Ekev. Don t Begin with the Basics. Jewish Life Begins with the Loftiest Ideas and That s Fine







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Dedicated in loving memory of Harav Menachem Zvi ben Rav Yechiel Yitzchak, ל״ז קחצי לאיחי ׳ר ןב יבצ םחנמ ׳ר, marking his yahrtzeit, 4 Av. May the merit of the Torah study worldwide accompany his soul in the world of everlasting life and be a source of blessings to his family with much health, happiness, nachat, and success.



Don’t Begin with the Basics





In the parsha of Ekev (“Be‑ cause”), Moses continues his closing address to the Children of Israel, promis‑ ing them that if they will fulfill the commandments (mitzvot) of the Torah, they will prosper in the land they are about to conquer and settle, in keep‑ ing with G‑d’s promise to their forefathers.

Moses also rebukes them for their failings in their first generation as a people, recalling their worship of the golden calf; the rebel‑ lion of Korah; the sin of the spies; and their angering of G‑d at Taveirah, Massah, and Kivrot Hataavah (“The Graves of Lust”). “You have been rebellious against G‑d,” he says to them, “since the day I knew you.” But he also speaks of G‑d’s forgive‑ ness of their sins, and of the Second Tablets that G‑d

inscribed and gave to them following their repentance. Their forty years in the desert, says Moses to the people, during which G‑d sustained them with daily manna from heaven, was to teach them “that man does not live on bread alone, but by the utterance of G‑d’s mouth does man live.” Moses describes the Land they are about to enter as “flowing with milk and honey,” blessed with the “seven kinds” (wheat, barley, grapevines, figs, pomegran‑ ates, olive oil, and dates), and as the place that is the focus of G‑d’s providence of His world. He commands them to destroy the idols of the Land’s former masters, and to beware lest they be‑ come haughty and begin to believe that “my power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.”


A key passage in our parsha

is the second chapter of the Shema. This passage repeats

the fundamental mitzvot

enumerated in the Shema’s first chapter and describes the rewards of fulfilling G‑d’s commandments and

the adverse results (famine and exile) of their neglect. It is also the source of the precept of prayer and includes a reference to the resurrection of the dead in the messianic age.




What Terrified Isaac?




דִי ַצ ד ָצ ַה אוּה אוֹפ ֵא י ִמ ,ר ֶמאֹי ַו ,דֹא ְמ ד ַע הָלֹד ְג ה ָד ָר ֲח ק ָח ְצִי ד ַר ֱחֶי ַו

:הֶי ְהִי ךְוּר ָבּ ם ַג ?וּה ֵכ ֲר ָב ֲא ָו אוֹב ָתּ ם ֶר ֶט ְבּ לֹכּ ִמ ל ַכֹא ָו ,י ִל א ֵבָי ַו

And Isaac shuddered a great shudder, and he said, “Who then is the one who hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate of everything while you had not yet come, and I blessed him? He, too, shall be blessed.”




םנהיג האר :ושרדמו .ההימת ןושל ,׳הותו׳ :ומוגרתכ .”דרחיו“

.ויתחתמ החותפ

“And Isaac shuddered”: Explain it as the Targum renders it,


,” which means he was perplexed. The Midrashic ex‑

planation is that he saw Gehinnom opening beneath him.

Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi)


Most noted biblical and Talmudic commentator. Born in Troyes, France, Rashi studied

in the famed yeshivot of Mainz

and Worms. His commentaries on the Pentateuch and the Talmud, which focus on the straightforward meaning of the text, appear in virtually every edition of the Talmud and Bible.


Story: In the Lion’s Den




On Wednesday, my turn arrived to be received by the Rebbe for an audience in the Upper Gan Eden.

When I entered the Rebbe’s chamber, I was struck with fear and awe by his appearance of his face, his powerful and penetrating glance, and his mighty and deliberate voice, inquiring, “What can I do for you?” But I immediately re‑ covered and calmed myself.

