall bore his ear with an awl, and he shall serve forever.” (21:6)

QUESTION: The ear was selected to be pierced because it heard on Mount Sinai, ‘You shall not steal,’ and nevertheless the person stole. In addition, the ear heard on Mount Sinai that B’nei Yisrael are to be servants of Hashem, and the person acquired a different master for himself (Rashi).

According to these explanations, why do we delay boring the ear till the person decides to stay on as a slave after six years, instead of boring immediately when he is sold or sells himself as a slave?

ANSWER: When a Jew acquires anything, he must do an action (kinyan) to demonstrate his ownership. Originally, the slave was bought for a period of six years. At the time of the sale the buyer paid money, which is a way of acquiring ownership. If the slave desires to stay after the original six years, the owner must make a new kinyan to establish new continued ownership. The Mishnah (Kiddushin 14b) states, “hanirtza nikneh biretziah” — “the slave whose ear is bored is acquired through the boring of the ear.” Thus, the boring of the ear is not a punishment, but a form of kinyan.

Since this form of kinyan is not found anywhere else, we have to search for a reason for such a strange method. Therefore, Rashi quotes the above explanations to help us understand the reason for boring the ear.

(עי' משנה למלך עבדים פ"ג, הל"ז)

"וכי יזיד איש על רעהו להרגו בערמה מעם מזבחי תקחנו למות"
“If a man shall act intentionally against his fellow to kill him with guile — from My altar shall you take him to die.” (21:14)

QUESTION: What is the connection between killing the one who murders intentionally and the altar?

ANSWER: A physically ill person who is unable to live through a year is called a “treifah,” and, according to halachah, one is not put to death for killing such a person. An animal can also be considered a treifa, in which case it may not be used as a sacrifice on the altar.

Since the majority of animals are not treifah, however, we need not be concerned with the minority that are, and we are allowed to bring all animals as sacrifices.

A person who intentionally killed, can claim, “be’armah” — with guile — that the person he killed was a treifah (one already mortally wounded) and thus avoid the penalty. The Torah responds to this by mentioning the altar: Just as, regarding animals fit to be brought on the altar, we follow the “majority principle,” so in the instance of intentional killing, we affirm that the majority of people survive far beyond a year and assume that the victim was not a treifah.

(נחל קדומים)

"ורפא ירפא"
“And he shall provide for healing.” (21:19)

QUESTION: Why does it state in Parshat Beshalach (15:26) “Ani Hashem rofecha” — “I am G‑d your healer” — with a soft "פ", and here with a hard "פּ"? Moreover, why is the word repeated twice in this case, while there it is only stated once?

ANSWER: When a doctor endeavors to heal a patient, often the patient experiences pain. Moreover, at times a doctor may make mistakes and, regardless of his good intentions, complicate the illness before healing the patient.

Hashem’s method of healing is with a soft touch, and He never errs. Thus, the pasuk uses a soft "פ", and there is no need for repetition of the word.

(בעל הטורים - רבינו בחיי)

"ורפא ירפא"
“And he shall provide for healing.” (21:19)

QUESTION: From this pasuk the school of Rabbi Yishmael learned that the A-mighty gives doctors permission to heal (Berachot 60a). The Gemara (Kiddushin 82a) says, “Tov sheberofim leGeihinom” — “The best of doctors will go to Geihinom.” How can we comprehend this Gemara in light of the fact that some of our greatest sages, such as the Rambam, the Ibn Ezra and others were doctors?

ANSWER: The Shemoneh Esreih, which is recited three times daily, originally consisted of 18 berachot. One of them is “Refa’einu, Hashem, veneirafei,” in which we pray to Hashem for healing. Unfortunately, there are doctors, who otherwise have faith in Hashem, but take all the medical credit for themselves and forget that they are His emissaries.

The numerical value of the word “tov” (טוב) is 17. The Gemara’s statement, “Tov sheberofim leGeihinom,” refers to the doctor who recites the Shemoneh Esreih but only believes in 17 of the berachot. A doctor who lacks full faith in “Refa’einu, Hashem,” belongs in Geihinom. However, doctors who are righteous and believe that it is Hashem who gives them the power to heal will be rewarded with Gan Eden.

(פרדס יוסף)

* * *

Alternatively, it is incumbent upon doctors to provide the best professional knowledge to their patients. The doctor must follow his teachings and adhere to them accurately. When a doctor diagnoses a patient and instructs him what he may eat or what he may not eat, or what he may do and may not do, he must be strict in his orders.

