Exodus 19:1-20:23

God Speaks to Israel from Heaven


In the third month of the exodus of the Children of Israel from the land of Egypt, on that day, they come to the wilderness of Sinai.  They had journeyed from Rephidim, and now they encamp in front of the mountain.

Moses has gone up to God.  The Eternal calls to him from the mountain and instructs him: “Thus shall you say to the House of Jacob and speak to the Children of Israel.” (19:3)  You have seen what I did to Egypt and how I bore you upon the wings of eagles and brought you to Me.  If you heed My voice and keep My covenant, then I shall hold you as My own from among all peoples as all the world is Mine.  Be for Me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation!

In the presence of the Elders of the people, Moses puts before them all of the words which the Eternal imparted to him.  Together, all of the people respond: “All that the Eternal has spoken we shall do!” (19:8)

Moses then repeats the words of the people to the Eternal.  The Eternal tells Moses that He will be manifest in the thickness of a cloud “so that the people can hear when I speak with you and thence trust you always.” (19:9)  Moses recites the words of the people to the Eternal.  The Eternal instructs Moses to go to the people and to sanctify them today and tomorrow and that they must wash their clothes.  They should be prepared on the third day for the Eternal to descend, in the sight of all the people, upon Mount Sinai.  Set bounds for the people around, and caution them against ascending the mountain, or even touching its edge on pain of death.  One who touches the mountain—beast or man—becomes himself untouchable and shall be stoned or shot through to death.  At the sounding of the ram’s horn they may go up upon the mountain.

Moses comes down from the mountain and sanctifies the people, and they wash their clothes.  Moses instructs them to prepare for the third day and to “not approach a woman.” (19:15)

On the third day, as the morning dawns, amid thunder and lightning, a heavy cloud upon the mountain, and the very loud blast of a shofar, all of the people in the camp are trembling.  Moses brings the people out of the camp to meet God, and they take their places at the foot of the mountain.  Smoke is rising from Mount Sinai like the smoke of a kiln, for the Eternal had come down upon it in fire, and the mountain is shaking violently.  The sound of a shofar grows increasingly loud, as Moses speaks and God answers in thunder.  The Eternal descends to the top of the mountain and summons Moses to come up.

The Eternal instructs Moses to descend and adjure the people not to break through to the Eternal in order to see, lest many of them fall.  The priests also, who draw near to the Eternal, should be sanctified to prevent lethal contact.  Moses responds that the people cannot come up to Mount Sinai because You warned us to set bounds around the mountain and to sanctify it.  The Eternal directs him to go down and come up with Aaron, and He warns him that the priests and the people should not break through to go up to the Eternal “lest He break out against them” (19:24).  So Moses goes down to the people and speaks to them.


Then God speaks all of these words:

I am the Eternal your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.

You shall not have other gods besides Me: make no sculptured image or any likeness of that which is in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth; do not worship them or serve them.  For I, the Eternal your God, am an impassioned God, visiting the iniquity of fathers upon their descendants for three and for four generations of those who hate Me, but exercising lovingkindness for thousands of generations to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

You shall not swear falsely by the name of the Eternal your God.  For the Eternal will not sustain one who swears falsely by His name.

Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy: do your work for six days, and the seventh day shall be a Sabbath to the Eternal your God; do no work on the Sabbath, neither you, nor your children, nor your servants, nor your cattle, nor the stranger within your gates.  For in six days the Eternal made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and on the seventh day He rested.  Therefore the Eternal blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

Honor your father and your mother in order that your days may be many upon the Land which the Eternal your God is giving to you.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not testify against your neighbor as a false witness.

You shall not covet anything of your neighbor: neither his wife, nor his servant, nor his animals, nor anything of his house.


As the people witness the thunder and the lightning, the sound of the shofar, and the mountain smoking, they move away and ask Moses to speak with them instead of God, saying that they will listen to him.  They fear that if God speaks with them, they will die.  Moses tries to reassure them that God does not intend their harm but that He has come to impress awe of Him upon them in order to prevent them from sinning.  Nonetheless, the people stays far away, and Moses approaches the thick cloud where God is.


The Eternal tells Moses to deliver to the Children of Israel the following message.  You have seen that I have spoken with you from heaven.  Do not create deities for yourselves of silver or gold.  Make for Me an earthen altar for your sacrifices: your burnt offerings, your peace offerings, of your flocks and of your herds.  Wherever I assign My name, I will come to you there and bless you.  If you make for Me a stone altar, do not use cut stones, for by wielding your sword upon it you profane it.  Do not ascend to My altar by steps, so that your nakedness is not exposed to it.

Numbers 28:26-31

On the day of the First Fruits (Bikkurim), when you bring an offering of new grain to the Eternal, upon the conclusion of your counting of weeks, there shall be a holy convocation for you.  Do not perform work of service.  You shall present a burnt offering for a pleasant aroma to the Eternal: two bulls of the herd, one ram, and seven year-old lambs, and their meal offering of fine flour mixed with oil, three-tenths of a measure for the bull and two-tenths of a measure for the ram and one-tenth of a measure for each of the seven lambs.  Bring also one goat to seek atonement for you.  You shall perform these in addition to the regular burnt offering and its meal offering and their libations.  You shall see that they are unblemished.



Haftarah for the First Day
Ezekiel 1:1-28; 3:12

Visions of God in Exile

On the fifth day of the fourth month of the thirtieth year, when I was amid the Exile on the river Kevar, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.

On the fifth day of the month, the fifth year of the captivity of King Jehoiachin, did come the word of the Eternal to Ezekiel son of Buzi the priest in the land of the Chaldeans on the river Kevar; the hand of the Eternal was upon him.