I said, “I am an elementary school teacher in my hometown, and I teach my pupils according to the rules of Hebrew grammar. But my fellow teachers oppose me and slander me for it, saying [with sarcasm], ‘Why don’t you teach the pupils the science of linguistics as well!’

“When I offered—as evidence [that a knowledge of grammar is important]—the Rebbe’s new text of the siddur, which follows exactly the rules of grammar, they had nothing to reply. For the public benefit, I request that you give me a letter of reference, which I can use to demonstrate that it is good to teach young children according to the rules of grammar, to accustom them to read correctly, and to teach them Tanakh.”

The Rebbe leaned on his forearms for about five minutes. Then, he raised his head, opened his eyes, and said, “You are correct—the hymns and Psalms in the prayers, and especially Keriyat Shema, must be recited with great care, following the rules of grammar. But as for teaching


grammar and linguistics as academic subjects, one must be very cautious about doing such a thing.

“In the Heavenly Yeshiva, there are separate halls for each kind of study. And right between the hall of grammar study and the hall of linguistics study stands the hall of those who deliberately misinterpret Scripture.

“Now, when one’s soul ascends to Heaven each night to renew its life spirit, the soul rises to the study hall that cor‑ responds to the subject he studied during the day. But occa‑ sionally, one may enter the wrong hall by mistake. Instead of entering the hall of grammar or the hall of linguistics, he may enter the hall of those who deliberately misinter‑ pret Scripture. Therefore, one must be very cautious about studying the subjects of grammar and linguistics.”

When he finished speaking, he again leaned on his fore‑ arms, as before. Then, he raised his head, opened his eyes, and asked me how I explain to my pupils the verse, “And Isaac shuddered a great shudder.”

“I explain it according to the first interpretation of Rashi, that it means he was astounded,” I replied.

“And why don’t you explain it to your pupils according to the second interpretation of Rashi, quoting the Midrash, that he saw Gehinnom opened up beneath him?” he asked. “In my opinion,” I replied, “one shouldn’t fill the pupils’ delicate minds with Agadah in general, and especially with things that might frighten them, such as Gehinnom and the like. Even less should one teach small children things that they can’t even imagine. The pupil will wonder how the large and wide opening of Gehinnom could enter into Isaac’s small room. And how could its fires, which have been constantly blazing for 5555 years, enter the room, and


yet Esau and his father Isaac remained alive and were not burned to a crisp?”

“And how does the Midrash know that he saw Gehinnom opened up beneath him?” he asked further.

I remained silent, making no reply. Obviously, I had no answer. Indeed, is this the first gross exaggeration found in the Midrash and Talmud?

When he saw that I remained silent, the Rebbe said, “When Esau entered Isaac’s room, Isaac asked him, ‘Who are you?’ To this, Esau replied, ‘I am Esau, your firstborn son.’ But this was a lie, for he had already sold the birthright to Jacob, in a legal sale with all the required formalities. Now Isaac knew this, and thus he was very frightened by this lie designed to annul something that is valid under Torah law. This caused him to tremble, for telling such a lie resulted in Gehinnom’s opening up beneath him.”

When the Rebbe finished speaking, he leaned on his fore‑ arms as he had done before. Then, he raised his head and opened his eyes. It is customary that whenever he receives people, even during the daytime, there are two lit candles, a Chumash, and a Zohar on the table. He now lifted one of the two candles and scrutinized me, after which he said, “You come here from Vilna, but you claim to come from Zamut; you convert little children to the idolatry of Has‑ kalah, but you claim that you are a schoolteacher. [Because of these lies,] Gehinnom opens up beneath you. How many souls have you already destroyed? Yet you continue to rebel. Yes, it’s true: you are a heretic, and anyone who goes down that road will never return!”


