parasha in context
The people of Israel have received endless gifts: life,
the exodus from Egypt, the revelation of the Torah and,
soon, the inheritance of the land of Israel. In addition,
they have received the laws and regulations for an ideal
society, for domestic happiness and spiritual fulfillment
(preceding parasha Ki thetze, the liberation of the female
war captive), and for vanquishing its enemies (Amalek).
Everything seems perfect: and it is at this moment that
the Torah teaches us, as with a newly-married couple who
have just moved into their new apartment (land of Israel),
how negligence and lack of commitment can quickly spoil
perfect happiness. In order to prevent happiness from
turning into tragedy, the Torah teaches us how to safeguard
it. How? By always being aware of and recognizing its
source. We shall discover the magnificent interpretation
of the Baal Haturim.
mitzvot in the parasha
There are only 6 mitzvot in this parasha (mitzvot nos.
606 to 611). They are grouped thus:
" the ritual presentation of the first-fruits and
the tithe with solemn declarations as set pit om: "ve
anita ve amarta lifne hashem
," (26.5) and "le
itvadot al biur hamaaserot uterumot" (26, 13);
" the setting aside of the first-fruits and donating
them to the Levites or the Cohanim;
" the prohibition against eating the fruits in mourning
or other specific conditions:"lo akhalti ve oni mimenu,
I have not eaten thereof in my mourning..," (26,
14); "lo viati memenu be tame, "neither have
I put away thereof, being unclean" (26, 14); "ve
lo natati memenu lemet shmati be kol Hashem, nor given
thereof for the dead; I have hearkened to the voice of
Hashem" (26, 14);
" the commandment to walk in the path of God: "vehalkhta
bi drakhav, walk in His ways" (28, 9).
Maimonides develops these issues in Tractate Zeraim 3,
The last mitzva ("you
shall walk in His ways") includes all the others
for it commands us to live fully according to God's plan,
to live in His image and to be his merkava (chariot).
We are therefore commanded
to lead a pure, holy life in everything we do: in our
professional and personal lives and in our smallest actions,
such as partaking of food. To remind us of this, we must
remove a part of certain foods and reserve it for God:
this is the basis of everything.
Analysis of linguistic features
(Method of study). The Shla tells us that the full meaning
of the mitzvot can only be understood by paying attention
to a particular linguistic form: "velakahta mereshit
kol-peri haadama, thou shall take of the first of all
the fruit of the ground" (26, 2).
He notes that the use of this
expression (mereshit, the first), rather than behathala
(at the beginning) is significant.
Let us read the first two verses of the parasha (26, 1-2):
"When thou art come in unto the land which Hashem,
thy G-d giveth thee for an inheritance, and dost possess
it, and dwell therein; that thou shalt take of the first
of all the fruit of the ground
thou shalt put it
in a basket, and shalt go unto the place where Hashem
thy G-d shall choose to cause His name to dwell there.
And thou shalt come unto the priest
and say unto
him: I profess this day unto Hashem thy G-d, that I am
come unto the land
We have seen how difficult
it was for the people to reach the land of Israel, and
witnessed their hesitation to leave Egypt, and the episode
of the spies who tried to prevent the people from entering
the land. We confront the very same problems today. Even
those who have come to live in the land of Israel, hesitated
a long time before doing so. The local Jewish community
of the diaspora has replaced the land of Israel for many
Jews and Israel has been relegated to being a symbol for
prayer, a place for vacationing, retiring, getting married
or celebrating a bar mitzva. This is the modern equivalent
of the spies'refusal to enter and dwell in the land of
But the parasha also deals
with another problem: once in the land of Israel, a Jew
has the task of making the land Isra-El, a land belonging
to El (G-d) and not to the people to do as they choose.
We learnt at length from the books of Vayikra and Bemidbar
what is the function of the land: it is Eretz hakodesh,
the "Holy land."
Imagine that you invite friends
to stay for a few months in a private part of "your"
house and they quickly forget that "you" are
the owner and that they are in "your" house
at "your" invitation. It is exactly this problem
with which the Torah confronts us when it tells us: the
day you enter and dwell in the land, you must make an
act of acknowledgment each time you take of the land and
declare: I, today, acknowledge that.. and I profess
The Torah stresses this because it is a problem that recurs
for every generation, not just for some Jews, but for
Here is a recent example of
this problem in Israel: the new Minister of Education
(from the extreme left, anti-religious Meretz party) is
replacing the traditional school books on the history
of Israel with a new, "post-Zionist" version
that rejects the very tenets of Zionism (gone is the Jewish
ideal of returning to Zion; present and past history are
examined only from the perspective of left-wing ideology
which bases itself on universal human rights and not on
Judaism. The irony of this position is that while rejecting
the basis of the State of Israel as being both "Jewish"
and "democractic," it supports the ideologies
of our enemies who promote their own non-universal, nationalistic
The parasha teaches us therefore
something very important; with every new harvest or joyful
event, we must remember the source from which everything
stems. To understand this fully, we need to examine the
language of the parasha.
