"For Most of the Essentials of the Torah Depend Upon It"

  • Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

Sicha for Shabbat from the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion



"For Most of the Essentials of the Torah Depend Upon It"

Summarized by Matan Glidai

Translated by Kaeren Fish


"'Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel' - This teaches that this parasha was uttered at 'hak'hel' (a gathering of the entire nation), for most of the essentials of the Torah depend upon it." (Rashi on Vayikra 19:1, quoting the midrash)

What Rashi means to say is that this short parasha contains a relatively large number of commandments. But the uniqueness of the parasha seems to lie not only in the number of its mitzvot, but also in their great variety. The parasha contains mitzvot of every sort: interpersonal mitzvot and mitzvot between man and God are intertwined, for example, "Each person shall fear his mother and his father, and observe My Shabbatot" (verse 3). In between the verse teaching "You shall not steal…" and the prohibition "You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor shall you steal," we find the command relating to desecration of God's Name: "You shall not swear falsely by My Name" (see Rambam, Hilkhot Shevuot 12:1-2). Chukkim and mishpatim sit side by side: "You shall not take revenge, nor shall you bear a grudge… You shall love your neighbor as yourself… You shall observe My statutes - you shall not interbreed your cattle…" (verses 18-19). Alongside general mitzvot pertaining to the fundamentals of faith, such as Shabbat and idolatry, we find others that concern details of ritual actions - such as left-over meat of sacrifices (piggul and notar). Even on the linguistic level, the parasha is likewise a mixture of singular and plural.

It would appear that in bringing all these different mitzvot together in one parasha, the Torah is conveying a message: "The Torah of God is perfect; it restores the soul." The Torah must be treated as a single entity; it is not a collection of unrelated details.

"At the time when God said, 'I am the Lord your God…' and 'You shall not have any other gods…,' the nations of the world said: 'He (God) demands this for His own glory.' When God reached the fifth commandment, 'Honor your father and your mother,' they revised their view of the first commandments.

Rabba taught: 'The beginning of Your Word is truth' - Does this imply, then, that only the beginning of God's word is truth, but not the end? Obviously not; rather, at the end of His word it becomes clear that 'the beginning of Your Word is truth.'" (Kiddushin 31a)

There is a connection between interpersonal mitzvot and mitzvot between man and God: each type has an influence on the other, and all are part of the same whole. A person who does not fulfill the commandments guiding his relationships with others is defective also in his observance of the mitzvot involving religious ritual. The same applies to the spheres of singular and plural: a person must fulfill both the individual, private mitzvot and those that are communal and public; he must take care of his own individual welfare and, at the same time, also be concerned for the welfare of all of Am Yisrael, with the understanding that these concerns are intertwined. Rashi quotes the Midrash as teaching not that "Most of the essentials of the Torah are included in it," but rather that "Most of the essentials of the Torah depend upon it" - the mitzvot depend upon and influence each other.

Ramban's well-known teaching on the beginning of the parasha is that "You shall be holy" is a general command, requiring us to sanctify ourselves and refrain from gluttonous eating habits and from foul language - not to be "scoundrels within the bounds of Torah." This is, in fact, a command to attain a certain moral level, beyond the fulfillment of the details of the commandments. This, too, is related to what we have said above. On the one hand, a person must take care with the details of the mitzvot, never disregarding a single directive in the Shulchan Arukh. On the other hand, he must also maintain the values towards which the Torah as a whole guides us, and build his personality in accordance with Torah requirements.

"'And you shall observe My statutes (chukkotai) and My judgments (mishpatai), which a person shall perform…' (18:5) - this is intended to teach that both observance and performance (shemira va-asiyya) are required for the statutes, and both observance and performance are required for the judgments." (Rashi, quoting the Torat Kohahim)

The Rambam comments on this as follows:

"The meaning of 'performance' is known - this refers to performance of the statutes. And 'observance' means that one should take care with them, never imagining them to be of lesser value than the judgments." (Hilkhot Me'ila 8:8)

Both chukkim (statutes), rituals which are not readily understood, and mishpatim (judgments), must be fulfilled in all their details. However, extra care must be taken to treat the statutes with the proper respect and to appreciate their value. At the beginning of the parasha we find the general command, "You shall be holy," and at the end we are commanded, "You shall sanctify yourselves and be holy" (20:7), which Chazal explain as follows:

"'You shall sanctify yourselves' - this refers to washing hands before the meal, 'and you shall be holy' - this refers to washing after the meal." (Berakhot 53b)

We may add that our parasha also addresses all spheres of life, emphasizing the fact that the Torah is connected to all stages of a person's life and to all his activities. It must therefore be treated as a whole entity, guiding us in every place and at every time as to how to mold our path and our selves.

(This sicha was delivered on leil Shabbat parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5756 [1996].)



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