On a seemingly insignificant mountain in the Sinai
Desert over 3300 years ago, G-d revealed himself to the Jewish People and gave them both
their national mission and the directive for each individual to reach perfection in his or
her life: Torah. Maharal comments at length on many aspects of that unparalleled Divine
revelation; we will focus on his comments on these points:
- Why G-d revealed Himself to the Jewish People when the Torah was given
- Why Torah was given in Sivan, the third month of the year
- Why Torah was given exactly fifty days after the Jews left Egypt
- Why Torah was given in the desert
- What the Medrashic teaching, "The Torah was given with fire, water and in the
- Why Torah was given on Shabbat
- Why Shavuot is called "Zman Mattan Toraseinu" in our prayers but "Chag
Ha'asif" in the Torah
- A deeper explanation of the Jewish People's response "Na'aseh V'nishmah We will do,
and [then] we will hear"
- Why separate angels were needed to give each Jew crowns as a reward for saying
- Why the Jewish camp flew back 12 "mil" when G-d spoke to them
- Why G-d forced the Jewish People to accept a Torah that they had already accepted
1. REVELATION AT SINAI
Mere weeks after leaving slavery in Egypt, the Jewish People arrived at Mt. Sinai where
they witnessed the revelation of G-d. They heard the "word" of G-d, and were
brought into contact with the Absolute Authority. They were taught absolute morality,
accepted an absolute set of reward and punishment, and were given both their national
mission and a guide for each individual to reach his or her potential.
This is the first and only point in history, thus far, in which G-d reveals Himself
publicly, in a world in which G-d is very purposefully unrevealed. At this point in time,
where the Jewish People were being told to keep a Divine Torah - and promulgate its
message of absolute right and wrong to humanity - G-d reveals Himself.
G-d revealed Himself at this point because, if the Jewish People are to believe - and
promulgate - the unique claim of an absolute and Divine set of laws, they must have
received those laws as emanating directly from the Entity that they recognized as being G-
d. If the Jews are to promote a value system that is based on a new claim of the absolute,
they must personally experience the absolute on which they establish their claim.
Thus, in a world in which G-d does not want to be visible, G-d chose to reveal Himself.
2. WHEN TORAH WAS GIVEN
The Hebrew date on which the Torah was given was 6 Sivan, the sixth day of the third
month of the Jewish calendar.
Let us observe the significance of Torah's being given during the third month, Sivan.
Observe the physical world around us. The Earth is positioned ninety three million
miles from the sun - the optimum position to allow for the continuation of life. The axis
on which the Earth rotates is steady; seasons arrive at the same time each year. Were the
axis to become imprecise and wobbly, food sources would dry up and humanity would perish.
The many different ecosystems on Earth complement each other perfectly, like a great
jigsaw puzzle: grass provides food for cows, cows provide milk and meat for humans, etc.
Of the ninety one elements of matter that exist on Earth, not one is unutilized for the
perpetuation of human existence.
The physical world is very well organized. It only exists and continues to exist,
because it is so well organized.
Let us examine the function of Torah in the world.
The function of Torah can be expressed thus: the order (the basic set of obligations
and boundaries on human behavior) which the Jewish People and to a lesser extent all
humanity, are commanded to establish in the world.
Torah is the way that we are commanded to relate both to the world (e.g. kashrus, laws
of agriculture, ever min hachai) and Torah is the way we are obligated to relate in
interpersonal actions, within the world.
Torah is a system; it is the system of personal requirement, accountability and
limitation, that we are obligated to imprint "onto" the world. Torah is the
basic foundation upon which society must be built.
If indeed, the physical world is set up in an exact structure - without happenstance
and randomness - certainly Torah itself - the very structure that we are commanded to
imprint "onto" the world itself - is not haphazard. Everything about Torah is
exact. Surely, the very time on which it was given was exact and significant.
THE THIRD MONTH
Let us observe a midrash that may hold the key to this puzzle.
King Solomon says in Koheles: For everything there is a time; there is a moment for
each object under the sun."
The midrash explains:
For all there is a time: There was an exact time for Adam to enter the Garden of Eden,
as well as an exact moment for him to leave it. There was an exact time for Noah to enter
the Ark, and an exact time for him to leave it. There is a moment for each object under
the sun: There was an exact time for the Torah to be given to the Jewish People."
In King Solomon's words, two different Hebrew words are used to express the same word,
time. The term used first, for what midrash explains to be the occurrences of Adam and
Noah is "zman". The second term, that expresses the giving of the Torah, is
"aiss" There are three different dimensions to time: the past, the present, and
Time exists in the physical world. Anything that falls under the domain of time can be
categorized as "something physical." Anything supernatural, separated from the
confines of time, can be categorized as "something metaphysical."
Of the three aspects of time the present is the one that has no real connection to the
physical world. There is no moment that can be identified as "the present." The
present simply connects the past to the future, two great portions of time to each other.
The term "aiss," used for Torah, comes from þþþ. The term used to express
the time Torah was given is "aiss," from "attah," "the
present." "Aiss" means the general "time"; the source of the word
is a word that means "the present time.)
Torah, the ultimate metaphysical entity in this world, is expressed by
"aiss," the word that is least attached to the physical world.
THE NUMBER THREE
So, why was Torah given during the third month?
The "present," which is an inherent "connector," is related to the
number three. In mystical Jewish tradition, the number three expresses that same concept:
As mentioned previously, the number one represents unity and the number two represents
separation and disunity (the two items have undone that unity that existed when there was
only one item). The number three connects the dichotomy of two and shows a common purpose.
Two lines may go in different directions; the third line unites them into a single
triangle. Two bricks lying side by side share no common goal; the third brick placed on
top of them, unifies them in a common effort.
The position in time that is most expressive of the non-physical is the present. The
function of that time is its service as connector. The number three expresses connection.
Thus, Torah, the quintessential metaphysical entity, was given in the most metaphysical
segment of time; a moment that expressed connection, a moment in the third month of the
Each month has a constellation of stars that expresses its deeper message. The
constellation of Sivan, the third month, is twins. Quite appropriately.
Twins are two separate people, who by their unique nature as twins, share a unity
larger than themselves.
That is the exact message of the metaphysical side of three: finding a common theme in
the dichotomy of two.
3. FIFTY DAYS AFTER EXODUS
The Torah was given fifty days after the Jewish People left Egypt. The number fifty,
like every detail in the Torah, is of great significance.
There are fifty levels of chochmah, or spirituality, in the greater world. The fiftieth
level of chochmah is highest, totally sublime, a level of spirituality that is beyond
connection to the physical world.
The Talmud says that Torah was given fifty days after leaving Egypt, to symbolize the
ascent of the Jewish People, as they moved up each level until they were finally able to
relate to the metaphysical Torah, on the fiftieth level.
Consider the following fact.
The Omer Offering, brought on the first day of the fifty days (the 16th of Nissan) is
made of barley, a course food that is served to animals. The Shtei Halechem or Two Breads,
brought on Shevuos, the day after the fiftieth day, is made of pure wheat, a substance of
higher quality, in symbolism of the higher expression of the fiftieth day.
Consider another bit of information.
S'firat Haomer (The Counting of the Omer) only includes forty nine days. The fiftieth
day is not part of the calculation. Representative of the highest level of chochmah, the
fiftieth day is sublime: it can not be grouped together with anything that has any
relation to the physical. Counting it in succession with the other days, implies that it
is similar to the other days, which is untrue.
4. THE DESERT
As discussed above, the date upon which Torah was given was not randomly chosen, but a
very specific moment. Let us now observe the place that Torah was given. Torah was given
in the desert. What is the significance of that?
The Midrash makes a very interesting statement: "Three things were present when
G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish People: fire, water and the desert." What is the
deeper meaning of this statement?
The Torah is the quintessential non-physical item in the physical world. It is G-d's
own expression, dissimilar from anything else that exists.
The place that Torah should be given, or, the place where the absolute non-physical
item should be attached to the physical world, is the place on earth that least expresses
How are places on earth deemed more physical or less physical?
5. OWNERSHIP AND PHYSICALITY
Something that can be definitely owned, is very firmly rooted in the physical world. It
is owned; it is captured in physical borders; it can be manipulated. Something that is
owned expresses little independence, and is within set borders - the definition of
Something that can not be owned, however, something that defies ownership by its very
nature, philosophically, is less within the confines of the physical world.
Fire is something that can not be owned. It is available to all, and ownerless. It is,
then, of lesser physical nature than other creations in the world.
Water is something that is so widely available that no person can claim to own it.
Water exists excessively; it defies ownership; it is without borders. It can be expressed
as less physical.
