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Published by Congregation Israel of Springfield NJ, 2018-09-14 07:01:43

Rei'ach HaSadeh - Volume 2: Reaching Out




It is well known, and cited many times in the sefer Meor Aynaim,1
that the Ba’al Shem Tov often taught that the entirety of Torah is relevant
to all Jews in every generation and that each component of the written and
oral law has an actionable teaching.2 That being the case, what can be
learned and applied from the account of burning bush in Parashas Shemos, in
which we read: “‫” ְו ִה ֵנה ַה ְס ֶנה ֹב ֵער ָב ֵאש ְו ַה ְס ֶנה ֵאי ֶננּו ֻא ָכל‬-“the thorn bush was burning
with fire, but the thorn bush was not being consumed.” 3

To answer this question, let us first explore a noteworthy passuk
central to another incendiary event: the holiday of Channukah which
follows this High Holiday season. The passuk in Mishlei states: “ ,‫ִכי ֵנר ִמ ְצ ָוה‬
‫” ְותֹו ָרה אֹור‬-“For a commandment is a candle, and the Torah is light.” 4 R. Shalom
Dovber, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, explains that there are two
fundamental elements of a candle: the vessel (Ner, which contains the oil
and wick) and the light that’s produced (Or).5 The vessel is essential to
maintain the light; without it, there would be no structure to maintain its

The necessity for a vessel to serve as a home for light is illustrated
beautifully in Parshas vaYechi, when Ya’akov gives blessings to his children at
the end of his life.6 Ya’akov’s comments to Shimon and Levi are troubling
and appear to be more of a curse than a blessing. He says: “Shimon and Levi
are brothers; stolen instruments are their weapons. Let my soul not enter their counsel; my
honor, you shall not join their assembly... Cursed be their wrath for it is mighty, and their
anger because it is harsh. I will separate them throughout Jacob, and I will scatter them
throughout Israel.” 7 The Meor vaShemesh explains that Ya’akov’s words
constitute a corrective blessing meant to alter the personality flaws that

* Edited by Robin Goldman Z”L, January 2016. This article is an adaptation of a speech
given by the author in honor of his son Shalom Dovber’s bris milah.
1 Rav Menachem Nachum Twersky of Chernobyl (1330-1787), a primary student of the Baal
Shem Tov.
2 For example, see Parashas vaYeishev: “And Yisroel Love Yossef” and Parashas BeShalach: “And
behold I will rain upon you bread from the sky.” See also Yosher Divrei Emes, authored by Rabbi
Meshullam Feivish of Zabriza(1740-1795), Ch. 25 and 32 for similar discussion.
3 Shmos 3:2.
4 Mishlei 6:23.
5 Maarmar Tanu Rabbanan: Ner Channukah, 5643.
6 BT Taanis 5b notes that, in fact, Ya’akov did not die.
7 Bereishis 49:5-7.

38 Rei’ach HaSadeh

drove both brothers to perceive even a minor lapse as a major violation. 8
The result, as Ya’akov had seen in Shechem, was a very strong and angry
response to sin.9

Ya’akov declares “‫” ָארּור ַא ָפם ִכי ָעז‬-“Cursed be their wrath for it is

mighty.”10 Meor VeShemesh explains that ‫ ָעז‬is a reference to Torah, as we see

in Tehillim: “‫” ְי ֹה ָוה ֹעז ְל ַעמֹו ִי ֵתן‬-“HaShem shall give the Jewish people the Torah
(literally might).”11 Thus, although Ya’akov feels obliged to tell Shimon and
Levi that their wrathful approach to Torah is cursed,12 he concludes with a
blessing that they should love all Jews, whether of great or lowly stature –

“ ‫ֲא ַח ְל ֵקם ְב ַי ֲע ֹקב ַו ֲא ִפי ֵצם‬

‫” ְב ִי ְש ָר ֵאל‬-“I will spread Holy Strength
them throughout Jacob [a The Aish Kodesh* teaches us how important strength is

reference to in our service of HaShem, when applied correctly. He
laymen 13 ] and scatter asks how the same attribute of stubborness can be
them across Yisra’el [a viewed as both the reason for HaShem’s anger at us (I
reference to Torah will not go amongst you because you are a stiff-knecked
scholars].” 14 While people, Shemos 33:3), as well as an argument that
Shimon and Levi Moshe uses for HaShem’s presence to be amongst us
were great Torah (May HaShem please go amongst us for they are a stiff-
scholars, Ya’akov knecked people, Shemos 34:9). He explained that when
used appropriately, strength and stiff-neckeness are

aimed to reinstill the extremely important traits for a Jew, no doubt
value off Jewish contributing to the eternal longevity of our nation.
unity; even though
Levi, the father of all * Rav Kalonymus Kalman Shapira (1889-1943) ZT’L, HY’D,
Kohanim and also known as the Warsaw Ghetto Rebbe

Levi’im today, had fantastic light (Or/Torah), he lacked an appropriate
vessel (Ner) to maintain its illumination.

What is the vessel that is best suited to hold the Torah? As Ya’akov
implied, and as the last mishnah in all of Mishnayos states explicitly: “ ‫אמר רבי‬
‫ אין לך כלי שהוא מחזיק ברכה אלא שלום‬,‫”שמעון בן חלפתא‬-“Rebbi Shimon the son of

8 Rav Kalonymus Kalman Halevi Epstein of Neustadt (1753-1827), the youngest student of
Rav Elimelech of Lizhensk.
9 Bereishis 34:25.
10 Bereishis 49:7.
11 Tehillim 29:11.

12 Ibn Ezra explains that ‫(ארור‬cursed) is the opposite of blessed. As a blessing seeks to adds,
a curse seeks to decrease - in this case, decreasing their wrath.
13 See Rav Mordechai Yosef of Ishbitz (1801-1854), Mei HaShiloach, Sefer BeMidbar, Parashas
Balak 23:23 for explanation of Ya’akov vs. Yisro’el.
14 Shemos 49:7.

Adam Reich 39

Chalafta stated: there is no vessel better at sustaining blessing [a reference to Torah15]
than Shalom.”16

It is perhaps for this reason that many prayers conclude with the
word Shalom, including Shemonah Esrei, Birkas Kohanim and Bentching, in
addition to this final Mishnah in Shas. According to R. Pinchas of Koretz,17
Shalom can be understood as the active creation of peace, even between
opposites.18 This interpretation is reinforced in the prayer that we recite at
the conclusion of Shemonah Esrei, “‫”עשה שלום במרומיו‬-“He who makes peace in
the heights.” R. Pinchas explains that this is a reference to ‫שמים‬
(sky/heavens), which combines ‫) אש‬fire) and ‫( מים‬water).19 Just as HaShem
creates peace between these two seeming adversaries to sustain the heavens,
so too we pray that He creates peace amongst us and all the Jewish people
as well (“‫”הוא יעשה שלום עלינו ועל כל ישראל‬-“He shall make peace upon us, and
upon all Israel.”). Similarly, the Ba’al Shem Tov was renowned for rendering
Beis Din (Rabbinic court) verdicts that pleased both parties, even if only one
side was fined. 20 We learn from these examples that the ideal way to
approach Torah and spread Torah is by embodying and manifesting Shalom.
If one does not approach Torah as a vessel for Shalom, then one cannot be
on the right path to truly connect with, live and disseminate Torah.

The individual who best embodied shalom was Levi’s great-
grandson, Aharon haKohen. Of him, the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos states:
“ ‫ אוהב את הברייות‬,‫אוהב שלום ורודף שלום‬-‫ הוי כתלמידיו של אהרון‬,‫הלל אומר‬
‫”ומקרבן לתורה‬-“Hillel said: One should aspire to be a student of Aharon – love peace,
chase after peace, love mankind and bring them closer to Torah.” 21 How did Aharon
accomplish this? Several explanations are given. Citing the Avos DeRabbi
Nosson, Rashi and the Bartenura explain that when Aharon would become
aware of an argument between friends, he would go to each person and say,
“Your friend is truly sorry, he knows he was at fault, and he wants very
much to restore your friendship.”22 That way, when they saw each other
again, there would be warm embraces, with each thinking that the other had
accepted responsibility for their rift.

15 The Mishnah quotes the same passuk as above, Tehillim 29:11.
16 Uktzin 3:12.
17 Rav Pinchas Shapiro of Koretz (1728-1790), student of the Baal Shem Tov.
18 Imrei Pinchas, Shaar haTefillah, teaching #81.
19 Ibid.
20 See Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim (New York: Schocken Book, 1991), p. 39.
21 Pirkei Avos 1:12.
22 Ibid.

40 Rei’ach HaSadeh

Rashi also relates another way in which Aharon strove to be a
vessel for Shalom. He cites the Gemara, which states that if a husband
makes a vow that his wife cannot benefit from him in any way unless she
spits in the Kohen Gadol’s eye, it is a valid vow and the marriage is
finished.23 Aaron haKohen pursed peace to such a degree that if he was
made aware of such a vow, he would approach the wife and tell her that his
eye had become diseased and could be cured only by her saliva. He would
then urgently implore the woman to please spit in his eye, which she would
promptly do and thereby sustain her marriage.

The Rambam and the Bartenura add another example. 24 Put
simply, Aharon would focus only on the good in people. When a rasha25
would approach him, Aharon would greet him with “Shalom,” treat him
with great respect, and talk with him for a long time, just as he would with a
Tzaddik. The visitor would feel embarrassed to his core and think: Woe is
me, if Aharon really knew my heart and how bad I truly am, he wouldn’t even look at
me, let alone talk with me. Since he thinks I’m a righteous person and is treating me like
one, I will make his intentions true – I’ll do full Teshuva. This person would then
become a dedicated student of Aharon.

Famously, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov similarly teaches that by
focusing on the best in others, we can help them to actually become the
best version of themselves.26 As it says in Tehillim, “ ‫ְועֹוד ְמ ַעט ְו ֵאין ָר ָשע‬
‫” ְו ִה ְתבֹו ַנ ְנ ָת ַעל ְמקֹומֹו ְו ֵאי ֶננו‬-“A little longer and there will be no more wicked man; you
will look at where he was and he will be gone.”27 If we focus on the good in
someone, even a rasha will no longer be a rasha. 28 By judging a rasha
favorably, we can literally change his level of righteousness, and raise him
from guilt to merit.29

Importantly, the Tanya explains that the only reason there is
discord between people in the first place is that we look at our separate
physical forms and think there is good reason for us to be disconnected.30
Spiritually however, we are all deeply connected – through G-dly eyes we

23 See Rashi’s commentary on Pirkei Avos, Ibid. Noted therein as being based on BT Nedarim
24 Pirkei Avos 1:12.
25 Either that Aharon felt that the person was a rasha or that it was told to Aharon that this
person was a rasha, having done aveiros.
26 Lekutei Moharan, Ch. 282
27 Tehillim 37:10.
28 37:10
29 Rebbe Nachman further points out that the same is true about finding the good in
30 Lekutei Amarim, Ch. 2.

Adam Reich 41

would certainly view each other with Shalom.31 In fact, the Meor vaShemesh
explains that Ahavas Yisra’el (an important aspect of Shalom) is a prerequisite
for Birkas Kohanim. We learn about Birkas Kohanim in Parashas Naso: “ ‫ְי ָב ֶר ְכָך‬
‫ ִי ָשא ה' ָפ ָניו ֵא ֶליָך ְו ָי ֵשם ְלָך ָשלֹום‬:‫ ָי ֵאר ה' ָפ ָניו ֵא ֶליָך ִוי ֻח ֶנ ָך‬:‫”ה' ְו ִי ְש ְמ ֶרָך‬-“May the Lord
bless you and watch over you. May the Lord cause His countenance to shine to you and
favor you. May the Lord raise His countenance toward you and grant you peace.”32 It
should come as no surprise that Shalom, which is essense and conclusion of
this three-part blessing, was embodied by Aharon, the first Kohein Gadol.

Yet, the introduction to this extraordinary blessing appears
troubling. The pessukim say: “ ‫ ַד ֵבר ֶאל ַא ֲה ֹרן ְו ֶאל ָב ָניו‬:‫ַו ְי ַד ֵבר ה' ֶאל מ ֶשה ֵלא ֹמר‬
‫” ֵלא ֹמר ֹכה ְת ָב ֲרכּו ֶאת ְב ֵני ִי ְש ָר ֵאל ָאמֹור ָל ֶהם‬-“The Lord spoke to Moses saying: Speak
to Aharon and his sons, saying: This is how you shall bless the children of Israel, saying
to them…”33 HaShem had already indicated Moshe would speak to Aharon
and his sons and they would in turn speak to the children of Israel. Why
does G-d need to reiterate ‫“( ָאמֹור ָל ֶהם‬saying to them”)? Additionally, the
commentaries ask why the term ‫ ָאמֹור‬is used as opposed to the more
traditional ‫ ַד ֵבר‬. The Meor vaShemesh understands the unique language of the
passuk to be teaching us that someone who wishes to bless the Jewish
people must first be filled with Ahavas Yisra’el, even toward the least
deserving person; for it is through this love that he inspires a greater love in
their father, HaShem, therby generating compassion, kind and blessing, as it
says: “‫” ַו ֲא ִני ֲא ָב ֲר ֵכם‬-”And I will bless them.”34

While ‫ ָאמֹור‬generally means “say,” it has another application as
well, as in the passuk “‫ ” ֶאת ה' ֶה ֱא ַמ ְר ָת ַהיֹום‬meaning “You have selected the Lord
this day,”35 as Rashi translates ‫ ֶה ֱא ַמ ְר ָת‬as ‫” “הבדלה‬-“designation.”36 From this
we learn that before Kohanim can bless the Jewish people, they must
recognize what makes us great. Perhaps this also explains why the prefatory
berachah (blessing) to Birkas Kohanim indicates that HaShem “commanded us to
bless the Jews people ‫( באהבה‬with love),”37 a word which has the same numerical
value as ‫“( אחד‬one”). In other words, before Kohanim can bless the Jewish

31 This connection is perhaps why Hillel reasoned that Ahavas Yisroel encapsulates the entire
Torah. See BT Shabbas 31a.
32 BeMidbar 6:24-26.
33 BeMidbar 6:22-23.
34 Quoting BeMidbar 6:27.
35 Devarim 26:17.
36 See Rashi’s commentary on Devarim 26:17.
37 Blessing preceding the priestly benediction.

42 Rei’ach HaSadeh

people with love, they must be at one with them.38 Similarly, the Passuk
after Birkas Kohanim states: “‫” ְו ָשמּו ֶאת ְש ִמי ַעל ְב ֵני ִי ְש ָר ֵאל ַו ֲא ִני ֲא ָב ֲר ֵכם‬-“And place
My Name upon the children of Israel, and I will bless them.”39 It is known that
HaShem’s name is Shalom.40

This concept can be further expanded by elucidating a concise but
meaningful Rashi on the passuk cited above. Rashi explains that ‫ ָאמֹור ָל ֶהם‬is
comparable to “remember” (‫)זכור‬41 and “keep” (‫)ושמור‬42 which refer to the
two forms of Shabbos observance that were taught in both versions of the
Ten Commandments (in Shemos and Devarim). On the surface, it may seem
that Rashi chooses the comparison to clarify the grammar/pronunciation of
the word ‫ ָאמֹור‬as a command. However, Rav Yissachar Dov Rokeach
explains that Rashi chose the comparison very precisely.43 Just as we are
obligated to remember the Shabbos constantly,44 there is so too a need for
Jews to constantly bless the Jewish people. We must reflect constantly on
loving and treasuring every Jew.45

Thus far, we have discussed Levi who epitomized the strength of
Torah (the Or/light), but was chastised by his father for being overly
zealous; and we have discussed Aharon who epitomized Shalom, the
ultimate vessel for light. However, we know that Aharon was punished for
not stopping Moshe from hitting the rock when he had been commanded
to speak to it,46 possibly relying too strongly on the importance of Shalom.