The Forgotten Mitzvot




,ם ָתֹא ם ֶתיׂ ִש ֲע ַו ם ֶתּ ְר ַמׁ ְשוּ הֶל ֵא ָה םי ִט ָפּׁ ְש ִמ ַה ת ֵא ןוּע ְמׁ ְש ִתּ ב ֶק ֵע הָי ָה ְו

:ךָי ֶתֹב ֲא ַל ע ַבּׁ ְשִנ רׁ ֶש ֲא ד ֶס ֶח ַה ת ֶא ְו תי ִר ְבּ ַה ת ֶא ךְָל ךָי ֶקלֹ ֱא ’ה ר ַמׁ ָש ְו

And it will be, because you will heed these ordinances and keep them and perform, that the L‑rd, your G‑d, will keep for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers.




שד םדאש ,תולקה תוצמה םא .”ןועמשת בקע היהו“

.ןועמשת ,ויבקעב

“And it will be, because you will heed”: The Hebrew word “ekev” literally means “heel.” The verse speaks of heeding those minor commandments that one [usually] tramples with his heels [i.e., that a person treats as being of mi‑ nor importance].


Overlooking “Light” Mitzvot




יבקע ןוע ,ער ימיב אריא המל“ :בותכה רמאש והז .”בקע היהו“

לארשיל הרות ןתנש אוה ךורב שודקה לש ומש ךרבתי .”ינבוסי

.תורומחו תולק ןהב שיו ,תוצמ הרשע שולשו תואמ שש הב שיש

אלא ,ןהב ןיחיגשמ םדא ינב ןיאש תולק תוצמ ןהב שיש ינפמו

היה ךכיפל — תולק ןהש רמולכ ,ןהיבקע תחת ןתוא ןיכילשמש

ןמ ארייתמ יניא ,םלוע לש ונוביר :רמואו ןידה םוימ ארייתמ דוד

ןמ ?ארייתמ ינא הממ .תורומח ןהש ,הרותבש תורומחה תוצמ

אל םא יתישע םא ,ןהמ תחא לע יתרבע אמש ,תולקה תוצמה

הלק הוצמב ריהז יוה״ :תרמא התאו .הלק התייהש ינפמ ,יתישע

.’וגו ”ער ימיב אריא המל“ :רמא ךכל .״הרומח הוצמבכ

The verse states, “And it will be [literally, in the heel of] . . .” The text says, “Why should I fear in the evil days, when the iniquity of my heels encompasses me?” May the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, be blessed because He has given a Torah to Is‑ rael in which there are 613 commandments, some of which are light and some weighty. Because some of the commandments are light, people pay no attention to them. Instead, they cast them under their heels [while] saying they are light.

For that reason, David was afraid of the Day of Judgment and said, “Master of the world, I am not afraid of the weighty com‑ mandments that are in the Torah, because they are weighty. Of what am I afraid? Of the light commandments, lest I have transgressed one of them, [not knowing] whether I have ful‑ filled it or not fulfilled it, because it is light; for You have said, ‘Be as mindful of the light commandments as of the weighty commandments.’” It therefore says, “Why should I fear in the evil days?”


A Midrashic work bearing the name of Rabbi Tanchuma, a 4th-century Talmudic sage quoted often in this work. “Midrash” is the designation of a particular genre of rabbinic literature usually forming a running commentary on specific books of the Bible.

Tanchuma provides textual exegeses, expounds upon the biblical narrative, and develops and illustrates moral principles. Tanchuma

is unique in that many of its sections commence with a halachic discussion, which subsequently leads into nonhalachic teachings.





Unknown Consequences




ןרכש ןתמ עדוי התא ןיאש ,הרומחבכ הלק הוצמב ריהז יוהו

.תווצמ לש

And be careful with a light commandment as with a grave one, for you know not the reward for the fulfillment of the commandments.




