“Speak to the entire congregation of Israel and you should tell them, ‘You should be holy.’” (19:2)
The way of our holy Torah is that, through its sanctity, every person can reach the level of holiness. This is the emphasis here when it says, “Speak to the entire congregation of Israel … ‘You should be holy.’” Each and every one of the congregation of the Jewish people without exception is capable of reaching the level of holiness by fulfilling the commandments. This is what we say in the blessings before doing the commandments, “that He sanctified us with His commandments.” Each and every commandment brings a person towards holiness.
Furthermore, we find, “‘And you shall make yourselves holy’ – these are the first waters [which are used for washing one’s hands before eating bread]. ‘And you will be holy’ – these are the last waters [which are used for washing one’s hands after eating bread]” (Brachot 53B). Through this, the sages revealed to us that not only do the commandments of the Torah bring us to holiness, but even the sanctions made by the sages, such as washing one’s hands before and after a meal [that consists of bread], have an influence of holiness on a person’s soul.
How much must we thank our Creator, may His name be blessed forever, for informing us about the laws of His will in order to benefit us forever and to apportion for us unimaginable and eternal reward [for fulfilling them]!
Rabbi Yosef Mashash explained to the public about the commandments and their rewards, about which it is said, “Hashem wanted to give the Jewish people merits. Therefore, He gave them the multitude of Torah and the commandments.” It has been asked and pondered that if one would want to give merits to his fellow, would he place more and more obligations upon him?
He explained this matter by way of a parable. There was a man who was one of the wealthiest men of a large city. He was a merchant whose products were distributed all over and there was no end to his wealth. He found himself in a faraway village during a trip. He looked around and saw the poverty of the village and its inhabitants and he wanted to act generously with them. He turned to the first person who he chanced upon and stretched out a golden coin to him and said, “I would like a place to have a meal and sleep at night. I am willing to pay five dinars for every item of the meal!”
The man said to him, “Can you please wait for a moment? I will search for an appropriate place to host you.” He knocked on the doors of the houses and he was always answered in the negative. Whoever heard the offer though that he was being mocked. Who would pay a golden dinar for a meal, let alone, five dinars, and furthermore, for every item?!?
This is what was happening as he passed from one house to another until he reached a small shack at the end of the settlement. He knocked on the door and repeated the offer. The poor man listened and thought to himself, “Even if this is an exaggeration, he will at least pay a little bit and I can not lose anything.”
He replied to the man, “My house is here at his disposal. I only hope that I will find favor in his eyes!”
The messenger returned and told this to the wealthy man. In the meantime, the poor man worked feverishly to prepare his shack, to air it out and clean it to the best of his ability. The wealthy man arrived and while he was already unpacking his belongings, the poor man hurried to borrow money and dishes. He bought plenty of food items and he returned to the shack. He set a table before the wealthy man, spread a borrowed white tablecloth on it, arranged the borrowed dishes and set out the many foods. He worked hard around the guest and made his bed. In the morning, he returned and set up the table for a meal. Then, the guest packed his belongings.
Before he parted from him, the guest said, “My stay here was very pleasant for me. Now, please bring me a list of all of the items in the meals.”
“That’s it!” thought the man in his heart. “If so, then the man spoke the truth when he asked me to host him. He is going to pay for every item. Even if he does not pay five golden dinars, it is still enough for me…”
He stood there and made a list, “Bread and butter, vegetables and omelet, fish and a quiche…”
“Not that way!” the guest stopped him. “Instead of writing ‘vegetables,’ you should write ‘tomatoes, cucumbers and onions.’ Instead of writing ‘quiche,’ you should write ‘potatoes, flour, pepper and salt.’ Do the others this way.”
The poor man was surprised and did as he was told and the list doubled and then tripled. The guest looked at it closely and said, “I am surprised at you. You erred in your calculations and you left out many things!”
The poor man was taken aback and said, “What are they?”
He said to him, “They are the tablecloth, fork, knife, spoon, plate, pots, frying pan, cup, bowl, platter, towel, and napkin. This is in addition to the bed, mattress, linen, pillow case, pillow and blanket. Also, there is the house, oven, coals and lamp. For each and every one of these items, five golden dinars will be paid. How can you forget them?”
The poor man answered, “Forgive me, sir, but I did not mean to count these because they do not belong in the category of dining or sleeping.”