It is Aharon’s grandson who perhaps personified the ideal balance
of strength and peace. When one of the Jewish leaders decided to publicly
copulate with a Midiyanite princess, causing a plague to break out, it was
Pinchas who ultimately put a stop to it by killing them both.47,48 In Agra

38 This gematria might also explain the seemingly superfluous word ‫ ֱא ֹמר‬when HaShem
transmits the blessing of Shalom to Pinchas (beMidbar 25:12: ,‫ ִה ְנ ִני ֹנ ֵתן לֹו ֶאת ְב ִרי ִתי‬:‫ ֱא ֹמר‬,‫ָל ֵכן‬
‫) ָשלֹום‬, as noted by the Divrei Chaim (Rav Chaim Halberstam of Sanz (1793–1876))
39 BeMidbar 6:27
40 Based on the passuk in Shoftim 6:24: ‫ַו ִי ְק ָרא לֹו ה' ָשלֹום‬
41 Devarim 5:12: ‫ ָשמֹור ֶאת יֹום ַה ַש ָבת ְל ַק ְדשֹו ַכ ֲא ֶשר ִצְּוָך ה' ֱאֹל ֶקיָך‬.
42 Shmos 20:8: ‫ ָזכֹור ֶאת יֹום ַה ַש ָבת ְל ַק ְדשֹו‬.
43 Moreinu haRav Yissachar Dov miBelz on Torah and Holidays, Published in Jerusalem. R.
Yissachar Dov Rokeach (1851-1926) was the third Belzer Rav.
44 Based on Shemos 20:8: “Remember the Shabbos day to sanctify it.” There, Rashi
comments, in accordance with Shamai (BT Beitzah 16a): “Take heed to remember the
Shabbos day constantly, so that if you encounter something special [such as a delicacy, in the
course of the week], set it aside for Shabbos.”
45 The Arizal, in his siddur, taught that it is proper to accept upon oneself the positive
command of Ahavas Yisra’el every day before davening.
46 BeMidbar 20:10.
47 BeMidbar 25:6-15.

Adam Reich 43

deKallah, Rav Zvi Elimelch of Dinov49 explains that Pinchas overcame his
peaceful nature (inherited from Aharon) in order to serve HaShem and do
what he knew was right. Because he understood the proper boundaries of
peace and strength, HaShem rewarded Pinchas with the covenant (implying a
balance of interests) of peace, as it says: “‫ ִה ְנ ִני ֹנ ֵתן לֹו ֶאת ְב ִרי ִתי ָשלֹום‬.”50 This
balance is further emphasized by a unique typographical nuance in the
Torah. The letter ‫( ֹו‬Vav) in the word ‫ ָשלֹום‬is actually split in half. R.
Gamliel Rabinovich – in his Tiv haTorah – explains that this peculiarity is
meant to reinforce the exact fact that Pinchas embodied both the gift of
Shalom and the gift of strength (‫)עז‬.51 This dual embodiment is perhaps
why all Kohanim Gedolim after Aharon were (and will be) specifically from
the line of Pinchas.52,53

Of note, our Rabbis teach us that Pinchas is Eliyahu, who joins us
at every beris.54 As noted in Agra dePirka,55 also written by R. Zvi Elimelch
of Dinov, Eliyahu had a unique ability to use strength in order to create
Shalom. Citing R. Shlomo HeLevi of Karlin, 56 he elaborates on the
following Medrash:

48 Perhaps this can explain why neither Moshe nor Aharon acted instead of Pinchas. Moshe
epitomized strength and Torah, whereas Aharon epitomized peace.
49 Also known as the Benei Yissasschar (1783?-1841) after one of his many other seforim. He
was a student of the Chozzeh of Lublin, among several others.
50 BeMidbar 25:12.
51 Rav Gamliel HaCohen Rabinovitz, Tiv haTorah (Jerusalem:Machon Shaarei Ziv, 2010). R.
Gamliel concludes by saying “if I have made a mistake, the beneficent HaShem should
forgive me.”
52 See Ibn Ezra’s commentary on BeMidbar 25:13.
53 This important balance on Pinchas can be perhaps seen at the end of Sefer Yehoshua.
When the tribes of Re’uven, Gad and half the tribe of Menashe build an alter on the other
side of the Jordan River, the rest of the nation perceives this a major breach in faith and a
revolt against HaShem. They choose Pinchas to address the issue. It was pointed out to me
by Reb Daniel Krausz that perhaps the people picked Pinchas because he had become
known for his strength, killing those who disgrace HaShem. In fact, however, instead of
attacking them, Pinchas went with ten unnamed leaders of Israel to meet Re’uven, Gad and
half the tribe of Menashe to share their fears and anxiously awaited their response. After
Re’uven, Gad and half the tribe of Menashe explained their positive intention and planned
corrective actions, they all rejoiced at their unity of purpose and averted destruction.
Although Pinchas was sent for his strength, he accomplished his mission through peace.
54 Yalkut Shimoni, Midrash: “Said Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish, Pinchas is Eliyahu. The Holy One,
Blessed Be He, said to him, you brought peace between Israel and myself in this world, so in the future you
will bring peace between myself and my sons, as is written, “Behold I send you Eliyahu the Prophet before the
arrival of the day of the Lord . . . and He shall reconcile parents with children.”
55 Teaching #146.
56 Rebbe Shlomo HaLevi of Karlin (1738–1792), student of Rav Dovber, the Maggid of

44 Rei’ach HaSadeh

At the time when HaShem said to Eliyahu HaNavi that he
will need to attend every Bris Milah for the entire Jewish
nation, Eliyahu (perhaps knowing the outcome) said: ‘HaShem,
you know that I am zealous on your behalf. If the father of
the child is a sinner, I will not be able to handle being
there.’ As a result, HaShem promised that he would
forgive the father of all his sins at this Bris. But Eliyahu
responded (at this point confidently knowing the outcome)
perhaps the Mohel will be a sinner. HaShem committed to
cleansing his sins as well on the day of the beris. Eliyahu
said further that perhaps the people in attendance at the
beris will be sinners and so HaShem committed to cleanse
everyone attending the beris of all their sins as well.57

With this Rav Zvi Elimelech explained the concept of
Pinchas/Eliyahu’s zealousness. As the passuk says: “ ‫ִפי ְנ ָחס ֶבן ֶא ְל ָע ָזר ֶבן ַא ֲה ֹרן‬
‫ ָל ֵכן ֱא ֹמר ִה ְנ ִני ֹנ ֵתן לֹו ֶאת‬.…‫ַה ֹכ ֵהן ֵה ִשיב ֶאת ֲח ָמ ִתי ֵמ ַעל ְב ֵני ִי ְש ָר ֵאל ְב ַק ְנאֹו ֶאת ִק ְנ ָא ִתי‬
‫” ְב ִרי ִתי ָשלֹום‬-“Pinchas the son of Elazar the son of Aaron the Kohen has turned My
anger away from the children of Israel by his zealously avenging Me among
them…Therefore, say, “I hereby give him My covenant of peace.” 58 Specifically
through the strength of his zealousness, Pinchas/Eliyahu was able to create

All these teachings confirm that a vessel is absolutely essential to
maintaining the light of Torah. Indeed, before HaShem commanded Moshe
to lead the Jewish people out of Mitzrayim, He showed him a burning bush
that was not consumed, graphically illustrating that a vessel of Shalom (Ner)
was essential to sustain the light of Torah (Ohr). Moshe would understand
the importance of dedicating himself body and soul to Torah, while
perpetuating Torah through peace.

Torah learning is central to every aspect of our lives. However,
without the proper vessel the Torah we learn may dissipate, as the passuk
teaches, “‫”ה' ֹעז ְל ַעמֹו ִי ֵתן ה' ְי ָב ֵרְך ֶאת ַעמֹו ַב ָשלֹום‬-“HaShem gives (as an accessible

57 Cited in the Agra dePirka, Teaching #146. The original midrashic source for Eliyahu’s
attendance at every bris can be found in Pirkei R. Eliezer, Ch. 28. c.v. “chorev.”
58 BeMidbar 25:11-12.

Adam Reich 45

gift) might (Torah) to His nation; HaShem will bless (to encourage our ongoing
efforts) His nation with peace.”59 Successful Jewish life requires both.

59 Tehillim 29:11. A similar message can be gleaned from the famous story regarding Rav
Shimon Bar Yochai and his son found in BT Shabbas 33b-34a:

After the Roman government decreed to execute Rav Shimon Bar Yochai,] He went with
his son and hid in the Beit Midrash. Each day his wife brought him bread and a jug of water and they
ate. When the decree became more severe he said to his son: “Women are easy-minded. They may abuse
her, and she will reveal [us].” They went and hid in a cave. A miracle happened – a carob tree and a
spring of water were created for them. They took off their clothes and sat up to their necks in sand. All
day they sat and studied, and when the time came to pray they got out of the sand, dressed [their
bodies], covered [their heads] and prayed and again took off their clothes – all in order that they not
wear out. They dwelled in the cave for twelve years. Eliyah [perhaps to remind them to have a peaceful
disposition to balance their strength] came to the opening of the cave, saying: “Who will inform Bar
Yohai that the emperor died, and the decree is annulled?” They (Rav Shimon Bar Yochai and his son)
went out. They saw men plowing and sowing. Rav Shimon said, “They forsake eternal life (olam) and
busy themselves with temporal life?!” Every place they turned their eyes to – was immediately burned.
A heavenly voice (bat kol) came out and said to them: “Did you go out to destroy my world? Return to
your cave!” They returned. They dwelled for twelve months…They went out. Wherever [his son] Rav
Elazar smote – Rav Shimon healed. He said, “My son, you and I are sufficient for the world.”

When they first came out of the cave, the strength of their Torah was so forceful
and without the proper vessel that it literally incinerated whatever they looked at and need to
return to the cave. Before they were able to reenter the world, Rav Shimon Bar Yochai and
his son first needed to find the right balance between the strength of Torah and peace.

46 Rei’ach HaSadeh

Live With Your Fellow Man

When Rav Pinchas of Koretz had become known, and more and
more hasidim came to him with their concerns, he was alarmed to
see how much all this diverted him from the service of G-D and
the study of Torah. The only solution he could think of was that
people must stop bringing their problems to him - and his prayer
was granted. From that time on, he did not live with his fellow
men - except when her prayed with the congregation - but kept
himself apart and devoted himself solely to the service of G-D.
When Sukkos approached, he had to let a non-Jew make his
Sukkah, for the Jews refused to help him. Since he lacked the
proper tools, he sent his wife to borrow them from a neighbor,
but it was only with the greatest difficulty that she could get what
was needed. When he was in the Beis Medrash on the evening of
the first night of Sukkos, he invited some wayfarers to dine with
him, as he did every year, but he was so thoroughly hated far and
wide, that no one would accept his invitation and he had to go
home alone. After he said the special prayer inviting the holy
guests (Upshizin), the patriarchs, to enter his Sukkah that evening,
he saw our Father Avraham standing outside like someone who
has come to a house he is accustomed to visit, and only just sees
that it is not the house he thought and pauses in surprise. “What
wrong have I done?” Rav Pinchas cried? “It is not my custom to
enter a house where no wayfarers have come as guests,” our
Father Avraham replied. From then on, Rav Pinchas prayed he
might find favor in the eyes of his fellow men, and agin his prayer
was granted. Now, Rav Pinchas understood that the way to learn
Torah was not in isolation, but in loving community, and his
wisdom continued to increase.

Adapted from Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim
(New York: Schocken Book, 1991), p. 120-121



We are all familiar with the mitzvah from Parashat Kedoshim, “ ‫ְו ָא ַה ְב ָת‬
‫” ְל ֵר ֲעָך ָכמֹוָך‬-“to love every Jew as you love yourself.”1 The underlying concept is to
want good for your friend.2 Therefore, it follows that if you wish well on
another person, you will refrain from causing him or her harm. This
mitzvah can be divided into two broad categories: (i) Not doing bad things:
‘what is hateful to you don’t do to your friend,’3 and (ii) doing good things:
all things you would want others to do to you, you should do to others.
The former is a ‫( חובה‬chovah, a constant, obligatory mitzvah) and the latter is
‫( מצוה קיומית‬kiyumit, a voluntary mitzvah whose obligation is enacted by its
performance).4 A good example of the chovah category is not speaking lashon
haRa. Since you have an ongoing obligation to refrain from speaking lashon
horR, doing so would violate ‫ ְו ָא ַה ְב ָת ְל ֵר ֲעָך ָכמֹוָך‬.5

This article will focus exclusively on the positive voluntary mitzvot.
Although, as you will see, they are not entirely voluntary.

It is a mitzvah to do for your friend the things that are beloved to
you. This is the mitzvah kiyumit of ‫ ְו ָא ַה ְב ָת ְל ֵר ֲעָך ָכמֹוָך‬. All acts of chesed fall in
this category including: ‫( ניחום אבלים‬consoling mourners), ‫( הלוית המת‬caring
for the deceased), ‫( בקור חולים‬visiting the sick), taking care of burial needs,
‫( לשמח חתן וכלה‬rejoicing with the groom and bride), ‫( הכנסת כלה‬providing
for brides), escorting guests, bringing peace between people, making people
happy, helping another without limit, giving helpful advice, lending utensils,

Your Life Comes First

The reason doing chesed is usually voluntary and not obligatory is
because of the principle of ‫חייך קודמים‬, your life comes first. If you do not do a
chesed because it would cause you to be overburdened or to incur a financial
loss, you have not neglected ‫ ְו ָא ַה ְב ָת ְל ֵר ֲעָך ָכמֹוָך‬.7

1 Vayikra 19:18.
2 See David Ariav, LeRei’acha Kamocha, Vol. 2. [in Hebrew] (Jerusalem, 2002), p. 81, Sec. Alef.
3 BT Shabbos 31a.
4 See Maharsha and Maharitz on BT Shabbos 31a.
5 See Chafetz Chaim in the introduction to Eshen 2.
6 Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Avel 14:1.
7 See LeRei’acha Kamocha, Vol. 2. at p. 83, fn. 7,8 (citing Kesef haKedoshim, Siman 237).

