In our studies of the parashiot,
we always follow the method of the Shla who bases his
interpretation on the mitzvot of each parasha.
There are more than 50 mitzvot in this parasha and they
are nos. 436-490. They relate to the three pillars that
carry the world: the Torah, service in the name of God
(avoda), and benevolence (gemilut hassadim). This is what
Shimon Hatzaddik says in the Ethics of the fathers: al
shelosha devarim ha olam omed, al hatora, alhaavoda, ve
al gemilut hassadim (Pirkei Avot 1, 2). The basis for
all of this is respect for the site of worship:
- First we must destroy the sites of idol worship, abed
teabedun et kol-hamekomot (Devarim 12, 2);
- And, inversely, we must never harm the name of God,
lo taasun ken ken la-Adonut Elokekhem (12, 4);
- Then follow a long list of statutes regarding sacrifices,
gifts to be made to those who serve God, the leviim, the
help that must be given to the poor, the festival of Pesah
and the three festivals of pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the
obligation to rejoice in God and not to appear before
meaning of the mitzvot -- union with Hashem
This is not a sundry list of mitzvot; it aims to show
that respect for the presence of God and rejection of
false truths create a GLOBAL ORDER where there is respect
for places, things, rites and all people who live in joy.
This is the basis of Judaism: order-place-things-rites-beings-joy.
The Shla explains this harmony
" with this expression from Psalm 19, 8: Torat Hashem
temima, "The statutes of Hashem are right" in
" and in the Zohar's commentary on Shemot 3, 15 ze
shemi le olam veze zikhri le dor dor, "this is my
name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations."
This expression presents simultaneously Hashem through
His name and our obligation to remember Him in all things
and in all generations.
In order to stress this symmetry which creates harmony
and unity, the Zohar complements the numerical value of
the words ze shemi, ze zikhri with the letters of the
Name of God: thus,
shemi + youd ke = 365
zikhri + vav ke = 248
365 + 248 makes a total of 613
" 613 corresponds to the number of mitzvot in the
" 365 corresponds to the number of negative mitzvot
(" do not")
" 248 corresponds to the number of positive mitzvot
("do") and to the numerical value of the name
of Avraham and to the number of parts of a human body
(Tractate Makkot, page 23 b).
(method: refer to the references cited.)
Thus the union between Hashem and the mitzvot is inscribed
both in Hashem's commandments to carry out the mitzvot
and in His very name.
Method of study
The Torah is thus a law that is transmitted in every word
and letter in an infinite number of ways and combinations.
It is not only the story which transmits to us the spiritual
and practical teachings of the Torah.
Those who do not know Hebrew deprive themselves of these
dimensions and limit themselves just to the dimension
of the story; theological theories based on this one dimension
may appear logical but they are only partial and cannot
represent the whole. And when these theories are based
on another language and not on Hebrew, then the wildest
distortions arise, so laughable they are not even worthy
of attention. This is the attitude of Rashi in his commentary
on Bereshit 1, 26 in relation to those who constructed
different religions that are not based on knowledge of
A person who is ignorant does not know that he is ignorant.
He always thinks he is right and is happy at the thought.
In contrast, the multiplicity of meanings that are transmitted
through the Jewish tradition (the meaning of the story
+ the meaning of the letters + the meaning of the numerical
value of the letters and words) create a people in a constant
state of receptivity and with a clear vision of the global
order desired by the Creator, and a sense of how small
Why does Hashem wish to transmit to His people such a
wealth of knowledge about Himself? Only He knows; humility
means to accept since this is His wish.
But he made one condition for the transmission of his
word (mila, word); the covenant through circumcision (mila,
same word). Without this, man cannot attain knowledge
of the union between heaven and earth.
The proof is given in the text itself: in the verse Mi
yaale lanu hashamayima (Devarim 30, 12), "who will
take us up to the heavens" (to attain knowledge),
the initials of the words form the word mila, circumcision:
this is therefore the initial condition (beginning), and
the aim is indicated in the last letters of the words
which form the Name of God Himself (yud ke vav ke). It
goes without saying that what is meant is a circumcision
of the body, the heart, and the soul simultaneously.
