"אמר אל הכהנים בני אהרן ואמרת אלהם"
“Say to the Kohanim, the sons of Aharon and tell them.” (21:1)

QUESTION: The redundancy of the pasuk including both “emor” — “say” — and “ve’amarta” — “and tell” — teaches us that the elders should educate the minors to avoid things prohibited by the Torah. The Gemara (Yevamot 114a) states that this message is found three times in the Torah:

1) In the prohibition of eating blood.

2) The prohibition of eating insects and other swarming things.

3) The laws of purity and defilement.

Why is the parents’ educational role emphasized in these three laws?

ANSWER: The fact that the Torah chose to emphasize the education of minors in these three laws dismisses popular myths regarding education:

1) Some people believe that you cannot change the conduct of a habitual transgressor. Regarding the prohibition of eating blood, however, the Torah says “Rak chazak levilti achol hadam” — “Only be steadfast in not eating blood” (Devarim 12:23). The expression “rak chazak” is used because eating blood was a common practice in those days (Rashi, ibid.). Consequently, by commanding adults to enlighten minors regarding the blood prohibition, the Torah is accentuating that even a hardened transgressor can and should be inculcated with Torah teachings.

2) Some people contend that it is futile to try to teach Torah and mitzvot to people who are gross and unrefined. Therefore, we are taught that even people devoid of human instincts, to the extent of eating swarming creatures, should be taught Torah, which ultimately will refine them.

3) Some people advocate teaching children only concepts which the human mind can comprehend and they object to teaching matters which are based on faith and absolute submission to G‑dliness. The Biblical laws concerning defilement and purity, however, are Heavenly decrees which are incomprehensible to the human mind and in the category of “statutes” (Rambam, Hilchot Mikvaot 11:12). Thus, by stressing the relationship of adults and minors regarding the laws of defilement, the Torah emphasizes the teaching of matters beyond the intellect.

(לקוטי שיחות ח"ב ע' 680)


"ויאמר ה' אל משה אמר אל הכהנים בני אהרן ואמרת אלהם לנפש לא יטמא בעמיו"
G‑d said to Moshe; Say to the Kohanim the sons of Aharon and tell them, ‘Each of you shall not contaminate himself for a dead person among his people.’ ” (21:1)

QUESTION: Since it says “emor el haKohanim” — “speak to the Kohanim” — the words“ve’amarta aleihem” — “and tell to them” — are superfluous?

ANSWER: A chassid of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad chassidut, once said that through conceit he overcame the urge to transgress. Whenever his yeitzer hara would tempt him he would scream, “Do you know who I am? I am a prominent person, a chassid of a great Rebbe. How can you expect me to sin?”

Hashem is conveying two messages to the Kohanim, one general and one specific. Firstly, Hashem said to Moshe “emor el haKohanim” — “say to the Kohanim”“B’nei Aharon” — “always remember that you are the children of Aharon. As children of such a prominent father, you must conduct yourselves in a way befitting your genealogy.” Secondly, “ve’amarta aleihem” — “tell them the laws of defilement that apply to them.”


"אמר אל הכהנים בני אהרן ואמרת אלהם לנפש לא יטמא בעמיו"
“Say to the Kohanim, the sons of Aharon, and tell them: none shall defile himself to a [dead] person among his people.” (21:1)

QUESTION: Why wasn’t Moshe commanded to convey this also to Aharon himself?

ANSWER: The Midrash Rabbah (Shemot 32:1) states that if the Jews would have waited for Moshe to return (from heaven) and would not have made the golden calf, there would not have been any exile and the angel of death would not have any power over them. When the Jews proclaimed at Sinai that they would “do and listen,” Hashem said that they were worthy to live forever. However, when they proclaimed a few weeks later, “This is your god, O’ Israel,” death returned to them.

Since the phenomenon of death returned to the Jewish people through the worshipping of the golden calf, which was made with Aharon’s assistance, the laws of defilement by a corpse were said to his children and not to him in order not to cause him any pain. (In reality Aharon did not personally violate any Torah law, and adamantly opposed the worship of the calf (see Midrash Rabbah, Vayikra 7:1), but the thought that death was related in some way to his actions would have hurt him immensely.)

(הדרש והעיון)


"כי אם לשארו הקרב אליו"
“Except for the relative that is closest to him.” (21:2)

QUESTION: Rashi says that “she’eiro” means “ishto” — “his wife.” Why is the term “she’eiro” used?

ANSWER: It is through the children a wife bears that the continuity of a man’s memory is assured. Otherwise, a short time after his passing, his memory is gone and forgotten. The root of the word “she’eir” (שאר) also occurs in the expression, “She’eirit ba’aretz” (שארית בארץ) — “survival in the land” (Bereishit 45:7). Through his family he continues to survive, even when he is physically no longer present.

(שער בת רבים)


"כי אם לשארו הקרוב אליו לאמו ולאביו...ועל כל נפשת מת לא יבא לאביו ולאמו לא יטמא"
“Except for his relative that is closest to him, to his mother, and to his father [shall he defile himself]... [The Kohen Gadol] shall not come near any dead person; for his father or his mother he shall not defile himself.” (21:2,11)

QUESTION: Why, in the case of the Kohen Gadol, who is forbidden to defile himself for anyone, does the Torah first cite the father and then the mother, while for the regular Kohen, who is permitted to defile himself for certain relatives, the mother is mentioned first?

ANSWER: The Torah seeks to emphasize the more striking aspects of the law. Since the sanctity of the Kohen Gadol is inherited from his father, one would presume that he may defile himself for him even though he is not permitted to defile himself for his mother. However, in the instance of an ordinary Kohen, since his mother need not be of Kohenite origin, we would think that he is forbidden to defile himself for her, whereas he may defile himself for his father because of his father’s Kohenite pedigree.

It is for this reason that the Torah expresses these two laws with the variation in sequence. In the case of the Kohen Gadol the prohibition to defile himself for his father is mentioned first to emphasize that even to his father, from whom he inherited the Kehunah Gedolah, he is forbidden to defile himself. And in the case of an ordinary Kohen, his permission to defile himself for his mother is mentioned first, to tell us that he may defile himself to her, even if she was not of Kohenite pedigree.

(כלי יקר)


"שור או כשב או עז כי יולד והיה שבעת ימים תחת אמו ומיום השמיני והלאה ירצה לקרבן אשה לה'"
“When an ox or a sheep or a goat is born, it shall be for seven days under it’s mother and from the eighth day on, it is acceptable for a fire-offering to G‑d.” (22:27)

QUESTION: Why must one wait until the eighth day after birth before sacrificing an animal?

ANSWER: As soon as an animal is born, it is complete and fully formed. The passage of time only adds to its size and strength. Man, however, is fully formed at the time of birth, but is lacking in development. He neither speaks nor walks, and he is completely uneducated. Throughout the years of his life he matures and grows in his service of Hashem.

Consequently, one may think that since time is irrelevant to the maturity of an animal, it is suitable for a sacrifice to Hashem as soon as it is born. The Torah negates this theory and requires waiting until the eighth day before it may be offered.

The significance of the number eight is that it transcends the realm of this mundane and physical world and alludes to the exalted and holy. In the natural world, time is based on a seven-day week and all occurrences are controlled by sheva kochavei lechet — the seven orbital planets. Hashem transcends all this, and therefore the number eight represents His lofty Holiness. Hence, once the animal reaches it’s eighth day, it is suitable to be consecrated as a sacrifice for Hashem.

(כלי יקר)

* * *

In the era of Mashiach, we will merit a higher revelation of G‑dliness and therefore Mashiach’s harp will consist of eight strings, one more than the seven-stringed harp of the Beit Hamikdash (Arachin 13b).