Sometimes the patient says, “But doctor I cannot exist without this...” The doctor, feeling sorry for the patient, may say, “I’ll be lenient with your diet and permit you to eat small portions of the forbidden foods or I will only restrict your activities for two days instead of seven.” In reality, he is endangering the welfare of the patient. This kind of doctor who is permissive and wants to be a ‘good’ person, endangering the patient’s life by yielding to his wishes, deserves Geihinom.

(פרדס יוסף)

"עין תחת עין"
“An eye for an eye.” (21:24)

QUESTION: Rashi explains that he pays the value of an eye. What indication is there in the pasuk that it means a cash payment and not the actual taking of an eye?

ANSWER: When one writes the letters of the alef-beit from alef to tav, one under the other with alef on top, the letter under "ע" is "פ", the one under "י" is "כ", and the letter under "נ" is "ס". Thus the three letters under the letters of the word ayin (עין) — “eye” — spell the word “kesef” (כסף), which means “money.” Hence, the Torah is teaching us that Ayin — if a person blinded another’s eye — he must give “tachat ayin — what is spelled by the letters under “ayin” — and that is “kesef” — money.

(קול אליהו)

"וכי יפתח איש בור או כי יכרה איש בר ולא יכסנו ונפל שמה שור או חמור"
“If a man shall uncover a pit, or if a man shall dig a pit and not cover it, and an ox or a donkey fall into it....” (21:33)

QUESTION: Why is the first “bor” (pit) written with a "ו" and the second “bor” without a "ו"?

ANSWER: The law of responsibility concerning digging a pit in the ground which caused fatal damage applies only to a pit ten handbreadths deep.

A person who uncovers a pit ten handbreadths deep is considered to have dug the entire pit and he is responsible for the damages. Similarly, one who adds a handbreadth to an already-existing pit nine handbreadths deep is also fully responsible as if he had dug the entire pit.

According to our sages (Bava Kamma 51a), the first part of the pasuk is referring to the instance where a pit ten handbreadths deep was uncovered, while the latter part refers to the case where one digs the tenth handbreadth. Therefore, in the first part of the pasuk, in which one makes the entire pit, “bor” is written with a "ו". But where one only digs the one handbreadth (and becomes responsible for the pit), it is written without a ."ו"

(קול אליהו)

"אם המצא תמצא בידו הגניבה...שנים ישלם"
“If the stolen object shall be found in his possession...he shall pay double.” (22:3)

QUESTION: Why does a ganav — thief — pay double?

ANSWER: When a thief steals $100, his intention is to gain $100 for himself at the expense of $100 to his victim. The punishments in the Torah are measure for measure. Therefore, by paying double, the thief ends up losing $100 and making the victim gain $100. What is done to him is exactly what he planned to do to his fellow.

(פרדס יוסף)

"אם כסף תלוה את עמי"
“When you lend silver to My people.” (22:24)

QUESTION: In ancient times currency was made of gold or silver. Why does the Torah specify “kesef” (כסף) — silver — only?

ANSWER: The letters that comprise the word “zahav” (זהב) decrease in numerical value (7, 5, 2), while the letters which spell the word “kesef” (כסף) increase (20, 60, 80).

The Torah is conveying an important lesson — “im kesef” — when a person wants his assets to increase — it can be achieved through “talveh et ami” — extending interest-free loans to My people because charging interest causes a decline of one’s assets (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Dei’ah 160:2).

(בית יעקב)

* * *

King Shlomo says about Torah study, “Im tevakeshenah chakesef...veda’at Elokim timtza” — “If you seek her as silver...you will find the knowledge of G‑d” (Proverbs 2:4-5). Superficially, the analogy is difficult to comprehend. More effort is made to find gold than silver, why doesn’t the wisest of all men preach to seek Torah as one seeks gold? The above-mentioned concept can provide insight into Shlomo’s wisdom. He is saying: To succeed in Torah study one must take the approach of “kesef” — continuously increase and intensify one’s efforts in Torah studies. Thus, one will eventually find (understand) the knowledge of Hashem.

(בית יעקב)

"אם כסף תלוה את עמי את העני עמך"
“When you lend money to My people, the poor among you.” (22:24)

QUESTION: A gemilat chesed (loan) is both for the rich and the poor. Why does the Torah single out “the poor among you”?