It was necessary to point this out in order to understand
the relevance of the Shla's interpretation, which is based
- the combination of the letters
- and aims to show the link between all levels of meaning
in the mitzvot.
This should not seem strange to us: the intimate knowledge
that two partners have of each other is not based simply
on words but on thousands of tiny codes that are communicated
through tone, gestures, silences etc. The same applies
to the meaning found in every single letter.
The union of Hashem and the mitzvot has been revealed
and, in consequence, we can say that:
" adhering to one dimension of the Torah means adhering
to all of its dimensions,
" the practice of the mitzvot is part of our direct
relationship with Hashem and with prayer,
" prayer and study cannot be separated from the practice
of the mitzvot and showing kindness to others,
" the division between the mitzvot towards fellow-men
and the mitzvot towards God seems arbitrary and devoid
of meaning, but in the two tables of commandments the
two categories are placed in parallel with each other
and correspond to each other.
We can now understand the
prohibition against defiling the Name of Hashem which
represents the link between sanctity, places, things and
Rashi's commentary on Devarim 12, 4 ("ye shall not
do so unto Hashem your God") stresses this link:
"you will not make burnt offerings to God in any
place but only in the place which He has chosen. Another
explanation: ye shall overthrow their altars
will destroy their name but you will not act thus (unto
what belongs to Hashem), this is a prohibition against
defiling the Name of God, or taking one stone from the
altar or the inner courtyard. Ribbi Ishmael says: Would
Israel ever dream of destroying altars (dedicated to God)?
This means that we must not imitate the conduct of others
and that your sins should not lead to the destruction
of the Sanctuary of Shilo."
For all levels are linked
and if one is affected, so are the others and the very
structure of life is endangered. Omitting one part of
the Torah, or one part of the body is like killing the
whole body and putting into process destruction and death.
History has shown this time and again: ignoring the order
of life and the path of goodness has led to destruction,
exile from Israel, wars and hatred. In the words of a
Sage: "a tree will be judged by its fruit."
The break-up of the order of life and the removal of a
vital organ is foolish and dangerous, just is a doctor
who carries out a successful operation but forgets to
treat the patient afterwards. The French satirist Daumier
wonderfully captured this dangerous pretension, as you
can see from the faces and gestures of this cartoon.
(Clinic of Dr. Robert Macaire, by Daumier
"Well, gentlemen, you have seen that an operation
said to be impossible was perfectly successful
"But Doctor, the patient is dead
"Unimportant! She would have been more dead without
There is another consequence:
the split between religious and secular is meaningless
in the holistic concept of Judaism (for Judaism demands
the same rigorous standards and autonomy regarding science
and knowledge as the secular world).
Behavior: the part of the Torah which is called derekh
The above also applies to
Two spouses share one name, and this shared name stands
for respect of each other's individuality within the marital
union. The union can only be successful if each spouse
respects and is responsible the other, in all his or her
facets, and if both accept each other totally in their
positive and negative aspects.
After the initial romantic
phase, a couple needs time before they can attain this
level of understanding and continue to appreciate, love
and encourage it. Rejecting one part of a person means
rejecting the whole, and means one does not love him or
her; then the whole is destroyed, as is the individual
within the whole.
Many couples live with rejection
and hurt, but, in time, this leads to the death of love
and betrayal is no longer a problem for it was already
there, and boredom sets in even when social appearances
are preserved. This is why it is written that the stones
of the Temple cry when there is separation, for the whole
Divorce, the get
Sometimes divorce is necessary but it should only mark
the fact that the union was a mistake, and should not
entail betrayal and destructiveness within the union.
When it is necessary, the text of the get should be written
on 12 lines, with great care for the rite signifies that,
from now on, two people no longer constitute one being.