(כלי יקר)


"שור או כשב או עז כי יולד והיה שבעת ימים תחת אמו ומיום השמיני והלאה ירצה לקרבן אשה לה'. ושור או שה אתו ואת בנו לא תשחטו ביום אחד. וכי תזבחו זבח תודה... ביום ההוא יאכל לא תותירו ממנו עד בקר אני ה'"
“When an ox or a sheep, or a goat, is born, it shall be for seven days under its mother and from the eighth day on it is acceptable as a fire offering to G‑d. And whether it be an ox or sheep, you shall not slaughter it and its offspring on the same day. And when you offer a thanksgiving-offering.... On the same day it shall be eaten; you shall not let any of it remain until morning; I am G‑d.” (22:27-30)

QUESTION: Why after these three consecutive laws, does the Torah conclude with the words “Ani Hashem” — “I am G‑d”?

ANSWER: These three laws seem to contradict one another with respect to the concept of day and night. In the first law, which discusses sacrificing a newborn ox, sheep or goat, we are told that it cannot be done before the eighth day. Although in Torah law the day usually starts with the preceding night, the animal may be slaughtered only from the morning of the eighth day (Zevachim 12a). Thus, the night is considered an extension of the previous day.

Regarding the law of not slaughtering the sheep together with its offspring on the same day, the Gemara (Chullin 83a) says that if the mother was slaughtered at night, the child may not be slaughtered the entire following day. Thus, in this case the previous night is considered the beginning of the day.

In the third case, regarding the eating of the sacrifices, it is forbidden to leave any of it until morning, but it may be eaten during the night which follows the day it was slaughtered. Thus, the night is an extention of the previous day.

In view of these inconsistencies, one may be puzzled and therefore lax in observing these rules. Therefore, the Torah concludes, “Ani Hashem” — “I am G‑d” — “This is how I prescribed it and you have no permission to question it.”

(ויקהל משה בשם ר' יחיאל מיכל ז"ל עפשטיין, בעל ערוך השלחן)


"מועדי ה' אשר תקראו אתם מקראי קדש אלה הם מועדי"
“The festivals of G‑d, which you shall proclaim them to be holy convocations, these are My festivals.” (23:2)

QUESTION: Is not the word “otam” — “them” — superfluous?

ANSWER: According to the Rambam (Yom Tov 6:17), on Yom Tov we are obligated to rejoice, but Hashem is not content with one who celebrates privately with his family. We must invite the needy to our festive meals and make sure that they too rejoice.

The word “otam” — “them” — in this pasuk refers to the underprivileged who need to be invited. Hashem told Moshe to tell the people of Israel, “I consider it My festival when you will call “otam”them — i.e. the needy, to participate in your festive meal and rejoice together with you.”

(נועם מגדים)


"מועדי ה'... אלה הם מועדי: ששת ימים תעשה מלאכה וביום השביעי שבת שבתון"
“The festivals of G‑d... these are My festivals. Six days work be done; but on the seventh day is a Shabbat of complete rest.” (23:2-3)

QUESTION: The pasuk announces “these are My festivals”; why is Shabbat also mentioned?

ANSWER: During the year, the Torah designates the following festivals: The first and seventh day of Pesach, one day of Shavuot, one day of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, the first day of Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret. On six of these festival days, we are permitted to do work if it is in the category of tzorech ocheil nefesh — necessary for the preparation of food. On Yom Kippur, it is forbidden to do any work whatsoever.

The Torah is hinting this in the pasuk by stating, “Eileh heim mo’adai” — “these are my festivals” — “sheishet yamim tei’aseh melachah” — “six days [of the festivals] work may be done” — “uvayom hashevi’i” — “but on the seventh day [of the festivals of the year]” — i.e. Yom Kippur“shabbat shabbaton” — is a day of absolute rest when one is not permitted to do any work.

(הגר"א)


"אלה מועדי ה' מקראי קדש ... בחדש הראשון ... פסח לה'"
“These are the appointed festivals of G‑d, the holy convocations ... in the first month ... is the time of the Pesach-offering to G‑d.” (23:4-5)

QUESTION: Why does the listing of the festivals start with Pesach?

ANSWER: In this parshah the festivals of the year are listed. Pesach is listed first, because if one knows the day of the week on which Pesach begins, one can figure out on which day of the week the festivals of the year will take place.

A means of remembering this is the letter substitution system of א"ת-ב"ש (In which "א" interchanges with "ת", "ב" interchanges with "ש", "ג" with "ר", etc.).

א"ת — The day of the week on which the first day ("א") of Pesach takes place will also be the day of the week when Tisha Be’Av (תשעה באב) occurs.

ב"ש — The second day ("ב") of Pesach will be the day when Shavuot (שבועות) falls.

ג"ר — The third day ("ג") of Pesach will be the day when first day of Rosh Hashanah (ראש השנה) takes place.

ד"ק — The fourth day ("ד") of Pesach will be the day of Kriat haTorah (קריאת התורה), which is Simchat Torah, when we conclude the annual cycle of Torah reading and start again from the beginning.

ה"צ — The fifth day ("ה") of Pesach is the day of Tzom (צום), the fast of Yom Kippur.

ו"פ — The sixth day ("ו") of Pesach is the day on which Purim (פורים) has taken place a month earlier (in Adar). It is necessary to know what day Purim took place the month before in order to calculate the day of Lag BaOmer since Lag BaOmer and Purim always occur on the same day of the week.

(שו"ע אורח חיים סי' תכ"ח סעי' ג')


"וספרתם לכם ממחרת השבת"
“And you shall count for yourselves from the day after Yom Tov.” (23:15)

QUESTION: Why do we count Sefirah between Pesach and Shavuot?

ANSWER: The ultimate purpose of leaving Egypt was to receive the Torah on Mount Sinai. Every Jew is required to occupy himself as much as possible with the study of Torah, but unfortunately, people waste time that could be used for Torah study. Counting Sefirah before Shavuot is a preparation for kabbalat haTorah, and emphasizes the importance of time, serving as a reminder that we should use every free moment for the study of Torah.

(לקוטי שיחות ח"ז ע' 280)

The famous Chassidic Rebbe, Rabbi Avraham Mordechai of Ger (known as the “Imrei Emet”) once said that the reason for the custom of giving a chatan a golden watch is to teach him that every minute is “wrapped in gold” and should not be wasted.

(שמעתי מהרב אליהו משה ז"ל ליס)

* * *

Alternatively, another lesson we learn from Sefirah is the following: When counting Sefirah, we recite a berachah every night, yet when an entire day goes by and a person forgets to count, he can no longer recite the berachah on the following days. This teaches us that although each day is an independent entity, it also makes a unique contribution to all other days. Thus, the counting of Sefirah before Shavuot emphasizes the importance of each day and that one wasted day of Torah learning also affects the future.


"וספרתם לכם ממחרת השבת"
“And you shall count for yourselves from the day after Yom Tov.” (23:15)

QUESTION: Since Sefirah is a mitzvah which is not performed throughout the entire year, why don’t we recite the berachah of Shehecheyanu when we begin counting?

We cannot answer by saying that in our times Sefirat HaOmer is only Rabbinic, since we do recite “Shehecheyanu” on the reading of the Megillah, which is also Rabbinic.

ANSWER: The Torah connects the mitzvah of Sefirah to the offering of the karban omer on Pesach. Since we no longer have a Beit Hamikdash and cannot bring the karban omer, when we count Sefirah we are saddened and recite a special prayer: “May the Merciful One restore for us the service of the Beit Hamikdash to its place.” A “Shehecheyanu” is only recited when one is in a happy and joyous mood, hence, we do not recite it at the beginning of the Sefirah counting.

