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FROM THE TORAH
The fourth book of the Torah opens with a robust offering of concrete data: leaders’ names and genealogies, numerical results of more than one census, arrangement and position of tribes and divisions, and detailed job descriptions. All of these focus on the crucial secondary occupation of the Children of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai after the operation of sanctities: the protection and maintenance of sacred equipment through journeying and encampment.
Census and Assignment
PREPARATION FOR THE GENERAL CENSUS
The Eternal speaks to Moses in the Wilderness (Bemidbar) of Sinai in the Tent of Meeting, on the first day of the second month in the second year of their Exodus from the land of Egypt:
Count each male of the entire congregation of the Children of Israel, by their names, family by family, according to their father’s house, from the age of twenty and older, whoever would serve in the army in Israel. Record them by their groups, you and Aaron, together with a man of each tribe who is the head of his father’s house, and these are their names, preceded by the name of their tribe:
Reuben: Elitsur ben Shedeyur;
Simeon: Shelumiel ben Tsurishaddai;
Judah: Nachshon ben Amminadav;
Issachar: Netanel ben Tsuar;
Zebulun: Eliav ben Cheylon;
Ephraim of the sons of Joseph: Elishama ben Ammihud;
Manasseh of the sons of Joseph: Gamliel ben Pedahtsur;
Benjamin: Avidan ben Gidoni;
Dan: Achiezer ben Ammishadai;
Asher: Pagiel ben Ochran;
Gad: Elyasaf ben Deuel; and
Naphtali: Achirah ben Enan.
These are the designees of the congregation, the chiefs of the tribes of their fathers, the heads of the thousands of Israel, whom Moses and Aaron select when they assemble all of the congregation for the registering of their names, on the first day of the second month, as the Eternal commands Moses in the wilderness of Sinai.
RESULTS OF THE CENSUS
The numerical enrollments, tribe by tribe, are as follows:
Descendants of Reuben, first-born of Israel: 46,500;
Descendants of Simeon: 59,300;
Descendants of Gad: 45,650;
Descendants of Judah: 74,600;
Descendants of Issachar: 54,400;
Descendants of Zebulun: 57,400;
Descendants of Joseph who are descendants of Ephraim: 40,500;
Descendants of Joseph who are descendants of Manasseh: 32,200;
Descendants of Benjamin: 35,400;
Descendants of Dan: 62,700;
Descendants of Asher: 41,500; and
Descendants of Naphtali: 53,400.
The total enrollment is 603,550.
UNIQUE STATUS OF THE LEVITES
These recordings do not include the Levites because Moses was told by the Eternal not to enroll them or count them among the Children of Israel: you shall put the Levites over the Tabernacle of the Testimony, its furnishings, and all that pertains to it. They shall carry the Tabernacle and its furnishings, minister to it, and encamp around it, taking it apart when it sets out and setting it up when it encamps. Any outsider who approaches shall be put to death. As the Children of Israel are arranged in their respective camps under their banners, the Levites would encamp around the Tabernacle of Testimony to prevent wrath from striking the congregation of the Children of Israel. The Levites are to stand guard over the Tabernacle of Testimony.
Thus do the Children of Israel, in accordance with all that the Eternal commands Moses.
ORDER OF ENCAMPMENT AND JOURNEYING
The Eternal instructs Moses and Aaron on the position of each tribe when encamped around the Tent of Meeting and their respective order when journeying. All of the tribes, except for Levi, are divided into four divisions:
In the division of Judah, the tribe of Judah is encamped in front, on the east side, next to it the tribe of Issachar, then the tribe of Zebulun, 186,400 men in all, journeying first.
In the division of Reuben, the tribe of Reuben is encamped on the south, next to it the tribe of Simeon, then the tribe of Gad, 151,450 men in all, journeying second.
Then, in the journey, comes the Tent of Meeting and the Levites, marching in the order by which they are encamped.
In the division of Ephraim, the tribe of Ephraim is encamped on the west, next to it the tribe of Manasseh, then the tribe of Benjamin, 108,100 men in all, journeying third.
In the division of Dan, the tribe of Dan is encamped on the north, next to it the tribe of Asher, then the tribe of Naphtali, 157,600 men in all, journeying last.