The desert is a place that no one can truly own. Foliage does not grow there, animals
are not encouraged to live there. It is definitely not suited for human beings.
These three items could create the scene most hospitable for the giving of the
Thus, Torah was given in the desert, to the accompaniment of fire and water.
An alternative understanding of the Midrashic statement "The Torah was given with
fire, water and in the desert" is this: The three items can be representative of
three aspects of the Torah.
MITZVOS AND AVEIROS
Doing a mitzvah is not doing a good deed. It is doing the command of G-d, a deed that
is Absolutely good, an action that is part of the Ultimate good. The reward of doing
mitzvos is Absolute too; the gain is Absolute.
The presence of water expresses this aspect of Torah; water is the ultimate good for a
human being; it is the most basic building block of civilizations, and brings life
wherever it flows.
An avairah is more than a bad action. It is something that is a Ultimately wrong. It is
something that is Absolutely wrong. Its punishment, too, is an ultimate punishment; one
that matches the nature of the wrongdoing. The strength, the fury, the absoluteness of the
punishment is expressed by the intensity of fire.
The desert represents the nature of Torah itself. Torah is totally non-physical,
without similarity to the rest of creation. Torah was given in the desert where life does
not grow; less connected to the physical world which hosts G-d's creation.
Torah was given on Shabbat.
Why was Torah given specifically on that day?
Shabbos is a day on which physical work is prohibited. As a result, it is a day that
can be qualified as "less-physical." It is fitting that Torah, the ultimate
non-physical entity in this world, be given on Shabbat, a day that is similar to itself.
Shabbat is a day that brought creation to completion. It is but fitting that Torah,
which comprises the system that will bring the world to completion, should be given on
7. THE NAME OF SHEVUOS
Let us examine some very interesting phenomena.
What is the real name of Shevuos?
The Torah calls Shevuos Chag Ha'asif/The Festival of Harvest or Chag Ha'Shavuos/The
Festival of Weeks.
In our prayers, we call Shevuos "Zman Mattan Toraseinu: the time of the giving of
That name is not found anywhere in scripture.
If "the time of the giving of the Torah" is not found in the Torah, why do we
refer to Shevuos by that name? And, conversely, why is the name Zman Mattan Toraseinu,
which expresses the essence of the day, not mentioned in the Torah?
Consider the following.
The nature of the festivals is that of rejoicing for the Jewish People; days of
commemoration for good things that happened to us.
Torah is something that includes a structure of limitations - as well as punishment for
those who violate it. The nations of the world felt it was too difficult for them to keep
and did not want it.
G-d, then, the giver of the Torah, can not call Shevuos a festival because of the
benefits of Torah - if a great part of humanity claims does not want it.
Thus, in Torah, it is called Chag Ha'asif.
The Jewish People, who understood that accepting Torah was the most remarkable and
meaningful mission possible - and proclaimed "Na'aseh V'nishma" - could indeed
call Shevuos a festival for the reason of its being Zman Mattan Toraseinu, the time of the
giving of the Torah!
That is why, only in our prayers is it referred to by that name.
8. Naaseh V'nishma
At Sinai, G-d offered the Torah to the Jewish People who called out "Na'aseh
V'nishma": we will do G-d's will, and [only then] we will listen to it."
Why did the Jews say that they would do before they even knew what to do?
We can understand this statement with the help of a midrash.
Midrash compares the nature of the Jewish People to that of an apple tree.
Most trees first sprout leaves and then produce fruit. Their main objective is only
reached after producing the more basic product of leaves. The apple tree is different; it
produces the fruit and only later produces the leaves that protect it.
The essence of the Jewish Nation is one thing: to do G-d's will. That is our primary
identity. Hearing G-d's will is not an objective, but a prerequisite. Our main
"product," then, is "we will do." Our ideal expression of national
identity, is, as the midrash compares us to an apple tree, to do G-d's will.
9. TO EACH MAN AN ANGEL
Each member of the 600,000-strong Jewish Nation received two crowns from G-d as a
reward for their saying "Na'aseh V'nishma". 1,200,000 angels were dispatched to
give out the crowns, midrash says.
Why were individual angels needed to distribute the crowns to each person? Could not
one angel have distributed many peoples' crowns?
For mystical reasons beyond the scope of this essay, a population of 600,000 men is
necessary for the national definition of our people. We were only defined as a nation when
we had comprised 600,000 worthy family-units.
If the number 600,000 is meaningful, then each individual in that group is necessarily
contributing, necessarily meaningful. If that number of individuals comprises a nation,
each member of that group adds his own dimension to the national character, and only with
all these facets can they receive G-d's mission.
The Rabbis teach: "One angel can not do two missions".
Each Jew was immeasurably unique: each statement of Na'aseh V'nishma was unique. Each
reward, too, would have to be unique, to match the essences exactly.
Thus, no one angel could give more than one crown to one person.
10. WHY TWELVE MIL?
Midrash refers to an opinion that mentions that when G-d spoke to the Jewish People at
Sinai, the entire nation flew back twelve mil and had to be brought back by angels.
Why that specific amount?
The size of the entire Jewish camp was exactly that: it had a circumference of twelve
Even the Jewish People, G-d's emissaries, are human and had no relationship to G-d. To
express this lack of connection, as G-d spoke to the people the entire size of the camp
could not remain where it was. Listening as G-d spoke, would imply a true connection to
the essence of G-d; that was something that could not be.
11. FORCED TO ACCEPT TORAH
The Talmud (Shabbos 88A) says that when G-d revealed Himself to the Jewish People at
Mt. Sinai, He picked up that mountain, held it over the Jewish People's heads and said:
"If you accept my Torah, fine. If not, I will bury you here beneath this
This statement is perplexing.
At this point in time the Jewish People had already accepted Torah willingly,
exclaiming "na'aseh v'nishma".
They had already expressed a total commitment to Torah.
Why was it necessary for God to force the Jewish People to accept Torah that they had
The Jewish People are God's ambassadors to the Republic of Mankind. The basis of their
mission is to teach humanity about G-d, His law, and His will.
The Jewish People effect their charge by studying and practicing the laws of Torah.
Jews and Torah, then, have to be totally connected, entirely joined, for their mission
to be enacted.
A voluntary connection sees the Jewish People making a connection that is based on
A commitment based on preference is weak. Made in good will - and for personal benefit
- more often then not it is hostage to the continuance of good will.
For the Jewish People to be appointed G-d's ambassadors a much stronger, much more
reliable connection was needed.
Thus, God forced the Jews to accept Torah. Only a bond of force, free from the
vicissitudes of choice could shore up the unsteadiness that lay beneath the surface of a
decision based on voluntary commitment.
The first five commandments are:
1. "I am Your God."
2. "You Shall Not Have Other Gods before me."
3. "You Shall Not Swear Falsely in My Name."
4. "Remember the Sabbath Day and Make it Holy."
5. "Honor Your Father and Mother."
What is the significance of the order these commandments are listed in?
Let us probe.
As stated earlier, the purpose of the Ten Commandments is to forge a
bond between Man and G-d. The words of those commandments - the instruction the
commandments contain - relates to the two parts of that union: laws on how to properly
relate to G-d - and how to rightly relate to Man.
The first five commandments speak of our relationship with G-d. Their
order is set up in this sequence: sins more direct in their assault on G-d's essence are
listed first; sins less direct in their affront are mentioned later.
The first commandment orders us to believe in G-d's existence. The
negation of this command - the denial of G-d's existence, would assault G-d's very
essence. It would be the most intimate action against G-d.
Thus, it is mentioned first.
"You Shall Not Have Other Gods before Me," the second
commandment, commands us to believe that G-d is One. The undoing of this command would be
the denial of G-d's Singularity. This denial would not deny G-d's essence - but would deny
the definition of His essence: Totality.
Thus it is listed second.
The third commandment, "Do Not Swear Falsely in My Name," is
a sin less focused on G-d. Profaning G-d's name is not a denial of G-d's essence, nor a
denial of His Singularity. It is a violation of His honor.
G-d's honor is farther from G-d's essence than is His Singularity. It
is thus mentioned third.
"Remember the Sabbath" is the fourth commandment. Through
positive verbiage, it warns us not to violate the Sabbath. Sabbath is not a representative
of G-d's honor. It is, rather, a representation of G-d's creative power.
A violation of Sabbath, a denial of G-d's creation - relates to the
entities outside of G-d, entities that G-d created. This is distant from G-d's own
existence - more distant than His honor.
Thus it is mentioned fourth.
The fifth commandment, "Honor Your Father and Mother,"
through positive verbiage, forbids the dishonor of parents. Parents are more distant in
their representation of G-d. They represent G-d as His partners. They represent G-d as His
partners in procreation.