48 Rei’ach HaSadeh

Although chesed may be voluntary it is also very important and a
fundamental characteristic of being a Jew.8 Better to act ‫לפנים משורת הדין‬
(beyond the letter of the law) rather than try to calculate in detail whether
you might suffer a minor loss by doing a chesed. The rabbis say that
someone who is overly concerned about the loss he might suffer from
doing chesed will ultimately find himself in need of chesed from others.9 Acts
of chesed are among the ‘‫( ’דברים שאין להם שעור‬things that have no limit) and
while you are not obligated to seek out these opportunities, you are
praiseworthy for doing them.10 Let us look at an example:

After Re’uven paid the Jewish taxi driver he asked the driver to watch his child
while he carried his luggage into his house. The driver is permitted to say no if he will
lose time from his work day and therefore diminish his earnings. A person is not
obligated to lose money in order to save his friend’s money or to do a chesed
for his friend. This principle applies even when his own loss will be small
and his friend’s loss will be large.11

Midat Sedom

If doing a kindness does not involve any monetary loss or personal
burden, there is a requirement to do the kindness. If you do not do it, your
behavior is considered ‫מידת סדום‬, the character trait of Sedom, and you have
neglected a positive mitzvah.12 Let us look at an example of this type of

Re’uven said to Shimon: if you remember, let me know when it’s time for me to
leave so I won’t be late. Shimon replied, I’m not your alarm clock. Levi said to
Yehudah: if you happen to come across a good shidduch for my son, would you let me
know? Yehudah replied, sorry, I’m not interested in helping with this. These are
examples of ‫ מידת סדום‬because there was no personal burden involved.

If someone greets you and you do not respond, this is also ‫ביטול‬
‫ ְו ָא ַה ְב ָת ְל ֵר ֲעָך ָכמֹוָך‬. Saying hello is not a burden and therefore it’s an
obligation to reply.

8 BT Yevamot 79a; see also, Yalkut Re’eh 889.
9 BT Baba Metzia 33a.
10 Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Avel 14:4.
11 She’ailot veTeshuvot Chovat Yair paragraph 165; Shita Mekubetzet, 116 Rabbeinu Yochanan
and 117 Ra’avad.
12 Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat, 174:1, 3.

Dr. Rachel Kohn 49

Regardless of your profession, there are small acts of chesed that
don’t themselves earn money. Doing these acts is an absolute mitzvah of
‫ ְו ָא ַה ְב ָת ְל ֵר ֲעָך ָכמֹוָך‬and their reward is great. Here are two examples:

A bus driver greets all riders with a smile, gives a helping hand to the aged,
drives carefully so that the ride is comfortable, waits for a person who’s running to catch
the bus, and alerts people regarding what stop to get off.

A doctor greets patients pleasantly, answers questions patiently, gives good
advice, and refers patients to other specialists as needed.

A halachah in Yevamot says that a person should not pour out the
water from his pit when others are in need of it.13 You should not discard
or destroy something that others may need. This applies even if this puts a
small burden on you, but not a large burden.

Levi wants to get rid of an old refrigerator. He shouldn’t throw it in the
garbage before he checks to see if someone wants it. This concept applies to useful
information as well. You know your friend is leaving to drive on a route
that just got backed up by an accident. If you don’t suggest to him to take a
different route, you are guilty of pouring out water someone needs; in this
case the advice is the water and your silence is like pouring it out.

Re’uven was walking down the hallway in the hospital and asked the man
next to him, “Excuse me, what time is it?” This man was the chief of surgery and he
arrogantly looked down on Re’uven and didn’t answer.

If someone refrains from doing a chesed not because of the cost in
money or time, but principally because of envy, pride, vengeance, hatred, or
any other unacceptable reason, the person is guilty of willfully disregarding
the mitzvah of ‫ ְו ָא ַה ְב ָת ְל ֵר ֲעָך ָכמֹוָך‬. This applies even when doing the chesed
would be a burden.14
Interrupt Torah Learning for Chesed

What if an opportunity arises to do chesed while you are learning
Torah? Which takes priority? If it is very likely that the chesed will be done
by others, the Torah learning takes priority. But if nobody else can or will

13 BT Yevamot 12a.
14 LeRei’acha Kamocha, Vol. 2, at p. 137.

50 Rei’ach HaSadeh

do the chesed, then doing the chesed is voluntary and you may, in many cases,
decide to either continue learning Torah or perform the chesed.15

The electricity went out in the yeshiva and a number of people who were not
learning at that time went to take care of the situation. Re’uven, who was learning,
appropriately did not stop his learning to help out even though it would have been doing a
chesed for the other learners.

R. Chaim Marcus faced this situation when he was invited to be counselor one
summer at Camp HASC. At the time, he was learning in Yeshivat Har Etzion, in
the Gush. He asked R. Aharon Lichtenstein, the rosh yeshiva, what to do. R. Aharon
told him he should continue his studies. However, the camp explained to R. Chaim that
they were short on male counselors and if he did not come they would have to turn away
campers. R. Aharon reversed his decision because there was nobody else to do the

Shimon was studying in yeshiva and received a close friend’s wedding invitation.
Should he go to the wedding or sit and learn? He can choose either. Even if there are
plenty of other people attending the wedding, Chazal consider participation in a wedding
to be a chesed that cannot be done by others because the simchah that a specific
individual brings to the ‫( חתן וכלה‬bride and groom) is unique and has no substitute.17

The director of a nursing home asked all the neighbors to volunteer time to visit
the elderly residents to make their lives more pleasant. This request was optional for the
students in the nearby yeshiva. Conversely, Re’uven went to visit his friend in the hospital
in order to talk with the doctors about his care. Even though his friend had lots of
visitors, they were coming to socialize only. This distinction is considered a situation
where nobody else will do the chesed.18

All of this applies when there’s no additional Torah mitzvah
involved such as giving tzeddakah or returning a lost item. An additional
Torah mitzvah would make the chesed obligatory.19

A Promise to do a Chesed

If you promise to do a chesed and you know that your friend is
counting on you, you must be careful not to rescind the offer. In addition

15 See, e.g., BT Rosh Hashana 18a; Mishneh Berura 250 Sha’ar Hatzion 9.
16 Heard by the author at the weekly parashah shi’ur of R. Chaim Marcus in 2018. Retold with
permission of R. Chaim.
17 LeRei’acha Kamocha, Vol. 2 at p. 87, fn. 19.
18 Ahavat Chesed, Part 1, Ch. 2, Paragraph 4.
19 Yoreh De’ah 213:2.

Dr. Rachel Kohn 51

to other potential halachic concerns related to vows, going back on a
promise puts you in the category of ‫מחוסרי אמונה‬, those of limited faith. 20
Parashat Kedoshim says: “‫ ִי ְה ֶיה ָל ֶכם‬--‫ ֵאי ַפת ֶצ ֶדק ְו ִהין ֶצ ֶדק‬,‫ ֶצ ֶדק‬-‫”מֹא ְז ֵני ֶצ ֶדק ַא ְב ֵני‬-“You
shall have an honest balance, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin.”21
“Our rabbis interpret this verse ‘and a righteous hin you shall have’ to mean
that you should be righteous with what is yours and righteous with what is
not yours.”22 Therefore, following the interpretation of this passuk from the
Gemara, 23 ‘‫ ִי ְה ֶיה ָל ֶכם‬--‫ ’ ְו ִהין ֶצ ֶדק‬can be roughly translated that your ‘yes’
means yes and your ‘no’ means no. If circumstances change, though, you
may be permitted to change your mind.

Re’uven promised Levi that he would attend his wedding. Re’uven broke his
leg the day before the wedding. Clearly, the conditions have changed, and
Re’uven’s obligation no longer exists.

If you make a promise that involves doing a Torah mitzvah, even if
the conditions change, you cannot go back on the promise because it is
similar to a ‫( נדר‬vow). This situation is called ‫קבלה לדבר מצוה‬, committing to
perform a mitzvah.24

Re’uven promises to lend Shimon $500. But Re’uven’s business suddenly has
a set-back. He cannot go back on his promise because it involves a Torah
mitzvah: ‫אם כסף תלוה את עמי‬, lending money to a fellow Jew.25

Re’uven hires Shimon to move his furniture and promises to pay him before the
end of the day. Re’uven realizes he doesn’t have enough cash on him, and Shimon says,
no problem, you can pay me tomorrow. Is Re’uven obligated to pay Shimon the
same day? Yes, because paying a worker on time is the mitzvah of: ‫ביומו תתן‬
‫שכרו‬, day laborers must be compensated the same day. 26

20 Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat, 243, Par. 2.
21 Vayikrah 19:36. Translation from Sefaria, available at
22 LeRei’acha Kamocha, Vol. 2, at p. 89, fn. 25 (citing BT Bava Metzia 49a).
23 BT Bava Metzia 49a, which states:

The Gemara raises an objection: Rabbi Yosei, son of Rabbi Yehudah,
says: What is the meaning when the verse states: ”A just ephah, and a
just hin, shall you have”? But wasn’t a hin included in an ephah? Why is
it necessary to state both? Rather, this is an allusion that serves to say to
you that your yes [hen] should be just, and your no should be just.

Translation from Sefaria, available at
24 Yoreh De’ah 213:2.
25 Shemot 22:24.
26 Devarim 24:15.

52 Rei’ach HaSadeh

Intent (Kavanah)

‫מצות צריכות כונה‬. When performing a mitzvah, there is a general
obligation to keep in mind that you are following HaShem’s
commandment.27 This applies to gemilat chesed as well. However, when you
do a mitzvah bein adam leChavero you get merit regardless of intent, since the
primary purpose is to do good for another person. However, it is still
preferable to have the intent to do a mitzvah.

R. Moshe Weinberger, the rabbi of Aish Kodesh in
Woodmere, was helping his wife care for their first child.
One morning he went into his little girl’s room and was
blown back by the stench. She had reached into her diaper
and spread the contents all over. R. Weinberger’s wife,
Myrna, walked in and was overwhelmed. Myrna stepped
out of the room, collected cleaning equipment and wipes,
took a deep breath and said: ‫הינני מוכנת ומזומנת לקים מצות‬
‫ – ואהבת לרעך כמוך‬Behold, I am prepared and ready to perform the
commandment of “love your friend as yourself.28

You should have intent to do a mitzvah for all acts of chesed, even
everyday activities such as feeding a child, taking him to the doctor, dressing
him, caring for an aging parent, helping out at home or helping a friend.29
Whatever your profession, and particularly in a service profession such as
doctor, or electrician, your reward from HaShem for the effort put into
your profession will depend on the degree to which you have intent to do a
mitzvah. If you have no intent to do a mitzvah, and instead are fully focused
on the monetary objectives, there is no reward.30

Practical Considerations

While this article has focused on navigating kiyumit versus chivuvit in
matters of chesed, I also want to discuss the principles related to five areas of
chesed that we encounter on a regular basis: (i) priority of recipients for
tzeddakah; (ii) bringing in guests, (iii) visiting the sick; (iv) consoling the
bereaved; and (v) bringing joy to a bride and groom.

27 Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim, 60, 4.
28 Heard by the author at the weekly parsha shiur of R. Chaim Marcus in 2018. Retold with
permission of R. Chaim.
29 In the Midrash, Avraham is called Rodef Chesed because he did chesed for his wife Sara.
Bereishit Raba, Noah 13.
30 LeRei’acha Kamocha, Vol. 2 at p. 94.

Dr. Rachel Kohn 53

Priority of Recipients

When you give tzeddakah there’s a priority order of who you give
first: Parents, children, siblings, rest of family, Torah scholar, neighbor,
residents of your city, and residents of another city. This same order
applies to lending money or objects, and to other types of chesed.31

Re’uven was planning to go away for Shabbos. Re’uven’s cousin and his
neighbor both ask if they could borrow his apartment while he’s gone. His cousin gets

Two of Re’uven’s friends got married on the same week and he was able to
make Sheva brachos for only one of them. The one who was a ‫ תלמיד חכם‬took

Two people wanted to borrow the same item from a g’mach. The local one
has priority over the out-of-towner.

‫ – הכנסת אורחים‬Bringing in Guests

This mitzvah applies only when the guests are from out of town.32
You accomplish the mitzvah by putting up guests in your home or by
inviting over guests that are staying in someone else’s home. However, if
Shmuel has a guest from out of town and invites his neighbor over to
honor that guest, then the neighbor is counted as a guest along with the

‫בקור חולים‬: Visiting the Sick

There are many details about visiting the sick and I will touch on
just a few. The ‫( שכינה‬Divine Presence) rests above a very sick person.34
Therefore, when you visit a sick person you should not sit higher than
him/her. Nowadays hospital beds are usually higher than chairs and this is
not a problem. You should also not sit behind his/her head, since the
‫ שכינה‬is there as well.35 In general, you should sit to the side of the bed.
There are two components to ‫בקור חולים‬, and in order to accomplish the
mitzvah, you must do both. First, one is to tend to the needs of the sick
whether physically, socially, emotionally, or any other way. The second is to

31 Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 251.
32 See Trumat Hadeshen 72; Rama Orach Chaim 333.
33 LeRei’acha Kamocha, Vol. 2 at p. 206.
34 BT Shabbos 12b.
35 Zohar, Parashat Pinchas, p. 234.

54 Rei’ach HaSadeh

pray for his ‫( רפואה‬recovery) and ask ‫ הקב''ה‬for mercy. If you are praying
in his presence you should not mention his name. Rather you should say
something like: ‫המקום ירחם עליך בתוך שאר חולי ישראל‬, may HaShem bestow
compassion upon you amongst all the ill of the Jewish people.36

‫ניחום אבלים‬: Consolation of the Bereaved

If you have an opportunity to pay a shiva visit or visit a sick person,
but you cannot do both, which should you do? The rabbis agree that it’s
preferable to perform ‫( בקור חולים‬visiting the sick) and ‫ניחום אבלים‬
(consoling the bereaved) in person,37 but can you fully accomplish both
mitzvahs by phone? Which one is more important to do in person? Let’s
look at a responsa of R. Moshe Feinstein when he was asked whether you
can be ‫ מנחם אבל‬by phone instead of paying a shiva visit in person:

In consoling the bereaved there are two issues, one for the
good of the aveilim who are burdened by their sadness and
you must comfort them and speak to their hearts. To do
this properly, you should go to the home where they are
sitting. The second is for the good of the deceased. In
Gemara Shabbos 152, Rav Yehudah said: “if a deceased
person has no mourners, ten men should go and sit in
mourning for seven days in the place where he died. At
the end of the seven days, after Rav Yehudah had done
this for a man with no mourners, the soul of the deceased
came to Rav Yehudah in a dream and said: Let your mind
be at ease for you have set my mind at ease.” This is the
reason that Rambam says that consoling the bereaved
takes precedence over visiting the sick. Rambam must
mean a case where there is someone taking care of the
needs of the sick person, since piku’ach nefesh (saving a life)
always takes precedence over all other mitzvot. If you can
do only one of them, you should visit the aveilim. The
Radvaz said that you should always give visiting the sick
precedence since davening in the presence of the shechinah
hovering over the bed of the sick could save his life.
However, the Rambam doesn’t agree. You should visit the
aveilim providing comfort for both living and dead, and you
can daven for the sick from your home. While you can

36 See, e.g., BT Shabbos 12b; BT Barachot 34b; Magen Avraham 119:1; Gra, Even Shlomo 9:14.
37 See, e.g. R. Chaim Binyamin Goldberg, Mourning in Halacha (Brooklyn:Mesorah
Publications, 1991), p. 195.