Thus do the Children of Israel, in accordance with all that the Eternal commands Moses. They encamp under their respective banners, and they journey by their families, each by his father’s house.
GENEALOGY OF AARON AND HIS SONS
These were the generations of Aaron and Moses when the Eternal spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai: Aaron’s sons were Nadav the first-born, Avihu, Elazar, and Ithamar—they were the anointed who were ordained to serve as Kohanim. But Nadav and Avihu died before the Eternal when they offered unauthorized fire before the Eternal in the wilderness of Sinai, and they had no sons. So only Elazar and Ithamar serve as Kohanim before their father Aaron.
SERVICE AND CENSUS OF THE LEVITES
The Eternal charges Moses to place the tribe of Levi at the service of Aaron the Kohen. They shall keep the service of the Tabernacle for Aaron and for the entire congregation before the Tent of Meeting and with respect to its implements. Assign Aaron and his sons responsibility for their Kehuna (Priesthood). An unauthorized person who approaches shall be put to death.
The Eternal declares to Moses that He is taking the Levites from among the Children of Israel in place of the Firstborn, first issue of the womb, “and the Levites shall be Mine.” (Numbers 3:12) By this designation the Levites will replace the Firstborn, who became the Eternal’s when He struck down every firstborn in the land of Egypt and sanctified every firstborn in Israel, from man to beast, as His own (cf. Exodus 12:29-13:1).
The Eternal charges Moses in the wilderness of Sinai to record every male of the children of Levi, according to their families and father’s house, from the age of one month and older. Moses does accordingly.
The sons of Levi are Gershon, Kehath, and Merari.
The sons of Gershon are Livni and Shimei. The combined number of male Livnites and Shimeites is 7,500. They encamp behind the Tabernacle, to the west. The head of the father’s house is Elyasaf son of Lael. Their duties of service relate to the Tent of Meeting, the Tabernacle, the Tent, its Covering, the Screen for the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, the hangings of the Court, the Screen for the entrance of the Court which surrounds the Tabernacle, and its cords.
The sons of Kehath are Amram, Yitzhar, Chevron, and Uzziel. The combined number of male Amramites, Yitzharites, Chevronites, and Uzzielites, is 8,600. They encamp on the south side of the Tabernacle. The head of the father’s house is Elitzaphan son of Uzziel. Their duties of service relate to the Ark, the Table, the Menorah, the Altars and their sacred utensils, and the Screen.
The chief over the heads of the Levites is Elazar son of Aaron for matters attending to service of the Sanctuary.
The sons of Merari are Machli and Mushi. The combined number of male Mahlites and Mushites is 6,200. They encamp on the north side of the Tabernacle. The head of the father’s house is Tsuriel son of Avichayil. Their duties of service relate to the planks of the Tabernacle and its bars, posts, sockets, and all of its furnishings, the posts surrounding the Court and their sockets, pegs, and cords.
In front of the Tabernacle, to the east, encamp Moses and Aaron and his sons, keeping the service of the Sanctuary on behalf of the Children of Israel. The unauthorized person who approaches shall be put to death.
The sum of all the Levites recorded by Moses and Aaron by the word of the Eternal is 22,000.
REDEMPTION OF THE FIRSTBORN
The Eternal charges Moses to count and record the name of every firstborn male of the Children of Israel from the age of one month and older. Moses would take the Levites for the Eternal in place of every firstborn male of the Children of Israel and the cattle of the Levites in place of their cattle. The number of all firstborn males of the Children of Israel comes to 22,273, which reflects 273 firstborn males in excess of the sum of all the Levites. The Eternal then instructs Moses to take a redemption price of five shekels, by the sacral weight, twenty gerahs to the shekel, from each of the 273 firstborn males in excess of the sum of all the Levites, for a total of 1,365 sacral shekels, to be given to Aaron and his sons, and so he does.
SERVICE AND CENSUS OF THE SONS OF KEHATH
The Eternal explains to Moses and to Aaron that the sons of Kehath would be responsible for the most holy objects in the Tent of Meeting (cf. Numbers 3:31). He commands a special census for them, according to their families and their fathers’ houses, from the ages of thirty to fifty years, all who are subject to that assignment.