This addresses a more distant relationship than the relationships
implied by the first four commandments. Thus it is mentioned last.
Consider: Even this most indirect violation of a relationship with G-d
constitutes leaving the order that G-d instructs us to maintain - and is forbidden.
The second five commandments, which discuss Man's relationship with his
fellow Man, are:
1. Do Not Kill.
2. Do Not Commit Adultery.
3. Do Not Testify Falsely.
4. Do Not Swear Falsely.
5. Do Not Covet the Belongings of Others.
The first law forbids murder - the ultimate sin against another human
being. There is no interpersonal sin comparable to the physical destruction of another
Adultery, the second commandment, is an infringement less direct in its
assault on another.
Torah law states that an adulterous married woman is forbidden to once
again relate to her husband. Man is half of a whole. He is unified only when he is
together with his spouse. An act which forbids a Man's wife to him - is an act that
assaults his essence, by undoing his completion.
Thus, this sin is mentioned second.
The third commandment forbids theft. Theft, the assault on another
being's property, is more indirect. One's possession is not one's essence. It is, however,
something that relates strongly to that essence. As it is more distant from the person's
essence than the first two commandments, it is mentioned third.
The fourth commandment forbids false testimony that will damage another
person. To damage another person is to steal from him. False testimony, however, is a more
indirect act than thievery itself.
Thus it is mentioned fourth.
The fifth commandment forbids coveting the belongings of another.
Wanting what belongs to another does not hurt that other person. Yet it does damage that
person within ourselves, by affecting our feelings towards that person.
This is an affront to something so distant from the essence of another
human being. And yet: even this distant infraction represents a break in the moral borders
G-d commanded us to remain within - and is, subsequently, forbidden!
The first commandment is:
"I am Hashem your G-d who took you out of the land of Egypt, from
the house of slaves."
Let us ponder this commandment for a moment.
Is the first commandment a commandment - or is it, as it reads simply,
a statement of G-d's existence - and an introduction to the commandments?
It is a commandment. I am your G-d is to be defined as Believe in me,
Your G-d (or, inversely, Do not deny My Existence).
Let us understand.
If Torah is the key to bringing the world to perfection it must be
because Torah itself is an expression of perfection. If this commandment is not stated
explicitly there must be a reason why it could not have been explicitly stated.
What is that reason?
Let us observe the difference between the first commandment and the
nine commandments that follow it.
The nine commandments that follow are of an instructive nature. G-d
instructs Man to (or not to) act. Implicit in these commands is that Man, the actor,
retains the ability to disregard G-d's command.
A commandment orders Man to choose an option.
The first commandment can not be said in command form: Make me your
G-d: Believe in Me - because G-d's Divinity is not dependent on the choice of Man.
The belief in G-d can only be expressed as a statement.
"I am Your G-d," G-d says.
Our obligation is to see that this statement is true in our minds.
Religious commandments are commands because they are the order of a
Being previously identified as Commander; the command of an entity already accepted as
There is no possibility of a previously not accepted G-d commanding a
people to believe His Divinity.
Thus, G-d could only express the command to believe in His Divinity as
a statement of His existence.
The second commandment states:
You shall not recognize the gods of others in my presence.
You shall not create for yourself a carved image[...] You shall not
prostate yourself to them nor serve them, for I am Hashem your G-d [...]
The four distinct actions forbidden by this commandment are:
1) recognizing idols as gods
2) creating idols
3) prostrating before idols
4) worshipping idols
Let us probe, let us understand.
What are the differences between each of these commandments?
Or, put differently, what is the purpose of having four separate
They speak to four different people.
That is, they talk to four motivations which Man may have to serve an
a) the belief that the specific idol is truly G-d.
b) the love of the force the idol represents.
c) the fear of retribution from the force if it is not worshipped. d)
self-interest that the individual may have in serving the specific idol (e.g. acceptance
In "Do Not Recognize other gods," the first command, G-d
speaks to the person who would serve an idol in belief of its verity.
Do not recognize them, says G-d: Do not consider the forces I created
to be independent sources of energy.
In "Do not create images of other gods," the second law, G-d
speaks to a person whose motivating factor is love. One creates likenesses of the things
most dear to him - children, spouse, parents, and mentor. The creation of images is an
expression of love.
In "Do not prostate yourself to them," the third law, G-d
speaks to one who would serve idols because of a physical threat.
Prostration is deference - and the term is used to express worship
based on fear.
In "Do not serve them," G-d refers to the service of idols
for benefit. Service means work that is paid for.
The order the Torah chooses is always instructive. The order these four
laws are set up in (recognizing idols, creating idols, prostrating before idols, and
worshiping idols) must be purposeful.
What is the meaning of this order?
The order follows the following system: the order in which we are
instructed not to serve idols - in the very same order in which we are instructed to serve
The optimum motivation for serving G-d is, simply, out of an
understanding of His Divinity. The motivation is wanting to connect to the source of the
soul within us, wanting to connect to the spark of immortality inside of us.
The second-level reason for serving G-d is love: a love of G-d - for
His creation, for His doings. It is a love sourced in appreciation - similar to that of a
child for a parent.
The third reason for serving G-d is a fear of Divine retribution for
not serving Him. This is a valid service of G-d - but it is listed third.
The lowest-level reason for serving G-d, is a service that benefits
oneself. That is the lowest motivation for service, and thus, is mentioned last.
The third commandment states:
Do not swear in G-d's name falsely for G-d will not forgive one who
swears falsely in His name.
This command is interesting. It is less direct in its assault on G-d
than are the first two commandments.
The Talmud, however, states that swearing falsely (in G-d's name)
carries a stringency that no other commandment has. While the punishment for sins is
delayed to give its perpetrator time to repent, the punishment of this sin is dispensed
Let us understand why.
A sin to G-d's honor is, undoubtedly, a sin more distant from G-d's
essence than other sins. Yet in some way it is a more terrible act than even the most
intimate sin against G-d.
What is the difference between this sin and all others?
One who denies the existence of G-d, for example, has not truly related
to G-d. He has cut himself off from a positive relationship with G-d.
One who denies the validity of a commandment, has not directly
assaulted G-d. He has separated himself from G-d.
One who insults G-d's honor, however, has truly assaulted G-d.
He has actually lowered G-d's level of honor in the world.
This is the only infraction in Torah that can truly
"infringe" upon on G-d.
That is why its punishment is so severe.
There is no delay in the punishment of this act for this reason: G-d is
a force that exists beyond the limitations of time.
The sin, perpetrated against G-d, caused damage that supersedes time.
The punishment of this sin, also, is without relation to time - and immediate.
The fourth commandment directs us to observe Sabbath. The fifth orders
us to honor our parents.
Consider this point.
Sabbath is an expression of G-d's creation. Sabbath attests that G-d
created the entire world.
Yet, Shabbath alone is not enough. Confirming G-d's creation of this
world leaves one aspect of G-d's authority unconfirmed.
That is: True, G-d may have created and may run the universe.
But what is to say that G-d relates to the individual people of this
world? What is to imply that the private person's life bears meaning to G-d - and not just
the actions of nations at large?
Let us observe the law to honor one's parents. It is unique.
It is a biological law. It is not a command to express thanks for
parental involvement in their child's upbringing: it applies equally to parents involved
or not involved in their child's development.
It is appreciation for existence - not for sustenance.
If the individuals of the world were insignificant, there would be no
meaningful relationship between parent and biological child. The creative contribution of
the parent would be seen as random. No obligation would exist to honor parents.
The fifth commandment, ordering us to respect the biological connection
that we have to our parents, expresses that there is a purpose to each individual. Each
individual has his own source - and his own destiny. G-d relates to the individual just as
exactly as He does to the world at large.
SOn the first day of Adam's creation, God gave him six basic
mitzvos. Noah, ten generations later, was given a seventh commandment (the prohibition
against dismembering and eating live animals). Abraham, ten generations after that, was
given another commandment (circumcision). Yaakov, two generations later, was given an
eighth commandment (the prohibition against eating animals' sciatic nerve).
Torah in its entirety, was only given to the Jewish People much later: in the
year 1948 [from creation], after the Jews had left Egypt and become a nation.
Clearly, Torah in its entirety could not have been given to Adam or Noah - as
Torah is not intended for all humanity.
Why, though, was Torah not given to our patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?
Torah is a supernatural entity that can never be altered and can never be
changed. Thus, Torah, can only be received by an entity that, also, will exist forever.
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were sublime and totally spiritual people - and the
founding force of our nation. Yet their identities were individual - and limited to their
Only when the Jewish people reached nationhood - and received the eternal name
"Israel" - did an eternal entity exist that could receive the eternal Torah.