“You are mistaken,” said the wealthy man. “Each of these items would detract from dining and sleeping [if they were to be missing]. Therefore, it is an item in and of itself and it is necessary to pay for it.”
That is how it was. He paid five golden dinars for every object and the poor man became the wealthiest man of the village!
Similarly, “Hashem wanted to give the Jewish people merits. Therefore, He gave them the multitude of Torah and commandments.” This means to say that He multiplied each and every commandment in order to give reward for every detail, action and movement that it consists of. A person may think that he just receives reward for praying the morning prayers, but it is not so. Rather, we receive reward for each and every step that we take towards the synagogue and for every chapter of Psalms from the part of the prayers when we express praise. This is in addition to every verse and every word, for every “amen” and every blessing, for every bending over and bowing. Also, it is for every kiss that ones gives to the tfilin, tzitzit and Torah scroll and for every time he rises and shows respect for an elderly person or wise man. The reward is given for all of the details that can not be enumerated due to their infiniteness. It is unbelievable that there is something as sweet as this. Can there be any greater merit?!?
“You shall be holy.” (19:2)
“You should be separated from immorality and from sin.”
In his book “Mesilat Yesharim,” the Ramch”al taught us that holiness is one level before divine inspiration. However, the following question is asked. Certainly, a person who merited reaching this level, which is right before divine inspiration, is a very righteous person. However, from Rashi’s words, it sounds like the commandment to be separated from immorality is said about all people, even those who are not on this level [of holiness]. Is this possible?!
From here, the sages learned a great ethical principle. A person should not be satisfied with mediocrity in Torah and fear of Heaven. He must always long to rise higher and higher and reach more elevated levels. The command to be separated from immorality is, indeed, a high level in the service of Hashem. However, every Jew needs to long to reach it. This is because if the Torah commands us to reach certain levels, then it is certain that we are capable of reaching them! One person may merit reaching them in a small amount of time, while it may take more time for his friend. Every person can achieve this according to his capabilities. However, certainly, if there is a commandment, it is possible!
Hannah prayed to Hashem and asked, “And You shall give Your maidservant male descendants.” The sages explained (Brachot 31B) that what she meant was, “He should not be tall or short, thin or fat, pale or red, [exceedingly] wise or foolish.” She wanted that the child should be moderate in all of his characteristics. Indeed, by nature, Samuel was mediocre, however, through tremendous toil, he reached the highest levels, “Moses and Aaron were among His priests and Samuel among those who invoke His name” (Psalms 99:6). Samuel was equal to Moses and Aaron [put together]!
On the other hand, the punishment of one who does not use his talents properly is very great. This can be learned from the episode that is brought down in the Talumd (Sanhedrin 68A), “It was taught that when Rabbi Eliezer became ill, Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues came to visit him, etc. He asked them, ‘Why did you come?’
They said to him, ‘We came to learn Torah.’
He said to them, ‘Why didn’t you come until now?’
They said to him, ‘We did not have any free time.’
He said to them, ‘I will be surprised if you will die a normal death.’
Rabbi Akiva said to him, ‘What will be mine?’
He said to him, ‘Yours will be harsher than theirs.’”
Rashi explained, “‘Yours will be harsher than theirs’ – This is because your heart is as open as a grand hall [meaning, you have a great deal of potential]. If you would have served me [and been around me to absorb the Torah that I know], you would have learned a great deal of Torah.”
Rabbi Akiva was punished because, according to his high level, he did not serve his teacher adequately!
We see that every person is given tremendous strengths from Heaven in order to reach these high levels and he must take care to use them properly.
“Before a blind person you shall not place an obstacle.” (19:14)
“Before one who is blind [ignorant] about a certain matter you shall not give advice that is not fitting for him. Do not tell him, ‘Sell me your field and take a donkey in return’ and then trick him and take it from him.”
Rabbi Yitzchak Zev of Brisk pointed out specifically based on the words of the sages that this prohibition is about offering a person advice that is not fitting “for him.” This means to say that one must be careful that the advice should be fitting, specifically, for the one who is seeking it. It is not enough that is should be appropriate in and of itself. Therefore, even if the one who is being asked has intentions that are for the sake of Heaven, he should only advise the one who is asking with what is proper and correct for him.
