Monthly Archives: May 2012

Sara Esther Crispe: What does it mean to be a Jewish Woman?


I have taken this wonderful piece from a longer piece written by Sara Esther Crispe for the Chabad website. It relates beautifully to our discussion about Chochma, Binah and Da’at. I hope that you enjoy!

And so my journey began . . .

What does it mean to be a Jewish woman? What does it mean to be a woman in Judaism? I began my search with the first woman in the Torah. That woman’s name is Chavah in Hebrew, translated as “Eve” in English. Chavah is referred to as “the mother of all life.” We are told that she was created—after the creation of the first man, Adam—on the sixth day of creation, immediately preceding Shabbat. And woman was created, we are taught, with the purpose of being an eizer kenegdo, which can be translated in one of two ways—either “a helpmate to him” or “a helpmate against him.”

The commentaries explain that in a relationship, there are times when one is most helpful by being supportive and alongside one’s spouse, and there are times when the help that is needed requires going against the desires and position of one’s spouse. The goal is to know when each action is appropriate.

It would appear, then, that a woman was created for the sole purpose of helping a man. One may ask: “Is being a Jewish woman defined solely in terms of her relationship with another?” And, practically speaking, how would this be accomplished? The obvious responses would be: through being married and having children.

What does it mean to be a Jewish woman? What does it mean to be a woman in Judaism?

Yet we find something fascinating. In halachah (Torah law), a woman is obligated to do neither. She has no legal requirement whatsoever. But the man does. He is required to both marry and have children. It is pretty clear that he can’t do this without a woman to be his wife and the mother of his children, but she is in no way obligated to do so. The only way he can fulfill his responsibilities, then, is if a woman would be willing to help him and fill these roles.

According to the Torah, and specifically Chassidic and Kabbalistic philosophy, human beings were created in two categories, as men and women. Yet when characteristics are defined, they most commonly refer to masculine and feminine traits, as opposed to statements about men and women. Why is this significant? Because both men and women have masculine and feminine traits. Generally speaking, a man is predominantly masculine, and a woman predominantly feminine. Generally speaking. There are always exceptions, and this is why not every woman will naturally desire what is considered a feminine property, nor a man a masculine property.

The differences between the masculine and feminine are great. They are vast. And these differences affect the way men and women think, feel, speak and act. The differences are psychological, emotional, physical, spiritual and intellectual. And, while we may be a combination of both these masculine and feminine traits, at the end of the day we are either a man or a woman. And our differences are not meant to cause distance between us, but to bring us closer together, to balance one another and bond as they become points of celebration, not separation.

The greatest difference between a man and woman—or, more appropriately, between the masculine and the feminine—can be seen in the first two of the intellectual qualities of a human being. Chassidic philosophy teaches that there are three intellectual properties alongside seven emotional properties. The first of the properties is that of chochmah, translated loosely as “wisdom,” which is a male principle.

Chochmah is compared to a flash of insight. Physically speaking, it is compared to the seed of a man. It is the beginning of all life, the foundation. Without it, nothing will ever be able to come into existence. And yet, like seed, it is invisible to the naked eye. It has no shape, no form, no meaning. Not yet. It has potential, incredible potential, but it cannot develop or grow or form by itself.

The next property, that of binah, is the feminine property. Binah, loosely translated as “understanding,” is the desire to attach to the wisdom and give it meaning. Binah is the formation process, the bonding, the development. In a physical example, binah is the pregnancy. It literally houses the seed, and then, as the seed is within it, causes it to grow, develop and form, until it is ready to be born and exist on its own.

Both men and women have masculine and feminine traits

The word in Hebrew for home, bayit, is a yud between the letters that form the word bat, daughter. The concept is that theyud, the smallest of all the Hebrew letters, represents the seed (we are even taught that it looks like a drop of seed in its shape) and yet it is housed within the bat, the daughter. This is why there is an additional statement which says, “Beito zu ishto,”, a man’s home is his wife. It is not that his house is his wife or that his wife represents the house, but that his literal home is housed within his wife, on a spiritual and emotional level. A woman need not be in the home. A woman is the home.

