Beharmain posts

From the Torah Portion of Behar


כִּ֤י תָבֹ֙אוּ֙ אֶל־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֲנִ֖י נֹתֵ֣ן לָכֶ֑ם וְשָׁבְתָ֣ה הָאָ֔רֶץ שַׁבָּ֖ת לַי־הוֽה (בהר כה, ב)

“…When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land shall observe a Shabbat for Havayah” (Leviticus 25:2)

First Reading: Unifying the Divine Mind with Human Intellect

Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev provides an explanation from the Arizal regarding Sabbath:

“And the land shall rest—a Sabbath to God.” For it is written in the writings of the Arizal regarding the verse, “And you shall speak unto the children of Israel, saying: ‘My Sabbaths you shall safeguard.’”[1] The Tur states that during the time of enslavement in Egypt, Moses requested Pharaoh to allow the Jews to rest one day per week from their labor, and he chose the Shabbat day. When we were commanded about the Shabbat, Moses rejoiced in his portion because he had previously conceived of it as a day of rest. This is the meaning of the words with which God begins the commandment to keep the Sabbath, “And you shall speak,” because it was you who previously wished to prescribe rest on the Shabbat. This is the meaning of, “My Sabbaths you shall keep,” to stress that Israel should rest on the Sabbath not because of rest from their labor, but because God has commanded that they rest on the Sabbath.

Similarly, Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev also explains the notion that the Sabbatical year will be “a Sabbath to God”:

This is the meaning of, “And the land shall rest—a Sabbath to God.” For it is common practice around the world to plow a field for one year and leave it fallow the next to enhance its potential. But this is why the Torah writes, “And the land shall rest—a Sabbath to God,” indicating that the Sabbatical year, when the land rests, is not due to the benefits afforded the land, but a Sabbath to God—in keeping with His commandment.

From Rebbe Levi Yitzchak’s teachings, we can conclude that Moses acts as an intermediary, connecting the human intellect and the Divine intellect. Human intellect instructs us to pursue that which is preferable and beneficial based on our rational mind and in accordance with Nature. Divine intellect represents God’s absolute will; it reasons in a way that our rational mind cannot understand and prescribes that which is absolutely beneficial, even if it contradicts Nature.

Meaning that Moses has an intuitive sense within his human intellect that aligns it with God’s will. Indeed, it is stated that “Moses performed three acts [of leadership] that were of his own accord [and independently of God’s will], and the Holy Blessed One concurred with him.”[2] We even find that Moses says “Thus says Havayah, the God of Israel”[3] regarding his own innovations.

We therefore learn that the ultimate goal of the entire Torah, “the Torah of Moses,”[4] is to elevate us to unite with God’s will specifically through the soul of Moses our Teacher, a point revealed in the verse, “and they believed in God [through] and in Moses His servant.”[5] This is the secret of what we say every Shabbat morning, “Moses will rejoice in the gift of his portion, for You have named him a faithful servant… and among them [he intuited] the observance of Shabbat.”

The sages describe this special power that Moses has with the phrase, “Moses attained understanding (binah),”[6] referring to the intermediary faculty of our intellect (corresponding to the first hei in God’s essential Name, Havayah) that mediates between God’s wisdom and will (corresponding to the yud and the tip of the yud in Havayah) and human intellect, which considers the emotional attributes (corresponding to the vav and hei in Havayah) and strives to attain what our mundane mind finds to be humanely beneficial. Hence, when God approves Moses’ understanding and explicitly commands what Moses has suggested of his own accord, it is said of him, “Moses will rejoice in the gift of his portion”—and joy is the inner dimension of the sefirah of understanding.

The letters of “will rejoice” (יִשְׂמַח) permute to spell “Mashiach” (מָשִׁיחַ), in this case referring to Mashiach the son of Joseph, whose origin is in the Supernal Mother’s intellect, i.e., the sefirah of understanding, a connection alluded to in the verse, “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him.”[7]

In particular, Moses has an essential connection with the number 7 and to the Sabbath, the seventh day (and Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, as we saw, expands this teaching to the Sabbatical year, the seventh year) because he himself is referred to as “the seventh”—the seventh generation from Abraham—and “anyone who is seventh is endeared.”[8] Joseph corresponds to and symbolizes the sixth day of the week, when a double portion of manna fell from Heaven[9] enabling the Sabbath to be “a day of rest.” Joseph, the sixth, thus prepares for Moses, representing the seventh.[10]

Numerically, “a day of rest” (יוֹם מְנוּחָה) has the same value as one of Moses’ most important statements, which reveals his essential quality of self-nullification, “And we are naught” (וְנַחְנוּ מָה). Adding the value of “Moses” (מֹשֶׁה) to “And we are naught”[11] (וְנַחְנוּ מָה) we get the product of “that” (כי) and “good” (טוב), alluding to the way his mother described him when he was born, “[She saw] that he was good”[12] (כִּי טוֹב).