ANSWER: According to the Gemara (Bava Metzia 75b), giving someone a loan without witnesses is guilty of placing a stumbling block before the blind (Vayikra 19:14) because the borrower may be tempted to deny the loan. However, when one gives tzedakah (charity), it should be done discreetly so that the poor man will not become embarrassed.

Our pasuk alludes to this important rule: “Im kesef talveh” — “when you are giving a loan” — “et ami” — “[do it] before my people.” However, “et he’ani” — “[if you are helping] a poor person [with charity]” — “imach” — “[it should be] between you and him.”

(אוצר חיים בשם גור ארי')

"אם כסף תלוה את עמי את העני עמך"

“When you lend money to My people, the poor among you.” (22:24)

QUESTION: Do not the words “et he’ani imach” — “the poor among you” — seem extra?

ANSWER: Helping a person in need is a great mitzvah. One should give at least one tenth of one’s earnings for tzedakah. Unfortunately, sometimes people do not have money readily available when they are called upon for a worthy cause. Others do not want to dip into their reserves and, consequently, they lose an opportunity to perform a great mitzvah.

The pasuk gives advice on how to give tzedakah easily and wholeheartedly. When a person brings home his earnings, he should immediately take off at least ten percent and put it away in a “tzedakah account.” Thus, he will no longer consider the money as his, but rather belonging of the poor. When a poor man or a charitable cause comes to him for help, he will not feel as if he is giving his own money, but rather “et he’ani imach” — [the money of] the poor man which is in his possession.

(לקוטי בתר לקוטי מדו"ת - שערי שמחה)

* * *

Another important lesson the Torah is teaching us about tzedakah is the following: One Jew must help the other when he has been blessed with abundant wealth. Moreover, even one who is experiencing financial difficulties should not hesitate to help another in need. The Torah alludes to this with the words “et he’ani imach” — even when you experience poverty (“poverty is with you”) — make an effort to help a fellow Jew in need.

(לקוטי בת לקוטי - ר' שמעלקא מניקלשבורג זצ"ל)

"אם כסף תלוה את עמי את העני עמך"
“When you lend money to My people, the poor among you.” (22:24)

QUESTION: The word “imach” — “with you” — seems to be superfluous. Would it not have been sufficient to say “If you lend money to My people, the poor”?

ANSWER: Many people establish an amount they will give to a particular charity and are very careful not to exceed it. Although in the interim their wealth has increased many times over, they still continue to give their original allocations. The Torah abhors this behavior and instructs us that, when we give to the poor, we should always consider them “imach” — to be on our level. When we are enriched and do more for ourselves, we should accordingly do more for them.

* * *

King David in Psalms (112:3) writes: “Hon va’osher beveito vetzidkato omedet la’ad” — “Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness (tzidkato) lasts forever.” According to a homiletic interpretation he is referring to a person in whose home there is constant improvements thanks to his increased wealth, but “tzidkato” — his donations for tzedakah — remain the same forever.

(לקוטי בתר לקוטי מהדו"ת)

"אם כסף תלוה את עמי את העני עמך...לא תשימון עליו נשך"
“When you lend money to My people, the poor among you — do not place upon him usury.” (22:24)

QUESTION: Why is the Torah adamant about not charging interest?

ANSWER: A rich man does not necessarily deserve his wealth, nor a poor person his poverty. Affluence and poverty derive from acts of Hashem designed to test the person. The rich man should think that he is merely the caretaker of money which rightfully belongs to the poor man. It is placed in his custody to test him, to see if he will be blinded by riches.

This is implied in the words, “et he’ani imach” — “The poor man’s money is with you.” When you extend a loan to him, you are really granting him access to his money. Consequently, charging him interest on his money is adding insult to his suffering of poverty.


"אם חבל תחבל שלמת רעך עד בא השמש תשיבנו לו...הוא שמלתו לערו במה ישכב"
“If you take as collateral your friend’s garment, you must return it to him before sunset...it is his garment for his skin; in what shall he sleep?” (22:25-26)

QUESTION: Why is the word for “garment” spelled differently in each pasuk ( שלמהand שמלה)?

ANSWER: The word "שמלה" is composed of two words "שם לה" — shem lah” — an item of importance with its own name — and the word "שלמה" is also composed of two words "של מה" — “shel mah” — of what value is it?