I perceive a wind storm coming from the north, clouds and fire surrounded by a brightness, the fire sending forth lightning-like sparks, revealing the likeness of four men, each with four faces—one of man, one of lion, one of ox, and one of eagle—and four wings covering their hands but stretched upward.  With two of the four wings each is joined to the other, while the other two cover their bodies.  Straight are their feet, the soles of which are like the soles of a calf, sparkling like burnished brass.  Forward they move together, never to one side, in whatever direction they determine.

Each of the four faces is part of a fiery display, like burning coals and torches, glowing and lightning, the creature faces moving away and back like flashes of lightning.  As I perceive the creatures, now they are alike; there is a wheel on the ground, concentric wheels like golden jewels, near the four faces.  Even when they go to their four sides, they do not turn as they go.  Their rims are high and frightening, full of eyes around their four faces.  Wherever go the creatures, the wheels follow, to the sides, up and down, as if the spirit of the creatures is in the very wheels.

Over the heads of the creatures is the appearance of a firmament, as an expanse of perilous ice.  When they move, I hear the noise of their wings as the noise of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty, the tumultuous din of warlike forces.  But then, when there is a voice above the firmament, above their heads, they stop and let down their wings.

Above the firmament, above their heads: the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of sapphire stone; and above the likeness of the throne: the apparent likeness of a man much higher upon it.  From his loins and upward lightning-like sparks like the appearance of fire surrounding him; from his loins and downward the appearance of fire and its brightness surrounding him, a brightness like the rainbow in the cloud, the appearance of the likeness of the profound presence of the Eternal.  Seeing it, I fall upon my face and I hear the voice of one speaking.  Then a wind lifts me up and I hear behind me the sound of a great rushing: “Blessed be the profound Eternal Presence from Its Place!” (3:12)




In the days when the Judges rule, there is a famine in the Land.  A man from Bethlehem in Judah leaves to sojourn in the territory of Moab.  His name is Elimelech, and with him are his wife Naomi and his sons Machlon and Chilion.  They are Ephrathites.

Elimelech dies in Moab, leaving Naomi with her two sons.  Her sons take Moabite wives: Orpah and Ruth.  They live there for about ten years.  Then the sons Machlon and Chilion die, leaving Naomi bereft of her children and of her husband.


In the meantime, Naomi hears in Moab that the Eternal is providing food for His people in Judah.  So Naomi and her daughters-in-law start on the road of return to the Land of Judah.  But Naomi urges her daughters-in-law to turn instead to their mothers’ houses, saying, “May the Eternal show you lovingkindness as you have shown the deceased and me!” (1:8)  She further entreats the Eternal to provide husbands for them, and she kisses them.  But they weep and insist on staying with Naomi and returning with her to her people.

Naomi argues that she is too old to remarry, and even if she could, the women are too old to wait for new sons from her womb to grow up and marry them.  “No, my daughters,” she says, “bitter is my lot at the hand of the Eternal.”  They weep loudly, Orpah kisses her mother-in-law farewell, but Ruth remains with her.


Naomi urges Ruth to follow her sister-in-law’s example, to return to her people and to her god.  But Ruth says to her: “Ask me not to leave you, to turn away from following you; wherever you go, I shall go; wherever you lodge, I shall lodge; your people is my people and your God, my God.  Wherever you die, I shall die, and there shall I be buried.  May the Eternal insure that nothing but death separate me from you.” (1:16-17)  When Naomi realizes that Ruth is determined to go with her, she ceases urging her to separate.


As they enter Bethlehem, they cause a stir as the people of the city are surprised to see Naomi again.  “Call me not ‘Naomi’ (her name denoting a pleasant state) but rather ‘Marah’ (meaning ‘bitter’ as she had described her state to her daughters-in-law), as the Almighty has dealt with me very bitterly!” (1:20)  “I went out full; now the Eternal has brought me back empty!” (1:21)

But, as it is the beginning of the barley harvest, Ruth asks Naomi to let her gather the gleaning of the harvest (cf. Leviticus 19:9-10) wherever she might be welcome.  Naomi agrees, and Ruth happens to glean in the field of Boaz, a kinsman of Naomi’s deceased husband Elimelech and a man distinguished in his own right.  Boaz comes from Bethlehem and greets the reapers, “The Eternal be with you,” and they respond, “May the Eternal bless you.”


Noticing Ruth, Boaz asks his servant who is over the reapers to whom she belongs.  The servant explains only that she is a Moabite woman who has returned with Naomi from the territory of Moab, that she requested permission to glean after the reapers, and that she has labored in that endeavor most of the day.

Boaz speaks to Ruth and urges her to limit her gleaning to his fields and to be guided by the reaping of his female servants.  He would, for his part, instruct his male servants not to molest her, but she should feel free to assuage her thirst with the water that they draw.

Ruth bows low before Boaz and asks him why he has shown recognition to her, a foreigner.  “I was fully informed,” he explains, “of all that you have done for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband and how you departed from your own nativity to follow after a people theretofore unknown to you.  May you receive due reward from the Eternal, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have sought refuge.”  Ruth expresses to him her gratitude for his comforting words.

Boaz further invites Ruth to join them at mealtime, and he offers her parched corn.  Ruth sits beside the reapers and eats.  She is satisfied, even leaving part of the offering untouched.  Then Boaz instructs his servants to allow her to glean among the sheaves themselves and to purposely separate some of the grain from the sheaves for her to glean, and to, above all, respect her dignity and shield her from shame.  She gleans until the evening and collects, after beating, about an ephah of barley.

Ruth carries her clean gleaning back to the city, and she provides her mother-in-law with the excess over her own fulfillment.  Impressed with the abundance of her gleaning, her mother-in-law asks Ruth where she gleaned and offers a blessing for whoever it was who showed her such favor.  Ruth offers that the name of the man in whose field she gleaned is Boaz.  “Blessed is he of the Eternal,” exclaims Naomi, “whose lovingkindness abandons neither the living nor the dead!”  He is our close kinsman, she explains to Ruth.