When the camp begins a journey, Aaron and his sons shall take down the Dividing Curtain and use it to cover the Ark of Testimony. They shall cover that with tachash skin and then spread a pure blue cloth over it. They shall install its poles.
Over the Display Table they shall spread a blue cloth, upon which they shall place the bowls, the ladles, the jars, and the regular bread. Over these they shall spread a crimson cloth and cover that with a Covering of tachash skin. They shall install its poles.
With a blue cloth they shall cover the Menorah and its lamps, its tongs, its fire pans, and all of the oil vessels that are used in its service. They shall put it and its accessories into a Covering of tachash skin and place it on a bar.
Over the Golden Altar they shall spread a blue cloth and cover it with a Covering of tachash skin, and they shall install its poles. They shall put all of the accessories that are used in the Sanctuary service into a blue cloth and cover them with a Covering of tachash skin and place it on a bar.
They shall remove the ashes from the Altar and spread over it a purple cloth. They shall place upon it all of the accessories that are used for it—the fire pans, the forks, the shovels, the basins—all of the instruments of the Altar, and spread over it a Covering of tachash skin and install its poles.
When Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sacred objects and accessories at the journeying of the camp, only then shall the sons of Kehath come to carry them, without touching the objects directly and thereby incurring death.
Elazar son of Aaron the Kohen shall be responsible for the lighting oil, the aromatic incense, the regular meal offering, and the anointing oil, among his responsibilities for the entire Tabernacle and all things in it, both holy things and accessories.
The Eternal cautions Moses and Aaron to protect the sons of Kehath from even seeing the sacred objects when they are being dismantled, lest they die and the tribe of the families of Kehath is cut off from the Levites. Let Aaron and his sons, then, supervise the assignment of the sons of Kehath to their duties of porterage.
FROM THE PROPHETS
Haftarah for Shabbat Bemidbar
The Children of Israel shall be as numerous as the sand of the sea, and they shall be known as the Children of the Living God, instead of being thought of as rejected by God. The Children of Judah and the Children of Israel shall be gathered together from their exiles and shall share one head. Great shall be the day of Jezreel (“divine gathering of offspring”). Say to your brothers, “My people,” and to your sisters, “Shown compassion.”
Plead against your mother,
as she is not My wife:
Let her cease her harlotries,
lest I make her as naked
as the day that she was born,
lest I slay her with thirst.
I will not have compassion upon her children,
for they are the children of harlotry.
She went after her lovers
for their bread and their water,
for their wool and their flax,
for their oil and their drink.
Therefore I will hedge up your way with thorns,
and I will make a wall against her.
Although she pursues her lovers,
she shall not reach them.
Then she will think to return
to her first husband.
It was I who gave her
her corn, her wine, and her oil,
and many gifts of silver and gold—
which they then used for Baal!
Therefore I will take back My corn in its time
and my wine in its season,
and I will take back My wool and My flax,
rendering her naked and shamed
in the sight of her lovers.
I will cancel all of her joy,
her festivals, new moons and sabbaths.
I will devastate her vines and her fig-trees,
which she said were from her lovers,
and make them a forest,
food for the beast of the field.
I shall punish her for the days
that she offered to the Baalim,
decked with earrings and jewels,
Then I shall speak tenderly to her,
bring her into the wilderness
and entice her.
I shall give her her vineyards.
I shall take the names of the Baalim
out of her mouth.
On that day
I shall make for them a covenant
with the beasts of the field
and the birds of heaven
and the creeping things of the ground:
to break the bow and the sword
and the battle out of the Land,
and I shall make them lie down securely.
I will betroth you to Me forever;
I will betroth you to Me
in righteousness and in justice,
in lovingkindness and in mercy;
I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness;
and you shall know the Eternal!
FROM THE MIDRASH
Numbers Rabbah 1:7
Wilderness as a Setting for Torah
“The Eternal speaks to Moses
in the wilderness of Sinai…”
Since we already know that Moses and the Children of Israel were in the wilderness of Sinai, what are these apparently superfluous words meant to teach us?