(Maharal: Tiferes Yisroel; Chapter 17)
SOne year after
the Jewish People received the Torah from God at Sinai, Korach, Moshe's first cousin, and
two hundred and fifty of his followers, rebelled against Moshe's rule.
The base of this rebellion was a denial of the divinity of Torah - which had
relegated the leadership role to Moshe.
Numbers, Chapter 16, recounts the ensuing chain of events and the
unnatural lot of Korach and his group: The earth, in an unprecedented manner, opened up
beneath them, and, through this medium, God ended their existence.
Torah is true - not because it contains information that happens to be true. It
is true, rather, because it is the word of God, and true by definition. The existence it
embodies - is the existence of truth.
In denying Torah's truth, Korach and his followers contended that Torah lacked
its very existence [truth].
This being so, Torah's existing as truth was diametrically opposed to
Korach's group's existence.
The two could not co-exist.
Thus, Korach's group ceased to exist.
SAvraham was given the mitzvah of milah (circumcision) in the year
2047. Torah and Mitzvos were given to the Jewish People much later, in the year 2448.
- (Maharal: Tiferes Yisroel; Chapter 18)
That Avraham did not receive Torah in 2047, implies that Torah could not
be given to an individual - only to a nation (i.e. Avraham's offspring, when they reached
the status of nationhood.) [See Maharal, Tiferes Yisroel, chapter 17.]
Why, then, was Avraham given the mitzvah of milah - notwithstanding the fact
that he was an individual?
In the days and times of Avraham, Man worshiped material gods and practiced
pagan beliefs. Man had no connection to God, and, therefore, was completely moored in the
physical. Man was separated from God by a barrier of the pure corporeal - and the absence
of interaction with the spiritual - and was left distant and detached from God.
Abraham, in recognizing and promulgating God, broke this barrier, and created a
link between Man and his Creator.
Thus, Avraham was predisposed to receiving milah (circumcision) - as it is,
also, the removing of a physical covering, and the creating of a bond between Man and God.
SThe Talmud teaches that Avraham kept the entire
Torah before it was given to the Jewish People at Sinai.
- (Maharal: Tiferes Yisroel; Chapter 19)
Medrash says that Yitzchok kept the laws of shchitah (kosher
slaughtering), and Yaakov the laws of Shabbos - before the giving of Torah at Sinai.
Truthfully, Yitzchok and Yaakov kept all of Torah, just
as Avraham did.
Why, then, is only Avraham mentioned as having kept all 613
Torah's goal is to create a world of chesed: a world of giving
and of kindness.
Avraham's defining character trait was the same: loving-kindness
Things being so, Avraham had an innate connection to Torah.
Avraham, by his nature, was closer - more similar - to the laws of Torah than were the
other Patriarchs. Avraham, specifically, was bound to Torah, in a way that left him alike
one commanded to keep all of Torah.
Hashem appreciates more a mitzvah accomplished by a person
commanded to fulfill that mitzvah, than when accomplished by someone not so
instructed. [The reason Hashem instructs the person that He does, is
because He more desires that person's doing it!]
Thus: Avraham's observance of Torah was of more significance
than its being kept by Yitzchok or Yaakov. And thus: Avraham, specifically, is mentioned
as having kept all of Torah!
- (Maharal: Tiferes Yisroel; Chapter 20)
SNot every person is commanded to do
Women are not commanded to hear the sound of the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah.
Yet, women would gain reward if they would hear the sound of the Shofar.
The action of a mitzvah reaps personal perfection and eternal gain: thus, even
one not instructed to do a mitzvah receives a level of perfection by doing it.
This is true in regard to positive (active) commandments.
Negative commandments (prohibitions) work differently.
Negative commandments (not doing actions prohibited) are not a source of
Proof of this is:
Reward for abstaining from actions prohibited is given, only, when a situation
arises that tempts one to deviate from that commandment. Had there been inherent gain
in abstaining from a given action - any person who did not do that action would be
the recipient of reward.
Instead: Negative commandments are actions that God orders us not to do.
Thus (as negative commandments are not a source of perfection): One not
commanded to refrain from a prohibited action is without gain for abstaining from that
"Lag Larosh" is a rabbinic injunction against performing
mitzvos in a cemetery: it disturbs and disheartens the dead, who can no longer do mitzvos.
Yet: Talmud (Niddah 61b) states that clothes of klai'im (a forbidden mixture of
wool and linen fibers) may be used to clothe the dead.
The dead are not disturbed by wearing this prohibited mixture and negating a negative
The dead are not commanded to keep mitzvos.
Klai'im is a negative prohibition (which does not give reward to one who
Thus, they are without reason to keep this prohibition.
Thus the dead do not feel bad wearing klai'im - and one may clothe them in it!
SKorach, Moshe's first
cousin, rebelled against Moshe's appointing Aharon (by divine order) to the position of
High Priest (Numbers 16). Korach claimed that all Jews must remain at equal levels of
spirituality. There was no room, he said, for one individual to hold a position that
seemed more spiritual by nature.
- (Maharal: Tiferes Yisroel; Chapter 21)
Aharon was chosen by Hashem to serve as
High Priest, and Korach and his followers were punished by God for their defiance of His
will (Numbers 16:32).
It is interesting to note that the letters
that comprise Aharon's name are all letters that denote chosenness.
Aharon's name is spelled: Alef, Heh, Raish,
The first letter, Alef, is the first
letter of the Hebrew alphabet - which alludes to a foremost, leadership role.
The next three letters, Heh, Raish and Nun,
bear numerical values that equal the median of the single, tens and hundred numerals.
Heh equals 5 - the center of the single
numbers. Nun equals 50 - the center of tens. Raish equals 200 - the center
of (Hebrew) alphabet numbers equaling 100 or more (the greatest number is Tav,
which equals 400).
Centrality, in Judaism, alludes to chosenness.
The land of Israel, tradition says, lies in
the center of the world.
Jerusalem lies in the center of Israel.
The Temple Mount stands at the central point
The four letters mentioned above that comprise
Aharon's name comprise his identity. Aharon was one who was chosen by God, to take a
special, higher and more spiritual role.
SThe Talmud (Shabbos 88A) states: "At [God's] revelation [to
the Jewish People] at Mt. Sinai, God picked up [the mountain] and held it over the Jewish
People's heads, and said: If you accept the Torah all is well, but if not, you will be
buried beneath this mountain."
- (Maharal: Tiferes Yisroel; Chapter 22)
This is perplexing. The Jews had already willingly accepted the Torah,
exclaiming "We will do and only then will we hear," (Exodus 19:8)
expressing a total devotion to Torah.
Why, then, was it necessary for God to force the Jewish People to accept
Torah, something they had already accepted?
The Jewish People are God's "Ambassadors of Spirituality" to
mankind. They are a body that is charged with teaching humanity spirituality and
Godliness. They do this by keeping Torah.
Jews and Torah, then, have to be totally connected.
Had the Jewish People voluntarily accepted Torah, their relationship to
Torah would have been weak: it would have appeared as a relationship of preference.
A stronger connection was needed.
Thus God forced the Jews to accept Torah. The bond of commandment is
beyond any unsteadiness that may lie in the realm of choice.
SThe first five of The Ten Commandments that G-d gave the Jewish
People at Sinai were:
- (Maharal: Tiferes Yisroel; Chapter 32)
- "I am Your G-d..."
- "You Shall Not Have Other G-ds..."
- "You Shall Not Swear in My Name Falsely..."
- "Remember the Sabbath Day..."
- "Honor Your Father and Mother..."
Why are these five commandments listed in this order?
Is there any significance to this order?
These five commandments order Man not to sin against
Violation of the first on the list is the most direct
rejection of G-d. Violation of the next four commandments are progressively less direct in
their renunciation of G-d.
The first commandment ("I am Your G-d")
directs Man not to deny G-d's existence. Doubtlessly, that act would be the ultimate
denigration of G-d.
The second commandment ("You Shall Not Have Other
G-ds") warns against the acceptance of G-d in conjunction with other G-ds.
Doing so would not, necessarily, be sinning against
G-d's essence (as the perpetrator does accept Him). Yet it would be an act
denigrating of G-d's singularity - which is very close to the denigration of G-d's
Thus it is mentioned second.
The third commandment ("Do Not Swear falsely in My
Name") is a sin less directly blasphemous. Swearing falsely in G-d's name is not an
act that contradicts G-d's essence.
Yet it denigrates G-d's honor.
This is not as close to G-d's essence as are the first
Thus it is mentioned third.
The fourth commandment ("Remember the
Sabbath") is a step even further away. Violating the Sabbath is not, directly, a
violation of G-d's honor. Rather, it is an act against an entity (Sabbath) that represents
G-d's creative power. Only thereby is it insulting of G-d.