Dr. Rachel Kohn 55

give comfort to the aveilim over the phone, you cannot
comfort the deceased unless you go either to the shiva
home or to the place where the person died. Therefore, it
is far preferred to make a shiva call in person rather than by
phone. However, it is better to do it by phone rather than
not at all. You shouldn’t feel that if you can’t do the full
mitzvah, you should even forgo the partial mitzvah.38

Coming back to the original question: Comforting mourners
precedes visiting the sick because nichum avelim is gemilat chesed to both the
living and the dead. This ruling only applies when you cannot do both. If
you can do both, you should visit the sick first to assist them and daven for
their recovery, and then visit the avelim.39

‫הכנסת כלה‬: Bringing Joy to a Bride and Groom

The mitzvah of ‫( הכנסת כלה‬to escort and/or assist the bride in any
way so that she can get married) is a very important mitzvah. According to
many opinions, the mitzvah of escorting a bride to the chuppah is an
obligatory mitzvah and takes precedence over Torah study.40 In fulfillment
of this mitzvah, it is customary to dance in front of the ‫ חתן‬and ‫( כלה‬bride
and groom) to bring them joy.

You have a close friend from high school and you’ve been invited to her son’s
wedding. You have never met the chassan or the kallah. You go to the wedding, eat the
meal and give your blessings to the groom’s parents. Yet, if you don’t do anything to
bring joy to the groom himself, you’re neglecting the mitzvah of ‫ְו ָא ַה ְב ָת ְל ֵר ֲעָך‬
‫ ָכמֹוָך‬. The Talmud says that anyone who enjoys a wedding meal but does
not bring joy to the groom ‫עובר על חמישה קולות‬, violates five sounds of joy.41
This is based on a passuk from ‫( ירמיהו‬Jeremiah).42 After ‫ ירמיהו‬warns the
people of the upcoming Babylonian exile, he comforts them by saying that
the sounds of joy will eventually be returned to Israel. There, he mentions
five sounds of joy: “-‫ קֹול ֹא ְמ ִרים הֹודּו ֶאת‬,‫ קֹול ָח ָתן ְוקֹול ַכ ָלה‬,‫קֹול ָששֹון ְוקֹול ִש ְמ ָחה‬
‫”ה' ְצ ָבאֹות‬-“kol sasson, veKol simchah, kol chatan veKol kallah, kol omrim hodu et
HaShem.”-“the sound of mirth and gladness, the voice of the groom and bride.”43 One
who does not bring joy to a groom and bride shows that the newlywed’s joy is
not important to him. He displays disregard for the sounds of joy that

38 Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim, Sec. 4, Siman 40, 11.
39 LeRei’acha Kamocha, Vol. 2, at p. 236.
40 See, e.g, LeRei’acha Kamocha, Vol. 2, at p. 215, fn. 9,10.
41 BT Berachos 6b.
42 Jeremiah 33:11.
43 Ibid.

56 Rei’ach HaSadeh

HaShem promises to grant to Israel at the time of the redemption. So do
not forget to dance for the chatan and kallah and if you cannot dance, at
least give a berachah directly to them!

The Talmud relates that the students of R. Eliezer asked him what
people can do to save them from chevlei mashi’ach (the terrible times that will
precede the coming of mashi’ach).44 He replied they should engage in Torah
and acts of chesed. Anyone who does not do acts of chesed does not recognize
their value.

44 BT Sanhedrin 98b.



Chesed takes many forms. We all are accustomed to thinking of
chesed as routines of day-to-day life; charity, visiting the sick, attending
funerals, or helping a neighbor mow the lawn. In relation to the discussion
we are about to have, though, those forms of chesed are easy.

Have you ever considered the chesed of giving your life – or your
soul – to save another? Has anyone in classic Jewish scripture ever offered
his or her life to save the life of another?

Let us focus on Aharon HaKohen. Starting with the premise that
Aharon HaKohen was one of the most complex personalities in all of
Tanach – Yes, you read that correctly; Aharon HaKohen – I am going to
posit in this piece that Aharon HaKohen was one major Jewish figure who
gave his life and his soul for other Jews.

We tend to think of Moshe, or King David, or Shlomo Hamelech
or Jacob, or Esther or Rachel as the most complex personalities. Their lives
were experiences of highs and lows – religiously and socially – which give
the casual Torah reader as well as the scholar the sense of individuals with
multi-faceted personalities. But, Aharon? Moshe’s quiet and benign three-
year older brother?1 Moshe’s spokesman before Pharaoh?2 The caster of
Moshe's staff into a snake?3

Aharon, in fact, had a personal relationship with God in his own
right in that he was personally designated by HaShem as the Kohen Gadol.4
Recall that this consecration of Aharon as Kohen Gadol was one of the
major complaints of Korach.5 Aharon had a special place as a leader among
the Jews who left Egypt. He was uniquely beloved among the people. The
Torah reports that when the “entire assembly saw that Aharon had perished, they
wept for Aharon for 30 days, the entire House of Israel.”6 Rashi there explains there
that the “entire House of Israel wept” and this mourning included both
men and women because Aharon would pursue peace and instill love

1 See Exodus Chapters 6-7.
2 See Exodus 4:14-4:17; 4:27-28; 7:1-2.
3 See Exodus 7:10.
4 Exodus 29:28-29.
5 See Ramban’s commentary on Numbers 16:1. The Torah with Ramban’s Commentary, Graff-
Rand Ed. (Brooklyn:Mesorah Publications, 2010), p. 322.
6 Numbers 20:29.

58 Rei’ach HaSadeh

between parties to a quarrel and between a man and his wife.7 Moreover,
when Aharon passed, the clouds of glory that had protected the Israelites
wandering in the desert for 40 years also departed.8

In this light, we see Aharon as the beloved, devoted, disciplined,
and to some degree, innocent9 first Kohen Gadol. However, the trajectory
of Aharon’s life and experience were, as first stated, exceedingly complex.

We begin our exploration of Aharon’s complexity by a look into
the work of the Kabballah, and specifically, of R. Isaac Luria (“the
Arizal”),10 as elucidated by his student, R. Chaim Vital. The Arizal is the
central figure of Kabballah as we study Kabballah today.11

In “Sha’ar haPesukim,” on Parashat vaEra,12 the Arizal through R.
Vital, describes the transmigration of the soul of Aharon from its inception,
into Aharon and beyond. Before we explore Aharon’s soul migration, let us
look at the concept of the Transmigration of Souls as described by the
Arizal.In the discussion of Parashat Bechukotai,13 the Arizal understands the
opening sentence of the Parasha, ”Im beChukotai telechu”“If you will follow
my laws and faithfully observe my commandments, I will grant your rains in
their season, so that the earth will yield its produce and the trees of the field
their fruit,”14 to describe the idea of “transmigration of souls.”15

7 See Rashi’s commentary on Numbers 20:29
8 See Rashi’s commentary on Numbers 21:1. See also, BT, Rosh Hashana 3a.
9 “Innocent” because: (i) in the incident of the lashon harah with Miriam, where Miriam
spoke to Aharon, about Moshe’s wife and Moshe’s relationship with his wife, (see, BT
Shabbos 87a) only Miriam and not Aharon was punished with tzaraas as a response to lashon
harah, (see, Numbers 12: 1-16); and (ii) after the seminal event of the Golden Calf, in which
Aharon was a major factor (see Exodus 32:1-30), who participated in the “great sin” (See
Exodus 32:30), and with whom the Golden Calf was directly associated (see Exodus 32:35).
Scripture does not record a punishment directed at Aharon.
10 The Arizal, however, did not write a commentary on the Torah, and in fact, his writings
are very limited. His disciples, and most significantly, R. Vital, are the primary source of the
dissemination of the Arizal’s Kabbalah.
11 In 2006, a brilliant Chabad student and pulpit Rabbi in the Chabad of Malibu, California,
compiled a study of Rabbi Vital’s works, Sha’ar Hapessukim, Sefer HaLikutim and Likutei
Torah, based upon the weekly Torah readings. This study was organized into a 1,117-page
volume called “Apples from the Orchard; Gleanings from the Mystical Teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak
Luria (The Arizal) on the Weekly Torah Portion.” Moshe Wisnefsky, (Malibu:Thirty Seven
Books, 2008). This article generously utilizes material from “Apples in the Orchard” as a source
for many of the Kabbalistic comments and observations made.
12 Apples from the Orchard, pp. 281-290.
13 Id. at 683-688.
14 Leviticus 26:3-4.
15 Apples from the Orchard, pp. 682-683.

Avi Borenstein 59

As stated in “Sha’ar haGilgulim,” persons who die, and require a
cleansing of the soul due to sins in their lifetime, proceed to gehinom
(translated in the vernacular as Purgatory or Hell) for up to twelve
months to be scoured, and thereby, cleansed, of sins. 16 This cleansing
process is a form of beneficence, because despite the suffering involved to
the soul in question, the objective and result is the purification of that soul,
which enables its ability to rise to the afterlife.17 As is our custom, the
suffering in gehinom can be alleviated by someone saying kaddish for the
deceased's soul. Therefore, we say kaddish for only eleven months, because
to say kaddish for twelve months would imply the person was totally evil
and requires the full twelve-month term of purification.18

Aside from descent into gehinom, there is another possible way to
cleanse the soul: to give the soul an opportunity for another try at its
mission. This other process is alluded to by the prophet Samuel, who states
the following: “And if anyone sets out to pursue you and seek your life, the
life of my lord will be bound up in the bundle of life in the care of the Lord;
but He will fling away the lives of your enemies as from the hollow of a
sling.”19 In classic Kabbalistic literature, the hollow of the slingshot has
been interpreted as referring to reincarnation as the transmigration of souls
from form to form (human to animal or mineral). The term gilgul is utilized
to represent the moved soul from person to later born person.20

This punishment of the slingshot, or “kaf-ha-kela” “hollow of the
sling,” has been interpreted as a requirement of soul-reincarnation, even
before the soul can descend into gehinom and finally attain full atonement.21
There is neither a time nor occurrence limit for such movement of souls.22

This applies to Aharon’s soul and life as follows. In Parashat vaEra,
in the context of the Torah’s recitation of the families of the Levites in
Egypt,23 the Arizal discusses the transmigrations of the soul of Aharon.24
The Arizal observes that Abel, who was murdered by Cain, was a source of

16 Ibid.
17 Apples from the Orchard, p. 684.
18 Ibid.
19 I Samuel 25:29, translation from Sefaria, available at Samuel.
20 Apples from the Orchard, p. 684.
21 Ibid.
22 The wholly righteous person, in contrast, ascends immediately to “paradise” but this is
very rare. Even very holy people or even Torah scholars require some level of purification
through gehinom or reincarnation. See Apples from the Orchard, p. 685.
23 See Exodus 6:16, 18, 20.
24 Apples from the Orchard, pp. 281-290.

60 Rei’ach HaSadeh

the souls of both Abraham and of his brother Haran. Abel had a soul of
good and evil components. Abraham’s soul likewise was a mixture of good
and evil, but Abraham successfully confronted his ten tests,25 conquering
the evil in his soul in the process. In contrast, while Haran’s soul, like
Abraham’s, was an admixture of holiness, Haran failed to rectify that evil
side in a very specific incident with Terach, their father. Abraham destroyed
the idols of the king at the time, King Nimrod. Abraham’s father betrayed
Abraham to King Nimrod, who sentenced Abraham to die in a fiery
furnace. Abraham voluntarily went into the burning furnace, and
miraculously, was spared by God.26 His brother, Haran was also slated to
enter the furnace, but instead of marching in with his brother in an act of
faith, Haran watched, to see the outcome with his brother, rather than
agreeing to enter the furnace with Abraham.27

HaShem saved Abraham from the furnace. Upon seeing that
Abraham was saved, Haran agreed to be placed into the furnace as well, but
due to his hesitance, Haran was burned in the flames.28 On a spiritual level,
Haran’s belated faith did not sanctify God’s name as Abraham had, and in
God’s judgment, Haran deserved to be burned. 29 However, Haran did
recognize some level of God’s providence and therefore was given another
opportunity to be rectified.30

Haran was thus reincarnated as Aharon. Once again, the brother of
a tzaddik and a good man in his own right. Note that Aharon’s name is
spelled alef-hei-resh-nun. Haran’s name is spelled hey-resh-nun, with the addition
of the letter alef, the same letters as Aharon’s name. Aharon, Haran’s gilgul,
was given a second chance to deal with fire and die for the sanctification of
God’s name, at the incident of the Golden Calf, when he was told by the
mob of people, “Rise up make for us gods who will go before us...”31
Aharon should have submitted to death but, he did not. Instead, Aharon
tried various delay tactics because he had the belief that Moshe would
return before the worship of the golden calf would begin.32 But, he was
tragically mistaken.

25 See Pirkei Avos 5:3. See also, Rashi’s commentary on Gen. 22:2. The Torah with Rashi’s
Commentary, Sappirstein Edition (Brooklyn:Mesorah Publications, 1999). pp, 230-231, n.6.
26 See Rashi’s commentary on Genesis 11:28.
27 Ibid.
28 Ibid.
29 Apples from the Orchard, p. 282.
30 Ibid.
31 Exodus 32:1.
32 See Rashi’s commentary on Exodus 32:5, Rashi, Saperstein Ed., p. 449.

Avi Borenstein 61

In contrast, Miriam’s son, Hur, did directly attempt to stop the
formation and worship of the Golden Calf, and was slain for his effort.33
Aharon, seeing this, and perhaps fearing a similar fate, mimicked the actions
of his ancestor, Haran, and did not offer to give his life to sanctify God’s
name. And God was angry at him for this. In fact, Moshe was explicit
about this in one of his farewell addresses in Devarim.34 And, as stated by
the Arizal, for this failure, not only Aharon but all Aharon’s sons had to
die.35 Moshe was aware of this and prayed to save them. Instead of all four
sons, only two – Nadav and Avihu – were slain by fire. Due to their own
acts, they compounded the wrong with fire perpetrated by Aharon when he
smelted gold into the Golden Calf. Nadav and Avihu, therefore, were killed
for their own act, their bringing a foreign fire, an “esh zarah,” immediately
after the dedication of the Mishkan.36

Did bringing the strange fire merit death in a miraculous way at
God’s hand? The Arizal observes that by their sin alone, they would not
have deserved the penalty of death.37 But, having compounded the sin of
their father, they were further liable to be burned – and in a supernatural
way – on account of Aharon’s wrongdoing in the incident of the Golden
Calf.38 In the case of the other two brothers, Elazar and Ithamar, Moshe’s
prayer sufficed because they themselves had not sinned in a similar fashion
and did not compound Aharon’s sin, as had their brothers, Nadav and

Arizal offers a further observation: Haran was burned and died in
the lifetime of his father Terach. Nadav and Avihu were also burned and
died in the lifetime of their father, Aharon.39 Angry at a child or not, being
witness to the death of a child is the highest pain a parent can experience.
And both Terach (Haran) and Aharon (Nadav and Avihu) suffered that

Ultimately, after several transmigrations, Aharon was reincarnated
as Uriah the Hittite, the husband of Batsheva, and the arms bearer of the

33 Apples from the Orchard, p. 283.
34 Deuteronomy 9:20.
35 Apples from the Orchard, p. 283-284.
36 Leviticus 10:1, 3, 8. Interestingly, the Mishkan was meant to be an opportunity for
atonement for the Golden Calf.
37 Nadav and Avihu’s unsolicited incenses were a foreign fire. Even though, like their father,
their intentions were worthy, their act was self-service, not divine service. Thus, a form of
idolatry. In this sense, they perpetuated their father’s sin by not opposing idolatry at all costs,
and, as such, deserved to die. See Apples from the Orchard, p. 284.
38 Apples from the Orchard, p. 284.
39 Id. at 285.