At the peshat (literal) level,
the use of the word reshit (the first) means to take at
the beginning of a season the first of the fruits of the
land of Israel, as Rashi explains: "ve lo khol reshit,
not all the fruits
.ella shiveat hamminim bilvad
she nishtabeha vajen eretz Yisrael, but only the 7 species
that constitute the glory of Israel." It was necessary
for Rashi to explain this, because Bemidbar 18,13 (refer
to it) leads us to believe that this applies to every
fruit. Rashi demonstrates that the verse in this parasha
refers to the species that are specific to Israel. We
do not come to Israel because it is like any other country,
or because it is better than any other country. We come
to Israel because it is different to other countries and
has attributes we must praise .. she nishtabeha. (Read
Mishna 1, 3 in Tractate Bikurim and page 84 b in Tractate
Menahot on the reasons for this praise). Despite all this,
we still do not have the full explanation for the use
of the specific term reshit.
(Method). The method of analysis
used in psychology and psycho-analysis is similar to that
which we use for the Torah: it is not enough to understand
the overall message which is expressed, we need to examine
every linguistic nuance for they represent deep meanings.
Let us examine the word reshit. It is with this word (bereshit)
that the Torah begins, so it must have great significance.
The position of every word in the Torah is of great importance,
for the meaning of the Torah is not found just in one
place; it is scattered in many places, in order that we
will search for it. It is the same with people. If we
remain at the level of initial impressions, we never really
get to know another person. To do so, we must search,
love, discover, apply, remember and understand. It is
the same with the Torah. This is why it is written: ma
ahavti Toratekha, kol hayom hi sihati, Oh how I love Thy
Torah, it is my meditation all the day" (Psalm 119,
Reshit is found in Bemidbar
15, 20 in respect of the setting apart of the first of
the dough (halla). It is also found in Devarim 18, 4 with
regard to the first-fruits of corn, wine, oil and fleece
of sheep. (Refer to these verses).
The significance of these
(Method of study) After identifying the various positions
of the word, we must now ask questions in order to understand
what they represent. In what way are these commandments
to set aside halla and the first-fruits more important
than others, and why are they are linked directly to the
creation of the world?
We know from Rashi's commentary
on the beginning of the Torah that Israel is reshit, the
beginning of creation and that the world was created for
Israel and for the Torah.
In Bereshit Rabba 1, 4 Rav
Huna states: "the world was created by three things,
the setting aside of halla, the setting aside of a tithe
of10% or maaser, and the setting aside of the first-fruits;
and what is the meaning of 'in the beginning God created..' ?
There is no reshit except for halla, there is no reshit
except for maaser, there is no reshit except for the first-fruits."
(Method of study) We can see
that the Torah only becomes comprehensible through the
explanations of the Sages (the Shla, Rashi, Bereshit Rabba).
It is therefore important to study them. Students of Torah
often make the error of imagining, when they discover
the initial or apparent meaning of a text, that they have
grasped the full meaning. In most cases, they are mistaken,
for the full meaning can only be discovered after a long
While we the connection between reshit and the three mitzvot
(halla, maaser, peri), appears to be well formulated,
we also see that there is a contradiction in Rashi's use
of this formula in Bereshit Rabba for three different
Tradition resolves these problems
in the following way:
1. The aim of creation and of Israel is that man should
live according to the Torah, with holiness in his soul
and in his body which has 613 parts, like the 613 mitzvot.
2. If the body is so dependent on its biological parts,
how can it elevate itself to the level of the Torah? It
is the function of food to raise the biological level
to the level of holiness through religious rituals; this
notion is developed by the Shla in his study on kedusha
and food (see chapter "?").
3. The elevation to holiness is achieved first through
the maaser on grains and then through the setting aside
of the produce of the grains, the dough (halla). The process
must begin right from the beginning and this is why one
sets aside the first fruits. Then it must proceed in stages
till the olam habaa, the world to come.
4. This represents the continual process in which man
must walk in the ways of God and be like Him. This connection
(adhesion) to God is what enriches us, for He is then
5. This is why we have never lacked anything, says Rashi
(Devarim 2, 7) and why we should consider ourselves rich
and not poor: lo tikhpu et tovato leharot keilu atem aniim,
ella hareu atzmekhem ashirim. This is the function of
the Jewish quality of tzedaka, charity and benevolence
towards those in need.