Thus it is mentioned fourth.
The fifth commandment ("Honor Your Father and
Mother") forbids an act least directly sinful against G-d.
Parents do not represent G-d's honor.
They represent G-d only in that they are G-d's partners
Their dishonor is only G-d's dishonor in a circuitous
Thus it is mentioned last.
SThe last five of The Ten Commandments are:
- (Maharal: Tiferes Yisroel; Chapter 35)
6) You shall not kill
7) You shall not commit adultery
8) You shall not steal
9) You shall not bear false witness
10) You shall not covet
Is their any significance to their order?
These commandments form a list of progressively less direct (more indirect)
acts against one's fellow human-being.
Murder is the ultimate sin against another human-being. It is the ultimate
destruction of that other's essence.
It is therefore mentioned first.
Adultery is second. Man without a wife is Man-incomplete. His completion lies
in His wife. The voiding of his marriage, in effect, is the negation of his completion.
While not as assaulting as murder, it is an act of essential damage.
Thus, it is mentioned second.
The third commandment prohibits theft. Stealing is the wronging of a fellow -
in a way more indirect than adultery. Theft does not diminish essential good-will of the envious.
Jealousy, though, is not as offensive as are the first four actions.
Thus it is mentioned last.
- (Maharal: Tiferes Yisroel; chapter 36
Torah commands us to keep the Shabbath, twice.
The first time is in Exodus (20:8), where it says:
"Remember the Shabbath day... For in six days
Hashem made the heavens and the earth... and He rested on the seventh day."
The second is in Deuteronomy (5:12):
"Guard the Shabbath day... And you shall remember
that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and Hashem, your God, has taken you out from
"Remember the Shabbath," is explained to differentiate
Shabbath from the six workdays.
"Guard the Shabbath," is explained to express
our divine covenant, forged by our leaving Egypt [and accepting Torah at Sinai].
Why are two different explanations needed for these two
"Remember the Shabbath," commands us to
remember one specific day each week. Its explanation, thus, must focus on why that
particular day is different. Therefore, Torah explains: "For in six days
Hashem has created the heavens and the earth ... and Hashem rested on the seventh
Remembering Shabbos differentiates it from the other days.
"Guard the Shabbath" commands us not to do
creative work on Shabbath. Abstaining from creative work, though, does not differentiate
Shabbos from other workdays, as one can absolve from creative work on any other day too.
Rather, "Guarding the Sabbath" expresses a more intimate connection to
God, Who, also, created the world in six days and rested on the seventh.
The explanation thereof, instead, must focus on another
question: If all humanity was created by God, why don't they have to maintain this
connection as well?
Thus, Torah answers: "As you were a slave in the land of
Egypt, and Hashem had taken you out... Therefore... make the Shabbath."
The Jewish People have a special connection to God, forged upon
leaving Egypt and accepted a spiritual mission at Sinai.
Thus, only they are commanded to keep this closer, divine
- (Maharal: Tiferes Yisroel; Chapter 44)
Torah is a book of instructions. It is
the how-to-connect-to-God book that Man was given at Sinai.
The first four books of Torah are the direct words of God. The fifth
book, Deuteronomy, is comprised of words spoken by Moses, as dictated by God.
The first four books of Torah, then, are "closer to God" (on
a philosophical level) than is the fifth. It is, in a way, as if God is placing Torah into
the outstretched arms of Man, with Deuteronomy (the farthest end of Torah), reaching Man's
Torah contains both positive and negative commandments. Positive
commandments are ways for us to connect with God. Negative commandments are ways
for us not to distance ourselves from God. On a philosophical level, then, positive
commandments are "closer to God" than negative commandments.
The Ten Commandments are listed twice in Torah; first in Exodus (the
second book of Torah) and later in Deuteronomy. Interestingly, Shabbos is mentioned as a
positive commandment (zachor) in the Exodus listing and as a negative commandment (shamor)
Because, as Exodus is in the section of Torah "closer to
God," Shabbos is listed there in a way that is "closer to God": a positive
Deuteronomy, located in the part of Torah "closer to Man,"
mentions Shabbos in a way that is "closer to Man" too: a negative commandment!
(The tablets express the same theme. There are two tablets, containing
Man's obligations to God - and Man's obligations to His fellow. The first is "closer
to God," the second "closer to Man." It is as if God is actively placing
those rules into the realm of man, with Man holding their far end.)
- (Maharal: Tiferes Yisroel; chapters 43-44)
Medrash (Mishlei chapter 9) says that at the time of
resurrection (i.e. the end of days, when righteous people will be brought back to life)
the Jewish People will no longer celebrate the holidays that it celebrates today.
There will, however, be exceptions to this rule. Purim and Yom Kippur
will be celebrated.
Why are these two holidays different? Why will they endure?
Purim celebrates our national survival from a death-decree. G-d saved
us, then, after King Ahasuerus had already signed and sealed our fate to doom.
Yom Kippur, too, is of this nature. On that holiest of days, while our
sins warrant that G-d end our physical existence, G-d gives us a renewed "license to
This is the very theme of resurrection. Resurrection will be a
time when we will receive life from G-d, after our physical existence has ended.
Thus, Purim and Yom Kippur will be celebrated at the end of days, as
they are so similar to the nature of that time.
Torah is the will of G-d. Thus, it is eternally relevant and constantly binding. There
is no room for change in the realm of Torah, just as there is no room for change in the
essence of G-d.
Man is an ever changing being. His desires, pursuits and challenges change as time goes
on - as does he, as he moves along the journey of life.
How, then, can a changing humanity accept a Torah that is inherently unchangeable?
Our sages teach that G-d forced the Jewish People to accept Torah at Sinai.
Shouldn't the Jewish People have desired to accept G-d's will?
The reason is this. In a relationship of force - where one party forces the other party
to accept, the terms of the relationship are set by the giver, not the receiver. Thus, by
giving Torah to the Jewish People by force - Torah could be given to changing Man.
Torah remains unchanging, Man remains changing, and Torah can still be in the realm of
STorah connects the Jewish People to G-d.
- Maharal: Tiferes Yisroel; chapter 51
A connector, by definition, must be attached at some point to all items
it is connecting.
To what point of Torah is G-d "more connected," and to what
point of Torah are the Jewish People "more connected"?
Torah contains 613 mitzvos; the Ten Commandments spoken by G-d at
Sinai, and 603 other mitzvos.
The Ten Commandments are the part of Torah "more connected"
to G-d - as they are the only commandments spoken by G-d. Also, the mispar kattan
of 10 = 1, representing G-d and unity.
The other 603 mitzvos are the portion of Torah "more
attached" to the Jewish People. The words "B'nei Yisroel" (Hebrew
for "The Jewish People") have a numeric value of. . . exactly 603!
Thus Torah contains portions "closer to G-d," and portions
"closer to Man." Torah is indeed the ultimate connector!
- (Maharal: Tiferes Yisroel; chapter 56)
Torah is the book in which G-d discloses the best way to
connect to Him. G-d promises us reward if we follow His instructions and penalty if we
Both the reward and the punishment are to be realized in the
Interestingly, in discussing the reward for keeping and
punishment for not keeping His commandments, G-d speaks only in generalities. Why is not
the continual blissful ecstacy - or the extensive agony - of the world-to-come promised in
Our tradition teaches: "One who wants to testify falsely -
bases his testimony on information that is unverifiable."
Torah is G-d's testimony. It is G-d's testimony that one who
does good will be rewarded - and that one who does evil will be punished.
Thus, a promise of detailed reward and punishment in a domain
far away from human experience, would not be acceptable testimony. It would be faulty
Therefore, the details of the reward or punishment of the
world-to-come are not spoken of in Torah!
(Maharal: Tiferes Yisroel; chapter 57)
The Rabbis teach in
Mesechtas Avos (2:6): "Be meticulous in every mitzvah that you do, small and large
- for we do not know the reward of mitzvos." Mitzvahs can not be measured. Often
the reward of a seemingly small act will bring us a greater reward than the enactment of a
seemingly greater action.
The Talmud in Mesechtas Chulin seems to contradict this statement. The Talmud states: "Torah
discusses the reward of two mitzvos: honoring one's parents and "shiluach
hakein." Yet we can deduce from these: if there is indeed reward for the enactment of
these simple mitzvos, there must be reward for the enactment of all other greater
This piece of Talmud clearly implies that we can classify mitzvos as great or small.
How is this contradiction reconciled?
Maharal explains. There are two aspects to the reward of mitzvahs: the reward for the
essence of the mitzvah, and the reward for the effort exerted in the fulfillment of the
In Avos, when the Rabbis said that reward is unknown and mitzvos can not be classified,
they were referring to the reward for the essence of mitzvahs.