62 Rei’ach HaSadeh

head of King David’s army.40 At this point, there were two sins of Aharon
(from Cain’s first sin) which remained to be rectified: Not throwing himself
properly into the furnace of Nimrod (as Haran) and his sin at the time of
the Golden Calf, which was compounded by the similar sins of his two
sons. Indeed, for the sins of his son’s, the Arizal reports that Aharon was
guilty as well, for when one person causes another person to die, that
person must be reincarnated and then be prematurely killed.41

David’s actions resulted in the death of Uriah the Hittite,42 and in
this way, Aharon (by death) achieved atonement for the death of his sons.43
After Uriah the Hittite’s death, in a further transmigration, the souls of
Aharon and his sons, Nadav and Avihu, joined together as one and formed
the soul of Uriah the Priest in the generation of King Yehoyakim as part of
the ongoing atonement for Aharon’s actions. This transmigration is why the
three letters of Aharon’s name, alef-hei-resh, are found in Uriah: alef-resh and
hei.44 Uriah the Priest was killed by King Yehoyakim, and thus, by a further
death, Aharon’s contribution to the sin of the Golden Calf was finally
rectified.45 At this point, Aharon’s sins had been rectified but the sins of
Nadav and Avihu remained to be cleansed and an act of Kiddush HaShem
(sanctification of HaShem’s name) by fire was required.

In a revelation which may surprise some readers, the Arizal reports
that the three souls of Aharon and his two sons, were reincarnated again
into one soul as Elijah. Through Elijah, their sin of improperly bringing the
incense was rectified when Elijah challenged the priests of Ba’al on Mount
Carmel, where Elijah offered an “illegal” sacrifice. The challenge was illegal
because it was (and still is) categorically not permissible to offer any
sacrifices outside the Temple once it had been built. However, as Elijah did
so to sanctify God's name in public, his act was considered holy and
rectified the sins of Nadav and Avihu.46 That is because, unlike Nadav and
Avihu,47 Elijah brought the sacrifice for God’s sake and not for his personal

40 Id. at 287.
41 Id. at 288.
42 See II Samuel 11:6-27.
43 As an interesting note, the Arizal points out that Aharon married Elisheva. When
reincarnated as Uriah, Kind David’s arms bearer, he married Batsheva. Elisheva and
Batsheva were of the same essence, both of whom personified Rachel, herself the essence of
chesed. Aharon, as we mentioned, was known for his chesed. See Apples from the Orchard, p. 290.
44 Apples from the Orchard, p. 290.
45 Id. at p. 289.
46 Ibid.
47 See Note 37 above.
48 See I Kings 18:1-46.

Avi Borenstein 63

Aharon certainly had to suffer great tribulations for the incident
with the Golden Calf. Yet, there is another perspective in classic Rabbinic
literature. The Midrash Rabbah holds that the entire incident of the Golden
Calf, in fact, was an act of chesed by Aharon and, indeed, HaShem
recognized that Aharon went out of his way to delay the formation and
worship of the Golden Calf.49 When Moshe first descended from Har Sinai
with the tablets, he saw Aharon attempting to fabricate the calf with a
mallet, a physical impossibility.50 Moshe became angry at his brother, but
HaShem told Moshe, that Aharon’s intent was good, and the attempt to
delay was noble and appropriate.51 Indeed, the Midrash Rabbah suggests that
Aharon’s entire involvement was for delay and for good.52

Still we have the direct confrontation of this assertion of the
Midrash that Aharon’s attempts at delay pleased God, because this approach
directly contradicts when Moshe reports, “HaShem became angry with Aharon
to destroy him,”53 in reference to Aharon’s contribution to the Golden Calf.
To reconcile this serious contradiction, the Midrash Rabbah in Parashat
vaYikra, understands Aharon’s participation in the Golden Calf incident as a
calculated act rooted in chesed.54 Aharon saw that the Jews had killed Hur.
He was afraid that if the people also killed him, they would be
compounding a terrible crime by killing both a prophet (Hur) and a Kohen
(Aharon). Aharon foresaw that this double-murder would have required
perpetual exile of the Jews. Aharon’s various delays and even his offer to
build an altar, were not out of fear for his life, but rather fear for the
repercussions to the entire Kelal Yisra’el if they killed him after murdering
Hur. In this view, Aharon was willing to accept the stain of the sin on his
soul we have described above, to spare the people of Israel extermination.

Who can understand such depth? God, unlike humans, can get past
the black and white type of analysis and see the gray. He can see the finest
nuances and details of an act or a motivation. Some acts contain both good
and evil. God can weigh everything and can fairly mete out both reward and
punishment, even for a single act.55

49 See, generally, Midrash Rabbah, Kleinman Edition, (Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2016),
Shemot, Parashat Tetzaveh, Chap. 37, Sec. 2, pp. 2-4.
50 Id. at Chap. 37, Sec. 2, p. 2.
51 Ibid.
52 Id. at Chap. 37, Sec. 2, pp. 3.
53 Deuteronomy 9:20.
54 Midrash Rabbah, Kleinman Ed., Vayikra, Parashat Tzav, Chap. 10, Sec. 4, Note 39, Insight
A. pp. 2-4.
55 Ibid.

64 Rei’ach HaSadeh

Thus, Aharon’s ultimate chesed for the Jewish people was to accept
the burden of the stain on his soul, for their benefit. Had Aharon protested,
the people would have killed him and been destroyed as a result. By his
delays and allowing for Moshe to return when only three-thousand persons
had been caught up in the worship of the Golden Calf, Aharon saved the
Jewish people from destruction. As previously discussed, in the view of the
Arizal, this choice meant that Aharon mimicked Haran, forewent his own
soul, lost two sons, and had to be reincarnated again and again to achieve
full rectification.

This self-sacrifice made Aharon eminently suited to be Kohen
Gadol, and in that capacity, could bring sin offerings as a mechanism to
partially atone for the sin of the Golden Calf. As Moshe said to him, “zeh
haDaver asher tzivah HaShem ta’asu,”-“this is the thing you were commanded to do,”56
meaning, for this (the atonement for the Golden Calf) you were chosen. Because
you, Aharon, were willing to show the chesed to give up your life and your
soul for the Jewish people, as your reward, you received the high
priesthood, for all generations and for all time.57

56 Leviticus 9:6.
57 Midrash Rabbah, Kleinman Ed., Vayikra, Parashat Tzav, Chap. 10, Sec. 4, Note 39, Insight
A. pp. 2-4.



We encounter God in the face of the stranger. That is, I believe, the Hebrew Bible’s single
greatest and most counterintuitive contribution to ethics. God creates difference; therefore it

is in one-who-is-different that we meet God. Abraham encounters God when he invites
three strangers into his tent. The human other is a trace of the Divine other.
– Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks1

In the Book of Genesis, Abraham finds himself dwelling in a tent
at Mamre.

The Lord appeared to him by the terebinths of Mamre; he
was sitting at the entrance of the tent as the day grew hot.
Looking up, he saw three men standing near him. As soon
as he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to
greet them and, bowing to the ground, he said, “My Lords,
‫ ֲא ֹד ִני‬, Adoni, if it please you, do not go on past your servant.
Let a little water be brought; bathe your feet and recline
under the tree.2

R. Jonathan Sacks refers to this story as not specifically mentioning
these three characters as angels - melachim.3 Rather, it is God who makes the
visit to Abraham instead. This implies, to R. Sacks, that Abraham placed
God on hold while attending the strangers. This interpretation is based on
how one understands the word Adoni in the third verse.4 This switch is

* Dedicated in memory of Allan Stuart Zipkin, z”l, beloved father of my wife, Danielle. His
legacy of hospitality and welcoming guests for Shabbat meals is something we aspire to pass
on to our children.
1 The Dignity of Difference (London:Continuum Press; 2d ed., 2003), p.59.
2 Genesis 18:1-4. Translation from the Sefaria Library, available at
Genesis. 18.1. All uncited translations are from the Sefaria Library, generally available at
3 Jonathan Sacks, Covenant & Conversation Genesis: The Book of Beginnings (Jerusalem:Koren
Publishers Jerusalem, 2009), pp. 97-101.
4 The Jewish exegetes Rashi and Avraham Ibn Ezra understand the use of “Adoni” as a
plural form, enigmatically obscuring the face of God as “Adoni” in the singular. See Torat
Haim (Jerusalem:Mossad Harav Kook, 1986), pp. 204-210. Both Maimonides and Rashi
claim Abraham was talking to the leader of the three angels based on Adoni in plural form.
Ibid. Onkelos translates Adoni as singular for God. Ibid. Ramban and Sforno imply the use of
a Kametz in Adoni, as attributing a degree of Divinity towards the melachim angels. Ibid. Bible
scholar James Kugel reads this passage as a literary technique used in the biblical text to

66 Rei’ach HaSadeh

found in one vowel. The nun of Adoni, carries a patach making it “my
Lords,” three visitors and the second Adoni carries a kametz as singular
implying God alone.5 This vowel-shift is quite enigmatic as the Hebrew
shifts from the singular to the plural, thereby opening two divergent
readings. In the first interpretation, Abraham refers to the three travelers as
“my Lords” and invites them to stay and accept his hospitality. The second
interpretation would have Abraham talking to God. In this case, the verse
would read something as follows: “Please God, be patient; when I’m done
with the three strangers I’ll attend to you.” R. Sacks follows the latter
reading as to draw out an ethic of hospitality. In this case, to R. Sacks, God
does not mind and even favors Abraham attending the three strangers.

R. Sacks concludes that “Abraham knew the paradoxical truth that
to live the life of faith is to see the trace of God in the face of the stranger.”
It is easy to receive the Divine presence when God appears as God. What is
difficult is to sense the Divine presence when disguised as three anonymous
passers-by. That distinction was Abraham’s greatness. He knew that serving
God and offering hospitality to strangers were not two things but one.6, 7
Abraham’s life shows how hospitality – Hachnasat Orchim – is deeply

introduce God into the narrative as implicit from the preceding verses. See James Kugel, The
God of Old (New York:The Free Press, 2003), pp. 6-7, 35-36.
5 It is beyond the scope of this paper to discuss this matter in relation to the narrative of Lot,
yet it’s important to keep in mind when Lot addressed the same Figure(s) in Genesis 19:2,
Adoni was understood in plural form with a patach. See Tanna deBei Eliyyahu, transl. W.G.
Braude and I.J. Kapstein (Philadelphia:Jewish Publication Society, 1981), p. 186.
6 Covenant & Conversation Genesis: The Book of Beginnings at p. 97-101. In BT Shabbat 127a it

R. Yochanan said: Hospitality to wayfarers is as great as early attendance
at the Beit Midrash since it states, “To make room for guests on
account of neglect of the Beit Midrash.” R. Dimi of Nehardea said: It is
greater than early attendance because it states: “To make room for
guests on account of neglect of the Beit Midrash.” R. Yehudah says in
the name of Rav: Hospitality to wayfarers is greater than welcoming the
Shekhina, it is written “and [Avraham} said, “Adoni, My Lords, if I have
found favor in your sight, do not pass by.” (Genesis 18:3).

See also BT Shevuot 35b; Maimonides, Mishna Torah, Hilchot Evel 14:2; Maimonides, The Guide
of the Perplexed, trans. Shlomo Pines (Chicago:Univ. of Chicago Press, 1974), Sec. 2.42.
Further, see Genesis Rabbah 18:7; Tikunei ha-Zohar 6; R. Avraham Isaac HaKohen Kook, Olat
Re’aya, Vol. 1, Sec. 64; Netzviv, haEmek Davar on Genesis 18:2. For the Halachic application
in regard to scribal activity on the word Adoni, refer to R. Daniel Sperber’s discussion, On the
Relationship of Mitzvot Between Man and His Neighbor and Man and His Maker (Jerusalem:Urim
Publications, 2014), p. 80. R. Sperber also discusses the Vilna Ga’on as viewing hospitality to
the stranger as taking precedence over the Divine Presence Shechinah. Id. at 97.
7 Compare to Massechet Derech Eretz Rabbah (Brooklyn, 1935), p. 175-176 (implying that the
Shechinah stood above the strangers saying, “My Lords, wait for me a while I dismiss the
Divine eftar min hashamim, who is greater than you.”)

Reuven Pepper 67

connected to God.8 Yet what remains is a series of questions: For R. Sacks,
what does it mean to see a trace of God in the face of the stranger? If God
is present in the face of the stranger, is Abraham really choosing the
stranger over God? Do I therefore differentiate between strangers in how
Godly they appear to me? While R. Sacks may be speaking hyperbolically,
this remains an unprecedented enigma that needs further exploration.

These conundrums may be read through the prism of Jewish
Philosopher Emmanuel Levinas. It is easy to talk of facing another9 but
Levinas challenges us to speak of what being faced means. Being faced -
lifnei10 - addresses me, asks of me. A shift of attention is transposed from
my gaze towards the gaze of another. In “facing another we are the one
called into question, I’m the one being gazed.”11 Levinas insists, that to
“dwell is not the simple fact of the anonymous reality of being cast into
existence as a stone one casts behind oneself; it is a recollection, a coming
to oneself, a retreat home into one’s self as in a land of refuge, which
answers to a hospitality, an expectancy, a human welcome.”12 In other
words to have a face is to inhabit a space suited for both dwelling and
welcoming. This may be a reason that face in Hebrew is generally pluralized
as panim13 since it is both exposure and concealment. The face always leaves

8 See, e.g., BT Sanhedrin 103b discussing how despite Micha’s idolatrous acts, Michah was
accepted into the next world - olam haBa - for being hospitable towards visitors. The
midrash, in Numbers Rabbah 10:14 discusses a similar theme regarding the idolater Manoah.
9 To talk of facing another or b’lifnei, serving instead as the descent of inwardness, to our
own questionings and anxieties projected outward. This tension can lead to a facing away.
See Genesis 4:16: “‫ ֵע ֶדן‬-‫ ִק ְד ַמת‬,‫נֹוד‬-‫ ִמ ִל ְפ ֵני ה'; ַו ֵי ֶשב ְב ֶא ֶרץ‬,‫” ַו ֵי ֵצא ַק ִין‬-“And Cain went out from the
presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.”
10 Implies a temporal deferral, the other comes towards us from the future of our past
11 Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity (Pittsburgh:Duquesne, 1969), p. 43.
12 E. Levinas and R. Kearney, ‘‘Dialogue with Emmanuel Levinas,’’ in Face to Face with
Levinas, ed. R. Cohen (Albany:SUNY Press, 1986), p. 156. Elsewhere, Levinas writes:

The Jewish Man discovers man before discovering landscapes and
towns. He is at home in a society before being so in a house. He
understands the world on the basis of the Other rather than the whole
of being functioning in relation to the earth. He is in a sense exiled on
this earth, as the psalmist says, and he finds a meaning to the earth on
the basis of a human society…. man begins in the desert where he
dwells in tents and adores God in transportable temple.