(ילקוט יצחק)


"וספרתם לכם ... שבע שבתות"
“And you shall count for yourselves ... seven weeks.” (23:15)

QUESTION: In the Diaspora we celebrate two days of Yom Tov because in the times of the Beit Hamikdash it was not immediately known if the previous month consisted of 29 days or 30 days. On the first night, when we start counting the omer, why don’t we say, “Today is the first day, today is the second day” and on the next night why don’t we say, “Today is the second day, today is the third day” etc.?

ANSWER: The purpose of counting is for clarification and verification. A person with an undetermined amount of money counts it to determine the exact amount. If after counting he is still in doubt, he counts it again until he verifies the exact amount. Since the mitzvah is to count the omer, consequently, counting and remaining with a doubt (as to the exact number of days), is contradictory to the entire concept of counting, and it would be improper to make a berachah for such counting.

* * *

With this explanation we can also understand ahalachah in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 489:1), which superficially is enigmatic. The Magen Avraham writes that if one recites the omer counting in Hebrew and does not know the meaning of what he is saying, he has not fulfilled the mitzvah. Why is counting the omer different than other prayers or blessings which one may say in Hebrew, even if he does not know the meaning of the words?

In light of the above — that the purpose of counting is for clarification and verification and valueless otherwise — if one recites the counting without knowing the meaning, the purpose of counting is not accomplished.

(שו"ת דבר אברהם ח"א סי' ל"ד, ועי' לקוטי שיחות ח"ז ע' 296)


"והקרבתם מנחה חדשה לה'"
“And you shall bring a new meal-offering to G‑d.” (23:16)

QUESTION: Why is the meal-offering brought on Shavuot referred to as a minchah chadashah” — “a new meal-offering”?

ANSWER: The festival of Shavuot commemorates Hashem’s giving of the Torah and its acceptance by the Jewish people. The word “chadashah” — “new” — is used to emphasize that it is incumbent upon the Jewish people to view the Torah as if newly given each day, thus, there is a process of constant renewal, inspiring a Jew to study Torah and observe mitzvot with fresh vigor and enthusiasm.

(כלי יקר)


"עד ממחרת השבת השביעית תספרו חמשים יום ... וקראתם בעצם היום הזה מקרא קדש יהיה לכם"
“Until the morrow of the seventh week you shall count fifty days ... You shall make a proclamation on this very day; a holy convocation shall there be unto you.” (23:16,21)

QUESTION: The festival of Shavuot commemorates the season of the giving of our Torah; why is there no mention anywhere in the Torah Shebichtav — the Written Torah — of the specific date when the Torah was given?

ANSWER: Hashem did this intentionally so that one should not limit Torah to a specific time. Each day a Jew should view himself as having received the Torah on that day, thereby arousing new inner intensity and devotion.

* * *

A wagon driver was once hired to deliver packages from one city to another. The day he was supposed to start his trip, there was a heavy snowfall, making it impossible to travel on the roads. He came to the man who hired him demanding his pay, and argued, “I was ready to make the trip; it was not my fault that I could not travel.” The man who hired him responded, “Whether if it is your fault or not, I do not have to pay you if you did not actually perform the work.”

Unable to settle their argument, they submitted their case to the local Rabbi, who eventually ruled against the coachman.

In anger, the coachman asked, “What is the basis for this opinion?”

The Rabbi replied, “I take it from the Torah.”

The illiterate coachman asked, “What is Torah?”

“It is a book of conduct and teaching which G‑d gave to the Jewish people.”

“I know nothing about this! When did He give it?”

“On Shavuot” the Rabbi replied.

“When is Shavuot?”

The Rabbi told him that it is right before summer.

“If this is the case, now I understand. When the Torah was given, it was not during the snowy season. If it had been given in the winter, the ruling might have been in my favor.”

The illiterate coachman assigned Torah to a certain time, lacking the awareness and insight that Torah is timeless.

(שמעתי מדודי הרב ברוך הכהן ז"ל כהן מח"ס קול תודה)


"וקראתם בעצם היום הזה מקרא קדש יהיה לכם כל מלאכת עבדה לא תעשו"
“And you shall make a proclamation on this very day; a holy convocation shall there be unto you; any laborious work you shall not do.” (23:21)

QUESTION: The words “yiheyeh lachem” — “shall there be unto you” — are superfluous?

ANSWER: According to Torah a Shabbat or Yom Tov runs from evening to evening. Since it is not exactly clear what constitutes nightfall, we begin Shabbat or Yom Tov at the time of sunset and observe it until three stars appear (tzeit hakochavim). In addition, our sages have instructed that we should add time to the holiday itself, and thus we start the Shabbat or Yom Tov earlier than sunset and observe it until after nightfall (Yoma 81b). Once a person accepts upon himself the holiness of Shabbat or Yom Tov, he is forbidden to do any work and may recite kiddush.

Shavuot is described in the Torah as Chag Hakatzir” — “The Festival of Harvest” (Shemot 23:16) — and it also marks the culmination of the forty-nine days of omer counting. Since the Torah says, “You shall count for yourself seven weeks; they shall be complete” (23:15) there is ahalachic ruling (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 494:2) that one should not recite Kiddush on the night of Shavuot before nightfall in order that the seven weeks be complete. On the other hand, since Shavuot is a festival like all other festivals, one is required to add time from the weekday to the holiday and refrain from doing work even before sunset.

This pasuk is alluding to these twohalachot as they pertain to Shavuot. “Ukeratem” — the proclamation that you make in Kiddush regarding the holiness and sanctity of the day — should be “be’etzem hayom hazeh” — “in this very day” — after nightfall and not earlier. In addition, similar to all festivals, “mikra kodesh” — “a holy convocation” — “yiheyeh lachem” — “shall there be unto you,” i.e. in your time — adding from the weekday and ushering in the holiday earlier by “kol melechet avodah lo ta’asu” — “not doing any laborious work.”

(עיטורי תורה - גן רוה)


"בחדש השביעי באחד לחדש יהיה לכם שבתון זכרון תרועה מקרא קדש"
“In the seventh month, on the first of the month, there shall be a rest day for you, a remembrance with shofar blasts, a holy convocation.” (23:24)

QUESTION: Our Sages (Rosh Hashanah 29b) note that here it is written “Shabbaton zichron teruah — “a remembrance of shofar blasts” — and in Parshat Pinchas it is written “yom teruah” — “a day of shofar blasts” — (Bamidbar 29:1). From this they derive that the shofar is sounded on Rosh Hashanah only when it falls on a weekday, but not on Shabbat.

Why is the mitzvah of sounding the shofar not cited the first time that Rosh Hashanah is mentioned in the Torah?

ANSWER: From the holiday of Pesach one can calculate which days of the week all the holidays of the year will take place. For example, Tishah Be’Av will always be the same day of the week as the first day of Pesach. Shavuot will start on the same day of the week as the second day of Pesach. Rosh Hashanah will be on the same day of the week as the third day of Pesach.

The Jews left Egypt on Thursday, the 15th of Nissan (Shabbat 87b). Consequently, their first Rosh Hashanah was on Shabbat, and therefore the Torah does not mention the sounding of the shofar since on Shabbat we do not blow the shofar.

(תורה תמימה - ועי' בהדרש והעיון)


"אך בעשור לחדש השביעי הזה יום הכפרים הוא"
“But on the tenth day of this month it is a Day of Atonement.” (23:27)

QUESTION: According to our calendar, Yom Kippur cannot be on Sunday, Tuesday, or Friday (Orach Chaim 428:1). Why?