When a person gives a loan and takes an item as collateral, he may think that it is a “shel mah” — not of great value — and that it will not make a difference if he returns it before sunset or not. The Torah warns, however, that this seemingly meager garment may be the poor man’s only one, and to him it may be, “shem lah” — a valuable possession.

(שער בת רבים)

"ואנשי קדש תהיון לי ובשר בשדה טרפה לא תאכלו לכלב תשלכון אתו"
“Be holy men to Me, do not eat treifah [torn-off flesh] in the field; cast it to the dogs.” (22:30)

QUESTION: Why does the Torah specify “basadeh” — in the fields? Should it not say “babayit” — in the home?

ANSWER: Many people are meticulous in the laws of kashrut in their homes. They only eat food that has reliable Rabbinic supervision, etc. However, when they go out to the “fields” for vacations, they are very lax in the laws of kashrut. They may stay in hotels and purchase food in establishments without high kashrut standards.

Therefore, the Torah emphasizes that even when out in the “fields,” it is necessary to observe the laws of kashrut strictly.

"אחרי רבים להטת"
“A case must be decided on the basis of the majority.” (23:2)

QUESTION: The gentile world constitute the majority while Jews are a minority. Why don’t we, G‑d forbid, join them in respect to idolatry?

ANSWER: A heathen once asked Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha this question and his answer was the following: ‘In the case of Eisav six souls are mentioned in the Torah, and yet the word used for them in Torah is “souls” (nefashot), in the plural, as it is written, “And Eisav took his wives, and his sons, and his daughters, and all the souls of his house (Bereishit 36:4).

In Yaakov’s family, on the other hand, there were seventy souls, and yet the word used of them in Torah is “soul,” as it is written, “And all the nefesh [sing., soul] that came out of the loins of Yaakov,” (Shemot 1:5). The reason is that Eisav worshipped many deities, while Yaakov worshipped one G‑d.

Although the gentiles are many in number and we are few, they practice polytheism. Thus, since we are all united and worship only one G‑d, in reality we are the majority and they the minority.

(ויקרא רבה ד:ו - עי' מתנת כהונה)

Alternatively, in the olden days debates would take place between priests and rabbis. The priests would attempt to prove the correctness of their faith and force the Jews to convert. Once, a priest asked the above question of a rabbi. The rabbi wisely responded, “The law of following the majority applies only when there is doubt. However, though we are a minority, we Jews have no doubts about our faith and are convinced that our G‑d is the one and only G‑d and Master of the entire world.”

(אוצר חיים)

"ודל לא תהדר בריבו"
“Do not glorify a destitute person in his grievance.” (23:3)

QUESTION: What is the grievance of the poor man?

ANSWER: Often, the poor man may express his frustration and anger against Hashem: “Why does He take care of everyone and forsake me?”

When one extends charity to the needy, he refutes the contention of the poor man. On the other hand, when one refuses to give charity, he is confirming the poor man’s complaint. Therefore, the Torah advises us to give charity so as not to provide support for the poor man’s grievance about his economic situation.

(אור החיים)

"כי תראה חמור שנאך רבץ תחת משאו וחדלת מעזב לו עזב תעזב עמו"
“If you see your enemy’s donkey lying under its load, you might want to refrain from helping him; [however], you must surely help with him.” (23:5)

QUESTION: Only a wicked person would think this way. Why is it necessary for the Torah to caution us against it?

ANSWER: Before Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, known as the Alter Rebbe,” became the leader of Chabad, he once traveled to raise money for an important charitable cause. He came to the home of a wealthy man who, sensing that he was not one of the ordinary collectors, offered to have him stay and teach his children in return for the entire sum he hoped to raise.

After a short stay, he informed his host that he was leaving because he could not tolerate the conduct of the people of the city. His host asked him what he meant, and Rabbi Shneur Zalman replied, “You torture the poor.” The host thought that he was referring to a recent meeting to determine how to raise the money for a tax. It was decided that first the poor should give as much as they were able, and whatever was missing would be made up by the rich. He realized that Rabbi Shneur Zalman was right: the poor should not be bothered at all. Let the rich give as much as they can, and the poor won’t have to give anything. Immediately he arranged a second meeting, and it was decided that the rich should first give what they could afford.