It is the binah quality that desires to receive the potential of the seed and cultivate it into something tangible and meaningful. While it is not compelled to do so, it wants to do so. It is a situation where each is dependent on the other to create a reality. The seed cannot become anything in and of itself. Likewise, without the seed, binah cannot create anything, for it has not been given the potentials with which to work.

Spiritually, a woman also has the masculine property of chochmah, just like a man has the feminine property of binah. In actuality, or on the most physical of realms, a woman cannot produce seed, and a man cannot house or give birth to a baby. But, while the physical is in many ways the lowest and most external of all levels, it is nonetheless the world in which we live, and the most tangible to us. The physical creation of a baby is the most profound and everlasting representation of the love and the bond between a man and a woman. This child is the culmination of the chochmah of the man and the binah of the woman. It is the best of both worlds, and is the representation of the future, the actuality of the potential of its mother and its father.

Physically, the reproductive organs of a woman are internal, whereas that of a man are external. This ability to internalize and to develop within is, once again, understood as something much more than merely physical. One of the clearest indications of this is the difference between the halachic (legal) obligations of men and women.
For the most part, a man is required to observe all timebound mitzvot, and his commandments are also greatly external and physical as well. For example, a man is required to wear tzitzit, the fringed garment that represents the 613 commandments through its strings and their knots. Furthermore, while it began as a custom, a man wears a kippah, a headcovering, to remind him always that G‑d is above. And another primary example is that a man prays three times a day in a quorum of ten others. All of these are very physical, very external commandments. In essence, all of these mean that there are others who can testify or be witness to whether or not a man is fulfilling his obligations.
A woman’s commandments, however, are private and internal. In almost every case, they are done within the home; in some cases, no one other than she is aware as to whether or not she is doing them. One example of this is keeping a kosher kitchen in the home. The woman is trusted by her husband, family, and those who eat in her home. Even if one were to look through her products to check if they all have a kosher symbol, no one other than she is aware as to how she cooks, and if she is properly keeping the standards of kashrut. Ultimately, her word must be trusted.

Perhaps the most powerful example of this is in regards to the laws of family purity (see Acts of Transformation: Mikvah for more material related to this), which involves the times that a couple is not allowed to be physically intimate or physical in any way. This separation begins from the moment a woman sees the flow of uterine blood and verbally informs her husband of this. This is a situation where not even her husband is aware of this reality, and must completely depend on her word. These laws, which are considered the foundation of the marriage, the children and the home, are completely placed in her trust. Her word creates a new reality, and only she and her Creator know if what she is saying is the truth.

Therefore, unlike the masculine, which is the side of our self that is external, which can be viewed by others and is not private, the feminine is the polar opposite—completely internal, involving no one else and entrusted to the individual alone.

Because the masculine properties are external and seen by others, the man is in greater need of rectification. Unlike a woman, he is not given that same time and opportunity for reflection, internalization and contemplation. This is the feminine process of binah, the bein, “between,” of what is in one’s mind and what emerges through one’s action. This is the stage of pregnancy, the in-between of conception and birth. And this is the time for development and rectification.

For this reason, we are taught that just as the woman needs the man for conception, so the man needs the woman for the pregnancy, the development. This is not merely a physical reality, but a spiritual one as well.
This is why it is stated that a role model of a woman is one who osah retzon ba’alah—a Hebrew phrase that has a few different layers of translation. The first is: “she does the will of her husband.” But in Hebrew, the verb osah can be translated either as “to do” or “to make.” Thus, the phrase can also be understood that the woman is the one who “makes (i.e., determines) the will of her husband.” But neither of these possibilities are terribly healthy in a relationship. If one partner is required to do the will of the other, with no choice involved, then that isn’t a relationship; it is a dictatorship. Likewise, if one makes the will of the other, it similarly implies that there is no sense of communication or balance between the two, since one is deciding for the other. The main difference between these two is merely who is the one commanding the other—whether it is the man to the woman or the woman to the man—both of which are problematic.