Our Sages answered the question by observing that the Torah was given in a setting of three natural conditions: Fire, Water, and Wilderness. Fire? “Now Mount Sinai was enveloped in smoke, because the Eternal descended upon it in fire…”! (Exodus 19:18) Water? “O Eternal, when You departed from Seir [on Your way to Sinai]…the earth trembled…the clouds dropped water!” (Judges 5:4) Wilderness? “The Eternal speaks to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai…”! (Numbers 1:1)
But why was the Torah given in association with these three conditions? Because just as these are free and available to all the inhabitants of the world, so also are words of Torah free and available to them. That is what the prophet meant when he said, “Ho, all who thirst, come for the water…!” (Isaiah 55:1)
Here is another answer to what the words, “in the wilderness of Sinai,” are meant to teach us: In order to acquire wisdom and learning as we find it in the Torah, one needs to be as open and free as the wilderness itself!
Numbers Rabbah 5:1-2
Devotion and Impoverishment of Kehath
“Do not cut off the tribe
of the families of Kehath
from amid the Levites.”
That is the meaning of what is written:
“Do not rob the poor
because he is poor!”
But this raises at least two questions:
(1) What does one verse have to do with the other?
(2) If he is poor, what is there to rob from him?
“Do not rob the poor…” speaks of the sons of Kehath. Why does he call them “poor?” Because they are of the tribe of Levi, which took no portion in the Land.
But then why Kehath specifically out of all the tribe of Levi? They, out of all the tribe of Levi, had the awesome responsibility of carrying the Ark containing the stone Tablets. Accordingly, every one of them put so much attention into fulfilling that obligation—and so competed with each other—that they were always in danger of neglecting their responsibility for carrying the other sacred objects, such as the Table and the Menorah, etc. For that reason the Holy One blessed be He, charged Aaron and his sons to “come and assign each of them his duty of porterage” (Numbers 4:19), preventing competition and confusion and protecting them from punishment by the Divine Presence.
So, although all of Levites were “poor,” the children of Kehath were especially poor because they were almost consumed in anxiety and distraction over their duty to carry the Ark. “The Eternal cautions Moses and Aaron to protect the sons of Kehath…” (cf. Numbers 4:18ff.). Until Moses prevailed upon Aaron to carry out the divine command, the sons of Kehath could think of nothing but carrying the Ark! This is a type of impoverishment.
“Do not rob the poor because he is poor?” Our Rabbis anticipated the question: If he is poor, what is there to rob from him? The verse from Proverbs, “Do not rob the poor,” speaks of depriving the poor of gifts which are commanded in the Torah “because he is poor”: gleanings of the harvest, forgotten sheaves, corners of the field, and the poor person’s tithe! Regarding them, the Holy One, blessed be He, warns that one ought not to withhold from the poor gifts that are meant to be given to them; that would be tantamount to “robbing the poor because he is poor!”
“Because he is poor” also carries the meaning of: “It is enough that he is already poor!” Is it not enough for the rich that he enjoys wealth while the poor suffers? Surely he should not also steal from him those gifts which the Holy One, blessed be He, has given to him!
Numbers Rabbah 2:13
Israel Compared to Stardust
“The Children of Israel
shall be as numerous
as the sand of the sea…!”
“Count the stars if you can…
thus shall your offspring be!”
The Children of Israel have been compared to the dust:
Just as the dust of the earth is trodden upon by all the inhabitants of the earth, so Israel is trodden upon by the nations of the world, as was said: “The king of Aram decimated them and trampled them like the dust under his feet.” (II Kings 13:7)
Just as the dust of the earth is necessary for the existence of man—for if there is no dust, there are no trees and there is no produce—so Israel is necessary for the existence of the world, as was said: “All the nations of the earth shall be blessed through your offspring!” (Genesis 22:18)
The Children of Israel have been compared to the sand of the sea:
Just as sand, when added to the fire, comes out as clumps, from which are made instruments of glass, so Israel, when they walk into the fire, they come out alive, as was said: “Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, fell, bound, into the burning fiery furnace…then Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, came out of the furnace!” (Daniel 3:23-26)
The Children of Israel have been compared to the stars:
Just as the stars give honor one to another, and there is peace among them, as was said, “He makes peace in His high places” (Job 25:2), so do the righteous love one another. Just as the stars do not quarrel with each other, so the righteous.