Once, the principal of a respected institution came before him [Rabbi Yitzchak Zev of Brisk] in order to seek his advice as to whether he should give a certain person a position in his institution. The rabbi answered him that, indeed, that person was fit for the position. However, when that person who was spoken about came to him to ask if he should accept the position, he answered him negatively.
The matter became known to the principal of the institution and he came before the rabbi. He expressed his surprise about the rabbi’s change of mind.
The rabbi answered him, “I did not change my mind. Rather, you asked if it would be good for your institution to have this man work for you. I answered your question that, indeed, it would be good. However, when that person asked my advice, he did not ask what would be good for the institution. Rather, he asked what would be good for him. I was obligated to give him advice that is fitting for him, which was not to accept the position…”
“The payment for a hired worker should not stay with you until the morning [overnight].” (19:13)
The verse says, “To You, Hashem, is kindness because You repay man according to his deeds” (Psalms 62:13). Rabbi Ezra Atya was puzzled about this. Kindness is a behavior that is beyond what is justly required. However, paying a person according to his deeds is justly required. It does not occur to a person to cheat a hired worker of his payment!
He answered this with a parable.
There was an incident with a farmer who worked his field. He worked very hard and toiled until his fruits ripened. He was joyous and happy because of them and he decided to set them aside for his revered king. He shouldered his basket and he went up to the royal palace with it. He stood before his king, he bowed and prostrated himself and declared that he brought the fruits of his harvest for his honorable king. The king was happy about his loving giving and his gift. He instructed that his basket be filled up with golden coins.
The farmer returned to his home happy and rejoicing. He told his wife about his luck, his wealth and also about how he saw the king, offered his gift and merited his recognition. Ultimately, he also became rich with a great deal of wealth. The woman, as it was her way, discussed this with her neighbor. The neighbor came to her husband and told him, “Look, our neighbor brought the first fruits of his harvest to the king and he became crowned with golden coins! Why are you sleeping? Load a sack with the fruits of your harvest and hurry to the palace!”
The husband took a sack of fruits on his shoulders and went to the palace. At the entrance, they asked him what he wanted. He informed them that he brought a sack of fruits and they directed him towards the kitchen of the palace. The official came and estimated their caliber. He weighed them and paid for them based on the market price and not even one cent more…
This is what it means when it says, “To You, Hashem, is kindness.” It is a special kindness that Hashem does with us when He gives us our reward. What is this kindness? “Because you pay each person according to his deeds” – You, Yourself! When the King pays, He gives thousands upon ten thousands instead of one. However, if it is given over to the officials to pay our reward, we will receive it in accordance with our deeds and nothing more.
With this, Rabbi Yehuda Tzedakah explained the verse, “Hashem will repay you for your deeds. You earnings will be complete [given] by Hashem the G-d of Israel” (Ruth 2:12). If Hashem will pay us for our deeds, then our earnings will be complete and saturated!
“And you shall surely rebuke your fellow.” (19:17)
“This means even one hundred times.”
(Bava Metzia 31A)
All those who fulfill the commandment of “And you shall surely rebuke” and try to prevent their friends from transgressing commandments of the Torah should not weaken their efforts. They should not become discouraged if they see that their success does not come easily and that people do not listen to them.
Certainly, this task is not easy at all. However, it would never occur to a store owner to become angry with or refuse to sell to a picky or stubborn customer or one who bargains a lot. Have you ever seen a store owner who hangs a sign on the door of his store that says, “We only sell to good customers and not to difficult customers…”? Certainly, in reality, there is no such store owner.
A seller needs to be patient by nature and be able to overlook his own characteristics. He needs to know how to speak to the heart of the buyer and to coax him with soft words. If not, he will not be able to earn his bread.
A person who wants to coax his friend into fulfilling a commandment is similar to a store owner who wants to sell his merchandise. He also receives a reward and this reward for helping others do the commandments is very great. It is good if there are people who will accept what they say right away, such as the customers who come into the store and buy without bargaining. However, there are those who do not accept what they say and they are like the customers who are annoying and stubborn and to whom the merchandise does not look pleasant. They also bargain on the price a great deal. Those who give rebuke to others should know that they must also try to sell to them. Their reward is also set aside for them because, ultimately, these people will also buy something from the store.