Understandingly, Ruth reveals that Boaz urged her to remain close to his servants until the conclusion of the harvest.  Naomi concurs, with the advice that she remain close to the female servants and not be molested in another field.  So does Ruth, to the conclusion of the barley harvest and through the wheat harvest.  She dwells with her mother-in-law.


Naomi then expresses her desire to provide security for Ruth.  Calling her “my daughter,” she instructs Ruth to go to the place where Boaz will winnow the barley that night, and to bathe, anoint and dress herself accordingly.  When he has finished eating and drinking and lies down, go there, uncover his feet, and lie down.  He will then tell you what to do.

Ruth acknowledges Naomi’s plan and follows it.  As Boaz is lying at the edge of a heap of grain,  Ruth approaches quietly, uncovers his feet, and lies down.  Then, at midnight, he starts and turns to see a woman lying at his feet!  “Who are you?” he asks.  “I am your maidservant,” she replies, “place the corner of your garment upon your maidservant as you are a redeeming kinsman.”  He blesses her, citing her restraint from seeking younger men, regardless of wealth, for her lovingkindness even greater than that which she displayed before.  All of this indication of her integrity is known, he says, to the leaders of his people.

Boaz agrees to act upon her proposal but explains that there is a redeemer more closely related to her than he.  He has the prior option of redeeming for her.  If he chooses to, then so be it; but if not, Boaz will redeem for Ruth.  In the meantime, he bids her to stay where she is until the morning.

She lies at his feet, but before there is enough light by which to distinguish one person from another, she arises, for he says, “Let it not be known that a particular woman has come to the threshing floor!”  Before she leaves, he fills her mantle with six measures of barley, which she carries back with her to the city.  There her mother-in-law greets her with the words, “Who are you, my daughter?”  Ruth tells her all that has happened to her and shows her the six measures of barley, implying that Boaz intended them for Naomi.

Naomi tells Ruth to wait out the day to learn the result of Boaz’s effort.


So Boaz goes up to the Gate and waits for the redeemer to come by.  When he sees him, he beckons him to sit down in the presence of ten men of the city’s Elders.  Boaz then explains that Naomi is selling the parcel of land that belonged to their kinsman Elimelech and that he wanted to give the closest redeemer the opportunity to acquire it before the local residents or seniors of his people: “If you choose to, then redeem; if not, tell me, because you are the closest and I am after you.”  The redeemer replies, “I shall redeem.” (4:4)

Then Boaz proceeds to explain to the redeemer that, by purchasing or redeeming the land from Naomi, he is undertaking thereby to establish upon his property the title of the dead through his widow, Ruth the Moabite.  When the would-be redeemer hears Boaz’s explanation, he retracts his offer “lest I undermine my property!”  At the same time he urges Boaz to exercise the redemption instead of him. (4:5-6)


In former days in Israel, redemption and exchange were attested when a man took off his shoe and gave it to the other.  Now the redeemer says to Boaz, “Acquire it for yourself,” and he takes off his shoe. (4:7-8)  Boaz declares that he has purchased from Naomi everything that belonged to Elimelech and to Chilion and Machlon.  “In addition, I do acquire for myself Ruth the Moabite, widow of Machlon, for a wife, to establish the title of the dead upon his property, that it not be cut off from among his kinsmen or from the Gate of its place.” (4:10)  He asks all of the people at the Gate, along with the Elders, to serve as witnesses, and they all assent along with the wish “that the Eternal grant that the woman who is entering your house shall be like Rachel and Leah, who built the house of Israel.” (4:11)  They further wish Boaz worthiness in Ephrath and renown in Bethlehem, and they liken prayerfully the offspring which the Eternal would provide from the woman to the house of Peretz whom Tamar bore to Judah (cf. Genesis 38:12-29).


Thus Boaz marries Ruth and is intimate with her.  The Eternal grants her conception, and she bears a son.  The women offer Naomi these words:  Blessed is the Eternal, who has not withheld from you a redeemer this day!  Let his name be known in Israel, and may he restore and sustain you in your old age, as your daughter-in-law, who is better to you than seven sons, has loved you and borne him.  Naomi takes the child into her lap and becomes his nurse.  The neighboring women give him the name Servant (Oved).  He was the father of Jesse, who was the father of David!


These, then, are the generations of Peretz:  Peretz begat Chetzron, Chetzron begat Ram, Ram begat Amminadav, Amminadav begat Nachshon, Nachshon begat Salmah, Salmah begat Boaz, Boaz begat Oved, Oved begat Jesse, and Jesse begat David.

Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17

Welfare and Sanctity


Separate a tenth of all of the produce of your grain, wine and oil, from year to year, to consume in the place which the Eternal shall choose as the habitation of His name, along with the firstborn of your herd and your flock, in order to learn to fear the Eternal your God always.  If that place be too far from you for transport, as a result of the blessing of the Eternal your God, then convert them into money which you shall carry physically to the place and there spend it on whatever you wish—of the herd, of the flock, of wine, of shaychar—for you and your household to enjoy before the Eternal your God.

However, you must not overlook the Levite within your gates, who does not have an inherited portion like you.  So, at the end of every three years, leave the entire tenth of your produce in your gates for the consumption and satisfaction of the Levite, as well as for the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are within your gates.  For this, the Eternal your God will bless you in all that you achieve.