ANSWER: TheMishnah in Keilim (17:14) says that “a vessel made from materials created on the first day can become defiled; one made from materials created on the second day cannot be defiled. One made from materials created on the third day can become defiled and one made from materials created on the fourth and the fifth cannot become defiled; a vessel made from anything created on the sixth day can become defiled.”

On the first day — Sunday — earth and water were created. An earthenware vessel can become defiled, and water is a conductor of defilement (something wet can become defiled). On Monday, the firmament was created and defilement does not apply to it. On Tuesday, trees were created and wooden vessels can become defiled. On Wednesday, the sun and moon were created, and defilement does not apply to them. On Thursday, birds and fish were created, and vessels made from their bones or skin cannot become defiled. On Friday, beasts, domestic animals, swarming creatures, and man were created. Vessels made from the bone or skin of any of these can become defiled.

Yom Kippur, the day when everyone is cleansed and becomes pure, only occurs, therefore, on the days that are associated with purity.

(אוצרות חיים)


"אך בעשור לחדש השביעי הזה יום הכפרים הוא...ועניתם את נפשתיכם"
“But on the tenth day of this month is the day of atonement... you shall afflict your souls.” (23:27)

QUESTION: The purpose of affliction is to inspire man to do teshuvah — repent. The Gemara (Yoma 86a) states “Teshuvah is great, for it reaches as high as the Kisei Hakavod — Hashem’s Throne of Glory.” What is the connection betweenteshuvah and the Kisei Hakavod?

ANSWER: In gematria there is a method of computation in which each letter is counted individually and also cumulatively. Thus the phrase "כסא הכבוד" can be calculated as follows: כ=20, כס=80, כסא=81, כסא ה=86, כסא הכ=106, כסא הכב=108, כסא הכבו=114, כסא הכבוד=118, for a total of 713.

The word "תשובה" itself in regular gematria also equals 713. Thus, there is an equivalence between teshuvah and the Kisei Hakavod.

(ר' שמשון זצ"ל מאסטראפאלי)


"אך בעשור לחדש השביעי הזה יום הכפרים הוא"
“But on the tenth day of this month is the day of atonement.” (23:27)

QUESTION: TheGemara (Ketubot 103b) says that on the day when Rebbe (Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi) passed away, a voice emerged from Heaven declaring, “Whoever was present at the demise of Rebbe will merit the world to come.” Why such a remarkable reward?

ANSWER: In the Gemara (Yoma 86b) Rebbe is of the opinion that the day Yom Kippur itself accomplishes atonement even if one has not repented, while many others hold that only if one repents will atonement occur for the individual.

The Midrash (20:12) equates the passing of the righteous to the day of Yom Kippur. Both are times of atonement for sin. Therefore, on the day of Rebbe’s demise, it was declared in Heaven in his honor that, “Whoever is present will merit the world to come,” even one who did not repent.

(פרדס יוסף)


"וכל מלאכה לא תעשו בעצם היום הזה... כי כל הנפש אשר לא תענה בעצם היום הזה... וכל הנפש אשר תעשה כל מלאכה בעצם היום הזה... חקת עולם לדרתיכם בתשעה לחדש בערב מערב עד ערב תשבתו שבתכם"
“You shall not do any work on this very day... For any soul who will not be afflicted on this very day... And any soul who will do any work on this very day... an eternal decree throughout your generations... on the ninth of the month in the evening, from evening to evening, shall you rest on your rest day.” (23:28-32)

QUESTION: Why does the Torah say the words “be’etzem hayom hazeh” — “on this very day” — three times and then conclude with “mei’erev ad erev” — “from evening to evening”?

ANSWER: From Rosh Chodesh Av, Moshe was in heaven receiving the second set of tablets and returned on Yom Kippur day. Upon his return, he taught the Jewish people the laws of Yom Kippur. Immediately, they began to fast and refrained from doing work. Consequently, the first Yom Kippur the Jews observed began in the middle of the day and lasted until evening.

Thus, when Moshe told the people to fast and abstain from doing work, he emphasized that it applied to “be’etzem hayom hazeh” — “on this very day” — that is, today, when I am talking to you. However, in the future it shall be “chukat olam ledoroteichem” — “an eternal decree throughout your generations” — Yom Kippur should not be celebrated as it is today, but “from evening to evening.”

(עטרת חכמים)


"כי יום כפרים הוא לכפר עליכם לפני ה' אלקיכם"
“For it is the Day of Atonement to provide you atonement before G‑d your G‑d.” (23:28)

QUESTION: In the Ne’ilah prayers of Yom Kippur we say, “G‑d, I remember, and I lament bire'oti kol ir al tilah benuyah — when I see every city built on its site — ve’ir ha’Elokim mushpelet ad she’ol tachtiyah — while the city of G‑d is cast down to the depth of the abyss.” Why is the destruction of Jerusalem mentioned in the Ne’ilah prayers?

ANSWER: Unfortunately, human nature is such that one is usually more excited about the physical and material than the spiritual. One may be tempted to chase after material delights and enjoyment rather than attend a Torah lecture or perform a mitzvah. The word “ir” (עיר), in addition to meaning “city,” may also stem from the word “hitorerut” (התעוררות) — arousal and awakening.

During Ne’ilah, when we reach the pinnacle of our prayers, we are expressing remorse and frustration that, unfortunately, “bire'oti kol ir al tilah benuyah” — our excitement for physical matters and pleasures is in full blossom — we run to enjoy them, but “ir ha’Elokim” — our awakening and excitement for G‑dly matters — is “mushpelet ad she’ol tachtiyah” — cast down to the depth of the abyss.

(מצאתי בכתבי אבי הרב שמואל פסח ז"ל באגאמילסקי)


"כל מלאכה לא תעשו חקת עולם לדרתיכם בכל משבתיכם"
“You shall not do any work, it is an eternal decree throughout your generations in all your dwelling places.” (23:31)

QUESTION: The previous pesukim state that on Yom Kippur it is forbidden to eat and to do any work. Why does this pasuk mention only the prohibition of doing any work?

ANSWER: The first Beit Hamikdash was built in the days of King Shlomo. The dedication (Chanukat Habayit) was celebrated over a seven-day period, which also included Yom Kippur. According to the Gemara (Mo’eid Katan 9a), to honor the occasion they rejoiced and ate festive meals on Yom Kippur. However, they observed Yom Kippur by not working.

Therefore, regarding the prohibition of working on Yom Kippur, the Torah says that it is an eternal decree for all generations. It does not mention fasting, for the Divinely-given Torah predicted that there would be a time when the Jewish people would not fast on Yom Kippur.

(משך חכמה)


"בחמשה עשר יום לחדש השביעי הזה חג הסוכות ביום הראשון מקרא קדש כל מלאכת עבדה לא תעשו אך בחמשה עשר יום לחדש השביעי...תחגו את חג ה' שבעת ימים ביום הראשון שבתון... ולקחתם לכם ביום הראשון פרי עץ הדר..."
“On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the festival of Sukkot... on the first day is a holy convocation, you shall not do any laborious work.... But on the fifteenth day of the seventh month... you shall celebrate G‑d’s festival... The first day is a rest day... You shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of an etrog tree....” (23:34-35,39-40)

QUESTION: 1) Why is the mitzvah of celebrating Sukkot repeated twice? 2) Why in the first pasuk does it say “lachodesh hashevi’i hazeh” while in the second the word “hazeh” is omitted? 3) Why only in the second pasuk is there mention of the taking of the four species? 4) Why in the first pasuk does it say, “You shall not do any laborious work” whereas in the second it simply says, “Shabbaton” — “a rest day”?

ANSWER: From the festival of Pesach one can determine on which day of the week all the festivals of that year will take place. This rule is known as ."א"ת, ב"ש, ג"ר, ד"ק"

"א" — the day of the week when the first day of Pesach occurs will be "ת" — the same day as Tisha Be’Av.

