Speak to the kohanim, the sons of Aaron, and say to them . . . (Leviticus 21:1)

“Speak” and “say”—enjoin the elders regarding the youngsters.

(Talmud; Rashi)

The above dictum, which constitutes a primary biblical source for the concept of education, also offers insight into the nature of education.

The word used by the Talmud and Rashi—lehazhir, “to enjoin”—also means “to shine.” Hence the phrase “to enjoin the elders regarding the youngsters” also translates as “to illuminate the elders regarding the youngsters.” Education is not only an elder teaching a youngster; it is also an illumination for the educator.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

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And for his virgin sister who has not married a man—for her, he may contaminate himself (21:3)

Thus the verse states: “Who is this, coming from Edom; with rancid and bloodied clothes, from Bozrah? . . . I, [replies G‑d,] who speaks in righteousness, mighty to save . . . all My garments I have soiled” (Isaiah 63:1–3). Israel is G‑d’s “virgin sister, who has not married a man”—who has resisted all the alien masters she has been subject to throughout her exile. For her sake G‑d “contaminates” Himself, to battle her enemies and to raise her from the dust.

(Zohar)

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Nor shall he contaminate himself [even] for his father or for his mother (21:11)

But he does contaminate himself for the sake of a meit mitzvah (a dead person who has no one to attend to him).

(Talmud; Rashi)


I shall be sanctified among the children of Israel (22:32)

It was resolved in the upper chambers of the house of Nithza in Lod: Regarding every law of the Torah, if a man is threatened, “Transgress, lest you be killed,” he may transgress to avoid being killed . . . as it is written (Leviticus 18:5), “[Keep My statutes and My laws, which man should do and] live by them”—not die by them . . . except for idolatry, arayot (incest and adultery), and murder [for which a person must give up his life rather than transgress] . . .

When Rav Dimi came, he said: This applies only if there is no tyrant’s decree [whose purpose is to uproot the Jewish faith]; but if there is a tyrant’s decree, one must incur martyrdom rather than transgress even a minor precept. When Ravin came, he said in Rabbi Yochanan’s name: Even without a tyrant’s decree, it was permitted only in private; but in public one must be martyred even for a minor precept rather than violate it. What is meant by a “minor precept”? Rabbah the son of Rav Yitzchak said in Rav’s name: Even to change one’s shoe strap (from Jewish to gentile custom).

(Talmud, Sanhedrin 74a)


These are the appointed times of G‑d, callings of holiness, which you shall call in their appointed time (23:2)

The festivals are “callings of holiness” (mikra’ei kodesh), in the sense that each is a landmark in time at which we are empowered to call forth the particular holiness or spiritual quality embedded within it.

On the first Passover, for example, G‑d granted us the gift of freedom. On the first Shavuot, He gave us the Torah; on Rosh Hashanah, G‑d became king of the universe; on Yom Kippur, we received the gift of teshuvah; and so on. But freedom, wisdom, awe, joy, peace, and the other Divine gifts granted in the course of our history are constant needs of the soul; they are the spiritual nutrients that sustain her in her journey through life. G‑d embedded these qualities within the very substance of time, and set “appointed times” at which they can be accessed. Each year, when we arrive at the juncture of time where a particular spiritual quality has been embedded, we are granted the ability to access it once again.

The special mitzvot of each festival are the tools with which we “call forth the holiness” of the day: eating matzah on Passover unearths the gift of freedom, sounding the shofar on Rosh Hashanah calls forth its quality of awe, and so on with all “the appointed times of G‑d.”

(The Chassidic Masters)

A king was traveling through the desert, and his son, the crown prince, thirsted for water. But instead of dispatching a horseman to fetch water from the nearest town, the king ordered a well to be dug at that very spot and to mark it with a signpost.

“At the present time,” explained the king to his son, “we have the means to obtain water far more quickly and easily. But perhaps one day, many years in the future, you will again be traveling this way. Perhaps you will be alone, without the power and privilege you now enjoy. Then the well we dug today will be here to quench your thirst. Even if the sands of time have filled it, you will be able to reopen it if you remember the spot and follow the signpost we have set.”

This is what G‑d did for us by establishing the festivals at those points in time when He initially granted us the gift of freedom on Passover, joy on Sukkot, and so on.

(Mar’eh Yechezkel)


You shall count for yourselves from the morrow of the Shabbat, from the day on which you bring the Omer offering; seven complete weeks they shall be . . . (23:15)

The word sefirah, “counting,” also means “illumination.” On each of the forty-nine days of Sefirat HaOmer (the “Counting of the Omer”), we refine, develop and illuminate another of the forty-nine traits of our soul.

(Rabbi DovBer, the Maggid of Mezeritch)

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In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a day of rest, a memorial of blowing of horns, a calling of holiness (23:24)

On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed: How many shall pass on, and how many shall be born. Who shall live, and who shall die; who in his time, and who before his time. Who by water, and who by fire; who by sword, and who by beast; who by hunger, and who by thirst; who by earthquake, and who by plague. Who shall rest, and who shall wander. . . . Who shall be impoverished, and who shall be enriched. Who shall fall and who shall rise . . .

(From the Rosh Hashanah prayers)

On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, all things revert to their primordial state. The Inner Will ascends and is retracted into the Divine essence; the worlds are in a state of sleep, and are sustained only by the Outer Will. The service of man on Rosh Hashanah is to rebuild the Divine attribute of sovereignty and reawaken the Divine desire “I shall reign,” with the sounding of the shofar.

(Pri Etz Chaim)

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For it is a day of atonement, to atone for you before G‑d (23:28)

[The sages say:] Yom Kippur atones only for those who repent. Rabbi [Judah HaNassi] says: Yom Kippur atones whether one repents or one does not repent.

(Talmud, Shevuot 13a)

On Yom Kippur, the day itself atones . . . as it is written, “For on this day, it shall atone for you.”

(Mishneh Torah)

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You shall dwell in huts seven days (23:42)

How [does one fulfill] the mitzvah of dwelling in the sukkah? One should eat, drink and live in the sukkah, both day and night, as one lives in one’s house on the other days of the year. For seven days a person should make his home his temporary dwelling, and his sukkah his permanent dwelling.

(Shulchan Aruch)

Sukkah is the only mitzvah into which a person enters with his muddy boots.

(Chassidic saying)