A few days later, Rabbi Shneur Zalman again gave notice that he was leaving, exclaiming again, “You torture the poor.” Amazed, the host told his guest of the second meeting and that the poor would not be bothered at all. Rabbi Shneur Zalman told him that he was not aware of the meetings and had been referring to a different matter:

In the human body there are ‘rich’ organs and a ‘poor’ organ. The ‘rich’ organs are the mind and the heart, and the ‘poor’ organ is the stomach. “In this city,” he explained, “instead of putting emphasis on the rich organs and engaging them in the study of Torah and concentrating on prayer to Hashem, the approach is to constantly fast. Thus, the ‘poor’ organ, the stomach, is deprived and made to suffer for the person’s iniquities. I cannot tolerate this approach!”

This new philosophy was very intriguing to the host, and he asked Reb Shneur Zalman its source. He told him of the Ba’al Shem Tov and his teachings, which accentuate working with the mind and heart and not punishing the body.

“The Ba’al Shem Tov,” he continued, “bases his theory on a pasuk in Parshat Mishpatim and interprets it as follows: ‘Ki tireh’ — when you will come to the realization that — ‘chamor’— the physical matter of the body (related to the word chomer), is — ‘sonacha’— your enemy — because he is engaged in attaining physical pleasures, and thus, hates the neshamah which is striving for G‑dliness and a high spiritual level — [and the body is] ‘roveitz tachat masa’o’ — lying under his burden not wanting to get up and serve Hashem — ‘vechadalta mei’azov lo’ — you may think that you will begin to torture him and deny him the food he needs. Be advised that this is a wrong approach. Instead, ‘azov ta’azov imo’ — help him! Give him his bodily needs and attune your mind and soul to worship Hashem. Eventually, your body will become purified and cooperate in your worship.”

(שמעתי מאבי חורגי הרה"ח הרה"ת ר' אליהו משה ע"ה ליס - עי' היום יום, כ"ח שבט)

"וחג האסף בצאת השנה באספך את מעשיך מן השדה"
“The festival of ingathering [Sukkot] should be celebrated at the end of the year.” (23:16)

QUESTION: In Parshat Ki Tissa (34:22) it is written, “vechag ha’asif tekufat hashanah” — “the festival of ingathering at the turn of the year.” Rashi explains this to mean “bitechilat hashanah haba’ah” — “the beginning of the coming year.”

Is Sukkot at the end or the beginning of the year?

ANSWER: Rabbi Levi says (Yalkut Shimoni, Pinchas 29): Hashem planned to give the Jewish people a yom tov every month of the spring and summer. Thus, Pesach occurs in Nissan, Pesach Sheini in Iyar, and Shavuot in Sivan. When the Jewish people sinned in Tammuz with the golden calf, Hashem canceled yamim tovim for the months of Tammuz, Av and Elul. In Tishrei, however, He gave Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot, which were really supposed to be during Tammuz, Av and Elul respectively, and also Shemini Atzeret for the month of Tishrei.

In this parshah, Hashem is talking about the yom tov of Sukkot, before the Jews sinned with the golden calf. At that time the festival of Sukkot was designated to be at the end of the year, during the month of Elul. The sin of the golden calf is recorded in Parshat Ki Tissa. After the sin was committed, the yom tov of Sukkot was moved up to the beginning of the new year — the month of Tishrei.

(פנינים יקרים - ספר קנה אברהם)

"ראשית בכורי אדמתך תביא בית ה' אלקיך לא תבשל גדי בחלב אמו"
“Bring your first fruits [bikurim] to the house of G‑d, your G‑d; you shall not cook a kid in the milk of its mother.” (23:19)

QUESTION: What is the connection between bikurim and cooking meat with milk?

ANSWER: The festival of Shavuot is also known as “the festival of Bikurim,” being the preferred time for bringing bikurim. On the first day of Shavuot it is customary to eat a milchig meal. Thus, the Torah reminds us that when we bring the bikurim on Shavuot, we should be very careful while cooking for Yom Tov not to mix any meat together with milk.

(של"ה מס' שבועות)

* * *

In the olden days, if a farmer wanted his field to yield good produce he would cook a kid in the milk of its mother. Pouring the milk on the field would fatten the soil. According to halachah (Chullin 115b), one is not only forbidden to eat a mixture of milk and meat, but also to derive any benefit from it. Therefore, the Torah tells us that if one properly fulfills the mitzvah of bringing the first fruits to the Beit Hamikdash, the produce of your fields will be blessed, making it unnecessary to violate this law in order to fatten the soil.