תוצמ הנממ ,הלוכ הרותהש :אוהו ,רמוא רשאכ ןינעה הז רואיבו

ראב השעת אל תוצמ ,םנמאו .השעת אל תוצמ הנממו השע

לע בייחו ;ןהמ טעמה דבלמ — ןהמ תחא לכ לע שנועה בותכה

.תוקלמו םימש ידיב התימו ,תרכה םתצק לעו ,תותימה םתצק

לודג םרוסיא םהמ המ ,םלוכ השעת אל תוצמ ישנועמ ונעדיו

. . . ונממ הטמל םהמ המו

לצא איה המ ,ןהמ תחא לכ רכש ראבתה אל — השע תוצמ לבא

הרמשל דואמ ךירצ הוצמ וזיא עדנ אלש ידכ ,הז לכו .ךרבתי ׳ה

אלו ,ינולפו ינולפ ןינע תושעל הוצ לבא .הנמיה הטמל הוצמ וזיאו

הז ינפמו ,ךרבתי ׳ה לצא לודג רתוי םהינשמ הזיא רכש עידוה

.םלוכ םהילע רהזיהל ךירצ

Ethics of the Fathers

(Pirkei Avot)

A 6-chapter work on Jewish ethics that is studied widely by Jewish communities, especially during the summer. The first 5 chapters are from the Mishnah, tractate Avot. Avot differs from the rest of the Mishnah in that it does not focus on legal subjects; it is a collection of the sages’ wisdom on topics related to character development, ethics, healthy living, piety, and the study of Torah.

Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon

(Maimonides, Rambam) 1135–1204

Halachist, philosopher, author, and physician. Maimonides was born in Córdoba, Spain. After the conquest of Córdoba by the Almohads, he fled Spain and eventually settled in Cairo, Egypt. There, he became the leader of the Jewish community and served as court physician to the vizier of Egypt. He is most noted

for authoring the Mishneh

Torah, an encyclopedic arrangement of Jewish law; and for his philosophical work, Guide for the Perplexed.

His rulings on Jewish law are integral to the formation of halachic consensus.


The explanation is as follows: The Torah contains posi‑ tive commandments and negative commandments. With regard to negative commandments, Scripture enumerated the punishment of each one, save for a few of them. Some incur the death penalty, some of them incur excision and death at the hand of Heaven, while others result in lashes. From all of these punishments, we can infer which prohibi‑ tions are severe and which ones of them are not as severe. . . . With regard to the positive commandments, however, Scripture does not specify the reward. The reason for this is so that we do not know which commandment requires more adherence than the other. Rather, G‑d instructed us to do various commandments without telling us the reward for any of them; accordingly, we are to treat them all with equal scrupulousness.

A Matter of Debate: Do We Really Not

Know the Reward of Mitzvot?




.הוצמה ןמ רוטפ הוצמב קסועה

One who is involved in [performing] a commandment is exempt from [another] commandment.

Babylonian Talmud

A literary work of monumental proportions that draws upon the legal, spiritual, intellectual, ethical, and historical traditions of Judaism. The 37 tractates of the Babylonian Talmud contain the teachings of the Jewish sages from the period after the destruction of the 2nd Temple through the 5th century CE. It has served as the primary vehicle for the transmission of the Oral Law and the education of Jews over the centuries; it is the entry point for all subsequent legal, ethical, and theological Jewish scholarship.





יתלבמ ,״הוצמה ןמ רוטפ הוצמב קסועה״ :ורמא רקיעה הז ינפמו

רשא תרחאה ןיבו ,הב קסעתמ אוה רשא תוצמה ןיב השקה

.ונממ רצבת

Based on this principle, our sages stated that “One who is involved in [performing] a commandment is exempt from [another] commandment,” without comparing [the weight of] the commandment that he is involved in to the other one from which he is refraining.




ןמדזישכ :רמול הצר ,״תוצמה לע ןיריבעמ ןיא״ :ורמא ןכ םג הזלו

.תרחא הוצמ תושעל והחינתו והריבעת אל — הוצמ השעמ ךל

For this reason, our sages also stated, “We do not pass up a mitzvah,” meaning to say that when you chance upon the opportunity to perform a mitzvah, do not pass it up for the chance to do another mitzvah [rather fulfill the mitzvah at hand].