At the end of seven years you shall effect a remission (shemittah) of the claim of a creditor upon his fellow or his brother, a remission authorized by the Eternal.  You may still demand payment of a foreigner.  However, there should be no needy among you, for the Eternal will bless you in the Land which He is giving you as an inheritance to possess, if only you would obey the Eternal your God to keep to observe all of this Mitzvah that I am commanding you this day.  You shall cause many nations to give pledges, but you shall not need to give a pledge; you shall rule over many nations, but they shall not rule over you.

Now if there should be, among your brethren in any of the gates of your Land, which the Eternal your God is giving to you, one in need, do not harden your heart or close your hand from him, but open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need.  It would be wrong of you, in addition, to deny him because of the proximity of the seventh year, the year of remission.  If you do, he could well cry out against you to the Eternal, and you would be guilty of sin.  Rather, even so, should you provide him without hesitation, and the Eternal your God will bless you for this in all that you do.  To the extent that the needy will not cease to be in the midst of the Land, I command you to open your hand to your poor and needy brother in your Land.


Your Hebrew slave, male or female, who was sold to you and works for you for six years, you shall set free in the seventh year.  Do not send him away emptyhanded, but provide him from your flock, from your threshing-floor, and from your wine-vat.  Provide him of the blessings you have received from the Eternal your God.  Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Eternal your God redeemed you.  Therefore I command you this rule today.

If your Hebrew slave prefers to remain with you, considering his attachment to you and your household and his good treatment, then drive an awl through his ear to the door, and the slave, male or female, becomes your servant for ever.  But, otherwise, do not hesitate to free your Hebrew slave, who has provided you with twice the value of what you would have paid a hired servant for six years, and the Eternal your God will bless you in all that you do!


Sanctify to the Eternal your God every male firstborn of your herd and of your flock.  Eat it each year, you and your household, in the place that the Eternal shall choose.  Do not work your firstborn ox, and do not shear your firstborn sheep.  However, if the firstborn animal has a serious defect, if it is lame or blind, do not sacrifice it to the Eternal your God.  Instead, you, whether impure or pure, shall eat it within your gates, as is the case with the gazelle and with the deer.  But you may not eat its blood: pour it upon the ground like water.


Observe the month of Aviv and perform the Pesach to the Eternal your God in the evening at the setting of the sun, because the Eternal your God brought you out of Egypt at night at that time in the month of Aviv.  You shall sacrifice the Pesach to the Eternal your God from the flock or from the herd, not in any of your settlements but in the place where the Eternal shall choose to establish His name.  There you shall cook it and eat it.   Do not eat with it anything leavened.  Let none of the meat of your sacrifice remain overnight until the morning of the first day.  In the morning you shall head back to your tents.

From then for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, bread of affliction, as you left the land of Egypt in anxious haste—in order that you may remember the day of your leaving the land of Egypt all the days of your life.  Let no leaven be seen in all of your territory for seven days.  On the seventh day there shall be a concluding festival for the Eternal your God: do no work.


From when the sickle is applied to the standing grain, count seven weeks and hold a festival of Weeks (Shavuot) to the Eternal your God of the fullest generosity that you can afford of the blessing provided you by the Eternal your God.  Rejoice before the Eternal your God—you and your son and your daughter, your male and female slave, the Levite within your gates, and the stranger, the orphan and the widow who are among you—at the place where the Eternal your God shall choose to establish His name.  Remember that you were a slave in Egypt, so shall you preserve and observe these statutes.


Observe for yourself the festival of Booths (Sukkot), for seven days, when you gather in the produce of your threshing floor and your wine vat.  Rejoice in your festival—you and your son and your daughter, your male and female slave, the Levite, the stranger, the orphan and the widow, who are within your gates.  Celebrate a festival to the Eternal your God for seven days at the place that the Eternal shall choose, for the Eternal your God shall bless you in the fullness of your harvest and in all the work of your hands; you shall only enjoy!


Three times in the year shall each of your males appear before the Eternal your God in the place which He shall choose: on the festival of Unleavened Bread (Matzot), on the festival of Weeks (Shavuot), and on the festival of Booths (Sukkot).  He shall not appear empty-handed but each with his own gift according to the blessing that the Eternal your God has given you.

Numbers 28:26-31

On the day of the First Fruits (Bikkurim), when you bring an offering of new grain to the Eternal, upon the conclusion of your counting of weeks, there shall be a holy convocation for you.  Do not perform work of service.  You shall present a burnt offering for a pleasant aroma to the Eternal: two bulls of the herd, one ram, and seven year-old lambs, and their meal offering of fine flour mixed with oil, three-tenths of a measure for the bull and two-tenths of a measure for the ram and one-tenth of a measure for each of the seven lambs.  Bring also one goat to seek atonement for you.  You shall perform these in addition to the regular burnt offering and its meal offering and their libations.  You shall see that they are unblemished.


Haftarah for the Second Day
Habakkuk 2:20-3:19

The Eternal Steps Down from Heaven

The Eternal is in His holy temple;
keep silent before Him,
all the earth!

The prayer of Habakkuk the prophet
in an ecstatic mode:

O Eternal, I have heard your report
and am in fear;
reenact Your redemption
sooner rather than later,
where there is anger
remember compassion!

May God come from Teman,
the Holy One from Mount Paran,
whose glory covers the heavens
and whose praise fills the earth.

He is hidden by His own brightness,
but the pestilence and lightning bolts
that He looses
testify to His presence.

He stands, and the earth shakes;
He looks, and the nations tremble;
the oldest of mountains and hills
cannot stand,
as His goings have been forever.

The neighboring nations
tremble at His arrival,
even the rivers
might fear His anger;
the sun and the moon
stand still
at the light of Your arrows!

Indignantly, You tread upon the earth,
You thresh the nations in anger,
wounding the head
out of the house of the wicked,
for the sake of deliverance
of Your people!