Just as the stars prevail only at night, so it is with Israel because of the yoke of domination.
Just as any one of the stars is capable of incinerating the entire world, so also is it true of the righteous, such as Elijah, who commanded fire to come down, as was said: “If I am the man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you (the king’s captain) and your fifty men; then the fire of God came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty men!” (II Kings 1:12)
Just as the stars shine in all of the sky, so will the Children of Israel shine in the time to come, as was said: “The wise will shine as the brightness of the sky, and those who lead the many to righteousness shall be as the stars forever and ever!” (Daniel 12:3)
Numbers Rabbah 2:15
“…and they shall be known
as the Children of the Living God,
instead of being thought of as rejected by God!”
Where was that actually said of them?
When the Children of Israel built the golden calf, the Holy One, blessed be He, referred to them as the people of Moses, as was said, “Go! Descend! For your people has acted corruptly!” (Exodus 32:7) Whereupon Moses engaged diligently in intense prayer: “Moses implored the Eternal his God…” (Ibid. 11).
It may be likened to a king who saw his wife kissing a eunuch. The angry king told her page: I divorce her! I reject her! Let her return to her father’s house! The page said to him: Why? Just because you found her kissing a eunuch? She has borne you wonderful, courageous sons, who aid you in battle. There is no chance that the eunuch will sire children with her. Why do you rage about someone who lacks that value?
“…Why do You rage against Your people, whom You brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?” (Ibid.) It was as if Moses had said to Him, “This calf, which Israel made, can help You: It can bring down the rains, while You bring up the dews!” The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, “But the calf has no power to do anything!” To which Moses replied, “Then, if the calf has no power, why are You getting angry?” as was said, “Why do You rage against Your people…? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent He brought them out: only to kill them and destroy them from off the face of the earth?’ Rather, turn from Your anger and reconsider Your ill-advised plan to punish Your people! Remember Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, whom You promised, ‘I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, and all of this Land of which I spoke I shall give to your offspring; they will inherit it forever!’” (Ibid. 11-13)
And what is written directly after this plea of Moses? “The Eternal then renounced His plan to punish His people.” (Ibid. 14) “His!” These, then, are the words of Hosea: “…and they shall be known as the Children of the Living God, instead of being thought of as rejected by God!”
FIRST DAY OF YOM TOV
FROM THE TORAH
God Speaks to Israel from Heaven
ISRAEL ENCAMPS AT MOUNT SINAI
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: You have seen what I did to Egypt and how I bore you “upon the wings of eagles” (Exodus 19:4) and brought you to Me. If you heed My voice and keep My covenant, then I shall hold you as “My own treasure” (Exodus 19:5) from among all peoples as all the world is Mine. Be for Me “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6)!
In the presence of the Elders of the people, Moses puts before them all of the words which[EH1] the Eternal imparted to him. Together, all of the people respond: “All that the Eternal has spoken we shall do!” (Exodus 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” (Exodus 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 yovel (ram’s horn) (Exodus 19:13) 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” (Exodus 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 (Exodus 19:19), 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 was 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 Kohanim 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 Kohanim and the people should not break through to go up to the Eternal “lest He break out against them” (Exodus 19:24). So Moses goes down to the people and speaks to them.
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
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.
THE PEOPLE STAND OFF
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.
PROHIBITED MODES OF WORSHIP
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.
On the day of Bikkurim (First Fruits), 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.
FROM THE PROPHETS
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 Kohen 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 [k’vod] of the Eternal. (Ezekiel 1:28) 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 presence [k’vod] of the Eternal from Its Place!” (Ezekiel 3:12)
SECOND DAY OF YOM TOV
THE MEGILLAH OF RUTH
FROM JUDAH TO MOAB
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.
NAOMI PLANS TO RETURN TO JUDAH
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!” (Ruth 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.
RUTH PROMISES NOT TO LEAVE NAOMI
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: “Urge 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.” (Ruth 1:16-17) When Naomi realizes that Ruth is determined to go with her, she ceases urging her to separate.