The Sabbath is “Good” when it is safeguarded because of God’s commandment to do so and not because of the natural benefits gained from it and from keeping the Sabbatical year. Indeed, the Sabbath’s good is hinted to in the traditional Yiddish blessing, “Good Shabbes.” The average of the words “Sabbath” (שַׁבָּת) and “a day of rest” (יוֹם מְנוּחָה) is 17 squared, where 17 is the value of “good” (טוֹב).

When we safeguard the Sabbath and the Sabbatical year because of God’s command and not to benefit from it naturally, we rectify the sin of the Earth that occurred during Creation. God had commanded the Earth to produce a fruit tree, in which “the taste of the tree will be identical to the taste of the fruit.”[13] The union of the tree and the fruit through their common taste represents the unification of the means [the tree] and the end [the fruit]. When applied to the Sabbath and to the Sabbatical year, it represents reaping the natural benefits inherent in both (rest and rejuvenation of the earth) even while safeguarding solely because of God’s commandment.


(excerpted from Ma’ayan Ganim, Vayikra, Emor)



וְלֹ֤א תוֹנוּ֙ אִ֣ישׁ אֶת־עֲמִית֔וֹ וְיָרֵ֖אתָ מֵֽאֱ־לֹהֶ֑יךָ (בהר כה, יח)

“Do not cheat one another, but fear your God” (Leviticus 25:18)

Second Reading: Self-Integrity


On the verse, “You shall not cheat one another, but fear your God; for I am Havayah your God,” Rebbe Bunim of Peshischa commented:

The intent is that a person should not cheat himself of his own truth, for the letter ayin (ע) in the word “another” (עֲמִיתוֹ), can be exchanged with the letter alef (א), transforming it into the word “his truth” (אֲמִיתוֹ).

He further added that the Torah forbids cheating others, but a pious and God-fearing person goes beyond the letter of the law, striving not to deceive himself either, and does not entertain thoughts that would lead him to imagine that he is of a greater stature than he truly is.

The source for this innovative teaching from Rebbe Bunim seems to be from the following story:

Once, Rebbe Bunim of Peshischa came to the study hall and found the chasidim sitting and engaged in discussions about Chasidut. He asked them, “Tell me, what is a chasid?” One of the chasidim answered, “A chasid is called someone who goes beyond the letter of the law.”

Rebbe Bunim responded positively and said, “That is exactly what I meant. It is written in the Torah, ‘You shall not cheat one another’—this is the measured requirement of the law. Going beyond the letter of the law requires that one should not cheat himself either.”

Do Not be a Cheater

The exchange of the letters alef (א) and ayin (ע) is discussed in the Talmud.[14] According to the Torah’s inner dimension, the letter alef is the inner dimension of the letter ayin such as in the phrase, “garments of skin” (כֻּתֳּנוֹת עוֹר), which Rabbi Meir would render as “garments of light” (כֻּתֳּנוֹת אוֹר).[15] From here derives the interpretation of the verse offered by Rebbe Bunim that you shall not cheat or deceive yourselves.

This sharp statement encapsulates the typical practice of Chasidut found in the Peshischa study hall where Rebbe Bunim taught his chasidim to strive for authentic truth without a trace of self-deception, coupled with penetrating self-criticism, a practice that reached its most powerful influence with his disciple, Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Kotzk. As Rebbe Bunim said: This is precisely the definition of a chasid!

This principle is also foundational to the Tanya, as it is well-known that the entirety of the Tanya can be summarized by the dictum: “Do not be deceitful!” The core principle is one and the same, but in the Chabad approach, the main emphasis is on the rectification of the intellect and consciousness itself—the intellect in and of itself—which innately and effortlessly influences the emotions. Conversely, the Peshischa approach focuses directly on the rectification of the emotive faculties in the heart. This is known as the drawing down of intellectual energy to the emotions to rectify them through a penetrating demand for self-examination and clarification of the truth.