In Chullin, however, when the Rabbis do classify mitzvahs, they are referring to the
reward of the effort exerted. This can indeed be measured - and we can indeed learn reward
for all mitzvahs from the reward of honoring parents and "shiluach hakein."
(Honoring parents is easy because it is logical - "shiluach hakein" needs
very little effort to achieve.)
(Maharal: Tiferes Yisroel; chapter 61)
The Midrash teaches that when G-d spoke the
commandments he said the Ten Commandments at one instant; all Ten verses were said at once
- in one intestinal particle of time.
What is the deeper meaning of this?
Torah is world order. Order is singularity applied to a multiplicity. It is different
forces flowing in one direction.
The ultimate unity is G-d (3). The closer things are to G-d the more it will inevitably
exhibit unity. That is the way their closeness to G-d can be measured. Torah is the entity
closest to G-d. In Torah, the Ten Commandments, its root, is closest to G-d.
That the Ten Commandments were said at one moment was not an occurrence of chance. It
was an inevitable expression of their unequaled closeness to G-d.
(Tiferes Yisroel: chapter 34)
Genesis, the story of creation must
begin with the letter Bais, - as creation means expansion.
The commandments, representing Torah law, must begin with the letter Aleph.
All we need to know about the worlds of spiritual
and physical, about morality and immortality - and about Man himself, is contained in
Torah. Torah is all the information that G-d has seen fit to give us. Torah is what
perfects Man, the player of this world, and Torah is what brings this world to its
intended state of perfection.
The first Hebrew letter in the Ten Commandments is an Aleph (Anochi)
It would seem that, to exhibit this connection between Torah and creation, the first
letter of Genesis, the story of creation, would also begin with an Aleph.
Yet it does not. The story of creation begins with a Bais (Beraishis).
Let us try to understand the significance of this point.
Each letter in the Hebrew alphabet has an inherent meaning. Aleph, as the first letter
of the alphabet and owning a numeric value of 1, expresses unity, totality and
singularity. Bais, the second letter of the alphabet and with a numeric value of 2,
represents multiplicity. 2 as the first letter with a multiple value - the first
entity of disunity, is the antithesis of unity. Bais represents multiplicity, expansion,
Creation was a process of expansion. It added to what already existed.
Thus, the story of creation, the ultimate expansion, begins correctly with the
letter Bais .
Let us now consider the Ten Commandments.
The Ten Commandments are the root of the entire Torah . Torah's commandments are
boundaries that G-d directs us to remain within. Remaining within that structure will
bring this world to completion. Torah is structure in an otherwise chaotic creation. Torah
is the structure that displays Unity is an otherwise multiple creation.
Hallelukah! Give praise, you servants of G-d, from this time and
forever. From the rising of the sun to its setting, G-d's name is praised. High above on
all the nations is G-d, above the heavens is his glory. Who is like Hashem our G-d who is
enthroned up high - yet deigns to look upon the heavens and the earth?
He raises the needy from the dust, from the trash heaps He raises the
destitute. To seat them with the nobles, the nobles of His people. He transforms the
barren wife into a glad mother of children. Hallelukah!
Let us decipher the first chapter of Hallel (Psalm 113). King David
opens the chapter with a paragraph of impassioned praise of G-d, proclaiming that G-d's
glory extends throughout the heavens and the earth.
Give praise, you servants of G-d, from this time and forever. From the
rising of the sun to its setting, G-d's name is praised.
Then, King David goes on to say that G-d, in all of His greatness,
still has a relationship with His creation, humanity, and does good in His relationship
with us. He uses three examples to express the good that G-d does.
The three things that King David mentions are:
(a) He raises the needy from the dust (b) He seats them with the nobles
(c) He transforms the barren wife into a mother of children.
Let us try to understand why King David praises G-d for being the
enactor of these three particular kindnesses, to capture all the good that G-d
The Talmud says that G-d has three distinct relationships with
humanity, and that all that He does is a manifestation of one of these three
relationships. They are: kindness, judgement, and mercy.
It derives it from this verse (Malachi ): "I am your G-d, I do
kindness, judgement and charity (mercy) in the land."
Every single thing that happens to us (good or bad), each thing that
G-d gives us (much or little) comes our way through one of these three relationships.
If we find $10,000, for example, it is because G-d has given it to us,
either because we deserve it (the relationship of judgment), or because, merely, there was
no reason for us not to receive it, and G-d's nature is to bestow good onto us (the
relationship of kindness), or because although there was a reason for us not to receive it
(we are not worthy), G-d sees that we need it, and gives it to us in mercy (the
relationship of mercy).1
Perhaps, in mentioning the three examples of the goodness that G-d
does, King David is praising G-d for the actions that he does in each of the three
categories mentioned above.
When King David says that G-d removes poor people from the dirt, he is
praising G-d for doing something that should be done. It is not right for poor people to
wallow in the dirt. It is correct for shelter to be provided for homeless people.
He is praising G-d for the good that he does within the relationship of
exact fairness, of exact judgement.
When King David praises G-d for seating poor people amongst the
nobility, he is praising G-d for doing something that is above and beyond what man
It may be correct to raise a poor person out of poverty. But why should
he be seated among princes, where so many other people are not able to sit?
This is praise of G-d's relationship of kindness with man.
When King David says that G-d turns barren women into glad mothers of
children, He says that G-d relates to man in still another way.
He can not be praising G-d for relating to man in judgement, as
judgement would have things operate exactly as they are capable of acting; and these women
are not capable of having children.
It can not be praising G-d for His relationship of kindness; having
children is a basic function of human being and not "above and beyond"
humanity's basic needs.
Rather, King David is praising G-d for relating to man in the
relationship of mercy. Even though there are people who are unable naturally to have
children, G-d still gives them their desire.
And so, in this chapter of Hallel King David is saying: "Praise
G-d for being so great, and for still relating to man. Praise g-d for relating to man in
three unique ways, each of which He uses to bestow blessing upon us!
"When Israel went out of Egypt, Jacob's household from a people of
an alien tongue - Judah became His sanctuary, Israel His dominion. The seas saw and fled;
the Jordan turned backwards. The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like young lambs.
What ails you, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan, that you turn backwards? O mountains that
you skip like rams? Before the L-rd's presence- did I, the earth, tremble - before the
presence of the G-d of Jacob, Who turns the rock into a pond of water, the flint into a
The message of the second chapter of the Hallel (Psalm 114) begins, in
a way, where the message of the first chapter (Psalm 113) leaves off.
In the last chapter King David praised G-d for the three relationships
he has with us. These three relationships are those with which G-d relates to humanity
within the normal realm of the natural world.
In B'tzais Yisroel, King David thanks G-d for things that He
does that are beyond nature, that are miraculous.
"The water saw you and ran . . . "
King David says that the water ran away from G-d. This is a very
interesting point. Water has no intrinsic shape of its own; it takes the shape of its
container. As mentioned above, this makes it an extreme chomer matter.
G-d is the antithesis of chomer; He is the ultimate tzurah of the
world. He forms anything according to His will.
As a tzurah's nature is to imprint a shape, a form, a definition, onto
chomer, and change the chomer into something that has a tzurah, it is natural that the
water, the chomer, backed away, as its nemesis came close.
"The mountains danced like rams,
the hills like youthful sheep."
After King David notes that the water ran away from G-d, he now relates
the reaction of the earth, another entity of chomer, when G-d came close.
It danced, shuddered, and trembled.
Why is the earth an extreme chomer entity? Because Man can use the
earth in any way he wants. He can cultivate the earth to yield produce, or he can
consolidate it and then build a house on top of it.
A seed planted in the earth prompts the earth to develop the produce
that it holds in a potential form. A seed draws nutrients from the ground and forms a
fruit or vegetable in a very specific shape, texture, and color. The seed, just like man,
imprints its will onto the earth.
G-d is the ultimate tzurah, and thus the nemesis of the earth. That is
why, says King David, the earth danced (or shuddered) like rams; and the hills shook like
youthful sheep, when G-d came close: they were entirely frightened.
"He turns a rock into a pool of water; a
flintlock into a flowing mountain."
These words follow in the theme we established above. King David is
praising G-d for being the epitome tzurah, the one who imprints His will onto the entire
creation. A rock is something that is not impressionable. It can only be impressed with a
form with great determination, skill, and hard work, with the help of a hammer and chisel.
Yet, says King David, in regard to G-d, even rock is chomer, like
water, and He impresses shapes onto it effortlessly.