You traverse the sea with Your horses—
as I hear it,
my own insides tremble!
I cannot calmly witness
even the day of Your judgment:
devastation of the trees and their fruit,
cultivation of the olive for nought,
the fields not yielding their food,
the flocks and the herds
no longer in their place.

Nonetheless, let me rejoice
in the Eternal,
let me exult
in my saving God,
for He is my strength,
the source of my victory
and my success!


Midrash Psalms 68:9
The Worthiness of Sinai

Rabbi Nathan teaches:  When the Holy One, blessed be He, wished to give the Torah to Israel…all of the mountains began rumbling and tumbling, as was said, “The mountains quaked before the Eternal: ‘This Sinai before the Eternal, the God of Israel?’” (Judges 5:5) Said the Holy One, blessed be He: Why do all of you join together in disputing Sinai?  Not one of you is without blemish!  “Why such envy, O arrogant heights, against the mountain that God desires to inhabit…?” (Psalms 68:17)  It is only Sinai that I choose, because it is humbler than all of you, as is written, “I dwell in a high and holy place, with the contrite and humble of spirit” (Isaiah 57:15), and “Though high is the Eternal, yet He regards the lowly; with the haughty is He acquainted from a distance” (Psalms 138:6).

What is the origin of Sinai?  Said Rabbi Yosi: It was detached from Mount Moriah, like challah is taken from dough, from the place where Isaac our father was bound.  Said the Holy One, blessed be He: Since Isaac their father was bound upon it, it is appropriate for his children to receive the Torah upon it!

And whence do we know that in the future it will return to its original place?  “It shall come to pass in the end of days that the mountain of the Eternal’s house shall be re-established upon the first of the mountains…” (Isaiah 2:2a)!  And, in addition, “all nations shall flow to it” (ibid. 2b): What Sinai is to the mountains, Moriah shall become to the nations!

Talmud Menachot 29b
Exponent of Sinai

Said Rav Judah said Rav:  When Moses ascended to the Height, he saw the Holy One blessed be He sitting and attaching crowns to letters.  He said before Him, “Master of the universe, for what purpose are You doing this?”  He said to him, “A man will arise several generations in the future, Akiba ben Joseph by name, who will derive from all of these marks mounds and mounds of laws.”  He said before Him, “Master of the universe, show him to me.”  He said to him, “Turn around and look behind you.”

Moses, finding himself in a Talmudic academy, went over to the benches and sat in the eighth row, but he didn’t understand what they were saying and he became exhausted.  Then, on one particular matter Rabbi Akiba’s students asked him, “Rabbi, whence do we derive this law?”  The Rabbi answered, “It is a halacha to Moses from Sinai,” and Moses felt much better.

Moses returned to the Holy One, blessed be He, and said before Him, “Master of the universe, You have a man like this, yet You give the Torah through me?!”  God responded, “Quiet! Thus have I decided.”  Moses said before Him, “Master of the universe, You have shown me his Torah; now show me his reward.”  He said to him, “Turn around.”  He turned around to look behind him and he saw them weighing his flesh in the market.  Moses said before Him, “Master of the universe, that is Torah and this is its reward?!”  He responded, “Quiet! Thus have I decided.”

Song of Songs Rabbah 1:57
Israel Caught Sleeping

“…On the third day
the Eternal will descend
in the sight of all the people…”
(Exodus 19:11)

“It was on the third day,
but while it was still morning
and there was thunder and lightning
that Moses brought the people
out of the camp
to meet God…”
(Exodus 19:16-17)

 “While the king is in his bed,
my perfume gives forth its fragrance.
A garland of myrrh is my beloved to me,
as he sleeps between my breasts.”
(Song of Songs 1:12-13)

Rabbi Pinchas in the name of Rabbi Hoshaya taught: “While the king is in his bed” – while the King of the kings of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, would be “in His bed” in heaven (i.e., when it is still the morning), He has already arrived, as was said: “It was on the third day, while it was still morning…” (Exodus 19:16).

This may be compared to a king who decreed, “On such-and-such a day I shall enter the land,” but the residents of the land slept all through the night. When the king entered, since he found them still sleeping, he set over them criers blowing horns and shofar, and the local governor bestirred them to greet the king, and the king went before them until he reached his palace.

So did the Holy One, blessed be He, arrive earlier than expected, as is written, “On the third day the Eternal will descend in the sight of all the people…” (ibid. 11), and it was written, “It was on the third day, but while it was still morning” (ibid.16).  The Israelites slept all that night because sleep on a holiday is pleasant, and the night was short!  Rabbi Yudan taught: Even a flea did not bite them!

When the Holy One, blessed be He, entered, since He found them sleeping, He began to set over them criers.  That is what is written: “It was on the third day, while it was still morning, there was thunder and lightning...” (Ibid. 16), and Moses bestirred Israel and brought them out to greet the King of the kings of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He. That is what is written: “Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God” (Ibid. 17), and the Holy One, blessed be He, went before them until He reached Mount Sinai, as is written: “All of Mount Sinai was smoke.” (Ibid. 18)

Rabbi Isaac observed: For that they were rebuked by Isaiah: “Why have I come, and there is no man?  Called, and no one answers?  Is My power insufficient for redemption?” (Isaiah 50:8)

Talmud Shabbat 88a
Words for All

“The Lord provides a word;
they produce a great host of tidings!”
(Psalms 68:12)

From this verse Rabbi Yochanan inferred: Every word that came forth from the mouth of the Mighty One was divided into seventy languages.

Similarly, the School of Rabbi Ishmael considers the prophet:

“’Surely My word is like fire,’ says the Eternal,
‘and like a hammer that breaks the rock into pieces!’”
(Jeremiah 23:29)

But they read it, “The Rock breaks the hammer into pieces!”: Just as the hammer is divided into many sparks by the rock, so was every word that came out of the mouth of the Holy One, blessed be He, divided into seventy languages!