NAOMI AND RUTH ARRIVE IN BETHLEHEM
As the two of them go together and 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!” (Ruth 1:20) “I went out full; now the Eternal has brought me back empty!” (Ruth 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.”
BOAZ SHOWS RUTH KINDNESS
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 2:12). 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 so as not to 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 DIRECTS RUTH TO BE “REDEEMED” BY BOAZ
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.
BOAZ ARRANGES THE REDEMPTION OF ELIMELECH’S LAND
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.” (Ruth 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 squander my own inheritance!” At the same time he urges Boaz to exercise the redemption instead of him. (Ruth 4:5-6)
BOAZ HIMSELF REDEEMS THE LAND AND ACQUIRES RUTH
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. (Ruth 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 its court [sha’ar] of jurisdiction.” (Ruth 4:10) He asks all of the people at the court, 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.” (Ruth 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).
THE ETERNAL GRANTS RUTH AND BOAZ A SON, NAOMI A GRANDSON
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 Oved (Servant). He was the father of Jesse, who was the father of David!
OVED IS THE GRANDFATHER 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.
FROM THE TORAH
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 Shavuot (Weeks) 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 Sukkot (Booths), 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!
SUMMARY OF FESTIVALS
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 Matzot (Unleavened Bread), on the Festival of Shavuot (Weeks), and on the Festival of Sukkot (Booths). He shall not appear empty-handed but each with his own gift according to the blessing that the Eternal your God has given you.
(Same as First Day of Yom Tov)
FROM THE PROPHETS
Haftarah for the Second Day
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
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
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
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!
FROM TALMUD AND MIDRASH
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 presented their qualifications to be chosen as the place. Lofty Mount Tabor argued: Upon me should the Shechina reside because I am the tallest of the mountains, so tall that the waters of the Flood did not cover me! Mount Carmel argued: Upon me should the Shechina reside because I was split in half during the Exodus so that Moses and the Children of Israel could cross the Sea upon me! Said the Holy One, blessed be He, all of you have disqualified yourselves because of your arrogance.
But the Holy One, blessed be He, consoled those mountains against their disappointment. He granted Mount Tabor the honor of providing salvation to Israel during the days of Deborah, who ordered Barak in the name of the Eternal, “Go, march up to Mount Tabor…and I will deliver Sisera and his army into your hands” (Judges 4:6-7)! He chose Mount Carmel for the victory of Elijah over the prophets of Baal when King Ahab “assembled the prophets at Mount Carmel” (I Kings 18:20)!
When He announced His choice of Sinai as the mountain from which He would 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 (only) from a distance” (Psalms 138:6).
What is the origin of Sinai? Said Rabbi Yosi: It was detached from Mount Moriah, as 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 established as the top [rosh] of the mountains [heharim]…” (Isaiah 2:2a): “as the first [rosh] of five mountains [hey harim]”! What are the five mountains? Tabor, Carmel, Sinai, Zion—and Moriah, Number One! And, in addition, “…all nations shall flow to it” (ibid. 2b): What Sinai became 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.
*This phrase usually justifies a halacha (law) that is asserted without explicit derivation from the Written Torah, a default to attribute the halacha to God through Moses without the usual midrashic inference from the Torah text. The implication of its use in this aggadah is that Moses was exhausted from trying to understand the Rabbinic derivations that had preceded, thereby highlighting the relative brilliance of the Rabbis and Rabbi Akiba in particular. Then, when they came to a halacha which the Rabbis failed to tie to the Torah and defaulted to attributing it to Moses without any other explanation, Moses was flattered to be credited with a halacha and relieved that, for that halacha at least, he did not need to struggle to understand Rabbi Akiba.
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…”
“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…”
“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 otherwise 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!”
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!’”
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!
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.”
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
on Two Tablets
according to the Sages
|TABLET 2||TABLET 1|
|COLUMN 2||COLUMN 1||COLUMN 2||COLUMN 1|
| 6|| 1|
Me, the Eternal…
You shall not murder
| 7|| 2|
You shall not commit
| 8|| 3|
then you shall not
You shall not steal,
| 9|| 4|
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…”
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…”
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.”