The Letter of the Law and the Attribute of Chasidut

In response to the question "Who is a chasid?", the student correctly stated: a chasid is careful that his actions follow not only the law but go beyond the letter of the law. This is the simple definition of a chasid in the teachings of the sages. Similarly, the sages define a chasid as one for whom the welfare of another person takes precedence over his own welfare. Yet, Rebbe Bunim brilliantly connected this definition with the crucial principle of not deceiving oneself: not deceiving one’s friend is the law, the plain meaning of the verse, “You shall not cheat one another.” Going beyond the letter of the law extends the prohibition of deceiving others into the prohibition of deceiving ourselves. We must not cheat ourselves out of our truth. Thus, a chasid is someone who does not deceive himself.

The prohibition of exploiting or deceiving others (ona'ah, in Hebrew) is mentioned twice in parashat Behar. The first time is with regard to financial exploitation, “Do not cheat, a person his brother”[16] (אַל תּוֹנוּ אִישׁ אֶת אָחִיו). The second time is with regard to verbal deceit or abuse, “You shall not cheat [or deceive] one another” (וְלֹא תוֹנוּ אִישׁ אֶת עֲמִיתוֹ). As Rashi explains regarding the latter, “Here the Torah cautions us against verbal abuse: a person should not provoke his friend nor give him advice that is unsuitable for him and will cause him harm or loss while benefitting the advisor.” In the case of financial exploitation, the Torah uses the term “his brother” (אָחִיו), and in the case of verbal abuse, the term “his fellow” (עֲמִיתוֹ). The sum of the two words, “brother” (אָח) and “fellow” (עָמִית) is 529, the value of “pleasure” (תַּעֲנוּג), or 23 squared, suggesting that treating all Jews as brothers and fellows is a source of Divine pleasure.

Service without Ulterior Motives

The demand that one not deceive oneself also encompasses the need for purity of intent. What this means is that we should eliminate any ulterior motive in our service of God, and that the outcome of serving God should not be self-aggrandizement or pride. This is described by one of Rebbe Bunim’s disciples, Rabbi Yaakov Aharon from Zalshin-Alexander in his book Beit Yaakov:

When a person sells something to another, he is cautioned against fraud, and if a defect is found in the item, the transaction is void. Similarly, in the service of God, when a person sells himself to God [i.e., devotes himself to God], he must ensure that he is free from any defect or blemish. This commandment carries with it a moral lesson in the service of God—that one should be pure-hearted, with no other motive but for God alone. Whether in prayer or in the constant study of the Torah, one must be very careful not to fall into arrogance or self-aggrandizement, God forbid. If not, God forbid, it is considered akin to exploitation (ona’ah, as above) and the transaction is null and void.

What we learn from this is that selling oneself, as it were, to God, i.e., when dedicating oneself to God’s service, is like a transaction that is governed by the prohibition against exploitation. On the other side of the transaction, God provides the individual who serves Him with feelings of love of God and awe of God, up to and including the constant love that will be revealed in the future World to Come, known as “great pleasurable love” (אַהֲבָה רַבָּה בַּתַּעֲנוּגִים). But because this is akin to a transaction, one must guard against deceit or fraud that would cast the transaction’s legitimacy in doubt. It is crucial to ensure there is no blemish of ulterior motive or pride, whether the particular service of God be the study of Torah, or prayer, or the performance of the commandments.

But just as much as we need to be careful not to serve out of ulterior motives, we need to be careful not to probe or second guess our motivations too much! For there is always room for concern that a good deed is motivated by some self-interest or a hint of pride. This possibility is inescapable as captured in the words of King Solomon, “There is no righteous man on earth who does good and does not sin [in the very process of doing good].”[17] Consequently, if we take Rebbe Bunim’s teaching to the extreme, we might refrain from doing good!

For example, if someone comes to teach Torah but fears that doing so may lead him to feel pride, since he wants to see the fulfillment of the prayer, “May my friends rejoice in me,” should his conclusion be not to teach Torah!? Certainly not!

It is told[18] of a chasid who followed the Mittler Rebbe’s request that his chasidim relate what they had learnt in Lubavitch on their way back home. This particular chasid had a gift for teaching and he complained to the Mittler Rebbe that whenever he performed the Rebbe’s request, he would be filled with a sense of pride. The Mittler Rebbe told him, “Even if you become an onion, you must continue spreading Chasidut.”[19] Indeed, when the chasid acts as an emissary on behalf of the Rebbe-the sender, he knows that the Rebbe takes the matter upon himself.