This brings us back full circle to the beginning of our discussion, the meaning of eizer kenegdo. Is a woman a helpmate for him, or opposite him? When we translate osah as “to do” or “to make,” she is opposite him.

Chassidic teachings explain a very beautiful meaning of this saying. The foremost Talmudic commentator, Rashi, shows that the term osah, when used in the Torah, has another meaning, and that is “to rectify.” Rectification is actually the balance, the in-between, the binah of what it means “to do” and what it means “to make.” The true meaning of this expression, then, is that when a woman is using her potential in the proper way, she is able to connect to her spouse and help rectify him. Through her ability to develop, she can take his ideas, his talents, his potential, and internalize them, becoming impregnated with them, until they are ready to be birthed in a public, external way. And this is how she is a proper eizer kenegdo, a helpmate to him.

And this brings us back to one of the first points that was raised: is woman defined in terms of her relationship with a man? And so, the answer is both yes and no. If each human being is a composite of both masculine and feminine traits, then within each and every one of us we must come to understand how these two extremely different qualities can coexist and complement one another. If our masculine side has an obligation to “marry” and “bear children,” even though our feminine side does not, we recognize that the two must work together.

This teaches us that the true way that we define ourselves, and come to understand and reveal our potential, is through the focus on the other. Sometimes this is an “other” within ourselves; sometimes it is the “other” outside of ourselves. For every woman, single or married, with children or without children, is able to bear fruit, is able to be an eizer kenegdo. How is this accomplished? When we use our G‑d-given talents to create, to be creative, through whatever means we can—through our art, our writing, our poetry, our song, our dance, our words—this is fulfilling the commandment of “to be fruitful and multiply”; this is creating and bringing more light into this world.
When we are in a marriage, when we are able to physically bond with another, this is our opportunity to fulfill this law, the first law given in the Torah, in a physical way. But it is not fulfilled only when we give birth to children, for unfortunately, not every woman is physically able to. But in the Zohar we are taught than whenever a husband and wife are lovingly intimate, souls are created. Sometimes those souls come into a physical body, other times they remain spiritual, but they are created.

And every time we create, a process of giving and receiving must take place. One part of us must be able to let go, to release, to give to another; and one part must be able to make oneself open, to receive, to accept and nurture what has been given.

When our concern is not about what we are obligated to do, but on how we can help another fulfill his or her obligations, this is when we shine forth and reveal our true power. But we must begin by looking within, by understanding ourselves, our strengths and our weaknesses, and helping ourselves both from within and from those around us.

And when we acknowledge that we are able to both give and receive, and that both are very active roles, then we can rejoice in the qualities and attributes that are uniquely ours as women, and start celebrating who we are, while bonding and building, rather than competing, with who we are not.


A detailed analysis of Megillat Ruth


I have taken this from the blogger jewishspectacles who has provided some fascinating insights into the megillah and how to translate/read it!


There are 70 interpretations on every word of Torah. Clearly, to go through that many is not feasible.  I try to stick with Rashi here and sometimes with othercommentators.


Verse 1: And it was in the day of the judge’s judgment and there was a famine in the land and a man (ish) from Bais Lechem from the tribe of Yehuda went to live in the fields of Moav, him, his wife and his two sons.

“And it was”:  Any time Scripture uses this phrase of “Vayehi” you know tragedy is going to unfold.

Judge’s judgment:  either refers to the time period this happened, which was before the kings, during the reign of the judges or

Judge’s judgment: it was time when every Tom, Dick and Harry thought theycould judge the leaders – the people sat around schmoozing and beingcritical of their leaders; and/or

Judge’s judgment, G-d was judging the leaders since they were not doing a good job of leading us, which brought upon us the famine

A man:  Ish denotes stature.  He was extremely wealthy and was stingy, worried that all the poor would be knocking on his door to ask for food (Rashi)

So this Megilla opens up with selfishness.  There was a rich man who didn’t want to give Tzedaka – he wanted to live for his family only, and therefore, he left his people, the Jews, when they needed him.  His children continue his selfishness – they get married to advance their careers and to just have a good time, not to build a family.