The Problem from Shiluach Haken




םא המו .ערוצמה תא רהטל וליפא ,םינב לע םא םדא לוטי אל

תכראהו ךל בטיי ןעמל“ :הרות הרמא ,רסיאכ איהש הלק הוצמ

.הרותבש תורומח תוצמ לע רמוחו לק ,”םימי

If with regard to the sending away of the mother bird, which is a mitzvah whose performance is simple, as it entails a loss of no more than an isar [i.e., the value of the mother bird], the Torah says, “That it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days,” certainly the reward for fulfilling a demanding mitzvah is even greater!




ןויכו ,תוצמ לש ןרכש ןתמ םיעדוי ונא ןיא ירה ?שי רמוחו לק המ

רמוחו לק דומלל ןיא ,תוצמ לש ןרכש ןתמ םיעדוי ונא ןיאש

?תורומח תוצמל

What is the logical progression here? After all, we do not

know the reward of mitzvot, so how can we make an argu‑

ment that pits lighter mitzvot against more severe ones?

Rabbi Yehudah Loew (Maharal of Prague) 1525–1609

Talmudist and philosopher. Maharal rose to prominence as leader of the famed Jewish community of Prague. He is the author of more than a dozen works of original philosophic thought, including Tiferet Yisrael

and Netsach Yisrael. He also authored Gur Aryeh, a supercommentary to Rashi’s biblical commentary; and a commentary on the nonlegal passages of the Talmud. He is buried in the Old Jewish Cemetery of Prague.