Zohar II:99a
Torah Hidden and Revealed

And even as I say that Torah is something that comes out of a box and is seen slightly and then is quickly hidden, yet when this happens, it happens only for those who are familiar with it and who are recognized by it.  This may be likened to a beloved who is pleasing when seen but who is hidden within her house and has a single lover unknown to others.  That lover, out of the love that he feels for her, passes the door of her house frequently, setting his eye on each side.  She knows that this lover visits the door of her house regularly.  What does she do?  She opens the door a little while remaining hidden in her house yet revealing her face just a little to her lover and just as quickly covering it up.  No one nearby would see or glimpse, only the lover himself, who would be deeply moved and totally drawn in his feelings towards her; and he knows that out of the love that she feels towards him was she revealed to him for a moment as an intimacy with him.

Thus it is for the Torah: It is revealed only to its lover.  The Torah knows that the heart of the sage visits the door of her house every day.  What does she do?  Her face is revealed to him from inside her chamber, she provides him an intimation, and just as quickly returns to her place and is once again hidden.  No one around him knows or sees except he himself, and his feelings go out totally towards her.  In this way the Torah is revealed and concealed, moving in love to her lover to be lovingly intimate with him….

And the Torah says to the one with whom she strives, “Say to the simple person that he should draw near here and I will communicate with him,” as is written, “‘Who is simple? Let him enter here!’ To those devoid of sense she says, ‘Come, eat my food, and drink the wine I have mixed; give up simpleness and live, advance in the way of understanding.’” (Proverbs 9:4-6)  He draws near to her, starting to speak preliminary words with her from behind a curtain that separates him, until he sees little by little—that is the level of interpretation (drasha).  Following that, she speaks with him from behind a thin sheet enigmatic words—that is narrative (aggadah).  After he is familiar with her, she is revealed to him face-to-face and she discusses with him all of her hidden intimations and all of the concealed paths that have been hidden in her heart from ancient times.

Mechilta of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai Yitro 20

Juxtaposition of Commandments

“He declared to you His covenant,
whereby He commanded you
to do Ten Commandments,
which He wrote
upon two tablets of stone.”
(Deuteronomy 4:13)

Five commandments on each of the two tablets—the explanation of Rabbi Chaninah ben Gamliel; but the Sages say: Ten commandments on each of the two tablets!  So each of the last five (going from right to left) on the first of the two tablets would be juxtaposed with the first five on the second of the two tablets:

The Ten Commandments
Exodus 20:2-14
on Two Tablets
Deuteronomy 4:13
according to the Sages








Me, the Eternal…


You shall not murder



other gods…


You shall not commit adultery with



then you shall not swear falsely…


You shall not steal,



but remember the Sabbath day…


You shall not testify falsely against your neighbor,


10 5
but show honor of father and mother


You shall not covet…the wife of another…,


“You shall not murder,” the Sixth Commandment, was juxtaposed with the First Commandment, “I, the Eternal, am your God…,” resulting in: “You shall not murder Me…”—teaching that when one person murders another, it is as if he diminishes the Divine Image.

“You shall not commit adultery,” the Seventh Commandment, was juxtaposed with the Second Commandment, “Other gods shall not be for you…,” resulting in: “You shall not commit adultery with other gods…”—teaching that idolatry is tantamount to committing adultery, as the prophet said, “Judah…defiles the Land by committing adultery with stone and wood idols!” (Jeremiah 3:8-9)

“You shall not steal,” the Eighth Commandment, was juxtaposed with the Third Commandment, “You shall not swear falsely…,” resulting in: “You shall not steal and then swear falsely…”—teaching that whoever steals will in the end come to deny it with a false oath.

“You shall not testify falsely against your neighbor…,” the Ninth Commandment, was juxtaposed with the Fourth Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day…,” resulting in: “You shall not testify falsely against your neighbor but remember the Sabbath day…,”—as if the Holy One, blessed be He, says, “If you testify falsely against your neighbor, I regard you as one who violates the Sabbath and thereby testifies falsely against Me that I did not create the world in six days and did not rest on the seventh day.

“You shall not covet…,” the Tenth Commandment, was juxtaposed with the Fifth Commandment, “Show honor of father and mother…,” resulting in: “You shall not covet…the wife of another…, but show honor of father and mother…,”—teaching that when a man covets the wife of another, a son is born to her who shows honor to one who is not his father and curses the one who is.

Severally and Jointly

“You shall not murder;
You shall not commit adultery;
You shall not steal;
You shall not testify falsely against your neighbor.
You shall not covet…”
(Exodus 20:13-14)

Perhaps I should consider all of these as one,
and I would not be culpable
unless I had transgressed all five of them?

No, even though they constitute only two verses,
the five commandments are written without conjunction between them,
so each one stands on its own as a separate commandment.
Thus, if you fail to uphold one,
you have transgressed that one alone.

If so, then why do you find later
that they are all connected by conjunctions?

“You shall not murder,
and you shall not commit adultery,
and you shall not steal,
and you shall not testify falsely against your neighbor;
and you shall not covet…”
(Deuteronomy 5:17-18)

The conjunction there of all five of them
tells us that they are linked one to another:
when a person breaks one of them,
he will come to break them all.