(from a class given on 23 Adar 5767)



וְהָאָ֗רֶץ לֹ֤א תִמָּכֵר֙ לִצְמִתֻ֔ת כִּי־לִ֖י הָאָ֑רֶץ כִּֽי־גֵרִ֧ים וְתוֹשָׁבִ֛ים אַתֶּ֖ם עִמָּדִֽי (בהר כה, כג)

“But the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but sojourners and residents with Me.” (Leviticus 25:23)

Third Reading: When Is Despair a Positive Thing?



Order of the Aliyot

As we have discussed a number of times in the past, the seven Aliyot, or readings, into which each parashah in the Torah is divided correspond to the seven emotive faculties, from loving-kindness (chessed) to kingdom (malchut). Thus, the third reading corresponds to the sefirah of beauty (tiferet), which can also be understood as “aggrandizement” (הִתְפָּאֲרוּת), which in Hebrew is an inflected form of beauty (תִּפְאֶרֶת).

We are commanded to divide the Land of Israel among all the Jews, each head of a family receiving a plot of land that will be handed down and divided among the family members and their offspring in perpetuity. Though this plot of land can be sold by its inheritors, it is actually rented out for a number of years until the next Jubilee Year when the parcel of land returns to its inheritor-owners, as the Torah states, “the land must not be sold in perpetuity.”[20]

In the third reading, the Torah discusses the return of land to its original inheritor-owners in the Jubilee Year. Kabbalistically, the Jubilee year is strongly tied with the sefirah of understanding (binah), as both are related to the number 50.

Awareness that, “the land is Mine,” i.e., belongs to God, sets us on a different level of consciousness, both personally and in our relationships with others. As Rashi says, “Your shall not begrudge it, for it is not yours.” Instead, one should constantly live with the feeling that one is a sojourner and a resident in this world. Living with this consciousness is the remedy required to combat the need to feel we have solidified our place in this world.

This is the positive form of despair that is required to rectify the negative sense of self-aggrandizement that accompanies our success or search for success.[21] When one minimizes his own honor and self-worth and maximizes the honor of God, one has rectified the sefirah of beauty and has used aggrandizement in the proper way.

Turning again to Kabbalah, we can say that returning land to its inheritor-owner in the Jubilee Year connects the sefirah of understanding (binah), the Mother Principle, with the sefirah of beauty (tiferet), or Ze’er Anpin. This is known in the Zohar as, “the foundation of the Mother extends and ends in Ze’er Anpin” (יְסוֹד אִמָּא מִסְתַּיֵּם בְּתִפְאֶרֶת זְעֵיר אַנְפִּין).

[1]. Exodus 31:13.

[2]. Shabbat 87a.

[3]. Exodus 32:27.

[4]. Malachi 3:22.

[5]. Tanna DeBei Eliyahu, ch. 4.

[6]. See Rosh Hashanah 21b. Zohar 2:115a (and Nitzutzei Zohar there).

[7]. Exodus 13:19.

[8]. Vayikra Rabbah 29:11.

[9]. Exodus 16:5 and 16:22. See also Bereishit Rabbah 11:2.

[10]. They are also found together in the Exodus and the forty years in the wilderness, when “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him” (Ibid. 16:5).

[11]. Ibid. verses 7 and 8.

[12]. Exodus 2:2.

[13]. See Rashi on Genesis 1:11.

[14]. Berachot 32b: Do not read "to [אַל, with an alef] God," but rather "onto [עַל, with an ayin] God," As [the sages of] the school of Rabbi Eliezer ben Ya’akov would [indiscriminately] read alef as ayin and ayin as alef.

[15]. See also Wonders issue 83, p. 9.

[16]. Leviticus 25:14.

[17]. Ecclesiastes 7:20.

[18]. Torat Menachem vol. 22, p. 162.

[19]. Why did the Mittler Rebbe compare a person with pride to an onion? One possibility is that an onion bulb is all peels or husks, or in Hebrew kelipot, an image used to describe impurity. Others note that if you continue peeling the bulb, eventually you are left with nothing. The prideful person is the same—peel the pride and there is nothing underneath.

[20]. Leviticus 25:23.

[21]. This is the subject of the sometimes difficult to understand aphorism appearing in Mivchar HaPeninim (ch. 15). “Said the wise man: Despair from that which people possess is the [true] aggrandizement of man. For avarice is poverty, resignation is liberty, and hope is slavery.”

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