"ב" — the second day of Pesach will be "ש" — the same day of the week as Shavuot.

"ג" — the third day of Pesach will be "ר" — Rosh Hashanah.

"ד" — the fourth day of Pesach will be "ק" — the day of Kriat haTorahSimchat Torah — when we complete and start anew the reading of the Torah.

According to the Gemara (Shabbat 87b), the Jews left Egypt on Thursday. Consequently, since the first Pesach was celebrated on Thursday, the following Rosh Hashanah was on a Shabbat, and Sukkot, which is always two weeks later, was also on Shabbat. Thus, regarding the current celebration of Sukkot, the Torah says the fifteenth of this (“hazeh”) seventh month shall be Sukkot. Since it occurs on Shabbat, the Torah instructs us that “any laborious work shall not be done.” WhenSukkot occurs on Shabbat, the four species are not taken on that day and therefore, there is no mention of the lulav and etrog.

The second discussion of Sukkot in the parshah refers to the coming years and generations, and thus “hazeh” — “this” — is omitted. Since Sukkot is not necessarily on Shabbat,the commandment of taking the four species is mentioned. It is only referred to as a day of rest but not one in which any laborious work is forbidden because on Yom Tov one is permitted to do work connected with the preparation of food necessary for the festival.

(ויקהל משה)

"ולקחתם לכם ביום בראשון פרי עץ הדר כפת תמרים וענף עץ עבת וערבי נחל ושמחתם לפני ה' אלקיכם שבעת ימים"
“You shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of a etrog tree, the branches of date palms, twigs of myrtles and brook willows.” (23:40)

QUESTION: Since it says “ulekachtem” — “and you shall take” — the halachah is that if one has before him the four species but does not take them in his hand, he does not fulfill the mitzvah (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 651). Why does the Torah insist that they be taken in one’s hand?

ANSWER: According to the Midrash Rabbah (30:14), the four species represent different parts of the human body. The etrog resembles a heart, the lulav (palm branch) represents the spine, the hadas (myrtle) has small leaves which are like eyes, and the aravah (willow) resembles the lips.

With the mitzvah of “ulekachtem” — “you shall take” — the Torah is conveying a message of great importance; that these four major body parts must be taken in hand — that is, be under man’s control.

The heart sometimes lusts for dangerous things. Man must learn to control the desires of his heart. At all times there must be mo’ach shalit al haleiv — the brain ruling over the desires of the heart (Zohar, Vayikra 224a).

According to halachah, the lulav must be firm and upright. It should not be loose, curved, or bending to all sides. The spine provides major support for body and the spinal cord controls it. A weak spine can, G‑d forbid, cause a person to be paralyzed or of bent stature. Taking the lulav in hand means that a Jew must be firm in his convictions, walk upright, and be proud of the fact that he is a member of the Jewish people and Torah observant. He must never bend — compromise in his Torah observance.

The hadas leaves, resembling eyes, must grow upright on their stems. This teaches us that a Jew must always look up to G‑d in Heaven with optimism and not look down upon other people.

The message implied by the halachah requiring that the hadas be taken in the hand is that one must learn to control his eyes and also to be happy with one’s lot and not look enviously on other people’s good fortune.

The leaves of the aravah must be smooth and not have sharp serrated edges. The mitzvah of taking it into the hands emphasizes the importance of controlling one’s lips. In particular, one should be careful not to make biting remarks; rather one should speak words of Torah and speak well of a fellow Jew.


"ולקחתם לכם ביום הראשון פרי עץ הדר כפת תמרים וענף עץ עבת וערבי נחל"
“You shall take for yourself on the first day the fruit of an etrog tree, the branches of date palms, twigs of myrtles, and brook willows.” (23:40)

QUESTION: The Midrash Rabbah (30:16) says that in the merit of performing the mitzvah of taking the four species on the first day, Hashem says that “I will be the first to reveal Myself to you and take revenge for you from the firstEisav — of whom it is written ‘and the first [child] came out red’(Bereishit 25:25), and build for you the first — the Beit Hamikdash — of which it is written ‘A glorious throne on high from the first, the place of our Sanctuary’ (Jeremiah 17:12), and bring for you the first — King Mashiach, of whom it is written ‘The first shall say to Tzion’ (Isaiah 41:27).

Why will the fulfillment of the mitzvah of taking the four species bring Mashiach?

ANSWER: According to the Midrash (30:12), the four species represent four different categories of the Jewish people. The etrog, which has an aroma and is edible, represents the tzaddik, who studies Torah and performs mitzvot. The lulav, which only has good taste but no aroma, represents the one who is mostly involved in Torah study. The myrtle, which has aroma but no taste, represents the Jew who is involved in doing good deeds but who does not have the capability to study Torah. The willow, which has neither taste nor aroma, represents the Jew who unfortunately lacks both Torah and mitzvot.

The Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of sinat chinam — unwarranted hatred and rivalry among the Jewish people (Yoma 9b). Taking the four species together, symbolically, expresses ahavat Yisrael — love of a fellow Jew. Hashem is telling the Jewish people that by fulfilling the mitzvah of taking the four species — excelling in ahavat Yisrael — we will merit His taking revenge on our enemies, and we will merit the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash and the coming of Mashiach.

(שי לחגים ומועדים)


"ולקחתם לכם ביום הראשון פרי עץ הדר"
“And you shall take for yourself on the first day the fruit of the etrog tree.” (23:40)

QUESTION: The Midrash Tanchuma (21) says that the Torah uses the word “harishon” because this day is “rishon lecheshbon avonot” — “the first in the accounting of sins.” Why are the days before Sukkot free of sin?

ANSWER: On the very day Hashem created man, He placed him together with Chavah in Gan Eden and instructed him not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Later that same day, he disobeyed and enjoyed the fruit of the tree, thereby committing the first sin.

There is an opinion in Midrash Rabbah (Bereishit 20:8) that the Tree of Knowledge was an etrog tree. Hence, the Midrash is saying, “You should take ‘bayom harishon’ — ‘on the first day’ — an etrog, the fruit which was “rishon lecheshbon avonot” — “the first with which man ever sinned.”

(תכלת מרדכי)


"ולקחתם לכם ביום בראשון פרי עץ הדר"
“You shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of an etrog tree [lit. a beautiful tree].” (23:40)

QUESTION: What is the beauty of the etrog tree?

ANSWER: Man is compared to a tree of the field (Devarim 20:19). Many lessons are learned from trees to guide man in his development.

The uniqueness of the etrog is that on the bottom it has an ukatz — the stem by which it is connected to the tree — and a pitom — stem on the top, topped with a shoshanta — rosette blossom. Should one of these fall off, the etrog is no longer considered to be beautiful.

The lesson of the etrog tree is that a beautiful person is one who is connected with the past and who also has accomplishments of his own. A descendant of a fine family, who continues the family tradition, and who does not rest contented with the family’s past glories but goes forth to blossom on his own, is indeed a hadar — a very beautiful person.


"ולקחתם לכם ביום הראשון פרי עץ הדר כפת תמרים וענף עץ עבת וערבי נחל"
“You shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of a etrog tree, the branches of date palms, twigs of myrtles and brook willows.” (23:40)

QUESTION: According to the Midrash Rabbah (30:12) the different species we take on Sukkot represent various categories of Jews. The willow has neither taste nor aroma and it represents the Jew who neither studies Torah nor does good deeds.

Why is the Jew represented by the willow united with the other categories?

ANSWER: Every Jew possesses a spark of G‑dliness and should never be rejected. Moreover, continued association with other more observant Jews may have a positive effect on the non-observant Jew.