Whence do we learn that if a person commits murder, he will inevitably commit adultery?  “My son, if sinners should entice you, do not consent, if they say, ‘Come with us, we will lie in wait for blood, we will hide for the innocent without cause, we will swallow them up alive like Sheol…,’ my son, rather accept my words and embrace my commandments…let wisdom enter your heart and knowledge become your pleasure…to rescue you from an evil path…from a promiscuous woman…who forsakes the husband of her youth and the covenant of her God.” (Proverbs 1:10-2:16)

Whence do we learn that when a person commits adultery, he will inevitably steal?  “If you see a thief and run with him, then with adulterers was your portion.” (Psalms 50:18)

Whence do we learn that when a person steals, he will inevitably come to subvert true testimony?  “One who casts his lot with a thief degrades himself, for when he hears the call for testimony (regarding a crime that his thieving friend committed), he will not speak up.” (Proverbs 29:24; cf. Leviticus 5:1)

Wide Net of the Tenth Commandment

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house;
you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife
and his male servant and his female servant
and his ox and his ass
and anything that is your neighbor’s.”
(Exodus 20:14)

Can you imagine someone who covets all of these things?

Consider one who would commit adultery with his neighbor’s wife, from which a male child is born.  Her husband, believing that the child is his own son, then bequeaths to him his house and his field (cf. Deuteronomy 5:18) and his male servant and his female servant, his ox and his ass, and “everything that is your neighbor’s!”

Here He says, “You shall not covet…you shall not covet…,” but when Moses reviews the Ten Commandments later, he says, “And you shall not covet…and you shall not desire…” (Deuteronomy 5:18)!  These are two separate commandments: not to desire and not to covet.

Desiring is limited to one’s heart (wish), as thus he says: “For your spirit desires…” (Deuteronomy 12:20).  Whereas coveting requires action, as thus he says: “You shall not covet the silver and gold that is upon them and take it for yourself…” (Deuteronomy 7:25).

Whence do we learn that if a person desires illicitly, he will inevitably covet?  “And you shall not desire…” (Deuteronomy 5:18b) and the repetition of God’s original words by Moses here in the same verse, “And you shall not covet…” (Deuteronomy 5:18a).

Whence do we learn that when a person covets, he will inevitably take the property by force?  “They covet fields, and then they seize them.” (Micah 2:2)

Rambam (Moses Maimonides, 12th cent.) in Sefer Hamitzvot, Negative Commandment 266:

When someone sees that another person has something that is attractive to him, if his thoughts get the better of him and he desires it, then he has transgressed, “You shall not desire….”

If his attraction to the thing involves his activity to the extent that he labors aggressively to persuade him to sell him the thing or to exchange it for something of greater value, then he has transgressed, “You shall not covet….”  This applies also if he purchased the item even though the seller did not want to sell it.  Now he has transgressed two negative commandments, “You shall not desire…” and “You shall not covet….”

But if the owner altogether refused to sell the item to him or to exchange it so that his attraction leads him to take it by force, then he has transgressed the commandment of “You shall not seize.”

Rambam (Moses Maimonides, 12th cent.) in Mishneh Torah, Laws of Robbery and Loss, Chapter 1:

  1. Desire leads to coveting, and coveting leads to seizure…, and if the owner resists the seizure of his money or property, it will lead to the shedding of blood. Learn this from the incident of Ahab and Naboth (I Kings 21). [Cf. David and Uriah (II Samuel 11-12) and more generally Eve and the Fruit (Genesis 2:15-3:24), Gehazi and Na’aman (II Kings 5), and Achan and the Cherem (Joshua 7)]
  2. Thus you learn that one who desires illicitly transgresses one negative commandment, and one who acquires the object of his desire by aggressive persuasion transgresses two negative commandments, for such was said together, “And you shall not covet…and you shall not desire…” (Deuteronomy 5:18). If he committed seizure of the object, then he has transgressed three negative commandments.

Talmud Sanhedrin 86a
“You Shall Not Steal…?”
Exodus 20:13

Our Rabbis taught: “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:13) refers to one who steals people (abduction). –  But perhaps it refers to one who steals property? – Interpret from context (based upon the Thirteen Principles by which the Torah is Interpreted): Just as the preceding and following commandments deal with capital crimes, so must this commandment deal with a capital crime (stealing people is a capital crime while stealing property is not)!

Where, then, does the Torah teach the prohibition of theft of property?

Another teaching: “You shall not steal or deal falsely or lie one to another” (Leviticus 19:11) refers to one who steals property (theft). – But perhaps it refers to one who steals people (abduction)? – Interpret from context (based upon the Thirteen Principles by which the Torah is Interpreted): Just as the preceding and following commandments (cf. ibid. 13) deal with property crimes (which are not capital crimes), so must this commandment deal with theft of property (which is not a capital crime)!

Mechilta of Rabbi Yishmael Yitro Bachodesh 8
“You Shall Not Covet…”
Limitation and Generalization
Exodus 20:14

“You shall not covet the house of your neighbor;
you shall not covet the wife of your neighbor
or his male servant or his female servant
or his ox or his ass,
or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
(Exodus 20:14)

“And you shall not covet the wife of your neighbor;
and you shall not desire the house of your neighbor,
his field or his male servant or his female servant,
his ox or his ass,
or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
(Deuteronomy 5:18)

(1) “You shall not covet the house of your neighbor;” (Exodus 20:14) –
General statement of law

(2) “his male servant or his female servant, his ox or his ass,” (ibid.) –
Statement of details

Now, the rule of interpretation is:
When a (1) general statement of law is followed by a (2) statement of details,
the (1) general law is limited to what is in the (2) statement of details.

But when He adds:
(3) “or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (ibid.) –
He makes again a general statement!
Shall we consider this (3) a general statement equivalent to the first (1) general statement
and therefore interpret the law as above?

You must not; rather, we have here a different construction:

(1) General statement
followed by
(2) statement of details
followed by
(3) another general statement,

whereby the (1) law applies to what is common among the (2) details,
that is, the (2) details have been (3) generalized!

In this case, then, just as the (2) details (servants and animals) can be bought and sold, so the (1) law of “You shall not covet…” would (3) apply to that which can be bought and sold!