And that is the problem that began the story – self-centered non-giving behavior.  That is why the ending of the story, the “rectification” of it, has to be extreme acts of giving by Rus –an example how to completely get rid of her own needs and wants to give to others, and to ultimately bring new life to the Jewish nation by having a Jewish baby.

Verse 2:  And the name of this man was Elimelech and the name of his wife was Na’ami and the name of his two sons Machlon and Kilyon, from Efrat, Bais Lechem, Yehuda, and they arrived to the fields of Moav and they were there.

And they were there:  Malbim – at first (see first verse) they wanted to just live temporarily in Moav, but once there, they decided to settle in.

Verse 3:  And Elimelech died, the husband of Na’ami and she remained and her two sons.

Rashi:  Why does it have to describe him as the husband of Na’ami as he dies?  2 things:  first, a man dies mostly for his wife – his loss is felt more keenly by her than by his children or by others.  And secondly, why didn’t she get punished and die for leavingIsrael?  Because she had a husband who took the lead before he died and brought her here – it was not her initiative, therefore, not her fault.

Verse 4:  And they married wives, Moaviot, one was named Orpah and the second one’s name was Rus, and they lived there like ten years.

Verse 5:  And they also died the two of them Machlon and Kilyon and the woman was left alone without her two sons and without her husband.

And they also:  why is it necessary the word “also”, Rashi:  G-d first hit their money and made them paupers to try to wake them.  They didn’t repent.  Then, they also died.

G-d always hits us first financially to get our attention.  If we ignore when He hits with money problems, then G-d is so-to-speak  “forced” to hit us with sickness.  “Kee Lo Tachpotz B’mos Hamays” – we are taught that G-d really doesn’t want the dying [for their sins] to die.  “Ad Yom Moso Achakeh Lo”  – until a man is stone-cold dead, G-d waits for man to repent.

Verse 6:  And she got up and her two daughter-in-laws and returned from the fields of Moav because she heard that G-d had pity (remembered) his nation to give them bread. Verse 7:  And she went out of the place where she was and her two daughter-in-laws with her, and they went on the way to return to the land of Yehuda.

First they moved away from her hometown because she decided the luck there was bad (Shoneh Mekomo, Shoneh Mazalo – which means switching one’s residence switches one’s luck).  Then she decided to depart completely from Moav and go back to Israel.

She went out:  Rashi.  When a Tzaddik leaves a place, the place is affected because the holiness goes out of the place– that is why it says, “she went out” instead of she left.  The same language is used by Yaakov Avinu

Verse 8:  And Na’ami said to her two daughter-in-laws, go, return each woman to her mother’s home, G-d should do with you Chesed-kindness like you did with the dead ones and with me.  Verse 9:  G-d should give you and you should find tranquility each woman in her husband’s home, and she kissed them and they raised their voices and cried. Verse 10:  And they said to her, but with you we are returning to your nation.

They tell her they want to convert for the sake of fitting into her nation.  This is the 1stindication they want to convert, but they are not yet saying they are doing so because of G-d.  Conversion to Judaism MUST be only done for the sake of G-d.

 Verse 11:  And Na’ami said, return my daughters, why should you go with me, do I still have sons in my womb so that you might end up marrying them?Verse 12:  Return my daughters, go, because I am too old to get married and even if I had a [wild] hope that tonight I would find a guy and I would have more children.  Verse 13:  Will you wait for the children until they grow up?  Would you tie yourself down to them?  No my daughters, because it is very bitter for me more than for you because G-d’s hand went out against me.  Verse 14:  They raised their voices and cried more and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law and Rus stuck to her. 