The Hebrew word for willow, “aravah” (ערבה), has the numerical value of 277, which is equivalent to the numerical value of “zera” (זרע) — “children.” This alludes that even if a father does not alter his ways, he should still be accepted within K’lal Yisrael, so that ultimately when his children grow up, they will possess good “taste” and a beautiful “aroma” (good deeds and Torah study).


"ולקחתם לכם...וערבי נחל"
“You shall take for yourself...and brook willows.” (23:40)

QUESTION: Why is the species which has no taste or aroma (representing the Jew who lacks both Torah study and mitzvot) called “aravah”?

ANSWER: When Hashem offered us the Torah, each one of us promptly responded, “na’aseh venishma” — “we will perform and we will listen (study).” Grammatically it would have been more appropriate for each person to respond, “a’aseh ve’eshma”“I will perform and I will listen.”

The reason for the plural response is that the Jews were saying not only “Will we perform and listen,” but “We will see to it that other Jews do the same.” Thus, at the time of the receiving of the Torah, every Jew became “areiv” (ערב)— a guarantor — for the others. Our sages tell us that “Kol Yisrael areivim zeh lazeh” — “All Jews are guarantors and responsible one for another (Shevuot 39a).

The word “aravah” is derived from the root word “arov” and thus implies the concept of responsibility and guarantee. Thus, the name “aravah” is an explanation and reminder that the “aravah” Jew is included because we are guarantors for him. We are obligated to assure that every Jew is fully observant.


"ולקחתם לכם ביום הראשון פרי עץ הדר כפת תמרים וענף עץ עבת וערבי נחל ושמחתם לפני ה' אלקיכם שבעת ימים"
“You shall take for yourself on the first day the fruit of a etrog tree, the branches of date palms, twigs of myrtles, and brook willows; and you shall rejoice before G‑d, your G‑d, for a seven day period.” (23:40)

QUESTION: What is the connection between the four species and rejoicing?

ANSWER: Regarding rejoicing with the four species, the Midrash Rabbah (30:2) offers a parable: Two people came before a judge, and we do not know which one was victorious. If one of them takes a palm branch in his hand, then we know he is the victor. So it is with B’nei Yisrael and the nations of the world: The latter come and bring accusations before Hashem on Rosh Hashanah and we do not know who has won. Since the B’nei Yisrael go forth from the presence of Hashem bearing their palm-branches and their etrogim, we know that they are victorious.

How does taking the four species prove that“we won”?

The Midrash Rabbah (30:12)explains that the four species represent the four different categories of Jews, from thetzaddik who studies Torah and performs good deeds to the Jew who is on the other extreme. The unification of the four species is an allusion to the fact that all Jews, regardless of their spiritual level or quality, are strongly united together. In unity there is strength and therefore victory.

The power of peace and unity is so great that even when the Jewish people sin, G‑d forbid, if unity prevails, Hashem does not rebuke or punish them (see Bereishit Rabbah 38:6). Thus, when Jews are united together with no rivalry or animosity between them, Hashem takes pleasure in them and they experience great joy.

(מצאתי בכתבי אבי הרב שמואל פסח ז"ל באגאמילסקי)


"אך בחמשה עשר יום לחדש השביעי באספכם את תבואת הארץ תחגו את חג ה'. בסכת תשבו שבעת ימים"
“But on the fifteenth day of the seventh month when you gather in the crop of the land, you shall celebrate G‑d’s festival for a seven day period. You should dwell in booths seven days.” (23:42)

QUESTION: Why, when we gather in the harvest of the land, are we commanded to dwell in sukkot?

ANSWER: The sukkah is referred to as a dirat arai — temporary dwelling place — and it has a roof through which one can see the stars. A person is required to leave his permanent abode and move into a sukkah, so that it is impressed upon him that our real security is provided by G‑d in Heaven. Without Him, our strong “fortresses” with their bars and gates are to no avail.

One who brings home the produce of his land may become arrogant and think that he is wealthy, able to sustain himself, and no longer dependent on Hashem. Through the mitzvah of sukkah such thoughts are dispelled. The sukkah reminds the individual that his affluence and success are only temporary and that he is entirely dependent on the blessing of Hashem.

(כלי יקר)


"בסכת תשבו שבעת ימים...למען ידעו דרתיכם כי בסכות הושבתי את בני ישראל בהוציאי אותם מארץ מצרים"
“You shall dwell in booths for seven days...So that your generations will know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in booths when I took them out of the land of Egypt.” (23:39,42-43)

QUESTION: Why is the festival of Sukkot connected to both the time of harvest and the Jews’ dwelling in sukkot during their sojourn in the wilderness?

ANSWER: The message of the sukkah is two-fold: When the Jews lived in Eretz Yisrael, worked the land and prospered, there was a danger that they would begin to think that it was their strength and wisdom that earned them their wealth. Consequently, when they gathered their crops and their success brought them into a jubilant spirit, Hashem commanded that they dwell in sukkot to teach them that life on this earth is temporary and that there are no strong “fortresses” that we can build for ourselves. The sukkah is covered with sechach, through which one can look up and see the heavens, alluding to the fact that our abodes are temporary and our security is dependent on Hashem in the heaven above.

The trials and tribulations of exile create the danger that the Jews, G‑d forbid, will suffer disillusionment. Therefore, Hashem gave the Jewish people the festival of Sukkot, “So that your generations will know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in booths when I took them out of the land of Egypt — and just as I protected them then and ultimately brought them to safety, so too, will I be with the Jewish people wherever they will be and ultimately bring them Mashiach and cause them to sit in the sukkah made from the skin of Livyatan.” (Livyatan is the largest sea creature, Hashem will make a meal from it for the righteous in the Hereafter [See Bava Batra 75a].)

(ילקוט אליעזר)

* * *

In view of the above, that Sukkot is celebrated for two reasons and conveys a two-fold message, it is understood why the festival is known as “Chag haSukkot” — in the plural.


"למען ידעו דרתיכם כי בסכות הושבתי את בני ישראל בהוציאי אותם מארץ מצרים"
“So that your generations will know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in booths when I took them out from the land of Egypt.” (23:43)

QUESTION: Rashi explains that the “booths” are the “Ananei Hakavod” — Clouds of Glory — that enveloped the Jewish people in the wilderness. When the Jews were in the desert they ate manna from heaven and drank water from a well which accompanied them on their travels. Why do we celebrate a festival to commemorate the Clouds of Glory and not for the manna or the well?

ANSWER: Hashem took the Jewish people out of Egypt with the intent of bringing them to Eretz Yisrael. Their itinerary included traveling through the desert for 40 years. Since Hashem presented the itinerary and chose the desert route, it was incumbent upon Him to provide the Jewish people with food and water, which are otherwise unavailable in the desert. To smooth the roads and protect them from the scorching heat, He had to provide the clouds which enveloped them.

However, in addition, the Jewish people were also surrounded with Ananei Hakavod — Clouds of Glory. These were intended to show His love for His chosen people and were not something strictly necessary. In order for future generations to appreciate the uniqueness of the Clouds of Glory (see Rashi), we commemorate them through celebrating the festival of Sukkot.

(מבי"ט)


"למען ידעו דרתיכם כי בסכות הושבתי את בני ישראל בהוציאי אותם מארץ מצרים"
“So that your generations will know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in booths when I took them out of the land of Egypt.” (23:43)

QUESTION: The word “ki” seems to be superfluous. Could not the verse have said “shebasukkot” — “that in sukkot”?

ANSWER: According to halachah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 633:1,8), the walls of a sukkah may not be higher than twenty amot — cubits — (approx. 35 ft.) so that the sechach will be visible to the eye. A sukkah must also be a minimum of ten tefachim — handbreadths — high (approx. 33 inches).