6. It is this which creates the state of benediction (berakha)
and joy (simha) that accompanies the obligatory mitzvot,
and which is described in the list of blessings (berakhot).
7. In contrast, when man no longer follows this process
of creation and elevation, admonitions (klalot) ensue.
When a process is no longer directed towards goodness,
then the worst horrors will take place, as described in
8. By describing this process and its consequences in
detail, and by insisting on the need to follow all of
God's prescriptions, the Torah wishes us to understand
to what extent this complex system of creation is inter-related
and the power man possesses to create life, or to destroy
it by disregarding the rules of holiness and the mitzvot.
1. He elaborates on the issue of the tithes and the setting
aside of the first-fruits to include money and tzedaka.
He says: he who gives and truly makes a sacrifice will
be saved from death for he will be closer to God to whom
he gives through his sacrifice. This acknowledges that
the beginning of all beginnings is God, reshit kol reshit.
2. The Levites and the Cohanim also have the role of elevating
the people towards Hashem, to the place of His residence,
his maon. It is unjust to accuse Israel of not being at
this level, as do the Jews of the Diaspora ("I cannot
immigrate to Israel because I will not find there the
same spirituality and religiosity as in my community").
This is an egoistic view, for knowledgeable and spiritual
people have a duty to educate and elevate those who have
less knowledge than they do.
3. Thus the Jew in this world is linked to the world above.
This is expressed in the letter shin whose three branches
symbolize our link with the world above and with the shekhina
(the presence of God among us). One can then say that
the shekhina dwells here among us, as was commanded: "be
holy and I will live and dwell among you."
The presence of kavod
This is what is called the presence of the kavod of Hashem,
as was the case in the time of the first Temple, and as
is expressed in lekha dodi (the Friday night song): kevod
hashem alaikh nighla, the glory of Hashem is revealed
unto you," and in the haftara of this parasha: kevod
Hashem alikh zarah, the glory of Hashem is risen upon
you." The haftara tells us that in the plan of creation,
the people will be re-united and the nations of the world
will join us. Read Isaiah 60.
The holy people
Thus after the dutiful, careful process of elevation through
the mitzvot, the people of the Torah will have united
the two worlds, and then, through them, the light of Hashem
will radiate for everyone. The role of Judaism is to be
a source of blessing for the world - to be the "cohanim"
of the world. The Jewish people were chosen for this role:
this is the true meaning of am segula, the chosen people
(not in the meaning of a people chosen at the expense
of others, as antisemites, who distort the Torah, maintain).
Undoubtedly, the Jewish people
are different to the rest of the world. They do not have
the same way of thinking or lifestyle, but this is because
their role is to carry out the mitzvot, in order to bring
blessings to the world.
This is a demanding, noble,
altruistic, beneficent role, and a service as is the meaning
of the word cohen.
The declaration of the first-fruits
The text of the parasha says: "when thou art come
in unto the land
thou shalt take of the first of
all the fruit
thou shalt come unto the Cohen that
shall be in those days and say unto him (veamarta): 'I
profess (higadti) this day unto Hashem thy God (elokekha),
- Several questions arise
here, but we shall just examine the first one: the difference
between the verbs (you will say, I profess) and the fact
that the person who brings the fruits does not say "my
God" or "our God" but "thy God."
- Rashi explains concisely
the meaning of the verbs: "and thou will say (veamarta): that you are not ungrateful." This is an avowal
and an acknowledgment. Rashi draws his interpretation
from the Sifre: "you will say (veamarta) to the
Cohen that you are grateful for the kindness bestowed
on you by Hashem in the past
" The verb higadti
(I profess) is strong and represents an affirmation of
deeds, not something superficial.
- The issue of gratefulness
recalls what happened between the people and Moshe, as
is recounted in Tractate Avodah Zarah pages 5a and b:
"Hashem said: mim-yiten ve haya levavam lahem le
yirea oti, Oh that they had such a heart as this always,
to fear Me (Devarim 5, 26). Moshe said to the people of
Israel: ungrateful and thankless are you, you should have
answered: give us then this heart
Rashi refers to this (on Devarim
2, 7: For Hashem thy God hath blessed thee in all the
work of thy hand; He hath known thy walking through this
great wilderness; these forty years Hashem thy God hath
been with thee; thou has lacked nothing, lo hasarta davar")
when he says: "for Hashem thy God blessed you, so
you must not be ungrateful towards His kindness by acting
as though you are poor, but you must see yourselves as
rich, lo tikhpu et tovato leharot keilu atem aniim, ella
hareu atzmekhem ashirim."