Emanuel Levinas, Difficult Freedom (Baltimore:Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1997), p. 22.
13 The Maharal explains panim hadashot new faces, as reflecting the Divine image thereby the
act of welcoming relates the host to the image of God. Hiddushei Aggadot, Vol. I (London,
1960) p. 67.

68 Rei’ach HaSadeh

a surplus of meaning, as an excess of obligation and as a mark of
transcendence. The face takes on a visage of Divine reaching out.14

What appropriates this situation of lifnei is the responsibility given
from the future, as the time of happening is sought out in the host’s
invitation as an opening towards the other.15 It is the Other, the Guest, who
responds in time, the future “yet to be.” The host initiates time’s opening,
as is evident in Genesis 18:3’s use of “My Lords,” or “Adoni,” as Abraham’s
initiating statement to the strangers. Abraham “uttering” “Adoni” opens the
chasm between self and the faceless other. The Stranger is the faceless
(nameless), not revealed in the course of my responsibility. The face of the
other becomes comprehensible as a (Divine) trace, and “an act of breaking
faith takes place.” 16 Professor Gidean Ofrat describes this as “[t]he
relationship between the host and guest is dialectical. The host gives, but
also receives. The guest receives the hospitality that the host offers. The
host is thus also a guest.”17

Rav Kook provides a snapshot of this dilemma, noting that:

Family life is the foundation, and only then comes
friendships beyond the family circle. Hence, when
widening the borders to include friendships and love
beyond the family, we should always be careful to note
that we are not harming family life…Too many friends in
the home, their inference beyond what is proper, bring a
person to behave at home according to the judgment of
the friends coming into his home rather than according to
his own judgment…friendship, therefore, should only
surround the home and enter it at suitable times, and avoid
having too many within it so as not to lose full control of
one’s privacy. 18

We can infer from Rav Kook, the host sojourns in his own
hospitality. Yet tensions arise comes because of over-presence, as setting

14 While beyond the scope of this article, I leave the reader to ponder the ways in which the
aleph of Anokhi (Exodus 20:2) completes the bet of Bereishit (Genesis1:1).
15 Specifically, I approached the truth of spacing otherness as temporally implicated, as
otherness approaches us as a deferred occurrence and never in simultaneity with our own
sense of self.
16 See Jaques Derrida, Of Hospitality (Redwood City:Stanford Univ. Press, 2000), p. 123.
17 Gidean Ofrat, The Jewish Derrida (Syracuse:Syracuse Univ. Press, 2001), p. 143.
18 R. Avraham Issac Hacohen Kook, Eyn Ayah: On Rabbinic Aggadot in Eyn Yaakov, Vol. 2
(Jerusalem:Hachon Harav Zvi Yehuda Kook, 1987), p. 371. See also, BT Berakhot 63.

Reuven Pepper 69

your presence in place of the other.19 Gidean Ofrat, citing Jacques Derrida,
writes that the stranger, here the awaited guest, is not only someone to
whom you say “come,” but “enter.” “Enter without waiting…hurry up and
come in”, “come inside,” “come within me,” not only toward me, but
within me: occupy me, take place in me, which means, by the same token,
also take my place, don't content yourself with coming to meet me or “into
my home.”20 Derrida himself notes that: “Strange logic, but so enlightening
for us, that of an impatient master awaiting his guest as a liberator, his
emancipator. It is as if the stranger or foreigner held the keys.”21

Abraham finds himself in this unique occurrence when referring
himself as ger ve-toshav.22 In Genesis 23, when Avraham negotiated a burial
plot for his wife Sarah, Abraham said to the Hittite owner: “I am a resident
stranger – ger ve-toshav – among you, sell me a burial site among you.”23 R. Joseph
B. Soloveitchik reads this statement as stating:

We study the narrative of the patriarchal period as though
these Jews were lifted out of the ordinary concerns which
affected their non-Jewish neighbors. In fact there is no
purely covenantal historical experience. The reason is
obvious. Abraham lived among various people of
divergent faiths. When he negotiated with the sons of
Heth (of the Hittites) for a burial plot for his wife Sarah,
he defined his status: “I am a stranger and a resident
among you” (Gen 23:4). He was basically declaring that
the sectarian faith he was propounding did not preclude
his commitment to further the welfare of the general
society. Indeed, the Midrash teaches: “Great are the
righteous of the world for occupying themselves with the
habitation of the world.”24

19 To utter “enter” to our guest, also negates the deferral of waiting, thereby interrupting the
“yet to be” of the other’s appearances of the future meaning into the present, saturating the
“now” as pure instance. Crossing this threshold collapses its own temporal emergence in
entering the home in simultaneity.
20 The Jewish Derrida, p.143.
21 Of Hospitality, p. 123.
22 For another reading see Rashi’s commentary on Genesis 23:4 (reading the Midrash Rabbah
as distinguishing the two terms as explaining the narrative to where Abraham came from
elsewhere as a ger and settled in Hittite land as toshav).
23 Genesis 23:4.
24 Abraham R. Besdin, Man of Faith in the Modern World: Reflections of the Rav, Volume Two
(Brooklyn:Ktav Publishing House, 1989), pp. 74-75. The Midrash the R. Soloveitchik cited
can be found in Midrash haHefetz to Genesis 26:18.

70 Rei’ach HaSadeh

How are we to understand the language of resident/alien ger toshav25
in relation to the enigma of the host/guest. I suggest that the proximity of
the ger toshav discussed in Leviticus 2526 to the discussion of the holiday of
Sukkot discussed in Leviticus 23 27 can be a thematic analog explicated
through an understanding of Zechariah 14:14-20 depicting Sukkot as a
universal holiday at the end of days. A verse there states: “ ‫ ַהנֹו ָתר‬-‫ ָכל‬,‫ְו ָה ָיה‬
,‫ ְו ָל ֹחג‬,‫ ְל ִה ְש ַת ֲח ֹות ְל ֶמ ֶלְך ה' ְצ ָבקֹות‬,‫ ְירּו ָש ָל ִם; ְו ָעלּו ִמ ֵדי ָש ָנה ְב ָש ָנה‬-‫ ַעל‬,‫ ַה ָב ִאים‬,‫ ַהגֹו ִים‬-‫ִמ ָכל‬
‫ ַחג ַה ֻסכֹות‬-‫ ֶאת‬.”-“All who survive of all those nations that came up against Jerusalem
shall make a pilgrimage year by year to bow low to the King LORD of Hosts and to
observe the Feast of Booths.”28

In relation to this topic, the Talmud comments:

The pagans will then plead, “Offer us the Torah anew and
we will follow it.” “You foolish people,” God will answer,
“he who prepares in advance of Shabbat can eat on
Shabbat, but he who made no preparations, what can he
eat? Nevertheless, I have an easy commandment called
Sukkah, go and fulfill it...” Why is it called an easy
commandment? Because it has no expense. Immediately
each one will build a booth, a Sukkah, on his roof, but
God will cause the sun to blaze as if it were the summer
solstice. Each one will then kick his Sukkah, and leave...
Thereupon God will laugh, as it is said, “He that sits in
heaven and laughs.”29

Levinas notes that:

[t]o maintain the possibility of remaining outside the solid
dwellings of the sedentary and historic peoples is the
privilege of the Jewish people. The essential arises in
interpersonal relations and not in the spenders of
architecture. The Jews also protect themselves from the
heat and set themselves up in a house (the state) but

25 It is though beyond the scope of this article to discuss the broader, socio-halachic legal
ramifications of the status of the ger toshav.
26 Leviticus 25:47.
27 Leviticus 23:39-43.
28 Zechariah 14:16.
29 BT Avoda Zara 3a.

Reuven Pepper 71

without forgetting the Sukkah because of it. The Jew does
not situate his humanity in rootedness.30

Abraham’s tent as Sukkah transposes this movement of possession
to being welcomed by what we possess. The Sukkah command is animated
by the necessity to transform the house rather than abandon it, to interrupt
the habitual manner of dwelling that becomes continuous in returning to
the house. To sojourn in a home is to turn the home into a Sukkah without
forsaking either31. The move into the Sukkah welcomes this consciousness.
The Sukkah therefore is itself a place of wandering or “sojourning.”32 The
Sukkah is that which is anterior to the house and therefore as that which
exceeds the house thereby making the house itself the possibility to be open
to strangers. This situation is what the thinker Miguel Abensour called the
“paradox of utopia…as if utopia had to learn to make fragility its home”33
the Sukkah both welcomes and questions the proprietor. What is possessed
by the welcoming other can be given to “the stranger who disturbs the
being at home with oneself.”34 Calling me out of my “place” to sojourn in a
home. The house then becomes reveled in the Sukkah and the Sukkah in
the house. 35

This revelation comes with a wager, though. Hospitality needs to
discern hostility.36 How is one to distinguish between the guest and the
enemy? Though we need not see borders 37 and barriers as a threat to

30 Emmanuel Levinas, Difficult Justice (Toronto:Univ. of Toronto Press, 2006), p.279 (quoting
a speech Levinas gave opening the tenth colloquim on Judaism and Revolution in 1969).
31 See Face to Face with Levinas, p. 172.
32 While beyond the scope of this article to compare this theme to the consciousness of
Galut (exile), it is worth quoting from R.Solovetchik who referred to the command of Lech
lecha and said: “Keep on journeying: you are but a wandering Armean. You have no home,
you have no country’ this eternal wanderer of exile ‘is constructive and redeeming. It frees us
from absurd vanity…and seeks shelter and serenity in God,’ releasing man from dependence
on society as refuge in God.” R. Joseph Solovetchik, Abraham’s Journey: Reflections on the life of
the founding Patriarch (Jersey City:KTAV, 2008), pp.73-79.
33 Miguel Abensour, “To think utopia otherwise,” trans. Bettina Bergo, in Graduate Faculty
Philosophy Journal, NY New School for Social Research, Vol. 20- No. 2-Vol. 201-No.1, p.273.
34 Totality and Infinity at p. 39.
35 Here, I follow the discussion of Levinas’s reading of Sukkot found in Hugh Cummins,
“Sukkot,” in Hosting the Stranger, Ed. Richard Kearney and James Taylor, (New York:The
Continuum International Publishing Group, 2011), pp. 173-186.
36 This hostility is played out from within notions of conditional and unconditional modes of
37 In his theory of “collective intentionality,” philosopher John Searle refers to a “primitive
tribe” that builds a wall around its territory as a marker. The physical barrier than turns into a
symbolic barrier to the point of the walls decaying or removal doesn’t infringe on the
boundaries identity. In other words, the meaning of the physical boundary is not necessarily
exclusive with its physical properties. The character of the barrier can therefore have

72 Rei’ach HaSadeh

hospitality but rather that they serve to welcome and even enhance
hospitality.38 A gate is to provide an opening39 not necessarily exclusion, it
welcomes by virtue of the emplaced person ready to welcome, as someone
who will greet, acknowledge and question. To question is never to merely
exclude but rather to become acquainted, to accommodate and provide.
Therefore, too much openness is not a sufficient condition for hospitality.
Hospitality is more than admitting another (open doors/boarders) it is an
act of welcoming (make them feel at home). The barrier’s role of being
both protective and welcoming therefore serves the dual role of its very
discernment.40 The Sukkah, though, as a partial paradigm for Abraham’s
tent, open on all fours;41 is meant to interrupt the political realm of borders
without rejecting it. The plagues as depicted in the Talmudic passage from
Avodah Zarah convey the gentiles’ failure to keep Sukkot as a failure of this
interpersonal understanding of Jewish existence that mistakes self-
possession as mastery.

This threshold anticipates the experience of the people of Israel in
the Land of Israel as the nexus of both human relations and human-Divine
relations. The Jew is not meant for the position of guest in exile, but rather
as a permanent host in the homeland. The enigma is explained as the host
returning, overtaking its sense of being a guest, and this consciousness is
intended to be offset as the Jew living as a constant experience of being a
stranger.42 Therefore, assuming the position of the host is an ethic of
mitigating mastery away from the self by renewing a space for visitation.
Being a stranger as disrupted consciousness of totality is even extended
toward biblical agricultural laws, 43 engulfed within this dynamism of
ownership as the practice of withdrawal, as in the context of bringing the

different yet simultaneous performative roles. See John Searle, The Social Construction of Reality
(New York:Free Press, 1995) p. 40.
38 Hasidic stories about being welcoming animate this notion. See Martin Buber, Tales of the
Hasidim (Philadephia:Jewish Publication Society, 1948), pp. 128, 316-317.
39 For Derrida, “opening the door to the other is linked with the concept of “dwelling” (la
demeure), which Levinas associates as “the intimacy of the home.” The Jewish Derrida at p. 143.
40 It is important to also mention the mitzvah commandment of Levaih accompanying the
guest, in reference to, Abraham in Genesis 18:16: “Abraham went with them to bring them
on the way”. The fulfillment of hachnasat orchim (hospitality) is constituted through this
practice. See Genesis Rabbah 48:9, 20. See also, On the Relationship of Mizvot between Man and
His Neighbor and Man and His Maker at pp. 86-87.
41 For the tradition that Abraham’s tent was open on four sides, see Genesis Rabbah, 48:9.
42 See George Steiner, Errata: An Examined Life (New Haven:Yale Univ. Press:, 1997), pp.
43 On the theme of the cities of refuge, see Emmanuel Levinas, Beyond the Verse,
(Bloomberg:Indiana Univ. Press, 1994), pp. 34-53. On the theme of the Land of Israel’s
ambiguous borders see R. Yoel Bin Nun, “The Land and the Land of Canaan,” in Yeshivat
Har Etzion: Torah miEtzion - Bereshit (Jerusalem:Maggid Press, 2011), pp. 81-107.