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…” (Exodus 20:14), but when Moses reviews the Ten Commandments later, he says, “And you shall not covet…and you shall not desire…” (Deuteronomy 5:18). Not to desire and not to covet are two separate commandments:
Desiring is limited to one’s heart (wish), as thus he says: “For your spirit desires…” (Deuteronomy 12:20). Whereas coveting is coupled with 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:
11. 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)]
12. 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…?”
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
“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.”
“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.”
(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
(2) statement of details
(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.”
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 [Tsayar] 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. Read ”weakening the Rock [Tsur] who bore you” (Deuteronomy 32:18) as “weakening the Fashioner (=Artist)[Tsayar] of your birth!” 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,
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!”
What is Man’s Portion?
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!”
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,
Choosing the honest path,
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.”
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:”
“You shall not covet…”
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)
Yalkut Shimoni Ruth 1:61-2:63
Ruth’s Faithfulness to Naomi and to Israel
“Boaz recognized Ruth’s faithfulness to Naomi
after the death of Ruth’s husband,
and he said to her:
May the Eternal fulfill you for what you have done,
may your reward be complete
from the Eternal, the God of Israel,
under whose wings you have sought refuge!”
He said to her: May the One who will fulfill in the future the reward of the righteous make yours complete [shelayma], that is to say, may He make yours Solomon [Shelomo], as the same letters can be read. For Solomon, son of David, would be Ruth’s great great grandson (cf. Ruth 4:21-22), and Boaz was hinting to her that Solomon would arise from her.
“…from the Eternal, the God of Israel,
under whose wings you have sought refuge!”(Ruth 2:12)
Rabbi Abin taught about “wings”:
The earth has wings, as “From the wing of the earth we hear singing…” (Isaiah 24:16)
The morning has wings, as “If I should take up wings of morning…” (Psalms 139:9)
The sun has wings, as “A sun of righteousness and healing in its wings…” (Malachi 3:20)
The cherubim have wings, as “The sound of the wings of the cherubim was heard…” (Ezekiel 10:5)
The chayot have wings, as “The sound of the wings of the chayot brushing…” (Ezekiel 3:13)
The seraphim have wings, as “Each of the seraphim had six wings…” (Isaiah 6:2)
But so worthy are those who, like Ruth, show lovingkindness, that they find refuge not in the shadow of the wings of earth, not in the shadow of the wings of morning, not in the shadow of the wings of the sun, not in the shadow of the wings of the cherubim, not in the shadow of the wings of the chayot, and not in the shadow of the wings of the seraphim, but in the shadow of the wings of the Holy One, blessed be He! So it is written:
“How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God,
that the children of man find refuge in the shadow of Your wings!”
So precious to You, O God, is lovingkindness,
that the children of man (who show lovingkindness)
find refuge in the shadow of Your wings!
“Ruth responded to Boaz:
I express my gratitude to you
for comforting me
and for speaking gently to your maidservant
even though I am not really
one of your maidservants.”
Boaz answered her: Say not, Heaven forbid, that you might be accounted as one of the handmaidens [amahot], rather will you be accounted as one of the matriarchs [imahot]!
How the hint of Boaz reflected Ruth’s lovingkindness:
You will in the future arise to greatness, your children will be the leaders of Israel, you will bear the crown of sovereignty, and even though you regard yourself as poor, from you there shall arise one who will dedicate talents of gold in the hundreds, as was said, “I, (David speaking to Solomon his son), notwithstanding my ‘poverty,’ have prepared for the House of the Eternal a hundred thousand talents of gold, a thousand thousands talents of silver, and so much bronze and iron that they are beyond weighing…” (I Chronicles 22:7-14). So then how could one as poor as David dedicate all of those talents of gold and silver? On the day that David slew Goliath, the daughters of Israel showered him with all of that gold and silver (cf. I Samuel 18:6-7), which he dedicated for the building of the Temple. When there was a famine during his reign for three years (cf. II Samuel 21:1), Israel sought to use some of that gold for relief, but David refused to reassign any of it to relieve their hunger. Said the Holy One, blessed be He, to David: You accept no responsibility to save lives? By your life shall the Temple be built not by you but by Solomon your son, as is written, “He (David’s offspring) shall build a House for My Name…” (II Samuel 7:13).