But can we go further and apply the law as follows: Just as the (2) details (servants and animals) are movable property which cannot be used as collateral, so the (1) law of “You shall not covet…” would (3) apply only to movable property which cannot be used as collateral?  No, because He specifies another detail, “his field” (Deuteronomy 5:18), which is not movable property and can be used as collateral!  So, just as the (2) details (servants, animals and fields) can be bought and sold, so the (1) law of “You shall not covet…” would (3) apply to that which can be bought and sold; and just as the (2) details (servants, animals and fields) can come into your possession only with the current owner’s permission, so the law of “You shall not covet…” would (3) apply to that which can come into your possession only with the current owner’s permission! Thereby excluding from the prohibition of “You shall not covet…” desiring another man’s adult daughter to become your son’s wife or his adult son to become your daughter’s husband! (Lauterbach: Such a desire would not fall under the prohibition of “You shall not covet…” because adult children can marry without consent of their father.)

Does the prohibition of “You shall not covet…” include a mere verbal expression of desire?  Mere verbal expression is excluded by the Oral Torah interpretation of “You shall not covet the silver and gold that is on their idols, which you must burn, and take it for yourselves…” (Deuteronomy 7:25): Just as in that case was coveting prohibited only when it was fulfilled with an action (“and take it for yourselves”), so is coveting prohibited under “You shall not covet…” when it is fulfilled with an action (not a mere verbal expression of desire)!

Pesikta Rabbati 21,24
Numbers Rabbah 9:1
Coveting: The Ultimate Violation

“Jeshurun would grow fat and rebel…
forsaking God who made him,
belittling his saving Rock…
weakening the Rock (Tsur) who bore you,
forgetting God who brought you forth.”
(Deuteronomy 32:15,18)

Rabbi Yakum teaches:  When one violates “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife,” it is as if he transgresses all of the Ten Commandments.  How so?  He covets God Himself in that he replaces God’s judgment with his own!

Rabbi Abahu compares this situation to that of an artist who was painting an image of the king.  Just as he was about to finish the king’s face, it was reported to him that the king had died and another had mounted the throne.  His hands became weak.  “What shall I do with these colors?” he cried, “Shall I make my painting appear as the first king or as the second king?”  His project’s colors were thrown into confusion!

Rabbi Isaac explained: One who commits adultery weakens, as it were, the power of Divinity, “weakening the Fashioner (Tsayar) of your birth (ibid.)!”  How?  During the first forty days of pregnancy from her husband, God fashions the appearance of the child to resemble her husband, its father.  But then, if the adulterer should come upon her at the conclusion of those forty days, the Holy One, blessed be He, is thrown into confusion: What shall I do with this foetus? Whose appearance should I fashion: the husband’s (who is the father) or the adulterer’s (in order to expose their sin)? The bloods of the foetus are thrown into confusion!  Thus spoke the prophet:

“Hear the word of the Eternal,
O Children of Israel,
for the Eternal has a quarrel
with the inhabitants of the Land,
to wit,
there is no truth and there is no love in the Land.
Perjury and deception and murder
and theft and adultery have broken out,
and crimes follow upon crimes!”
Literally, “bloods touch bloods!”
(Hosea 4:1-2)

What is Man’s Portion?

Mishnah Avot


Ben Zoma:
Who is rich?
One who is happy with his portion, which was said:
“Happy are you when you enjoy the labor of your own hands,
and good shall it be for you!”
(Psalms 128:2)


The one who says,
“What is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours,”
is of an average caliber.


This is the way of Torah:
Eat a piece of bread with salt,
drink a measure of water,
sit upon the ground,
endure the pains of life,
and labor in Torah.
If you do these, then:
“Happy are you…” (ibid.) in this world,
“…and good shall it be for you” (ibid.) in the world to come!

Do not seek greatness for yourself, and do not covet honor, but do more than your study.

Desire not the table of kings,
for your table is greater than their table
and your crown is greater than their crown,
and your Employer can be relied upon
to reward you for your work.


Among the (counter-covetous) ways Torah may be acquired:
Knowing one’s place,
Being happy with one’s portion,
Not attributing credit to oneself,
Loving the other,
Accepting criticism,
Choosing the honest path,
Declining honor,
Discounting one’s own scholarship,
Hesitating to issue a ruling,
Sharing the burden of another,
Judging another with the presumption of merit,
Supporting another in seeing the truth,
Finding a peaceful way to resolve disputes,
Learning with a settled frame of mind,
Both attacking and defending propositions,
Contributing to the arguments of others,
Learning in order to teach what is learned,
Learning in order to practice what is learned,
Posing questions to your teacher which lead to his deeper learning,
Deepening understanding of your teacher’s words, and
Crediting a teaching to the one who taught it.

Indeed you have learned:
Whoever says a word in the name of its sayer brings redemption to the world,
as was said when Mordechai learned of the plot of Bigthan and Teresh
against King Ahashuerus,
“He told Queen Esther, and Queen Esther told the king in the name of Mordechai.”
(Esther 2:22)

Uv’chen Vayered Moshe
Piyut on the Second Day of Shavuot
preceding Kedushah of Shacharit
by Simeon bar Isaac of Mainz, 11th cent.

“Moses went down to the people
and said to them:”
(Exodus 19:25)

“You shall not covet…”
(Ibid. 20:14)

A being formed from clay:
what benefit is his
to covet and desire
that which is not his?

Even that which is his
is not his,
so that which is not his to begin with—
why should it be his?

Let him consider and realize:
he should be happy and rejoice
in the portion and destiny
that has been granted him,
the destiny that God bequeathed
to those who fear Him,
with thunder and lightning and awesome flashes,
which “all the people witness!” (Ibid. 20:15)



Copyright © 2020 Eric H. Hoffman

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