The Vilna Gaon notes that the word get (act of repudiation)
was chosen for the act of divorce, because the two letters
that form this word are never found together in the Torah.
Thus, after the get, the two people will never have anything
in common, just like these two letters can never be found
Rabbi Yaakov Abuhatzera
Rabbi Abuhatzera demonstrates the above through meaning
found in the numerical value of the letters. I have chosen
two examples but the same basis applies to all the words
of the parasha.
The parasha begins with the words: "Behold (Ree),
I (anokhi), set before you this day a blessing and a curse.
The blessing (haberakha..)
Firstly the interpolation is personal and is not addressed
to the whole collective; it is a symbol of a true encounter,
just like God calls himself "myself."
The interpolation is both majestic and tragic for Hashem
gives man the power to create good or evil. Everything
is linked and the link has been put in the hands of man.
What proof of love!
Rabbi Abuhatzera transmits to us the teaching of tradition:
the gematria or numerical value of the words reeh (behold),
anokhi (I) represents the 288 sparks of good in the world
which need to be liberated. This means that there are
forces that need to be liberated and man has the power
to set them free. The mitzvot are the rules of life which
he has been given in order for the good nurturing of life;
just like one writes notes for the care of a plant, an
animal or a child. And to show the divine power that man
has been given, the numerical value of the expression
haberakha (the blessing) is 232 which is also the numerical
value of the 4 names of God.
We can now understand the
intimate sharing of joy and power which is represented
in the mitzvot between Hashem and his people, and between
Hashem and each individual Jew who carries them out.
An image that comes to mind is that of a spouse who gets
up at night to attend to a sick child; when he or she
returns to the bedroom, the other spouse asks: "did
you do exactly as the prescription says? Yes."
This perspective gives us a totally different concept
of the mitzvot and their aim. Many people view them as
"duties and obligations" but, in this perspective,
we see them as an expression of an intimate, loving relationship
and of God's wish to share his power with man; this is
more than a wish, it is a sign of love for He entrusted
man with the power to create goodness or destroy it. To
choose the power of love or to neutralize it
beauty and what a risk!
The essence of this encounter is expressed in the midnight
prayer, when everything seems to be weariness and darkness,
then man comes to tell his Creator that he accepts the
power He has handed him. Man is conscious then of all
the imperfections of the world, symbolized in the destruction
of the Temple which was the microcosm of paradise. And
man repeats his love for the Creator and his faith in
reconstruction. The model for his prayer is King David
who got up at midnight to proclaim the renewal.
The rite of the midnight prayer, which is called tikkune
hatzot, is part of this amelioration of the whole body
and being. Judaism is not a rational, or philosophical
religion. The inter-connection between all levels of being
is done in solidarity, interdependency, and reciprocity,
for Judaism is based on love as the structure of every
So in the depth of the night,
when darkness is greatest, and when the return to the
day begins, tradition says that this is the moment when
we should be closest to Hakadosh Barukh Hu, for the night
is the optimal moment when we feel love. It is also the
moment when we feel most the loss and destruction of the
Temple (the Temple is the place of union between the shekhina
and the Jewish people).
To be unaware of the importance of the Temple in this
sense is a sign of ignorance as to the essence of Judaism.
At midnight, we also recite (if we are not too tired!)
psalms of sadness, then psalms of hope and consolation
and finally psalms of affirmation in the realization of
the union with Hashem. This rite is inscribed in our prayer
You could respond: but then a Jew never sleeps! He has
a family life, a marital life, a professional life, a
social and community life; he studies, says the Rambam,
6 hours of written Torah every day, 6 hours of oral Torah,
and 6 hours of hiddushim (new teachings on the Torah),
And he engages in constant debates, with ever-present
Jewish humor. This is one of the mysteries of Judaism!
It is not surprising that we are said to be accompanied
by angels, the messengers of Hashem! We number only a
few million and it is said that we are everywhere, that
everyone speaks about us and we are vocal everywhere!