How Ruth’s loyalty transcended her lovingkindness to Naomi:
When Orpah returned to her people, she also returned to her god (cf. Ruth 1:15).
But Ruth said:
“Urge [tifg’ee] me not to leave you…” (Ruth 1:16): Endanger yourself [tifg’ee] not for me by trying to protect me from your misfortune…
“… to forsake you, to turn [lashuv] from following after you [mey-acharayich]…” (ibid.): If to forsake you, that is, not to follow you, then I shall return to your faith [lashuv] by following one other than you [mey-acharayich]…
Hearing Ruth’s intentions, Naomi proceeded to explain to Ruth the laws of Israel:
On the Sabbath there is a limit to how far we can go from the city: “Wherever you go, I shall go” (ibid.)…
We are not allowed to spend the night alone with a man other than our husband: “Wherever you lodge, I shall lodge” (ibid.)…
Our people has been commanded 613 mitzvot: “Your people is my people” (ibid.)…
We are forbidden to worship other gods: “…and your God, my God” (ibid.).
She warned her of the capital crimes that would apply to her from the Torah: “Wherever you die, I shall die…” (ibid.17)…
and of the types of burial determined by the Beit Din: “and there shall I be buried” (ibid).
Our Rabbis taught:
We say to one who has asked to become part of the people of Israel: Are you not aware that at this time Israel is subject to terrible and dangerous persecutions and attacks? If he answers, “I know and I am not worthy,” we accept him at once and teach him some of the easier mitzvot and some of the harder mitzvot. We teach him his liability for setting aside gleaning, forgotten sheaves, corners of the field, and the tithe for the poor (cf. Leviticus 19:10, Rashi s.v. Deuteronomy 26:12, Ruth 2:2ff.).
We emphasize his new liability to punishment for violating the commandments. Whereas in the past, if he ate chelev (the fat dedicated from the sacrifice to God alone, cf. Leviticus 3:16), there would be no punishment, now as part of Israel he is liable to death carried out by Heaven; and whereas in the past, if he violated the restrictions of Shabbat (cf. Exodus 31:15), there would be no punishment, now as part of Israel he would be liable to death by stoning.
Along with teaching him about the punishment of transgression, we tell him the reward for observing the commandments: Know that the world to come is maintained only for those who are righteous and that at this time Israel are qualified neither as predominant for reward or predominant for punishment.
If he indicates his acknowledgement, he may be circumcised immediately, without adding to this initial information and without elaborating on it. Rabbi Elazar cited as the guiding principle:
“When Naomi realizes that Ruth is determined to go with her,
she ceases urging her to separate.”
Said Rabbi Abahu:
Come and see how beloved are proselytes to the Holy One, blessed be He! When Ruth expressed her intention to join with Israel, Scripture compared her to Naomi, as was said, “Now the two of them walk together…” (Ruth 1:19).
What causes the oppression and suffering of proselytes in these days?
Rabbi Chanina ben Gamliel: If they do not uphold even the seven commandments that the Children of Noah have accepted upon themselves (cf. Talmud Sanhedrin 56a-56b).
Rabbi Yosi: A proselyte may be regarded as a newborn child, but he still needs to engage in the details of the commandments.
Abba Chanan in the same of Rabbi Eliezer: When they observe not out of love but out of fear.
Others: When they refrain from entering under the wings of the Shechinah (Divine Presence), as Rabbi Abahu interpreted the words of Boaz:
“May the Eternal fulfill you for what you have done,
may your reward be complete
from the Eternal, the God of Israel,
in that you have sought refuge under His wings!”
Rabbi Yosi: A proselyte may be regarded as a newborn child, but he still needs to engage in the details of the commandments.
Abba Chanan in the same of Rabbi Eliezer: When they observe not out of love but out of fear.
Others: When they refrain from entering under the wings of the Shechinah (Divine Presence), as Rabbi Abahu interpreted the words of Boaz:
“May the Eternal fulfill you for what you have done,
may your reward be complete
from the Eternal, the God of Israel,
in that you have sought refuge under His wings!”
Copyright © 2021 Eric H. Hoffman