The Many Components of a Mitzvah’s Reward




תניחב דצמ ,דחאה :םירבד ינש שי תוצמב יכ ,אוה הז שוריפ לבא

ןיאו ,דואמ רתויב םדאה לע השק אוהש הוצמב שיש רמוחה

לע השק הניאש הלקה הוצמה ןמ לודג רתוי הז לע רכשה יכ קפס

לע שי רכש רתויש רשפא ,המצע הוצמה תניחב דצב לבא .םדאה

.המצע דצמ הרומחב שיש הממ המצע דצמ הלקה

שוריפו ,״ךל בטיי ןעמל ’וגו חלשת חלש״ :ביתכ ןקה חולישבו

ךל שיו םאה חלשל רמוא ינאש בג לע ףא — ״ךל בטיי ןעמל״

ךל בטיי ןעמל״ :ביתכ ןטק אוהש הז דספה ליבשב המ ,דספה

הברה דספה וב שיש הרומח הוצמל רמוחו לק ,״םימי תכראהו

הרומחב לודג רתוי יאדוב הז רכשו ,לודג רתוי אוה רכשהש

.״ארגא ארעצ םופל״ ירהש ,הלקבמ

הלק הוצמב ריהז יוה ,הילע רכש שיש הוצמה םצע דצמ לבא

לעש רשפא יכ ,ןרכשב םיוש םניא תוצמה יכ . . . הרומח הוצמבכ

ףוריצה איה הוצמה יכ ,הרומחה ןמ רתוי לודג רכש הלק הוצמ

. . . םדאה תפרצמש

ןוקת וא הנידמה רדסו ץוביק םייקל קר היה אל תוצמה םאו

שי יאדוב . . . תוצמב םעט םינתונ ויה םישנא הברהש ומכ ,םדאה

המכו תרחאה ןמ רתוי תלעות הב שי הוצמ הזיא ,הז לע דומעל

םדאה תופרצמו תויקלא םה תוצמה לבא ,תרחאה ןמ רתוי רכשה

הב תוצמה ןמ וזיא תעדל לכונ אלו ,וב תוקבד םדאל שיש דע

ןמ רתוי ונרמא רשא הזה ףוריצהש הלק הוצמ שי יכ ,רתוי ףוריצה

ירמגל הלות ןיאש ללכ רמול ךילע ןיא םוקמ לכמ לבא .הרומחה

רשאכ יאדוש ,וניא הזש ,םדאה לע השק איה הוצמהש המב

לע הז הרומ — םדאה לע רתוי השק איהש הוצמה םייקמ אוה

רשפא יכ קר ,ארגא ארעצ םופלו ובל לכב ךרבתי ׳ה בהוא אוהש

הוצמ לע אוהש הממ רתוי הלקה הוצמה לע רכשה היהיש אוה

. . . םדאה תפרצמ איהש המצעב הוצמה דצמ ,הרומחה


וב תוקיבדהו רוביחה םדאה לא םיאיבמ תוצמהש המב ,רבדה ללכ

אוה תוקיבדל הביס תוצמ הזיא ןיבהלו תעדל לכונ אל ךכל ,ךרבתי

הרומחבכ הלק הוצמב ריהז יוה״ :ורמא ךכיפלו ,תוחפ הזיאו רתוי

תוצמב םירהזנ םניא םדא ינב רשא ,הרותב לודג שרוש והזו ,״’וכו

הילע רכשהש רשפאש ,שנועה םלעהו רכשה םלעה םע תולק

רבדו ,תולודגבש הלודגכ ןכ םג שנועהו ,תולודגבש הלודגכ

.ראובמ הז

The explanation is as follows: There are two elements to every mitzvah. When speaking to the level of difficulty

required for mitzvah observance, some mitzvot are more

challenging than others, and there’s no doubt that such

mitzvot warrant greater reward than other mitzvot that are not as difficult to fulfill. But then there’s the mitzvah itself [independent of how much energy is needed to fulfill it], and from that perspective, it is entirely possible that an easier mitzvah is inherently more worthy of reward than a more challenging mitzvah.

With regard to the mitzvah of sending away the mother bird, Scripture promises reward, “So that it be good for you.” What these words mean is that if a relatively easy mitzvah such as sending away the mother bird, which incurs only small losses, fetches such a great reward, certainly a more challenging mitzvah with greater losses fetches an even greater reward—for reward is commensurate to effort. But when speaking of the mitzvah itself, and the inherent reward it carries [independent of the efforts expended for its fulfillment], a person ought to be as scrupulous with a light mitzvah as he is with a more severe one. . . . Mitzvot are not inherently equal in the rewards they carry, and it can very well be that a lighter mitzvah carries greater reward


than a more severe one, for a mitzvah is something that purifies the person. . . .

If the mitzvot were simply rules of convention to keep soci‑ ety in check or to better the human race as many do indeed explain, . . . then there would indeed be room to judge which

mitzvot have more purpose and which ones carry greater reward. But the reality is that mitzvot are [much more than just social conventions; they are] G‑dly instructions that refine the person and connect him with G‑d. We cannot know which mitzvot refine the person more, as it is entirely possible that a light mitzvah greatly refines the person, more so than a severe mitzvah.

This is not to say that the degree of difficulty in perfor‑ mance has no implications. Of course, when a person fulfills a mitzvah that is very challenging for him, that demonstrates a profound love for G‑d, and he is rewarded accordingly. All we are saying is that it’s possible that a lighter mitzvah can have greater reward in the sense that the mitzvah refines its performer to a greater degree. This is the point: The mitzvot forge a connection between the person who fulfills it and G‑d. As such, it’s impossible to know which mitzvot will trigger a stronger connection and which ones less so. Thus, our sages said, “And be care‑ ful with a light commandment as with a grave one, etc.” This is a fundamental principle in Torah, as many are not careful with lighter mitzvot,assuming that the reward and punishment are not so great. The truth, however, is not like that, as explained.







ילכ ידי לע הטמל ךרבתי ורוא ךישמהל אוהש ,הוצמה תנווכ אוהו

.רוביח ןושל ,״אתווצ״ ןושל אוהו ,וזלה הרותהו הוצמה

The purpose of all mitzvot is to draw down the light of G‑d below through the material tools of Torah and mitzvot, as is signified by the word “mitzvah,” which can translate as “connection” [tzavta].