Reuven Pepper 73

land’s first fruits Bikkurim as connecting to being strangers and giving up
ownership of the land.44

Each generation acts as the first, as if they came into the country
themselves, and are handing possession back to God.45 Experiencing the
country as existing in a continual state of being entered offsets the
consciousness of permanence and mastery. This approach evident in the
structure of Chapter Three of the Mishnah of Bikkurim, which discusses the
giving of the first fruits (bikkurim) from the lowly peasant to the King
himself. Israeli philosopher Avi Sagi explains this passage as follows: “The
redemption of Israel is not redemption from the Stranger but with the
Stranger, since the Stranger is a permanent element of human
consciousness.” 46 Therefore, there is both the command to love the
stranger as well as a reason as to why.47 As is evident from the words of
Isiah, “Strangers shall join them and shall cleave to the House of Jacob.”48

This can be elucidated as the paradox of the guest in his own
home, as the Jewish people being strangers in the Land of Israel. The poet
Edmond Jabes wrote: “The foreigner allows you to be yourself by making a
foreigner out of you.”49 Jewish existence is bound as transforming ourselves
into guests as mitigating mastery in our own home, thereby interrupting the
sovereign possession of the home. This existence calls forth a sense of
sojourning from within the home. It is a sojourning in a dwelling.50

Indeed, even when the Jewish people are within the Land of Israel,
which was simultaneously elected by Abraham to to be his home and to be
the home – the dwelling-place – of God’s people, they are reminded that

44 See Deuteronomy 26:3-10, specifically verse 26:3: “ ;‫ ַב ָי ִמים ָה ֵהם‬,‫ ֲא ֶשר ִי ְה ֶיה‬,‫ ַה ֹכ ֵהן‬-‫ ֶאל‬,‫ּו ָבא ָת‬
‫ ֲא ֶשר ִנ ְש ַבע ה' ַל ֲא ֹב ֵתינּו ָל ֶתת ָלנּו‬,‫ ָה ָא ֶרץ‬-‫ ָבא ִתי ֶאל‬-‫ ִכי‬,‫ ִה ַג ְד ִתי ַהיֹום ַלה' ֱאֹל ֶקיָך‬,‫ ְו ָא ַמ ְר ָת ֵא ָליו‬.”-“You shall go to
the priest in charge at that time and say to him, ‘I acknowledge this day before the LORD your God that I
have entered the land that the LORD swore to our fathers to assign us.’”
45 See Martin Buber, On Zion (Syracuse:Syracuse Univ. Press,1997), p. 4.
46 Avi Sagi, Reflections on Identity: The Jewish Case (Boston:Academic Studies Press, 2016), p.
47 Deuteronomy 10:17-19.
48 Isaiah 14:1.
49 Edmond Jabes, A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Book
(Middletown:Wesleyan Univ. Press., 1989), p. 1.
50 It is here that I contend with Israeli poet Zali Gurevitch who characterizes the crafting of
the biblical land topography as a place always resistant to its own sense of permanency.
Gurevitch blames the Torah’s own voice as self-resistant to settling in a permanent place.
Rather my interpretation inverts Gurevitch’s sense of the sojourner as animating a deeper
meaning of impermanence as the very fabric of permeance that results from setting the Land
of Israel. See Zali Gurevitch, “The Double Site of Israel,” in Grasping Land, Ed. by Eyal Ben-
Ari and Yoram Bilu (Albany: SUNY Press, 1997) pp. 203-216.

74 Rei’ach HaSadeh

“the land is Mine, that you are sojourning tenants (gerim ve-toshavim) with

The tent, in which the strangers are welcomed, converges its
identity with Sukkah as something sacred, a parraell of the mishkan.53 In
Hebrew, this word is related to two other words; shekhinah, meaning divine
presence, and shakhen, meaning a neighbor. The verb shakhen invokes a
unique occurrence of human/Divine dwelling.54 This unique physical space
is impervious to Avraham’s sense of psychological place as ger toshav as its
material setting55 (within Eretz Yisra’el) speaks volumes for Divine world
relations in conjunction with both human to human and human/Divine

This Divine sense has been spacially designated as the Makom,
literally “the Place.” Yet the Makom to which I speak is more of a placing (as
occurrence) or taking place.56 Makom doesn’t designate multi-dimensional space
but rather the relationality of space as unique to the Divine – “And he
arrived at the place.”57 “Why is God called Makom? Because He is the place
of the world and the world is not His place.”58 “They shall make for Me a

51 Leviticus 25:23.
52 This theme is discussed in David Novak, The Election of Israel, (Cambridge:Cambridge Univ.
Press, 1995), p. 134. See also, the comments of Ibn Ezra and Rashbam thereon. Also see
further Psalms 119:19; I Chron. 29:15; Ramban’s commentary on Deuteronomy 8:10. These
sources seem to imply time occurs in co emergence with Israel, allotting time as relating itself
to the children of Israel Benei Yisra’el just as space is related in relation to the Land of Israel
Eretz Yisra’el as leotot u-le-mo’adim signs and seasons. See Genesis 1:14. See further,
Deuteronomy 32:8 (referencing God’s allotting the nations a home it says be-hanhel set the
divtions of man within gevulot boundaries in relation to the mispar numbers of the children of
Israel Benie Yisra’el.)
53 Similarly, see Genesis Rabbah 48:4-5 (discussing the relation between God visiting Abraham
in Genesis 18 and the God visiting the Temple Mikdash sacrificial inauguration ceremony).
It is beyond the scope of the article to further discuss how Sukkah and Mishkan are related,
but I call attention to the transportability of both as sacred dwelling places for people and
God, respectively.
54 Shakhen as dwelling refers to Deuteronomy’s injunctions as too what constitutes Israel’s
dwelling in the land of Israel see Dueteronomy.
55 Compare to the Maharal regarding setting Israel and nations in their proper place as
intermingling the natural and unnatural orders. Netsah yisra’el (London, 1952) at 1:9.
56 Compare to Mircea Eliade who wrote “The place conveys the non-homogeneity of the
usual, ordered local space, the rift in it. Rather than part of the special continuity, the place is
beyond it since it is a realm for the renewal of actual creation. This place is the source of a
person’s identity and orientation in the world, where revelation or holiness takes place.” The
Sacred and The Profane (San Diego:Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987) p. 20.
57 Genesis 28:1.
58 Bereishit Rabbah 68:9. A well-known example of Makom referring to God is the traditional
words for comforting a mourner: “HaMakom yenachem et’chem b’toch shar avay’lay Tzion
vee’Yerushalayim,”-“May [God] comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”

Reuven Pepper 75

holy place (mikdash) and I shall dwell in their midst”59 “Surely the Lord is
here (yesh) in this place (ba-makom ha-zeh) . . . it will be the house of God (Beit
Elohim”).60 The language of Makom is important as a mutual articulation
takes place between what I have been as the site of what I am becoming to
become. The encounter of otherness thereby never allows one’s sense of self
to stay in place.61

“It was by his faith that Abraham could leave the land of his
fathers to become a stranger in the land of promise.”62 This faith is the
reason the Torah uses the language of Lech Lecha for Abraham’s calling.
Instigating this disruption in Abraham’s life serves as a Makom of departure.
Lech Lecha itself has been understood in two ways: to “go unto
towards[land]” and “go unto yourself.” The language of departure implies
Abraham’s sense of place as experience. Etymologically, experience is a
“trying out” or “making a trial out of.” As philosopher John Dewey wrote,
“to have an experience is to make a trial, an experiment out of living.”63 A
place, however, isn’t understood as merely physical positioning. It is again
important to dislocate the Western sensibility of place as associated with
space. Rather, the Biblical language of place/dwelling insists on the
particularity of the relations which constitute a unique event. A place exists
not only physically, but also as a site of entangled human/Divine
experience. The poet and scientist Gaston Bachelard wrote, ”We are far
removed from any reference to simple geometrical forms. A house that has
been experienced is not an inert box. Inhabited space transcends
geometrical space.”64

Therefore, Abraham’s wandering in Lech Lecha was enigmatic as
traversing the roles of guest and host. The Lech Lecha narrative navigates its
sense of place as neither just the journey neither towards the inner-self nor

59 Exodus 25.8.
60 Genesis 28:16, 22. See also, BT Pesahim 88a and Rashi’s comment therein on “she-qara’o
bayit.” It is beyond the scope of the article to discuss how Mishkan and Mikdash are related in
terms of my notion of placing.
61 Chazal animates this point through the language of “al Tehi Rasha Bifnei Atzmmecha”-”do not
judge yourself to be a wicked person.” The Talmud states Kul yisra’el Benai Melachim Haim (BT
Sabbath 128a), Rashi comments as associating the language of chesed with bin adam L’ Makom
and not leChaveiro, stating veIyun Tefillah Haynu beClal Gemilut Chasadim deChetiv implying
kavanna in prayer is a form of Chesed. I infer that Rashi is thinking of what being created
Tzelem Elokim means, to which the human exemplifies as associated to God through His
middot, which includes chesed.
62 Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling (Penguin Books: New York, 1982), p. 50.
63 John Dewey, The Middle Works of John Dewey, Vol. 9: 1899-1924 (Carbondale: Southern
Illinois Univ. Press, 2008), p. 158.
64 Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, trans. Maria Jolas (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969),

76 Rei’ach HaSadeh

just to the Land of Israel. Rather, Lech Lecha rather serves as a rupture of
Abraham’s sense of being in the world as if to be, is to be in place.65 This idea
recalls Abraham Joshua Heschel’s contrast between God and the human
being: Whereas God is “I Am That I Am – ehyeh asher ehyeh,”66 says Heschel,
the human being is “I am that I am not.”67 He explains: “I am endowed
with a will, but the will is not mine; I am endowed with a freedom, but it is
a freedom imposed on the will. Life is something that visits my body, a
transcendent loan; I have neither initiated nor conceived its worth and
meaning… I am what is not mine. I am that I am not.”68

Therefore for Abraham to be in place is not to be confined to a
physical position in the fullest sense. 69 It is between our bodies and
landscapes that placing emerges, not in pure space but rather in a disjointed
space-time.70 The sense of place that emerges is where its edges are porous,
because the outer landscape that allows a sense of place to be constituted is
always reaching out beyond that place.71 It is to this sense that the language

65 R. Meir Simcha Hachohen of Dvinsk, in his work Meshech Chochma, seems to have come
close to this line of thought; referring to Abraham as commanded, “to the place where I will
show you to yourself.” The reveal for Abraham is the disclosure that his inner pnimit self has
been disrupted all along. See Mechech Chochmah Hamevuar on Lech Lecha 12:7. The Sefat
Emet also refers to Lech Lech as metaphorical for a constant state of passage. See The
Language of Truth: The Torah Commentary of the Sefat Emet, trans. by Arthur Green
(Philadephia:The Jewish Publication Society, 2012), pp. 19-27.
66 Abraham Joshua Heschel, Between God and Man: An Interpretation of Judaism (New York:Free
Press, 1997), p. 62 (quoting Exodus 3:14). For a deeper theological discussion on the name
Ehyeh from Exodus 3:14, see Joseph B. Soloveitchik, The Emergence of Ethical Man (Jersey
City:KTAV Publishing House, 2005) pp. 171-172; Joseph B. Soloveitchik, U-Veqashtem mi-
Sham, (Jersey City:KTAV Publishing House, 2009), p. 102.
67 Ibid.
68 Between God and Man at p. 62. Professor Peter Ochs refers to Modeh ani lefanekah (thankful
am I) and writes,

“I” am there; the first person is not forgotten, denied, negated. But I am
secondary to you who is the first person before I am: you, king Melech,
who will soon be named as… (HaShem, yet the name is missing as the
person hasn’t washed yet). As agent of speech, my first act as speaker is
to declare that, just as this verb modeh precedes me ani, so do my first
actions precede my agency.

Peter Ochs, Morning Prayer as Redemptive Thinking Found in Liturgy, Time, and the Politics of
Redemption, ed. Randi Rashkover and C.C. Pecknold, (Grand Rapids:William B. Eedermans
Publishing Co., 2006), pp. 58-59.
69 See Bereishit Rabbah 39:8.
70 Edward Casey, The Fate of Place (Berkely:Univ. of California Press, 1998), pp. 328-336
71 This results from the effect human action has on Divine dwelling. The Malbim, on
Jeremiah 7:4, writes: “Do not imagine because this is the temple of the Lord and was built
for the Lord it is therefore His Temple, meaning that he will therefore dwell in it. It is not
so, “The Temple of the Lord are these” means that your good ways and deeds…are the

Reuven Pepper 77

of Makom attends to the nature of Divinity72 as inhabiting the world. In
other words, allowing notions of place to overflow its boundaries allows the
Divine naming to that which disallows itself to be fully named. In other
words, God as HaShem might be the name for that which in language does
not properly belong to language. A name for that which is otherwise
unnamable, it is the unthinkable which constitutes thought. To call out
HaShem is to bring the unnamable forth, to say HaShem as Name welcomes
what will not be Named. Therefore, to be in place is to already be on the
way beyond that place. This sense of Divinity, is the very threshold of the
host receding into the guest and the guest into the host, always
uncontainable on its edges, but rather residing in an in- between that subtends
it’s relationship. For example, the Sukkah is that which exceeds the house as
open to others in a way a house is not, as symbolized by the sukka’s partially
constructed roof as open towards the infinite. The Sukkah subtends to the

It is the obligation to the faceless other - both the stranger and
familiar - that constitutes Makom as invoking the Divine being welcomed by
its very possession.74 This is the deeper meaning of seeing the Divine in the
face. To invoke the language of Makom is itself a gesture suggesting endless
welcoming. Divine permanency is already on its way, always “otherwise
than in relation.” The narrativity of Abraham resituates this relationality as
the animation for engaging in the act of hospitality rather than merely
inferring it from the plain sense (“peshat”) reading of the text. The essence
of this relationship can be drawn out from God speaking at Sodom: “How
can I conceal what I am doing from Abraham? And Abraham shall surely
become a great and important (atsum) nation, in whom all the nations of the
earth shall be blessed. For I know him, so that (le-mdari) he will command
his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord to do
what is right (tzeddakah) and just (mishpat).75 The text does not say “I know
that,” but rather yedativ, “I know him.” Therefore, for Abraham to be
responsive, he must recognize himself as not fully belonging to his own

Temple of the Lord, and through them God will live in Kedusha “for if you fully amend”
…your good deeds are Gods dwelling, the Temple of the Lord are these, and you will
thereby live in the land forever and will not be exiled from it.” See also, I Kings 8:41-43;
Isaiah 2:2-3; Micha 4:1.
72 For another perspective, see R. Chaim Miller, The Practical Tanya - Part 2: Gateway to Unity
and Faith (Brookyn:Kol Menachem, 2018) pp. 67-78.
73 These themes are discussed in Hosting the Stranger at pp. 173-186.
74 Also, this language refers to God emplacing His Name, see Deuteronomy 12:1, 14:23,
16:2, 16:6, 16:11, 26:2. Therefore the root Shakhen resonates with the welcoming of the
Divine Name towards a unique performative site.
75 Genesis 18:17-19.