Of course, it will not be pleasant for a person to give rebuke and to lecture when he sees that all that he is doing is in vain and that his words have landed on stubborn ears. However, a person like this needs to learn from what an apple seller does in the market. All day she stands on her feet next to baskets of apples and she calls out in a loud voice, “Cheap apples! Buy cheap apples!”
A person went by and saw her standing there in that manner and her mouth did not stop screaming out and announcing her merchandise. However, during all of the time that he was looking at her, he did not approach her and she did not even sell one apple. Even so, she continued to announce, “Apples! Cheap apples!”
That person turned to her and said, “Tell me, please, I am standing here for a long time and listening to how you fill the marketplace with the sound of your voice and how you announce your merchandise with all of your strength. However, I did not see one person turn to you until now or buy from you with even one prutah [a coin of very small monetary value]. What purpose do your screams have? Aren’t you wasting away your energy in vain?”
The woman laughed and said, “What do I support myself with, if not for these apples? Every evening I return home, count the money that bought them and I find that there are a few prutahs left for a piece of bread and some kind of food. Of the one hundred people who pass by my basket, there is one who will turn and buy. Sometimes, it has even happened that one of ten will turn and buy from me. However, if I stop announcing my merchandise, who will know about me and the apples in my basket?”
The matter of rebuke is similar to this. A person who gives rebuke and lectures to another is fulfilling a great commandment and great reward is promised to him for this. It is possible that ninety nine people will not pay attention to him and his rebuke, will not listen to him and they may even mock him. However, if he will be successful in making even one person return to his good ways, this will be his great reward.
However, if a person is embarrassed and lazy to announce his merchandise loudly, then, certainly, no one will know about him. Where will his spiritual sustenance come from?!?
(Mishlei HaChafetz Chaim)
“And you shall love your fellow as yourself. I am Hashem.” (19:18)
When those who commit sins are rendered deserving of death by a panel of judges, they are still in the category of “your fellows,” as it is explained in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 22B). It speaks there about a person who is rendered deserving of death by a panel of judges, “Choose a nice death for him, as it says, ‘You shall love your fellow as yourself.’” We find that he has not left the category of “your fellow,” even though he is deserving of death.
However, this is hard to understand, since David said in Psalms (139:21), “Don’t I hate the ones who hate You, Hashem.” If so, when and towards whom is hate permitted?
Maimonides taught us this matter in “Hilchot Deiot” (6:8), “It is permitted to hate him if he did not accept rebuke after he was rebuked appropriately.” The sages said (Arachin 16A) that nowadays there is no one who knows how to rebuke properly. This means to say that already in the time of the sages of the Talmud two thousand years ago, there was no one who knew how to rebuke properly. We find that every person today falls into the category of one who was not yet rebuked, since there is no one to rebuke him. Therefore, he has not left the category of “your fellow,” according to the explanation of Maimonides (See the explanations of the Chazon Ish on the writing of Maimonides).
There was an incident with two friends who were loyal and faithful to one another, heart and soul. Once, some corrupted people accused one of the friends falsely. As a result, he was brought to court and was sentenced to death. The faithful friend did not suspend any effort and did all that he could to save his friend. However, all of his efforts resulted in nothing. When the last moment arrived and the accused was about to be brought up to the gallows, his friend could no longer control his emotions. He quickly ran to the location of the gallows and screamed out with all of his remaining energy, “Stop! Do not kill a person who is free of sin! I confess that I am the guilty one! It is me and not him! Bring me up to the gallows instead of him!”
When the accused saw that his friend was willing to give up his life for him, he also could not control his emotions. Even though until now he had not stopped denying his guilt, he replied and cried out in a strong voice, “Don’t believe him! He is only saying that with the intention of saving me! I am the guilty one! It is me and not him!” Immediately, great confusion began to take place there and, understandably, the sentence did not take effect.
The report of this matter hastily arrived before the king. He commanded that these two friends be brought before him immediately. He requested of them that they tell him the whole truth. The two of them told him that they are friends connected by their hearts and souls and each one wanted to save the life of his friend, even though both of them were free of sin.
These words touched the king’s heart deeply and he called out with excitement, “With your permission, I will pardon both of you. However, you must bring me into the covenant of your friendship! I have a strong desire to be the third person in your friendship…”
This is what the verse is referring to when it says, “And you shall love your fellow as yourself.” If you will love your fellow as much as you love yourself, then “‘I am Hashem’ - It is as if I am joining in to your holy friendship.