רבד הזיא תושעל טושפ שיאל הוצמה לודג םכחמ — הזל לשמהו

שיא ירה — לכשהו המכחה ןינע אוה ותוהמ לכש לודג םכח :ורובע

םוקמ ספות וניאש דבלב וז אל ,תולכשומב קסוע וניאש טושפ

,לודג םכח לצא ,ןכש ,ללכ םלועב וניא וליאכ ,תאז דוע אלא ,ולצא

רשאכ ,םנמא .ללכ תואיצמל תבשחנ הניא לכש הניאש תואיצמ

שיאהו ,וליבשב רבד הזיא תושעל טושפ שיאל הו ַצמ םכחה

יזא — וחכ יפל ומייקמש ףא — םכחה יוויצ תא םייקמ טושפ

.לודג םכחהל טושפה שיאה ןיב רוביחו אתווצ השענ

תואיצמש יפ לע ףאש — תווצמה םויקל עגונב לשמנב ותמגודו

םהלש תווצמה םויק םגו ,ךרבתי וילא ללכ ךרעב הניא םיארבנה

רוביחו אתווצ הז ידי לע השענ ,םוקמ לכמ ,םחכ יפל אלא וניא

.אוה ךורב שודקה םע

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (Alter Rebbe) 1745–1812

Chasidic rebbe, halachic authority, and founder of the Chabad movement. The Alter Rebbe was born in Liozna, Belarus, and was among the principal students of the Magid of Mezeritch. His numerous works include the Tanya, an early classic containing the fundamentals of Chabad

Chasidism; and Shulchan

Aruch HaRav, an expanded and reworked code of Jewish law.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson 1902–1994

The towering Jewish leader of the 20th century, known as “the Lubavitcher Rebbe,” or simply as “the Rebbe.” Born in southern Ukraine, the Rebbe escaped Nazi-occupied Europe, arriving in the U.S. in June 1941. The Rebbe inspired and guided the revival of traditional Judaism after the European devastation, impacting virtually every Jewish community the world over. The Rebbe often emphasized that the performance of just one additional good deed could usher in the era of Mashiach. The Rebbe’s scholarly talks and writings have been printed in more than 200 volumes.


An analogy for this is when an exceedingly wise person asks a very simple person to do something for him. Now, for this academic, a simpleton who doesn’t engage in any sort of studies or intellectual pursuit really has no place at all in his world. In the academic’s world, it’s as if the simpleton doesn’t exist. After all, anything unrelated to academia and knowledge is simply insignificant in his world.

However, when the academic instructs the simpleton to do something for him, and the latter carries it out, a connec‑ tion between them has now been formed.

This is a metaphor for the power of a mitzvah: There is simply no relative link between us and G‑d. Yet the mitzvot

we do—albeit on our material terms—forge a connection between us and G‑d.




תינברה ותגוז תא עמש ,ורדחמ ןקזה ר”ומדא תאצב ,תחא םעפ

. . . ”טג ָאז רעניימ“ :ויתודוא תרמואו ,םישנ המכ םע תחחושמ

ךיא ןיב הוצמ ןייא טימ“ :וכרדכ ,ןוגינב — ןקזה ר”ומדא רמאיו

ןעשנו ,”ס’נטשרעביוא םעד ןעמ זיא לעפיוו תווצמ טימ ,רענייד

.תוקיבד’ר ַאפ ךיז טאה ןוא ,חתפה תזוזמ לע

The Alter Rebbe once left his room and heard his wife speaking with some other ladies. In the course of her conversation, she mentioned her husband, saying, “Mine says . . .”


The Alter Rebbe commented with his trademark singsong voice, “I am yours with one mitzvah [marriage], how

many mitzvot, then, does it take to become G‑d’s?!” He

then leaned on the doorway and entered into a trance‑ like contemplation.

The Purpose of Mitzvot




סאוו — רוביחו אתווצ ןושלמ הוצמ — תוצמ עלא ןופ הדוקנ יד

ףוס ןיא תוהמו תומצע טימ ןדנובעגוצ ןעמ טרעוו תוצמ ךרוד

ןשיווצ דיישרעטנוא ןייק ןא ,ךיילג תוצמ עלא אב זיא — אוה ךורב

.״בקע״ רעדא ״שאר״ ,תולק תוצמ ןוא תורומח תוצמ

The point of all mitzvot—the word “mitzvah” connoting

“connection,” as it were—is that through mitzvot we become connected to G‑d Himself. This notion is equally true with every mitzvah, without any distinction between “severe” vs. “light” mitzvot, or “head” [mitzvot] vs. “heel” [mitzvot].