The word stuck is DEVEK (which incidentally also means glue).  It is a very close connection – we are told to stick to G-d – how can you do so, by sticking close to holy people.

Why did Orpah leave at this point?  She was willing to convert, but only if she could see benefits in life from her conversion.  If, however, what Na’ami said was true, that she might convert and no one would marry her and she would have to be a spinster, then she wasn’t willing to convert.  She wasn’t willing to sign on for the truthful life, the Torah life, if it included heartache.  Rus, on the other hand, was willing to do whatever it takes to change.  In the end, Rus is the one with lasting generations.  Sometimes we see the sacrifices we make for Torah and think we don’t see reward.  Wait a few generations, and you will see those who don’t make the sacrifices end up losing out big-time, while those who did make the sacrifices end up having generations of grandchildren they can get credit for.

 Verse 15:  And she [Na’ami] said [to Rus], see here your sister-in-law returned to her nation and to her god, return after your sister-in-law

Note she did not say, “return to your god – she wanted Rus to return home but still be a righteous gentile

Verse 16:  And Rus said, don’t pressure me to leave you to return from following after you because wherever you go, I will go, wherever you sleep, I will sleep, your nation is my nation and your G-d is my G-d  Verse 17:  And how you die, I will die and there I will be buried, so G-d shall do to me if anything other than death will separate us.

 Rashi:  from here we learn that when a converts comes to join our nation, we let them know some of the punishments that would befall them if they took on the Mitzvos and didn’t keep it – you can see it from what Rus is responding to Na’ami (which indicates that Na’ami said something to prompt this monologue).  Na’ami explained T’chum Shabbos – so Rus said “where you go, I’ll go – I’ll learn the borders of where I can go by observing you and follow suit. “ Na’ami told her the Halachos of Yichud, and so Rus said, I’ll make the same sleeping arrangements as you, never alone with an unrelated man.  Na’ami said, but we Jews have so many laws, minute details – 613 categories of them.  So Rus said, your nation if my nation – I am signing up for this by converting.  Na’ami tried another tack – we Jews only have 1 G-d and you can’t worship anything else – so Rus responds, your G-d is mine.  Na’ami tries now the real scare tactic:  if you do mess up on all these 613 you said you want to take on, for some of them, if you violate them you get yourself killed by Bais Din.  To which Rus responds, I accept that I will be killed “how you die…” if I transgress.  Na’ami said, but even after Bais Din kills you, they sometimes punish you further by how and where they bury you, and Rus responds, “I accept that a consequence might be that ‘there I will be buried.’”

Verse 18:  and she [Na’ami] saw that she is strengthened [in her will] to go with her, and she stopped speaking to her.

From here you learn, once you have ascertained the sincerity of the potential convert, you stop trying to push him/her away but also don’t persuade him/her into the conversion.

Verse 19:  And the two of them went until they came to Bais Lechem and it was when they came to Beis Lechem and the city was in an uproar about them and they all said, is this Na’ami

 And the two of them…Rashi:  see how beloved are converts – as soon as Rus had the intentions of converting she becomes on equal footing as Na’ami

[Remember the va’yehi codeword –] and it was…there was a funeral that day which is why the whole town saw Na’ami enter town – they were all outside.  Who died?  The wife of Boaz.

Verse 20:  And she said to them, don’t call me Na’ami, call me Marah because G-d caused bitterness to me

Don’t call  me – don’t think I was a Na’ami a person of pleasant deeds and that this happened for no reason –call me Marah – I was the one whocaused this bitterness by doing the wrong thing.  Na’ami wanted to make sure that no Jew thought that things that happen for the bad are random – so she confessed that she deserved what she had gotten, stressing it so that no one should be angry/bitter against G-d.

Verse 21:  I left full , and empty G-d returned me, why should you call me Na’ami and G-d answered against me and punished me.  Verse 22:  And so it was that Na’ami returned and her daughter-in-law, Ruth the Moaviyah along with her, returned from the fields of Moav and they came to Bais Lechem at the beginning of the barley harvest season [the time of the Omer, which is Pesach time].