Perhaps this excess of life and energy comes from the
Jewish mother, or from the circumcision, or from the Torah
We can apply the same theme of completeness and wholeness
to friendship or to solidarity among a nation.
Friendship is not a temporal
pleasure, but a specific relationship between two people
which can also be at a level of kedusha.
Similarly, the nation of Israel
and the solidarity between them has been compared to one
text made up of letters from the same Torah, and we know
that not a single error is allowed in a Torah scroll,
for it would invalidate the whole scroll. Solidarity is
essential for union between people.
Judaism's respect for the "letters" of the Torah
is not a sign of formality; it is an expression of attention
and respect for the letters of the Name of God, of others
and of oneself. This scrupulous attention and respect
for each letter, never omitting one or adding one, is
a sign of great love. It means never forgetting the words
of God and being faithful to them forever. Forever love.
If an error has been made, it must be corrected, pardon
must be given quickly in order to re-gain the initial
state of purity. The process of destruction must be halted
The letters of the Torah are
the only true mark
The logical consequence of this is that we must never
mark ourselves with any other sign except with the letters
of the Torah - no marks, tattoos, or incisions, even if
we are in deep mourning following the loss of a loved
This is because a "mark" of death has no meaning
in Judaism which believes that death simply leads to another
form of life. Thus the death of the righteous and those
who are dear to God is called hilula, marriage, and is
not considered to be destruction.
The role of sacrifices
It is not only through study, but also through sacrifices
that we understand the processes of life and death, separation
and elevation to higher levels of existence. Our generation
however does not seem to have the necessary sensibility
for sacrifices and rituals, with their emphasis on scents,
laying of hands and acts of great concentration.
Tzedaka - we must not be indifferent
Since we no longer have the Temple or the ritual sacrifices
of the past, all that remains is tzedaka as proof that
we care for others. This is a tradition that is very much
alive in Judaism: Jews give generously simply because
it is a mitzva to give to one's fellow men.
Before even listening to another person, it is important
to look at him face to face as is written in the first
verses of this parasha. It is important to see the essence
of the other person, to see what he lacks and to provide
it: what is mine is truly yours, just as Hashem gave us
what was His.
Judaism and our duty
The importance of all these levels in the Torah is seen
in the fact that the Torah tells us to carry out all the
commandments for they are the source of the life (11,
32), which means "to do, laasot" them, and "
to keep, shamor" them. Those who criticize Judaism
for having too many rules are simply ignorant, for they
do not know their true aim. As Ribbi Elazar said: "the
day is short and the work is intense (hayom katzar vehamelakha
meruba), and the workers are lazy (ve hapoalim atzelim),
but the recompense is great (vehasakar harbe) and the
Master is demanding (u vaal habait dohek)."
It is true however that one individual is incapable of
carrying out all these mitzvot alone; it is as a community
and as a people that we have been commanded to carry them
The Shla reminds us of a well-known
teaching of the Ethics of the fathers (Pirkei Avot 2,
21 or 16): we are not obliged to keep all the rules but
we are obliged to act: we do not have the right to absolve
ourselves or dismiss them (lo alekha hamelakha ligmor,
ve lo ata ven horin livatel mimena).
He adds a less well-known
teaching from Tractate Berakhot 6a: man is like a day
laborer who is not responsible for the whole project.
And if he dies before he has carried out the mitzvot he
has been commanded to keep, he will be judged as having
kept them, if he truly had the desire to keep them.
Thus the unaccomplished tasks
depend on the will of Hashem who decides how much time
to give us to carry them out.
These are important teachings
for they show us how we must live. The Sages stressed:
"he who does not understand the crown [of the Torah]
and reduces it to his own narrow level, shall waste away,
deishtamesh vetaga halaf " (Pirkei Avot 1, 13).
" Re-read the whole parasha in this perspective
" Reflect on the relevance of each point for you
" and for your relationships.
" Reflect on the tasks that still need to done.
Land of Israel