78 Rei’ach HaSadeh

sense of self.76 If Abraham speaks his place as he does at Sodom77 it is to
invite the Divine excess into the world as always otherwise than possessed.
This Divine excess transforms itself through the language of tzeddakah
u’mishpat. God’s concern with the other nations blessed through Abraham
becomes Abraham’s concern.78

To speak of Makom therefore, stands as the inversion of its
inception, allowing Divinity to be welcomed into its very possession
through human action. Within creation, material emergence becomes the
Divine’s nameless excess, allowing Divinity to experience a surplus of its
very differentiation in human reciprocity, namely love (Ahavah). Welcoming
the human is a welcoming of the Divine and can not be limited to the face’s
flesh. Rather face also serves as a linguistic synonym for a broader complex
weaving of human Divine relations. 79 Within this dynamic, Divine
sovereignty as Ol Malchot hashamim, inverts itself away from the classical
paradox of Divine power,80 rather transcribing the ways in which Divine
relationality attends to notions of invitation, visitation, and promise. The
Divine can only be the Elokei Tzeva’ot - Lord of Hosts - when treated as a
guest all the while, the Divine can only be a guest if treated as Alochi Z’vaot.
This inversion is the Divine Naming which disallows the Divine to be

76 See the language of noda’at as used in Magen Avot commenting on Gen 9:6 and Deut 14:1.
For further reference of this epistemological distinction, see Bertrand Russell, “Knowledge
by Acquaintance and Knowledge by Description,” in The Problems of Philosophy (Oxford,
1959), 46ff. See also, The Election of Israel at p.121 (referring specifically to this distinction).
77 The people there being as described as ra’im ve-hatim “wicked sinners” see Genesis 13:13.
78 For contrasting sources discussing Man’s place in the world, see BT Shabbat 133b
(discussing Exodus 15:2 and 34:7); Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed at Sec. III, Ch.LIV.
79 See Genesis 32:30: “So, Jacob named the Makom (place) Peni’el (face of God), because I saw the
Divine Panim el Panim (face to face), yet my life has been preserved.”
80 By Divine power, I refer to the general philosophical discussions and debates surrounding
the themes of Divine Omnipotence (unlimited power) and omniscience (all knowing). It is
beyond the scope of this article to explore these issues. For more on these concepts in
Jewish tradition see Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, Sec. II, Ch. XIII; Yitzhak Grossman,
“On Divine Omnipotence and its Limitations,” Hakirah Journal Vol. 2 (2005), pp. 151-164.
81 The Midrash on Genesis 28:1 responds to the texts extensive use of the phrase Makom.
The Yalqut Shimoni makes the inference of God being the place of the world yet the world
not being the place of God. This notion of placing regarding Jacob’s naming the Makom to
which he was visited by angels, as moving along a ladder as Beit El – “the House of God.” A
spatial place exceeding its own self-presence with Divine non-place as subtended through
the act of place naming as an act of bringing or calling forth what can not be fully brought
forth. I suggest the act of naming thereby constitutes the biblical motif of Makom as the
word immensity of reaching out. See Yalqut Shimoni Vayetze, remez 117.

Reuven Pepper 79

In this conclusion, I will further show that how the reader
discerns the relationship between the identity of the host and the guest can
be slippery and tedious.

As attending to the mysterious ways in which God traverses the
role as Host and Guest towards the world, I contend this animation as the
situation of being faced lifnei, constitutes a unique occurrence of time, as the
responsibility is given from the future, where the time of happening is
sought out in the host’s invitation. 82 It is the Other, the Guest, who
responds in time, the future “yet to be.”83 Thereby making the act of
hospitality as per the words of Zechariah’s universalizing the holiday of
Sukkot,84 as itself Messianic.

This particularity that situates the uniqueness of chosen-ness as
articulated by Abraham Joshua Heschel, who wrote, “the “chosen people”
means a people approached and chosen by God. The significance of this
term is genuine in relation to God rather than in relation to other peoples.
It signifies not a quality inherent in the people, but a relationship between
the people and God.”85 What makes this Jewish particularity unique is that
its self-identity emerges as the imaging of the Divine, which like the Divine
in its particularity, lays always elsewhere than in a relation to be universalized.
This particular elsewhere, 86 is exemplified through the meaning of Anavah
(humility), to which Nachmanidies87 situated above chesed itself, mitigating
obligations to others into self-virtue, thereby disallowing one own sense of
self to conform to another’s.88

82 Again, I approached the truth of spacing otherness as temporally implicated, as otherness
approaches us as a deferred occurrence and never in simultaneity with our own sense of self.
83 It is interesting to think of God’s response to Moses as Ehyeh in Exodus 3:14.The Gra
comments on the Zohar’s (3:11a) understanding of Ehyeh in Exodus 3:14, “The Name Eheyeh
is the name of impregnation shem ha-ibbur, for it has not yet been revealed, but rather [it
signifies that] I will be revealed in the future.” Joseph Avivi, The Kabbalah of the Gra [in
Hebrew](Jerusalem:Kerem Eliyahu, 1993), p. 145.
84 Zechariah 14:14
85 Abraham Joshua Heschel, Man is Not Alone (New York:Farrar, Straus and Giroux, reissue
ed., 1976), pp. 289-290.
86 Chris Bosel, Risking Proclamation Respecting Difference, (Eugene:Cascade Books, 2008), p. 269.
87 See Iggeret HaRamban: A Letter for the ages (Brooklyn:Mesorah Publications, 2007), p.17.
88 Still the uniqueness of Israel’s election doesn’t imply exclusion, as David Novak writes:

Revelation brings the truth of being elected to conscious mutual
relationality. Still the creation of humans in the imago Dei is also
election; hence the Torah is the book of human history toldo ha’adam
(Genesis 5:1, Nachmanidies)…It brings the meaning of being created in
the image of God to human awareness and action.

The Election of Israel at p. 121.

80 Rei’ach HaSadeh

Therefore, Jewish particularity needs to be resituated in relation to
both how we read and how we are being read, how we inhabit, and we are
being inhabited, how we relate and how we are being related. The sense of
self disruption that we encounter through otherness (as text or stranger)
doesn’t only belong to the site of justification nor maintenance.89 Rather,
we need to learn to appreciate in irony, not deprecate in purity, to risk
listening at the expense of understanding, to criticize without merely
opposing our relation to others, ourselves and tradition.90 Thus, I propose a
counter disclosure91 not of the truth but of a relational truth telling, which
inscribes within its self-relation the tale of its own doubts, its ironies, its
biases, but more importantly its hopes. Thus, to relate truth is such that as
the designation of the Divine as Makom, we attend to the relations
constituted and de-constituted in its telling, in its taking place. Thus,
Abraham attends to the relation circulating the Sukkah as itself the flesh of
Makom,92 a reaching out to the other, whose face’s veneer is but a veil, to
whom its emplacement beyond the face is manifestly hidden in the face
otherwise anew.

Tifros alenu Sukkat Shlomekha!

89 For example, the need to revert problematic biblical texts to contemporary discourses
within the natural or social sciences so that to justify and maintain rather than merely inform.
90 As the Jewish world is already situated and bound in so many ways by Western
modern/post modernity. It is not enough to find a pure Jewish thinking serving as neither
integration nor critique of the west nor is it enough to discern a thought process maintained
and justified by contemporary common social/cultural pursuits. As these sorts of critiques
and responses lose the ability to provide their own self-critique and thereby disclose their
own variations of closure and exclusion. These approaches mask the ways in which the west
has inhabited itself deep in the psyche. I propose the need to embrace the language of the
West’s own self-critique as a plateau for a counter narrative, to inform Jewish thinking
without allowing that very Jewish thinking to be maintained through it’s very critique. This
challenge is met as unending as living in complex and entangled world will tangle and
entangle all sorts of communities in ever growing ways. This article is exactly that sort of
91 Can also be read as Counter Orthodoxy. See Catherine Keller, Apocalypse Then and Now,
(Minneapolis:Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2004), pp. 19-25.
92 Can also be read as the spacing of. This is the deeper meaning of anthropomorphic language
in the Torah. Gaston Bachelard writes, “[I]mmensity in the intimate domain is intensity, an
intensity of being, the intensity of a being evolving in a vast perspective of intimate
intensity.” As such, the poetic image that seeks to communicate the concept of immensity
must be translated into a spacing easily recognized and embraced by the psyche, in this case
the intimacy of the face. Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, trans. Maria Jolas
(Boston:Beacon Press, 1969), p. 193.





The Roots of Destruction

When discussing the antecedents of the destruction of the Bayit
Sheni (the Second Temple), the Gemara famously says that:

.‫קמצא ובר קמצא חרוב ירושלים‬

Jerusalem was destroyed on account of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza.1

The Gemara proceeds to tell the story of an unnamed man who
had a good friend named Kamtza and a sworn enemy named Bar Kamtza.
Hosting a party, he sends his servant to invite his friend, only to have the
servant erroneously invite his master’s enemy instead.2 When the host sees
Bar Kamtza at his party, he orders him to leave. Bar Kamtza,
understandably hoping to avoid public humiliation, begs to stay, ultimately
offering to pay the cost of the entire party in exchange. Despite this, the
host refuses, and Bar Kamtza, shamed and enraged, proceeds to inform the
Roman emperor that the Jews have rebelled against him, setting in motion a
chain of events that directly lead to the destruction of the Beit haMikdash.3

On its surface, the conflict between Bar Kamtza and the host
seems like an encapsulation of the type of sinat chinam (baseless hatred), that
the Gemara credits as the reason for the churban (destruction of the
Temple).4 Despite the numerous acts of chesed, mitzvot, and Torah learning
that characterized the Second Temple period,5 the nation was torn apart by
scores of petty quarrels. In fact, the Gemara goes as far as to say that
baseless hatred is equivalent to the three cardinal sins of idolatry, murder,
and immorality;6 whereas those three sins precipitated the destruction of the
First Temple, baseless hatred was responsible for the destruction of the

1 BT Gittin 55a-56b
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 BT Yoma 9b.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.

Henny Bochner 83

However, this explanation is troubling. As terrible as personal
conflicts may be, they are, at the end of the day, personal. Why should the
Beit haMikdash be destroyed, and the Jewish people exiled from their land,
over a personal matter between two men? Of greater import, why would
Bar Kamtza escalate a personal conflict with the host into a political matter
that threatened not only the host’s wellbeing, but the survival of everyone
he knew?

The Price of Silence

To explain this tension, it is worth taking a closer look at the story
of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. When the Gemara explains why this incident
brought about the churban, it does not credit the enmity between Bar
Kamtza and the host. Instead, the gemara says:

‫בא וראה כמה גדולה כחה של בושה שהרי סייע הקב”ה את בר קמצא‬
.‫והחריב את ביתו ושרף את היכלו‬

Come and see how significant is the power of shame, for the Holy
One, Blessed be He, assisted Bar Kamtza, who had been humiliated,
and He destroyed His Temple and burned His Sanctuary.7

Jerusalem’s doom was not caused by the fact that the host hated Bar
Kamtza enough to forego tremendous financial gain in order to ensure his
absence at a party. Instead, it was the public humiliation of Bar Kamtza that
made the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash inevitable. Specifically, it was
the fact that no one present at the party intervened in Bar Kamtza’s
defense. In fact, the Gemara explicitly states this fact:

‫אמר הואיל והוו יתבי רבנן ולא מחו ביה ש”מ קא ניחא להו איזיל‬
.‫איכול בהו קורצא בי מלכא אזל אמר ליה לקיסר מרדו בך יהודאי‬

He [Bar Kamtza] said to himself: Since the Sages were sitting there
and did not protest, learn from it that they were content with what he
did. I will therefore go and inform against them to the king. He went
and said to the emperor: The Jews have rebelled against you.8

When Bar Kamtza saw the Sages fail to speak up in the face of his
public humiliation, he takes their silence as tacit approval. He is not alone in
doing so: the Gemara records the famous principle of “‫’’שתיקה כהודאה‬-

7 BT Gittin 57a.
8 Id. at 56a.

84 Rei’ach HaSadeh

“silence is tantamount to approval.”9 In other words, staying silent in the face of
wrongdoing is not an option: when one has the opportunity to speak up
against that which is wrong, one has the obligation to do so. In fact, the
greater one’s ability to have an impact, the greater one’s obligation is, as the
Gemara makes clear:

‫כל מי שאפשר למחות לאנשי ביתו ולא מיחה נתפס על אנשי ביתו‬
‫באנשי עירו נתפס על אנשי עירו בכל העולם כולו נתפס על כל העולם‬


Anyone who has the capability to effectively protest [the sinful conduct
of] the members of his household and did not protest, is apprehended
for [the sins of] the members of his household and punished. [If he is
in a position to protest the sinful conduct of] the people of his town,
[and he fails to do so, he is] apprehended for the sins of the people of
his town. [If he is in a position to protest the sinful conduct of] the
whole world, [and he fails to do so], he is apprehended for the sins of
the whole world.10

Of course, there are times when one cannot voice one’s
disapproval of a situation; nonetheless, remaining quiet is still not an
option. The Gemara recounts the story of Pharaoh, who asked his three
advisors, Bilam, Yitro, and Iyov, what was to be done with the Jewish

‫בלעם שיעץ נהרג איוב ששתק נידון ביסורין יתרו שברח זכו מבני‬
.‫בניו שישבו בלשכת הגזית‬

Bilam, who advised [Pharaoh to kill all sons born to the Jewish
people], was killed. Iyov, who was silent, was punished by suffering.
Yitro, who ran away [as a sign of protest], merited that some of his
children’s children sat in the Sanhedrin in the Chamber of Hewn

Both Yitro and Iyov knew that Pharaoh would not respond well to
a show of support for the Jewish people; that speaking out was not an
option. However, Yitro, who makes his disapproval clear by leaving, is
rewarded for generations, while Iyov, who says nothing, suffers. The lesson
is clear: we cannot allow ourselves to be bystanders in the face of

9 BT Bava Metzia 37b.
10 BT Shabbat 54b.
11 BT Sotah 11a.

Henny Bochner 85

wrongdoing, because in doing so, we become complicit ourselves. Instead,
when we notice the seeds of discord being planted, or lashon haRa being
said, or sinat chinam given the chance to flourish, we are obligated to say
something, do something, change something.

Seen in this light, the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza is no longer
a story of a feud between two men. Instead, it is a cautionary tale about
communal responsibility, about what can happen when we allow ourselves
to turn a blind eye to infighting.

Can We Make a Difference?

Despite the tragic nature of the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza,
its details also offer an antidote to the problem of sinat chinam. Tellingly,
both Kamtza and Bar Kamtza are implicated in the story, which at first
blush does not make sense.12 Why should Kamtza, the man who never
received an invitation, be held accountable? Although there are many
possible explanations, the one I would like to suggest is simple. “Kamtza”
and “Bar Kamtza” differ by only two letters, yet one was a close friend
while the other was a bitter enemy. Though on the surface, there was
nothing major to divide them, the host managed to turn the small
difference between them into a cause for love and a cause for hate. As a
result, Jerusalem and the Beit haMikdash were destroyed. Read in this light,
the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza is not only a reminder to speak up in
the face of injustice, but a call to overlook small differences, and to embrace
those around us, even if we have reason to want to do otherwise. Rav
Avraham Isaac haKohen Kook famously writes that:

‫ נשוב להיבנות‬,‫ואם נחרבנו ונחרב העולם עמנו על ידי שנאת חינם‬
.‫והעולם עמנו יבנה על ידי אהבת חינם‬

If we were destroyed, and the world with us, due to baseless hatred,
then we shall rebuild ourselves, and the world with us, with baseless
love – ahavat chinam.13

By definition, sinat chinam is hate when there is no justifiable reason
for it. Its antidote, ahavat chinam, must then be the opposite: love for one’s
fellow man, even when there may be reason to be frustrated, to be annoyed,
to want to sever the relationship. Unlike the tragic story of Bar Kamtza, we
are entreated to look past that which may divide us, and instead, to actively

12 BT Gittin 56a.
13 Orot haKodesh, Vol. III, p. 324. See also,
(utilizing the teachings of R. Kook in an article entitled “Rectifying Baseless Hatred.”)

86 Rei’ach HaSadeh

look out for one another, support each other, and never turn a blind eye
when someone we know needs help. Failing to do so caused the destruction
of the Beit haMikdash; if we choose the opposite path, we will merit to see it

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