  Verse 1:  And Na’ami had a relative of her late husband, an important rich man from the family of Elimelech and his name was Boaz.

How was Boaz related?  He was Elimelech’s nephew –the son of his brother. Elimelech was actually also Na’ami’s uncle.  Nachshon ben Aminadav had three sons:  Elimelech; Shalmon the father of Boaz and of Ploni Almoni; &  an unidentified man who was the father of Na’ami.  Why didn’t Na’ami ask Boaz for help?  She was too embarrassed that her husband had left his town in dire need, while Boaz stayed on and supported the poor.  Please note, in those days, relatives all lived together in the same towns, hence Elimelech was not just abandoning Jewish people when he didn’t want to share his wealth – he was walking out on his family.  Boaz, on the other hand, stayed behind and gave generously to those who were starving.

Verse 2:   And Ruth the Moaviyah said to Na’ami I will go to the field and will gather Leket in the fields of someone who will favor me [who won’t mind that I’m doing it]

In Israel, the poor people have instant rights to certain parts of the field.  The corners of the field are not to be harvested by the owners, but are left for the poor people to gather food from there.  Similarly, as they bundle the wheat t ocut them down, if two stalks are notcaught up in the bundle, the bundle cannot be retied and those two stalks belong to the poor people.  Lastly, as the bundles that are cut are beingcarried across the field, any two stalks that fall are the domain of the poor people.  Hence, Ruth had the right to those goods.  However, she was going to ask permission of the owner if she could do this in his field.  A very beautiful middah that G-d loves is when a person doesn’t demand his/her full rights.  Not insisting on our rights – Ruth had a right to gather –but did it where she wouldn’t be resented.

Verse 3: And she went and she came and she gathered in the fields after the reapers, and it “happened” that she ended in the fields of Boaz who was family to Elimelech.

Weird wording, she went and came and then gathered.  It seems out of order.  But Rus was a thought-out person.  She went and came – made sure she knew the way home before settling in for work.

See how circumstances “happen” – all leading to the mother of Moshiach having her child.  Ruth “happened” to arrive in Bais Lechem when Boaz lost his wife.  She “happened” to chance upon his field…and you will see the rest below…

Verse 4:  And behold Boaz came from Bais Lechem to his fields and he said to the reapers, G-d be with you and they said to him, G-d should bless you.

Boaz is the one who instituted the custom of Jews of greeting with G-d’s name to keep G-ds presence in everyone’s mind.

And he “happened” to come by the field on the precise day that Rus was there and “happened” to speak to his workers in the area of the field where she was at work.

Verse 5:  And Boaz said to his overseer, who is that girl?

 Rashi:  Boaz noticed Rus right away.  Why?  She stood out because of her strictness with Halacha and for her modesty.  Most of the poor women hitched up their skirts to work easily among the grains – they also flirted with the reapers.  Rus did neither. She knelt for each gathering she took.  Furthermore, she only took two stalks, never three, and always made sure what she was taking was Halachically able to be taken.  Therefore, it is no wonder she stood out.

Verse 6:  And the overseer said, a Moaviyah girl, the one who returned with Na’ami from the fields of Moav. Verse 7:  (con’t) and she asked, please let me gather after the reapers, and she came and stood from then in the morning until now except for a short rest in the hut

 Some people don’t know how to hear or say positive things.  Boaz notices the girl and her positive traits and asks about her, and the worker had to stick in a bit of Lashon Harah – oh, that girl, she’s the Moaviya – she’s the convert.  We have to make sure we don’t stick in bad every time we talk about someone.

 Verse 8:  And Boaz said to Rus, listen carefully, my daughter, don’t go gather in another field, and don’t leave this one, and here you shall stick to my maidservants.

 Allegorically, Boaz was saying, Yasher Koach, kudos to you for converting to belief in G-d and Judaism – and stay here, don’t try to go outside to secularism.