It is now clearer why Rabbenu
Bahya makes tzedaka the focus of his introduction to the
parasha based on Proverbs 3, 9-10: "Honor Hashem
with thy substance, and with the first-fruits of all thine
increase: So shall thy barns be filled with plenty
He elaborates on the theme of tzedaka (begun in parasha
Reeh) and says: "the want which is caused to someone
from tzedaka will be beneficent for it will save him from
and he who gives tzedaka to the poor, it is
Hakadosh Barukh Hu who gives it. This also connects with
the gift of the first-fruits, the reshit, for the Cohen
is reshit and Hashem is reshit de reshit, the beginning
of the mitzvot
Since the instructions vary for different situations,
it is necessary to consult a rabbi, for it is his function
to interpret the practical applications (halakha) of the
This mitzva is derabbanim for the temple is destroyed
but we still practice it in order not to forget it. The
blessing applies only to the flour of 5 grains (wheat,
barley, oats, rye, spelt) that are used in human consumption,
and to a minimum of 1560 or 1667 grams of flour (the variation
depends on which Sage one follows). The flour is set aside
after it has been made into a dough and then burnt. After
setting aside, one says: barukh ata Adonai Elohenu Melkh
haolam ashe kideshanu ve mitzvotav ve tzivanu lehafrich
halla teruma. If the flour is below the set quantity,
one says: hare zo halla, this is halla.
This is an obligation for everyone, even the poor. The
minimum one must give is one tenth of one's possessions
(maaser, tithe). It must be given immediately to someone
in need and carried out discreetly (matan beseter), if
possible through an intermediary in order not to humiliate
the beneficiary and in order that it should be done disinterestedly.
It should be given in joy, with consideration for one's
priorities: those near have priority over those who are
far; young couples and Torah students must be helped;
women have priority over men and prisoners over everyone
(refer to the file: "Liberate the prisoners"),
most of all female prisoners. Every community has organizations
that administer tzedaka.
The tithe (teruma gedola and maaser rishon) involves one-tenth
of all the produce of the land of Israel, that was given
to the Levites, and which are burnt or discarded after
being wrapped up. A tenth of this part, or maaser min
ha maaser, was given to the Cohen (Bemidbar 18, 11). Both
these categories were landless. The maaser sheni must
be consumed by its owner in Jerusalem (Devarim 14, 22-27)
and can be converted into money for facility. There is
also the maaser ani or poor tithe (Devarim 14, 28-29 and
26, 12) which is symbolized by destroying a small coin
on the eve of Pesah on the 4th and 7th year of a shemita
or fallow year.
Today instead of the produce
of the land, we give as tzedaka one tenth of our goods.
We must first begin by estimating our goods or revenue,
distributing one tenth, and then constantly setting aside
one tenth for tzedaka. This is a practice which religious
Jews carry out systematically. It is a tzedaka that is
connected directly to the rituals of the Temple.
The Sages considered that he who gives a quarter of his
revenue as generous, he who gives a fifth as average,
and he who gives no more than a sixth as miserly. He who
does not give to the poor is considered a gozel, one who
robs from the poor.
A product that is bought from a person who does not know
these rules well (am haaretz, ignorant) is called demai,
suspect. The purchaser, in such cases, says: u maaser
ani hare hu ve dromo ve hareni mafkid nekhasai ve zokhe
vo, I consider him as maaser of the poor and I give him
my goods and he deserves it. If no tithe has been paid,
the produce is called tevel and cannot be consumed. The
person who knows about these issues is called haver.
Tractate Yevamot 86 b also
mentions tithes paid by the Levites if they did not come
to live in Israel. This is in keeping with the parasha.
Rabbis need to be consulted
in these matters, because there are specific dates for
these rituals (1 Tishri, Tu bishevat), and the rules vary
in certain years as in the shemita year. If someone does
not live in Israel, his gift can be brought by a shaliah
mitzva, a representative.
One is not obliged to keep
these rules if one does not benefit from the goods, produce,
etc. but one must keep these rules if one uses them. There
is no dispensation from these rules and those who try
to find one must change their ways (yesh levatel minhagam).
The rules do not apply to produce cultivated by non-Jews
on their own land in Israel or to produce imported to
We have received the maximum (life, the Torah, the land
of Israel, laws for ensuring harmony and happiness). The
question now is: how will we use all of this.
It is surprising to see how some of our leaders decide
by themselves issues relating to our patrimony, and the
relinquishment of the land of Israel, without taking into
consideration what tradition tells us. The same leaders
would not make economic decisions without consulting experts.