The word “ki” (כי) is a remez hint — to these two halachot. The numerical value of the chaf is twenty, alluding to the height of a sukkah, which cannot be above twenty amot, and the numerical value of yud is ten, which alludes to the minimum height of ten tefachim.

* * *

The Ba’alei Mesorah indicate two morepesukim where the word “ki” seems superfluous. One is “vayomru lo ki (כי) barechov nalin” — “And they said, ‘No, rather we will spend the night in the alley” (Bereishit 19:2), and the other, “Ki (כי) neir mitzvah” — “For a mitzvah is a candle” (Proverbs 6:23).

Similar to a sukkah, Chanukah and a mavui — alley — have laws involving the measure greater than twenty amot and less than ten tefachim.

Regarding a mavui, a crossbeam spanning the entrance to a mavui in order to make it a domain in which it is permissible to carry on Shabbat, may not be higher than twenty cubits. If from the ground at the entrance to an alley to the top of the wall is less than ten handbreadths, and one places a crossbeam over it, it is invalid to make it a domain in which carrying is permitted on Shabbat. (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 363:26.)

If a Chanukah menorah is placed above twenty cubits, it is invalid and it should, preferably, be less than ten handbreadths above the ground (ibid., 671:6).

That the word “ki” in the pasuk “ki barechov nalin” — “we will spend the night in the alley” — thus refers to the laws of an alley, and the word “ki” in the pasuk “ki ner mitzvah” refers to the laws of the candles of Chanukah.

(שמחת הרגל להחיד"א - לקוטי בשמים)


"כי בסכות הושבתי את בני ישראל בהוציאי אותם מארץ מצרים"
“That in booths I caused the Children of Israel to dwell (sit) when I took them out from the land of Egypt.” (23:43)

QUESTION: The Jewish people traveled throughout the wilderness, making 42 stops till they arrived in Eretz Yisrael. In lieu of, “ki basukkot hoshavti” — “That in booths I caused to dwell” — should it not have said, “basukkot holachti” — “In booths I led”?

ANSWER: The sukkot in the pasuk refers to the Clouds of Glory, which surrounded the Jewish people throughout their journey in the desert en route to Eretz Yisrael. In reality, the Jews never traveled in the conventional sense: The encompassing Clouds of Glory transported them from one stop to the other while they were sitting in their places.

(חיד"א)


"ולקחת סלת ואפית אתה שתים עשרה חלות"
“And you shall take fine flour and bake it into twelve loaves.” (24:5)

QUESTION: Why do some people place twelve challot on the Shabbat table, while others place only two?

ANSWER: On the table in the Beit Hamikdash, the “lechem hapanim” consisted of twelve challot, six on each side of the table. The challot would stay on the table the entire week, and every Shabbat the old challot would be removed and replaced with fresh ones. To commemorate this, some people place twelve challot on the Shabbat table. (See Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 274, Sha’arei Teshuvah.)

Others place two challot lengthwise before them, so that they look like two “vavim” ("ו"), each with the numerical value of six, for a total of twelve. Based on the above, round challot are used on Yom Tov, while oblong challot are used on Shabbat.

(עיטורי תורה)

* * *

The Arizal in his table hymn for Friday night writes, “May the Shechinah be surrounded by the six loaves on each side [of the table and] bevavin titkatar — and may they correspond to the two sets of six loaves [of the Beit Hamikdash].”

In light of the above, it may be explained that the Arizal is referring to the custom of the Kabbalists who place twelve chalot on their Shabbat table and who thereby merit that the shechinah unites itself with them.

Even ordinary Jews who are not versed in the secrets symbolized by the twelve challot achieve unification with the Shechinah because they put two oblong challot so that each looks like a vav ("ו"), one of the letters of Hashem’s holy four-lettered name, and two “vavin” together have the numerical value of twelve.

(דברי יחזקאל)


"ויצא בן אשה ישראלית והוא בן איש מצרי בתוך בני ישראל וינצו במחנה"
“The son of an Israelite women went out — and he was the son of an Egyptian man — among the Children of Israel, and they fought in the camp.” (24:10)

QUESTION: Rashi writes that “vayinatzu bamachaneh” — “they fought in the camp” — refers to, matters of “machaneh” — “camp.” The blasphemer wished to dwell among the people of Dan, his mother’s tribe, but they rejected him on the grounds that his father was not a Danite.

Why did this dispute erupt now and why is it recorded in this parshah?

ANSWER: The Egyptian man’s mother was Shelomit the daughter of Divri of the tribe of Dan. According to Midrash Rabbah (Shemot 1:28), she was married to the infamous Datan. Her son, however, was the product of her adulterous union with an Egyptian. Datan was a member of Korach’s contingent which fought with Moshe for the abolishment of the different status’ among the Jewish people. He considered himself a Kohen and even advocated that everyone be considered a Kohen Gadol (Bamidbar 16:6 Rashi).

For many years people did not know of Datan’s wife licentious behavior and thought that the young man was his son.

In the beginning of Parshat Emor, Moshe conveyed the commandment that “They [the Kohanim] shall not marry a woman who is a harlot” (21:7). Due to this, Datan “the Kohen” had to divorce his wife and move to a separate abode. Normally, a son follows his father’s pedigree and lives with his father’s tribe. However, since Datan was not his father, he chose to live with his mother in the camp of Dan, to where she returned after Datan divorced her. The people sensed that something was wrong, and after investigating, found out that he was an illegitimate son and refused to permit him to dwell in their midst. In anger, he blasphemed.

(מלא העומר)


"וינצו במחנה בן הישראלית ואיש הישראלי"
“They fought in the camp, the son of the Israelite woman and an Israelite man.” (24:10)

QUESTION: The Torah intentionally did not mention the name of the son of the Israelite woman since he was an illegitimate. Why, however, does it omit the name of the “ish hayisra’eili” — “Israelite man”?

ANSWER: Dissension, quarreling, and especially the raising of hands are not acceptable in the Jewish community. These are among the character traits of Eisav, of whom the patriarch Jacob said, “Hayadayim yedei Eisav” — “The hands are Eisav’s hands” (Bereishit 27:22), — i.e. their fame is for military prowess. No Jew, however, is esteemed by the Torah when he engages in fighting. Therefore the Torah does not consider the “Israelite man” worthy of being introduced by name.

(כלי יקר)


"ויצא בן אשה ישראלית והוא בן איש מצרי... וינצו במחנה... ויקב בן האשה הישראלית את השם ויקלל"
“The son of an Israelite woman went out, and he was the son of an Egyptian man... they fought in the camp... The son of the Israelite women pronounced the Name and blasphemed.” (24:10-11)

QUESTION: 1) Why during the fight did he curse the Name? 2) Why was it necessary for Moshe to inquire what to do with the blasphemer?

ANSWER: The man who cursed was the one and only illegitimate child in the Jewish community. His mother was Jewish and his father was the Egyptian whom Moshe killed for hitting a Jew. According to the Midrash Rabbah (Shemot 1:30), Moshe killed him by pronouncing the Tetragrammaton (Sheim Hameforash).

During the fight, the other Jews informed the illegitimate son of his family history and how Moshe had killed his father. Upon hearing this, he became very angry and cursed the Name of Hashem, the means by which his father had been killed.

Moshe asked Hashem what to do with him because he did not want to decide on his own to stone him. He feared that if he killed him, some people would suspect that he was motivated by a grudge against his father for hitting a Jew.