Why the Alter Rebbe Was Right—A

New Way of Thinking




םייקמ עקאט ןעמ ףראד םינינע עלא יד זא תמא :זיא הנעט ןייז

טימ ןייג ןוא ןאט רע ףראד ,ייברעד טינ ךאנ טלאה רע רעבא ,ןייז

תופסוה . . . םעדכאנ ןוא . . . םיירקע םינינעב ןמז ךשמ א .רדס א

םינפל ןופ ןבייהנא רע טעוו — םעדכאנ ןוא . . . הז ירחאלש

.’וכו תודיסח ןופ ןינע ןא ,ןידה תרושמ

ףראד ץלא רעבא ,םולשו סח ךאז ןייק ןופ פא טינ ךיז טגאז רע

.רדס א טימ ןייג

ןפואב לארשי תבהא ןגעוו םענייא טימ טדערעג לאמא טאה’מ —

רע ןוא .רדס ןייק טינ זיא סע רע טגאז — ’וכו ןידה תרושמ םינפלד

א ןא ,ךיש ןא סאג ןיא טייג רענייא :לשמ ןטיירג א םעד ףיוא טאה

...”יאט“ א זלאה ןפיוא טגארט רע רעבא — ’וכו דמעה

His claim is: Yes, it’s true that we have to fulfill everything— but I’m not there yet! Things must progress in order: let’s spend some time on the basics; . . . after that we’ll add some more, . . . and after that, we’ll start working on matters that are beyond the letter of the law, or matters of extra piety. He doesn’t, G‑d forbid, negate anything per se; rather, he simply claims that things must progress more organically. Someone was once speaking with another about ahavat Yis-rael in a way that goes beyond the letter of the law, and the latter responded, “This doesn’t follow protocol.” To boot, he had a ready analogy, “If one goes about in the streets without shoes, without a shirt—would it make sense to go around with a tie? . . .”





ןופ ,רדס א ןגעוו ןטכארט וצ טרא ןייק טינ טאה ןינע םעד ןיא

רע טדניבראפ םעד טימ זא סייוו רע דלאביוו . . . בקע טימ שאר

. . . אוה ךורב ףוס ןיא תוהמו תומצע טימ ךיז

םדוק השענ זיא טייקשידיא ןוא הרותה תלבק ןופ יאנת רעד

. . . רדסה ךפיה . . . עמשנל

טימ טינ ןוא לוע תלבקו הנומא טימ אקוד ןביוהנא ףראד ןעמ

תלבק טימ ןאט ןעמ ףראד לכשב םינבומה םינינע יד ךיוא ;לכש

ןלייצרעד ףראד ןעמ :ךוניחה ןינע ןיא ךיוא זיא יוזא ןוא .לוע

סאד ,לכש ןופ רעכעה ןענייז סאוו ,םיתפומ ןופ םינינע רעדניק

ןייק טינ זיא סאד זא תונעט יד ןוא .הנומא ייז ןיא ןייא טצנאלפ

םיליהבמה םינינע טימ ןביוהנא ןעמ ףראד ךרוצ הזיאל ןוא ,רדס

.ערה רצי םעד ןופ ןעמוק — המודהו ןויערה תא

When it comes to these matters, there’s no space to think about progressions or about the head versus the heel . . . for we know that with a mitzvah, a person connects with the very core of G‑d Himself. . . .

The first prerequisite for Torah and Judaism is “we will do”

before “we will understand” . . . —not exactly the natural progression. . . .

We must begin with faith and acceptance, and not with rationale; even those matters that do indeed make sense ought to be infused with a simple sense of acceptance. We must approach education this way as well: We must tell our children all about miracles and matters that indeed defy reason, and that anchor faith within them. As to the naysayers who claim that it’s not a natural progression, and why are you bothering small children with matters that defy reason, etc.—know that it’s all from the evil inclination.






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