They make political decisions in the name of peace and
happiness. But our tradition has shown that benediction
and admonition depend on these rules. New ideologies do
not influence the way a missile or car operates. The Torah
has taught us that there is an order of things in the
world and particularly with regard to Israel. We must
adhere to it.
We are now able to understand
the brief commentary of the Baal Haturim on the first
word of the parasha. Each one of his words is a pearl
and a beacon.
He notes that the word ki has the same numerical value
as lamed, study (30) and thavo has the same letters as
avot, the fathers. Basing himself on Tractate Hulin 92
b, he says that there are never less than 30 tzaddikim
(righteous) in Israel, who are as worthy as the patriarchs.
Explanation: this Gemara explains that there are Ma (45)
righteous men who support the world, 30 of whom are in
Israel. This demonstrates the special role played by Israel,
but it can only do this through the tzaddikim. It is they
who bring shalom, not the masses who do not recognize
the divine role of Israel and the Jewish people. Even
if the majority of the people support foreign ideologies
and do not live according to the Torah, it is sufficient
that there are 30 righteous men in order to ensure Israel's
This is confirmed by the great
Ribbi Shimon bar Yohai in Bereshit Rabba 35,2: "the
world cannot exist if there are less than 30 righteous
men like Avraham." Notice that he does not say 30
righteous men, but 30 who will be like Avraham, who was
prepared to sacrifice and give his son to Hakadosh Barukh
Hu and who strove his utmost to "go up" to Jerusalem.
This is why converts are asked to do likewise and are
called "ben Avraham." Ribbi Shimon bar Yohai
affirmed this difficulty: "if there were only 2,
it would be my son and me; and if there were only one
(the dreadful state of solitude that would exist if the
world goes against Israel) it would be me." This
is what I wish for for every reader, and every man and
woman who elevate themselves by "coming up"
How do we get to this figure
30? It comes from the word yiye, whose numerical value
is 30 (explanation in Bereshit Rabba 49, 3), in Bereshit
18,18 which says: "Avraham shall surely become a
great and mighty nation and all the nations of the earth
shall be blessed in him."
The Sages have helped us to
discover the deep inter-connections between the mitzvot.
Without them, we cannot understand the Torah: they are
there for us, their "table is prepared" (the
title of the book Shulkhan Arukh ).
Other nations have ideologies,
we have the Torah. But like any great work or engine,
we need a good user's manual to understand it and put
it into practice.
1. Re-read the whole parasha
in this perspective.
2. Summarize the stages in the method of study described
3. Explain the meaning of:
"the world was created by three things, the setting
aside of halla, the maaser or tithe of ten per cent, the
setting aside of the first-fruits;"
"in the beginning God created
"There is not reshit except for the halla. There
is no reshit except for the maaser. There is no reshit
except for the setting aside of the first-fruits."
4. Reflect on:
+ what your possessions mean to you.
+ whether you are aware of the source of your happiness,
whether you are grateful, etc.
+ whether you link your happiness to the Creator.
+ whether you view the land of Israel as a magnificent
present which has been given to you.
+ whether you respect it, if you live in it, and whether
you adhere to the rules of the master of the house.
+ whether you keep the mitzvot and remit to the Creator
a part of what you have been given, which will be used
towards tzedaka for the poor,for the poor who study the
Torah and for works that teach the Torah (this is a priority
defined by the Sages for tzedaka).
+ whether you keep a regular count of what you set aside
5. Discuss with those close to you what you have learnt
reading on tzedaka
Bereshit 18, 19
Vayikra 25, 36
Devarim 15, 8-10
Isaiah 32, 17
All of Malachia chapter 3.
The Modia commentary on parasha Vayekhi.
For advanced students
Tractate Shabbat 119 a.
Shulkhan Arukh, Yore Dea 247.
Illustrative chart of the 100 parts of the maaser (tithe)
(every * sign equals 1% of the harvest)
The teruma gedola, a small
tithe given solely to the Cohen
The maaser rishon (10%) given
to the Levites
of which 1% is given to the Cohen: (*)
terumat maaser or maaser de maaser
The part of the harvest which
we are allowed to use (81%), after
deduction of the rest
There remains the maaser sheni or maaser ani (9%)
Two conditions, for carrying these rites out fully, are
+ the purity of the Cohanim is flawed,
+ the Temple no longer exists.
Thus the two parts which were destined for the Cohanim
(around 1%) are not given to them and are destroyed. One
must be sure this has been done before consuming any produce;
this is one of the tasks of those in charge of kashrut.