King David is praising G-d for being the all-powerful tzurah, Who can
impress His will onto the hard stone, as easily as humanity can imprint a shape and form
"Not for our sake, G-d, not for our sake, but for Your name's sake
give glory, for your kindness and for your truth. Why should the nations say 'Where is
their G-d now?' Our G-d is in the heavens; whatever He pleases, He does! Their idols are
silver and gold, the handiwork of man. They have a mouth but can not speak; they have eyes
but can not see. They have ears but can not hear; they have a nose but can not smell.
Their hands - they can not feel; their feet - they can not walk; they can not utter a
sound from their throat Those who make them should become like them; whoever trusts in
them... G-d is our help and our shield."
While the first chapter of Hallel praises G-d for the kindness He does
for humanity within nature, and the second chapter speaks about the miracles that
G-d does for humanity that defy nature, this third chapter (Psalm 115) addresses the
reason that G-d performs miracles for the Jews.
Consider this thought.
King David compares the abilities of man to the abilities of the idols
and finds idols ridiculously lacking. In the human body each organ is necessary and
performs a unique function. There is no organ without a purpose.
In contrast, look at an idol. Its body is perfectly formed! The idol
has a mouth which seems ideally molded for speech, y it is mute. The ears have a shape
perfectly suited for hearing, but the idol is deaf. None of its organs carry out their
Idol worshipers believe that G-d's Presence enters their idols and
infuses them with spirituality.
Yet - if the idol's organs do not work, the idol is a lacking, broken
If idols are incomplete entities, says King David, is it
rational to assume that the Complete and Wholesome One rests His Presence in inherently
In the above chapter King David mentions a number of
abilities that man has, but that idols do not have. They are: (1) a mouth to speak (2)
eyes to see (3) ears to hear (4) a nose to smell (5) hands to touch (6) legs to walk (7) a
throat to make sounds.
Is there a significance to the order that King David mentioned them?
Consider this possibility.
King David begins by describing the most significant ability that man
has, and moves down to his least significant ability. He notes that idols do not have the
greatest ability of man (the smallest flaw of the idols) and then that idols do not have
the weakest ability of man (the greatest flaw of the idols).
The first ability that King David mentions is speech. Speech is the
vehicle that transmits the thoughts of Man, and it is the ability that separates man from
the animal kingdom. So essential is speech in the Jewish tradition, that the first time
the word "man" is used in the Torah ("Let us make Man," Genesis ),
Onkeles defines Man as "a spirit that speaks."2
Note that the power of speech is closely related to the capability of
thought. A newborn baby, whose mind does not think, does not speak. A toddler, who
understands the world in basic terms, speaks basic, simple words and sentences. An adult
who has full comprehension, has the full ability of speech.
The ability of sight is mentioned second because it is the most
far-reaching ability of man. A person can see vast numbers of entities in very large spans
of area, simultaneously. One can relate to the greatest amount of the physical world by
means of sight.
Hearing sound is the next most far-reaching capability that we possess.
One can hear sounds created great distances away from him (though not as far as he can
The ability of smell is the next most far-reaching ability that
we have. We can smell something many yards away from us. Smell extends beyond the body -
though it is not nearly as far-reaching as hearing and sight.
The ability to touch is the next most "encompassing"
ability that we have. Although it is limited to the body, "touch" allows man to
relate to things outside of its self. Although "touch" is not a sense that is
even as far-reaching as smell (you can not touch from a distance), it does give Man the
ability to relate to the world outside of him.
The ability to walk is the next most far-reaching ability that we have.
The ability is confined to man himself; it does not extend to the outside world. It is
merely the ability to move man to places that he wants to go.
Note, that the feet are not nearly as sensitive to touch as the hands
The ability to create sounds (as opposed to speech, which is the
communication of thought) is considered the least "far-reaching" ability that we
have. Any other ability that man has is enacted by a series of muscle movements. The
creation of sound, however, take place inside the body (only in the throat and larynx) and
requires very little muscle action visible to the eye.
And that is what King David is saying in this chapter of psalms.
The idols contain organs that do not work. They are inherently flawed. Idols do not
contain the strongest ability of man (speech), nor do they contain the weakest
ability of man (the ability to create sounds).
Idols are totally incomplete.
It is wholly inconceivable that a G-d who is the epitome of
Wholesomeness should have rested in them and imparted spirituality into their incomplete
"Hashem will bless our memory - He will bless the house of Israel;
He will bless the House of Aharon; He will bless those who fear G-d, the small as well as
the great. May G-d increase upon you and upon your children! You are blessed of G-d, maker
of heaven and earth. As for the heavens - the heavens are G-d's, but the earth He has
given to mankind. Neither the dead can praise G-d, nor those who descend into silence; but
we will bless G-d from this time and forever. Hallelukah!"
The beginning of this chapter of Hallel (Psalms 116) is connected to
the end of the last chapter. In the last chapter of Hallel, King David ends off with the
words "G-d is. . . our shield.
Praising G-d for being a shield is praising Him for protecting us from
harm - a passive form of beneficence. In this chapter, King David bursts into song, and
praises G-d for what He does actively, saying that G-d is the One who "gives blessing
to our remembrance."
"Hashem will bless our remembrance"
The above seems unclear. Why should G-d give blessing to our remembrance?
Wouldn't it make more sense to give blessing to our name, or to our essence?
Consider this thought.
Many people remember us who do not remember our names. Our
"remembrance" extends much further than our name. The impact that we leave on
people is much greater and penetrates much more deeply, than the detail of our name or
their understanding of our essence. Our "remembrance" is much more inclusive
than our being or our name.3
1. Every Shabbat morning we say in the prayer Nishmat
Kol Chai: "He runs his world with Kindness, His creations with mercy."
The commentators explain the meaning of the sentence as
The world can be directed by G-d with kindness, as there is often no
reason for it not to receive G-d's goodness. Individuals, however, who have often done
wrong, and have created a reason for them not to receive good, can only be given
sustenance in the relationship of mercy.
course, the most essential component of man is his mind, his thought itself. King David
does not mention "they have heads but do not think" because he is contrasting
the abilities of man with the abilities of idols. Thinking is what
man is, not an ability that he has.
3. An example of the use of the word
"remembrance" is found in the verse "The remembrance of a righteous person
is a blessing, and the name of the wicked shall rot." (Proverbs 10:7)
The meaning of the verse can be this: While the deeds of the
righteous people are so great that even their distant "remembrance" is a
blessing, the wicked are seen as being bad only as far as their names are seen to extend.
"I love Him, for G-d hears my voice my supplications. As He has
inclined His ear to me, so in my days shall I call. The pains of death encircled me; the
confines of the grave have found me; troubles and sorrow I would find. Then I would invoke
the name of G-d: 'Please, G-d, save my soul' Gracious is G-d and righteous, our G-d is
merciful. G-d protects the simple; I was brought low but He saved me. Return, my soul, to
your rest; for G-d has been kind to you.
For You have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet
from stumbling. . ."
In this spirited chapter of psalms, King David sings thanks to G-d for
saving him from his enemies, and for taking away his suffering.
King David thanks G-d for saving three parts of his body from harm: his
soul from death, his eyes from tears, and his legs from stumbling.
Why is King David only thanking G-d for these three benefits? Did not
King David thank G-d for saving his entire being from harm?
Perhaps these three items are representative of the entire human being.
Consider this thought.
There are three parts of man: (a) his body (or physical side) (b) his
soul (or non-physical side) (c) his existence as a thinking, functioning human being (or
the connection of his body and soul).
When King David praises G-d for saving my soul from death, he praises
G-d for the entire metaphysical side of himself.
When he thanks G-d for saving my eyes from tears, he is praising G-d
for saving the part of him that is a connection of body and soul: The eyes do not enter
the world as our arms and legs do; they are stuck in their sockets. Yet, they can only see
things that are inside the physical world. They are in the physical world, but not of
the physical world.
When he thanks G-d for saving my legs from stumbling, he thanks G-d for
saving the physical part of him. The legs represent the physical part of man. They always
touch the ground (the chomer) and are very connected to the physical world. They also
serve the most basic function of the body (that of transporting the body from place to
* * *
"For You have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my
feet from stumbling. . ."
Let us now decipher the second half of the three phrases; what King
David's body was saved from.
The first one is understandable: King David praises G-d for saving his
soul from death (the most significant potential loss.)
What is meant in the phrase "my eyes from tears"? Why is it
that King David thanks G-d for saving his eyes from tears, and not as we would have
thought, from blindness?
Consider this thought.
What are tears?
A great deal of emotional energy gathered in the body (either joy or
pain), that can not be contained within the body, spills out as tears.
When a person cries, the energy that was built up within him spills out
and is lost; it can never be reclaimed, and is a great loss.4
That is why tears of the eyes are so significant. That is why they are
mentioned right after the loss of the soul.