(שער בת רבים)

"ועבדתם את ה' אלקיכם וברך את לחמך ואת מימיך"
And you shall serve G‑d, your G‑d, and He shall bless your bread and your water.” (23:25)

QUESTION: Why does the pasuk begin with “va’avadetem” — “you [plural] shall serve” — and conclude with “lachmecha ve’et meimecha” — “your [singular] bread and your water”?

ANSWER: Our sages speak very highly of tefilah betziburdavening with a minyan. The word “tzibur” (צבור) is an acronym for “צדיקים בינונים ורשעים” — “righteous, intermediate, and wicked.” Individually, one may not be worthy that Hashem grant him his desires. However, the zechut of a minyan can help pull through even those, who on their own, are lacking merit.

The Torah is advising us that if you want Hashem to bless “lachmecha” — “your bread” — with abundance, this can be accomplished through “va’avadetem” — praying betzibur — and the zechut of the many will stand you in good stead.

"ונגש משה לבדו אל ה' והם לא יגשו"
“And Moshe alone shall approach G‑d, but they shall not approach.” (24:2)

QUESTION: Do not the word “levado” — “alone” — seems superfluous, since it states “veheim lo yigashu” — “but they shall not approach”?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Bava Metzia 85b) tells us that Rabbi Chaviva Bar Surmaki knew a Rabbi whom the prophet Eliyahu would visit regularly. Once he requested Eliyahu to show him the [departed] Sages as they ascend to the Heavenly Academy. He responded, “You may look upon all of them except for the carriage of Rabbi Chiya.” The Rabbi inquired, “How will I know to distinguish between the carriage of Rabbi Chiya and the others?” Eliyahu replied, “All are accompanied by angels when they ascend and descend except for Rabbi Chiya, who ascends on his own.”

The greatness of Moshe was that he was able to approach Hashem “levado” — “on his own” — while all the others were unable to do so. Therefore, the pasuk uses the expression, “veheim lo yigashu” (יִגָשוּ) in the passive, instead of “veheim lo yigshu” (יִגְשוּ), to teach that they could not approach, even with assistance. Since Moshe however, had direct access to Hashem, Torah states, “UMoshe alah el haElokim” — Moshe, [on his own,] ascended to G‑d (19:3).

(שער בת רבים - שפתי כהן)

"ויאמרו כל אשר דבר ה' נעשה ונשמע"
“And they said, ‘Everything that Hashem has said, we will do and we will listen (obey).’” (24:7)

QUESTION: In the previous parshah, it is written, “Vaya’anu chol ha’am yachdav” — “And the people answered together, ‘All that G‑d has spoken, na’aseh — we will do’ ” (19:8). 1) Why is the word “nishmah”obey” — not mentioned? 2) Why in our parshah is there no mention that they responded “yachdav” — “together”?

ANSWER: It is really impossible for every Jew on his own to fulfill all the 613 mitzvot. Some mitzvot can only be performed by a King, others only by a Kohen, etc. Nevertheless, there are ways for every Jew to receive credit for the fulfillment of all the 613 mitzvot: 1) Through learning about the mitzvot, it is considered as though one performed them. 2) When the Jews are united, they are considered one entity. Thus, through unity, they fulfill all the mitzvot and share the rewards.

Therefore, in our parshah, since it says, “na’aseh” — “we will do” — and also “nishmah” — “we will obey” — which means to study and learn about the mitzvot, each Jew on his own can do “kol asher diber Hashem”“everything which Hashem has spoken.” However, in Parshat Yitro where only “na’aseh” — “we will do” — is mentioned and not “nishmah,” which means obeying and learning, fulfilling everything G‑d commands is only possible through“yachdav” — togetherness and unity.

(פרדס יוסף)

"ויחזו את האלקים ויאכלו וישתו"
“They gazed at G‑d and they ate and drank.” (24:11)

QUESTION: What is the connection between the spiritual delight of seeing G‑d and physical eating and drinking?

ANSWER: Unfortunately there are people who are lax in their observance of kashrut. They eat in many establishments without really checking their reliability.

A story is told of a stranger who entered a “kosher” restaurant and inquired about its kashrut standards. The proprietor directed the visitor to a picture on the wall: “You see that man up there with the long beard and peiyot; he was my father.” The visitor said to him, “If your father with the beard and peiyot were standing here behind the counter and your picture were hanging on the wall, I would not ask any questions. Since the opposite is true, I have doubts and must investigate before I can eat here.”