(דעת זקנים מבעלי התוספות - שער בת רבים)


"ויניחהו במשמר לפרש להם על פי ה'"
“They placed him under guard to clarify for themselves through G‑d.” (24:12)

QUESTION: Why does it say “mishmar” — “guard” — and not “sohar” — “prison”?

ANSWER: According to the Torah penal system, there is no such thing as prison. The only time prison is mentioned in the Torah is in regard to Yosef’s imprisonment in the foreign land of Egypt (Bereishit 39:20).

The Torah is interested in swift punishment so that the violator will quickly repent and not repeat his iniquities. At times, the Torah refers to servitude, but this is intended for the purpose of rehabilitation and not punishment. Prisons do very little to improve the character of the incarcerated; often the prisoners become more corrupt during their stay. However, since the need does arise to lock up a person temporarily, there is a basis in the Torah for it. This is what the word “mishmar” refers to.

Since the Jews did not know how to deal with a blasphemer and were waiting for instructions from Hashem, in order to make sure that no one took the law into his own hands, he was placed under guard in the interim.

The same is also true regarding to the man who desecrated the Shabbat. The Torah states, “vayanichu oto ‘bamishmar’” — “they placed him in custody [for it was not clarified what should be done to him]” (Bamidbar 15:34). This, too, was necessary in order to prevent people from harming him by taking action on their own.

When Yosef accused his brothers of being spies and held Shimon as collateral that they would return, the Torah says, “vaye’esor oto le’eineihem” — “he imprisoned him before their eyes” (Bereishit 42:24). As the Viceroy of Egypt, he followed the rules of the land and placed the alleged spy in prison. However, since Yosef knew the Torah’s negative opinion of prison, he did this only “le’eineihem” — “before their eyes” — and as soon as they left, he released him and treated him royally. (See Rashi.)


"הוצא את המקלל אל מחוץ למחנה וסמכו כל השמעים את ידיהם על ראשו"
“Remove the blasphemer to the outside of the camp, and all those who heard shall lean their hands upon his head.” (24:14)

QUESTION: Why only in the case of the blasphemer must the witnesses place their hands upon his head prior to his stoning?

ANSWER: In the trial of an accused blasphemer, the judges would examine the witnesses referring to Hashem by means of a pseudonym, so as not to actually repeat the blasphemy in the course of the investigation. The name “Yose,” which like the Tetragrammaton has four letters was used, in order to avoid further desecration of Hashem’s name. The guilty verdict may not, however, be issued upon the basis of a pseudonym. Rather, when the trial neared completion, everyone except the witnesses was sent out of the courtroom and the judges would say to the most prominent among them, “State explicitly what you heard.” At that time he was required to repeat exactly (using the Tetragrammaton) what he heard from the blasphemer, and the second witness would say, “I, too, heard the same thing.” Upon hearing this desecration of Hashem’s name, the judges would rend their garments and afterwards the blasphemer would be stoned (see Sanhedrin 56a).

Blaspheming Hashem is a very serious iniquity. By placing their hands upon the sinner’s head, the witnesses are saying, “You were the one who forced us to say something which is forbidden by Torah law. The sin we committed is on your head.”

(דעת זקנים מבעלי התוספות)


"שבר תחת שבר עין תחת עין שן תחת שן כאשר יתן מום באדם כן ינתן בו"
“A break for a break, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, just as he shall have inflicted a wound upon a person, so shall it be inflicted upon him.” (24:20)

QUESTION: Since the Torah clearly stated “a break for a break,” the words “ka’asher yitein mum ba’adam kein yinatein bo” — “just as he shall have inflicted a wound upon a person, so shall it be inflicted upon him” — are superfluous?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Kedushin 70a) says, “Kol haposeil bemumo poseil” — “Whoever disqualifies by finding fault in someone else has discovered his own defect in the other person.” Perhaps, our sages found a source for this concept in our pasuk, which can be explained to mean, “Ka’asher yitein mum ba’adam” — “When a person seeks to find fault in his fellow man” — “kein yinatein bo” — “it is proof that the fault is actually within him.”

(קומץ המנחה)


"עין תחת עין"
“An eye for an eye.” (24:20)

QUESTION: According to the Gemara (Bava Kamma 84a) when one damages another’s eye, he is required to make financial restitution.

How do we know not to interpret this literally, “an eye for an eye”?

ANSWER: If it means “an eye for an eye,” it should say, ayin be’ad ayin.” The word “tachat” means “under,” which teaches us that when one takes another’s eye, his punishment consists of “tachat ayin” — the letters that are “under” the word “ayin” (עין).

This is explained as follows:

In the Hebrew alef-beit, if the letters are stacked vertically with "א" on top, under the "ע" is a "פ", under the "י" is a "כ", and under the "נ" is a "ס". These letters spell the word “kesef” (כסף), which means money.

(ר' שמשון זצ"ל מאסטראפאלי)


"ויוציאו את המקלל אל מחוץ למחנה וירגמו אתו אבן"
“They took the blasphemer outside of the camp and they stoned him with a stone.” (24:23)

QUESTION: Regarding the individual who gathered twigs on Shabbat, it is written “vayirgemu oto ba’avanim” — “And they stoned him with stones” (Bamidbar 15:36).

Why were many stones used there and only one stone here?

ANSWER: Regarding the “mekoshesh eitzim” — the man who desecrated the Shabbat by gathering wood — there are two opinions. According to one opinion he was a blatant Shabbat violator. According to the other opinion, he was a righteous person who acted with good intentions, wanting to provide an opportunity for the punishment to be specified. (See Bamidbar 15:32 Rashi and Targum Yonatan.) However, regardless of his good intentions, his act is still considered an iniquity deserving of punishment.

Consequently, when it was decided to stone him, the Torah says, “He was pelted with stones” — plural — indicating that there were various opinions as to why he should be stoned. However, all were united in the opinion that the blasphemer committed a heinous crime; to emphasize the unanimity of K’lal Yisrael, the Torah writes — “they pelted him with a stone” — in the singular.

(ר' ישעיהו ז"ל מפראג)

* * *

Alternatively, the person who gathered twigs on Shabbat was the tzaddik Tzelafchad, who intended it for the sake of Heaven. He hoped that through his actions there would be a clarification of issues pertaining to Shabbat (Bava Batra 119b Tosafot). The individual who committed blasphemy, however, was indeed a rasha.

Unfortunately, when a tzaddik is accused of doing something wrong, immediately voices of denunciation and condemnation begin to pour in from all parts of the world. When a wicked man commits a heinous crime, he receives widespread support and many organizations come to his defense. Everybody was eager and happy to throw stones at the tzaddik Tzelafchad. Only the few righteous people threw a stone at the wicked blasphemer. Alas, history repeats itself.

(שמעתי מהרב רפאל ע"ה שטיין)


"ויוציאו את המקלל אל מחוץ למחנה וירגמו אתו אבן ובני ישראל עשו כאשר צוה ה' את משה"
“They took the blasphemer out of the camp and stoned him with a stone. And the Children of Israel did as G‑d commanded Moshe.” (24:23)

QUESTION: The words, “et Moshe” seem superfluous; would it not have been sufficient to state that the Jews did as G‑d commanded?

ANSWER: When Hashem gave instructions to Moshe, He said, “Remove the blasphemer to the outside of the camp; and those who heard him shall lay their hands upon his head, and the entire assembly shall stone him” (24:14). According to this, Moshe was the only one commanded to take him outside of the camp, but the stoning was to be done by the public.

When Moshe conveyed this to the people, they were so eager to clear the camp of evil people that immediately, before Moshe had a chance to do anything, “vayotzi’u”they took him outside of the camp and stoned him. Since Moshe was supposed to have taken the blasphemer out of the camp, the Torah states that the Children of Israel did what Moshe had been commanded to do.

(אור החיים)