"How can I repay G-d, for all of His kindness to me? I shall raise
the cup that you have filled with salvation, and the name of G-d I will invoke. My vows to
G-d I will pay, in the presence, now, of the entire people. . . To you I will sacrifice
thanksgiving offerings, and the name of G-d I will invoke. My vows to G-d I will pay, in
the presence, now, of the entire people. In the courtyards of the House of G-d, in your
midst, O Jerusalem, Hallelukah!"
"I shall raise the cup that you have filled with salvation, and
the name of G-d I shall invoke."
The analogy of a "cup being filled" is used to capture the
image of a person receiving something that he was already prepared to receive. In the
analogy, it is as if he always held a cup, albeit an empty one, and now it was filled.
King David is saying that his cup was filled: His body, which was
without ability, now had a new potential.
* * *
"I shall raise the cup that you have filled with salvation, and
the name of G-d I will invoke."
The word "Esa" - I shall raise, also means "I shall
carry". The use of the words I shall carry is very significant. When a person carries
something in his arms, that item is evident before he himself is seen. If the item
is on his back, he presents that item above himself.
And that is what King David is saying: Oh. G-d: I will carry the cup
that You have filled (my new potential), in a way that it will be the first part of me
that people will encounter. The cup that you have filled will precede me; I will use it,
solely, to proclaim Your greatness.
* * *
"My vow to G-d I shall repay - before the entire people."
This verse follows on the above theme. King David says that the vows he
made in private, he will fulfill to G-d in public; his mission is to proclaim the
greatness of G-d; to use his every ability to express G-d's glory in a public way.
"Give thanks to G-d for He is good: His kindness endures
"Let Israel say: His kindness endures forever. Let the house of
Aharon say: His kindness endures forever. Let those who fear G-d say: His kindness endures
Consider this interesting thought.
The Hebrew root of the word "thanks" is "___"
(thus, ____). It also means "agree" or "concede."
The two are interconnected.
As much as one agrees and concedes intellectually that G-d has given
him all that he has, he is inclined to sing His praise and thank G-d for what he has.
It follows then, that different people, who have experienced different
levels and dimensions of G-d's running of the world, will sing the praises of G-d
differently, corresponding to their experience.
In this chapter of psalms, King David notes four categories of praises
of G-d, each on a higher level than the previous one.
He begins with a general statement: "Praise G-d for he is good;
His kindness endures forever". All of humanity, says King David, ought to thank G-d
for all the good that He does in the world.
In the second sentence, King David addresses the Jewish People. They
have a relationship with G-d that is both more comprehensive and closer than that of the
rest of the world. Therefore, he says, Let Israel say: His greatness endures forever. The
Jews experience G-d differently than the other nations, and therefore must praise G-d
In the third sentence of praise, King David addresses the Kohanim. The
Kohanim served in the Temple and were immersed in the atmosphere of G-d's concentrated
Presence; they were as close as anyone could be to the greatest exhibition of G-d in this
world. They had an even deeper understanding of G-d. King David, thus, asks them to sing
their own praise of G-d, as their understanding of the power of G-d would be expressed at
a higher level.
In the last sentence of the psalm, King David asks those who fear G-d
to praise G-d.
People who fear G-d have a connection with G-d that is incredibly
strong and present at all times. The reason that they fear G-d is because they truly
understands His greatness. They experience the Omnipresence with their emotions and
physical senses too. It is natural that these people would express their praise of G-d in
still another way. Thus, King David says to them: Your understanding of G-d is the deepest
of all. Your praise of G-d will incorporate a deeper aspect of G-d than the other praises.
You too, offer your own praise of G-d!
"From the straits did I call upon G-d; G-d answered me with
expansiveness. . . All the nations surrounded me; in the name of G-d I cut them down. They
encircled me, the also surrounded me; in the name of G-d I cut them down. They encircled
me like bees, but they are extinguished as a fire does thorns; in the name of G-d I cut
In three consecutive sentences King David uses the words "they
have surrounded me," to refer to his enemies' attacks on him.
The first sentence says "they surrounded me" one time. The
second sentence says "they surrounded me" two times. The third sentence says
"they surrounded me like bees, like burning thorns," an even greater level of
King David seems to be saying that there were three levels of attack
that his enemies perpetrated against him, which represent three levels of hatred that the
haters of Jews have for King David's people.
Let us try to decipher King David's words.
The first verse, which says "they have surrounded me" one
time, refers to a basic level of dislike of him, and of the Jews.
This is natural. Every nation is wary of the nations around it. Every
nation sees the other nations as economic, cultural, and even military threats. No nation
likes seeing its neighbor countries becoming too strong or dominant.
The second verse seems to refer to a more intense level of hatred: it
says "they have surrounded me" two times.
This may refer to a deeper reason for the hatred of Jews. If, as we
said, countries dislike other countries because they are different from them (and
therefore a threat), there is indeed a stronger basis for them to dislike the Jews. The
Jews have a totally different value system than the rest of the world - one that is
Absolute and based on the word of G-d. If the unlike is disliked, there is a
reason for the Jews to be intensely disliked.
In the third verse, King David speaks of being surrounded in a most
terrifying way: "They have surrounded my like bees, like burning thorns."
Perhaps this is expressing the greatest reason that non-Jews may
dislike the Jews. The Jewish place in the world is at the polar opposite of the other
seventy nations. If the Jews act in accordance with their spiritual level, and do G-d's
will, the world's events are centralized around them for their benefit. If the Jews are
not connected to G-d's will, they are punished by G-d and dispersed throughout the world;
they are weak, and the fortune of the world lies in the hands of the nations. That is why
the nations hate us and surround us as "bees, like burning thorns."
Perhaps King David's three sentences refer to the three ascending
levels of dislike that his enemies had for him, and that the enemies of our people have
The word "Hallelukah" is a compound of two words:
"hallelu" and "kah" ("praise G-d").
Hallelukah is unique in that it is the only word in the Hebrew
language that combines a word of praise with a name of G-d. Other words may praise G-d,
but they do not contain a Divine name within them.
Interestingly, the word Hallelukah is specifically used for one
category of His actions - the miraculous.
Why only the miraculous?
The Talmud teaches that G-d created this world by using one letter (in
some metaphysical way), and the world to come by using another letter (in some
metaphysical way). This world was created with the letter _, and the world to come was
created with the letter _. These two letters comprise G-d's name of _-_ ("kah").
That is why we praise G-d with the word Hallelu-"kah." By
praising the One who created the world with the letters _ and _, we are saying that
it He - and only He - who can leave those rules. It is only He who can break the
order of nature to do miracles5, as He is the only One who can leave the rules
that He established.
"ONE WHO SAYS HALLEL EVERY DAY"
"One who reads the Hallel every day, curses G-d" (Talmud,
Tractate Shabbat 118B).
What is the meaning of this statement?
Consider this thought.
One who says Hallel every day praises G-d for being the ultimate
controller of the world, and the One who can change the natural order of the world at His
will. If that is true, one assumes that G-d should be able to reward the righteous and
punish the bad for their sins, immediately and decisively.
The Jews did have this type of relationship with G-d in the forty years
that they were in the desert. The sin of the golden calf was punished by an instant
plague. The sin of the misoninim was punished immediately with a plague of snakes.
On the other hand, the good that they did was rewarded instantly too:
When the Jews said regarding the acceptance of the Torah at Sinai: "We will do and
then we will hear" they were rewarded immediately with two spiritual crowns.
After that time, however, a lower level and more "natural"
mode of operation was set into motion. G-d no longer punished the bad right away - often
not even in their lifetimes. He no longer rewarded the deeds of the good right away
either, often not in their lifetimes.
This relationship is based on the fact that G-d desired to create a
more "natural-seeming" structure of the world, a structure that He wants kept in
motion. It is this natural order that does not allow the good to be rewarded openly, or
the bad to be punished openly (except in rare situations), as this would be openly
exhibiting G-d's control of the world, and a breakage in the "natural" mode.
One who Hallel every day, continuously asserts that G-d relates to us
just as He related to our people in the desert. That conjures up the question as to why
bad things happen to good people, and why good things happen to bad people.
Bringing up that question - answerable though it is - not a praise of
G-d, but an expression of an apparent incongruity.
It is stating something that can be rectified to our mind, but never to
our hearts; and this does not strengthen our will to serve G-d with our heart and soul.
That is why one who says hallel every day has "cursed G-d."
4. Similarly, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch calls tears "the sweat
of the soul."
5. While we do find some things that G-d does within the natural
world that are praised with the word "Hallelukah", anything that G-d has
done outside of nature is only praised with the word "Hallelukah."