The Torah is implying that before eating and drinking at any home or restaurant, one should check for a sign of a G‑dly environment. Only after seeing that a G‑dly and Torah spirit prevails should one partake of the food.

(פרדס יוסף)

"ויאמרו כל אשר דבר ה' נעשה ונשמע"
“And they said, ‘Everything that Hashem has said, we will do and we will listen (obey).’” (24:7)

QUESTION: Why when Yiddish speaking Jews meet, does one says to the other “Vas machts du” — lit. “what are you making” or “Vas tust du” — lit. “what are you doing” or “vas hert zich” lit. “what is being heard?”

ANSWER: When Hashem offered the Torah to the Jewish people, their immediate response was “na’aseh venishma” — “we will do and we will listen.”

Grammatically, everyone should have responded in the singular, “a’aseh ve’eshma” — “I will do and I will listen.” They responded in the plural to indicate that in addition to their own doing and listening, they would see to it that other Jews would also do and listen. This is in accordance with what the Gemara (Shevuot 39a) states “kol Yisrael areivim zeh lazeh” — “all Jews are responsible one for another.”

Hence, when Jews meet one asks the other “Vas machts du or “Vas tust du. Since we told Hashem “na’aseh” (we will make/do) and since we are also responsible for each other, one Jew asks another if he is fulfilling his pledge of doing and making what a Jew is supposed to do and make in regard to Torah and mitzvot.

Similarly, since the Jews said “nishma” — “we will listen” — and one is responsible to look after the other, we ask, “Vas hert zich” — “Are you hearing and listening to the words of Hashem?”

(שמעתי מהרב שמעון הלוי שי' רייטשיק)

"וישלח את נערי בני ישראל ויעלו עלת"
“He sent the youth’s of the Children of Israel and they brought up elevation-offerings.” (24:5)

QUESTION: The Gemara (Megillah 9a) relates that the Egyptian King Talmai (Ptolemy 3476-3515) gathered seventy two elders of Israel and placed them in seventy two separate rooms, telling them to write a Greek explanation of the Torah. (This is known among non-Jews to this day as the Septuagint, from the Greek word meaning “seventy.”) When they reached the pasuk that Moshe sent na’arei — the youths, they wrote that he sent “za’atutei” — which denotes importance, so that they should not accuse the Jews of sending unimportant people to welcome the Divine Presence.

Why indeed did Moshe send youths?

ANSWER: This event took place on the fifth of Sivan as a part of the preparation for Kabalat Hatorah — receiving the Torah. Moshe realized that the continuity of Torah study and observance is dependent on the young. If they will be trained to make sacrifices for Hashem, they will ultimately cling tenaciously to Him and His Torah. The future of Torah is not assured by old people learning during their retirement years, but rather by young people who devote themselves to diligent Torah study. Since Talmai might not have comprehended this important lesson and would thus accuse Moshe of being disrespectful to Hashem, the elders found it necessary not to translate the word naarei literally — youths.

(עי' פרדס יוסף, ועי' לקוטי שיחות חל"ג)

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According to Rashi these were the bechorim — firstborn — and they were called youths in comparison with the elders. They were charged with the performance of the Divine services of offering sacrifices before Hashem selected the tribe of Levi in their stead.

According to the Ramban, Moshe literally chose young men who were pure and had not experienced lust.

"וישלח את נערי בני ישראל ויעלו עלת ויזבחו זבחים"
“He sent the youths of the Children of Israel and they brought up elevation-offerings and they slaughtered sacrifices.” (24:5)

QUESTION: Why did Moshe perform this ritual through the youths prior to the reading of the sefer haberit — The Book of the Covenant — (parts of Torah) to all of the people?

ANSWER: Homiletically this can be explained as follows:

According to the Midrash (Rabbah, Song of Songs 1:31) prior to consenting to give the Torah to the Jewish people Hashem asked for a guarantee that it would have continuity among them. He rejected all their offers until they said “our children will be our surety.” Hashem accepted this, knowing that if the young people will study and observe Torah, it have an everlasting future.

Moshe south to test the degree of the dedication to Torah that prevails among the youth. Thus, upon seeing the dedication of the youth and their readiness to make “sacrifices,” for Hashem he was convinced that with such a youth Torah will perpetually flourish. Thus he preceded to make a covenant with the Jewish people to receive the Torah.

(עיטורי תורה)