24 positive commandments and 39 prohibitions
Laws addressed to the priests
Laws addressed to the high priest
Blemishes disqualify a priest from service but permit him to eat from the offerings
Priestly consumption restrictions
Offerings of a blemished animal are prohibited
Laws relating to animal slaughtering
Laws relating to, and reasons for, Shabbos and Festivals:
o Omer offering
o Counting of the Omer
o Rosh Hashana, a day of Shofar blowing
o Yom Kippurim, a day of atonement for those returning to God
o Succot, a week of celebration, of living in booths, of holding and waving four plants
o Shemini Atzeres
Clear olive oil needed for daily lighting of the Menorah
Twelve loaves of bread (two stacks of six each) are to be baked weekly and placed on the Table. The loaves that are removed are eaten by the priests
A blasphemer who pronounces God’s name is put to death by stoning
Monetary compensation for injuries inflicted by one person on another
Equal treatment of convert and native
Not to Slaughter an Ox or Sheep (Mother) and Her Child in One Day
After listing the blemishes that make an animal unsuitable for sacrifice, the Torah introduces other disqualifiers. A newborn calf, lamb or kid may not be offered until seven days have passed. A korban cannot have a complete spiritual impact unless it is perfect and unblemished in every way. Sefer Hachinuch explains that during the first week of its life an animal is not fit for anything; “no one will covet it to partake of it or do business with it or give it as a gift”. Others think that the reason for the prohibition is to prevent inflicting needless suffering to both mother and child.
According to Maimonides, the not slaughtering of mother and child on the same day is another example of preventing cruelty to animals (as is utilizing the most humane method of slaughtering). If this is the extent to which the Torah goes to prevent suffering of bird and beast, how much more so in dealing with humans!
Ramban shifts the focus entirely to us—that we should cultivate the quality of mercy and avoid cruelty in our lives.
“You Shall Not Profane My Holy Name”
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains that the concepts of sanctifying God’s name (kiddush Ha’shem) and desecrating His Name (chillul Ha’shem) evolved over time. The Torah statement is directed at the Priests whose job it was to serve God in the mishkan. As guardians of the holy, they needed to be especially careful in their behavior.
Avraham Avinu pleads with God not to cause chillul Ha’shem by destroying the righteous along with wicked of Sodom and Gomorrah.
The prophets considered chillul Ha’shem to mean immoral conduct that dishonors God’s code of justice and compassion. Amos rails against people who “trample on the heads of the poor”. Jeremiah sees chillul Ha’shem in the circumvention of Torah laws by those who capture and re-enslave slaves that they emancipated earlier. Malachi criticizes the Priests who profane God’s name, even as the nations of the world honor it.
Ezekiel viewed exile as chillul Ha’shem in that the other nations would interpret God’s action to allow the Israelites to be conquered as His inability to protect his people.
The victims of the Holocaust “died al kiddush Hashem,” that is, for the sake of sanctifying God’s name. Though martyrdom in the past meant choosing to die for the sake of God during the Nazi genocide Jews were not given the choice. “By calling them in retrospect, martyrs, Jews gave the victims the dignity in death of which they were so brutally robbed in life.”
Rambam’s opinion is that chillul Ha’shem occurs when people of great Torah stature and renowned for their piety, do not treat their fellow humans in an exemplary manner. “When people associate religiosity with integrity, decency, humility and compassion, God’s name is sanctified. When they come to associate it with contempt for others and for the law, the result is a desecration of God’s name.”
Concludes Rabbi Sacks: “To be a Jew is to be dedicated to the proposition that loving God means loving His image, humankind.”
The Three Pilgrimage Holidays (Shalosh R’galem)
These holidays have historical meaning but also link with Nature and with God, the foundation of Nature.
In his analysis of the Parsha, Rabbi Menachem Leibtag makes a number of interesting observations…
The use of the Hebrew word moed (instead of the word chag) to identify the holidays. Moed, which means a fixed time, is also used to describe the Mishkan (Ohel Moed).
The identification of the dates of the holidays by referring both to the solar calendar (corresponding to the various seasons) and to the lunar calendar (the date of the month) which is based on the monthly cycle of the moon.
The first mention of the three holidays occurs in Parshat Mishpatim, where the holidays are described only by their place in the agricultural cycle. The primary mitzvah for each is to visit God at the Mishkan/Temple(aliyah l’regel)…
• Passover, Chag Ha’Matzot, takes place in the Spring
• Shavuot, Chag Ha’katzir, the wheat harvest, takes place in the early Summer
• Succoth, Chag Ha’asif, the fruit harvest takes place in the Autumn
A later summation in Parshat Re’ay in Sefer Devarim adds where the aliyah l’regel is to take place--“At the site that God will choose to have His Name dwell there”—and that the holidays should be celebrated joyously not only with one’s family but also the stranger, the orphan and the widow. We celebrate and thank God for the bounty of our harvest and share our good fortune with the less fortunate.
In Parshat Pinchas, the Torah details the specific additional offerings that need to be brought (korban musaf) on each holiday according to its lunar date.
In this week’s Parsha we are introduced to a specific mitzvah that is unique to each holiday:
• Passover—eating matzas; special Omer (barley) offering
• Shavuot—Shtei Halechem(two loaves of bread made from wheat)
• Rosh Ha’Shana—blowing the shofar
• Yom Kippur—fasting
• Succoth—sitting in the Sukkah ; taking the Arba Minim (lulav, etrog, hadassim, arovot)
Furthermore, though they presented chronologically by their lunar dates (month and day) each holiday also references where they are in the agricultural cycle (based on solar calendar date). Regarding the lunar date, the Torah requires that on that day(s)
o The nation must gather together
o No physical labor be done
o A special Musaf offering be brought (as listed in Parshat Pinchas)
Rabbi Leibtag explains the need for both the solar and lunar dates.The agricultural mitzvahs are dependent on Nature. The Omer offering on Passover is brought from barley, the first grain crop to ripen. During the next seven weeks the wheat crop’s ripening culminates in the offering of the two loaves (shtei halechem) on Shavuot. The arba minim brought on Succoth represents the agricultural importance of the fruit crop and the need for water in the coming year. When the Torah describes these mitzvahs it refers to the respective holidays as shabbaton, a word related to Shabbat which in turn relates to the days of the week and the daily cycle of Nature produced by the sun (i.e., the world revolving around the sun in 365 days).While rejoicing during the celebration of the holidays we need to recognize and acknowledge that God is behind Nature—and to be grateful for all we receive from Him.
The lunar dates of the holidays underscore their historic significance to us, perhaps deriving from the Torah statement (when commemorating the Exodus from Egypt) that “This month will be for you the first month”.
By combining the two calendars, concludes Rabbi Leibtag, the Torah is sensitizing us to the realities that during the critical times of the agricultural cycle we need to thank God both for His providence over Nature and for His providence over our history. He is both the Force behind Nature and the One Who guides history. The Hebrew word moed stems from the root word that means “meeting”. It is at these special appointed times of the year that we have the opportunity to meet, experience and build a relationship with God in His “home” (Mishkan /Temple).
On “Ayen tachas ayen” (“an eye for an eye”)
Throughout history, this Biblical rule has been cited to justify cruel retributive behavior used by critics against Jews to show the (alleged) barbaric behavior of Jews and of the Torah (in contrast to the Christian ethic of “turning the other cheek”).
But the Rabbis clearly understood this law to mean monetary compensation. The punishment needs to be commensurate with the crime and if the meaning is to literally blind the offender inequitable outcomes could result. Ibn Ezra, citing Rav Sadya Gaon, notes the difficulty of an exact reproduction should the eye wound have been in a particular dangerous spot that could cause the death of the offender if the reproduction be attempted in the eye of the offender. If the offender dies during the removal of his eye, he would have lost both his eye and his life for poking out only one of the other person’s eyes. An injustice will occur if the offender was already blind in one eye and his good eye is to be removed because he will be left totally blind while the victim still has one good eye. How is one punished for causing partial loss of eyesight in one eye?
Rabbi Benno Jacob finds the key in the word tachas, since that word’s use in other places in the Torah can only mean approximate, or substitute for. In never means an exact replacement. For example, during the Akeda story Avraham offers a ram “tachas b’no” not an identical, not an exact equivalent, but something that is “in place of” or “instead of” his son. Therefore, tachas can only mean something monetary that is a substitute for (or an approximation of) the value of the eye but absolutely not the eye itself. Under Torah law, retribution for physical damages means monetary compensation, except in the case of intentional homicide.
The trup supports this conclusion since the phrasing is “eye” then “in lieu of an eye” which means that “(for) an eye” something “in lieu an eye” needs to be given.
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin notes that “based on the earliest known Jewish records, Jewish courts did not blind those who deprived others of sight”. Robert Alter indicates that monetary compensation for these physical damages was widespread in ancient Near Eastern codes.
Rabbi Gunther Plaut thinks that the intention of this progressive advance in criminal law may be to limit private revenge, particularly in family and tribal feuds. These laws try to blunt the bloodthirsty search for revenge characteristic of primitive family and tribal feuds, in order to build a functioning and civilized modern society.
As to why the Torah does not explicitly state that monetary compensation is meant, some have suggested that the point is that the money is not enough. The offender also needs to beg forgiveness. The very juxtaposition of the verse discussing payment for damage of property next to the verse discussing the monetary damage for causing loss of limb underscores the sharp contrast between the two. Cattle are only chattel, but a human being is unique and special and created in God’s image Any damage caused to his person merits a more intense response.