Verse 9:  Keep your eyes peeled on the field where they are harvesting and go after them and I told my male workers not to touch/bother/molest you – when you are thirsty, go to the drinking vessel and drink what the workers draw up from the well.  Verse 10:  And she fell on her face and she bowed to the earth and said to him, why have I found favor in your eyes that you recognize me and I am a stranger. Verse 11:  And Boaz answered and told her, I was told already all you did for your mother-in-law after the death of you husband and that you left your father and mother and your homeland and you came to a nation you didn’t know at all at any time.

 Even though Boaz’s worker said the part about the conversion as lashon Harah, Boaz saw the good in it and praised her for it.  Even when someone says something derogatory about someone to us, we should flip those words and see how what was said is a credit to the person.

 Verse 12:  G-d should pay you for your efforts and your reward should be fully from G-d of Israel because you came to rely/rest beneath His wings.Verse 13:  And she said, let me continue to find favor in your eyes because you have comforted me and you spoke to the heart of your servant and I am not even worthy of being like one of your servants.

It is important to realize what a good word can do for someone.  Don’t be stingy with your nice words and compliments – it can change a person’s whole day to hear a nice word.

Verse 14:  And Boaz said to her at mealtime, come close hear and eat from the bread and dip your bread into vinegar and she sat aside from the reapers and he gave her some parched/roasted grain and she ate and was full and had leftovers from her meal. Vinegar is good for the heat.

Midrash:  If Boaz would have known that the Torah would record he gave her this bit of barley, he would have run out and slaughtered acalf and roasted it and given her succulent steak.  If we only knew how precious what we do, even the small things, are to Hashem – and that it might be recorded in future scrolls to be unveiled in the times of Moshiach, how much more effort and heart and soul would we put into our deeds!

Verse 15&16:  And she got up to gather and Boaz commanded his workers saying, let her gather among the stalks and don’t embarrass her, and on purpose leave stalks that she will think you forgot so that she has what to gather and don’t rebuke her.  Verse 17:  And she gathered in the field until evening and she beat out what she had gathered and it was a measure of an Epha of barley. Verse 18:  And she carried it and came to the city and her mother-in-law saw what she had gathered and she took out and gave to her what was left of her lunch.

 Rus made sure to save some of the ready-made food she had eaten during lunch so that her mother-in-law shouldn’t have to go hungry for one second longer than it took her to get home.

 Verse 19:  And her mother-in-law said to her, where did you gather today and where did you do this – may he who recognized you be blessed, and she told her mother-in-law what she did with him and she said, the name of the man who I did for today is Boaz.

Wait a moment, didn’t Boaz do something for her and not her for him, so what is she talking about?  Rus understood that more than the taker takes, the taker also gives, the opportunity for Chesed is a giving too.

Verse 20:  And Na’ami said to her daughter-in-law, blessed be he by G-d that he did not leave his kindness to the living and to the dead, and Na’ami told her, he is a relative to us, he is one of our redeemers. Verse 21:  And Rus the Moaviya said, he also told me, “to my [male] workers you should stick until they finish the harvest for me”.

When Rus was recounting what Boaz said, she erroneously said that he told her to stick with his male workers, which is why this Posuk stresses her Moaviya status (as opposed to next Posuk) – that she still was learning modesty.

Verse 22:  And Na’ami said to Rus her daughter-in-law, it is good, my daughter that you go out with his [female] workers and won’t get harmed in another field.

 Na’ami was softly telling her what to do to stay modest – she said, if Boaz told you it is okay to hang around his male workers, they are probably G-d fearing and okay to be around, but I suggest you to rather stick with his female workers.

Verse 23:  And she stuck to Boaz’s female workers to gather until the end of the harvest of the barley and the harvest of the wheat and she returned to her mother-in-law

 It was 90 days until this point – which is how much time a convert must wait from conversion until when they can Halachically marry into the Jewish nation.


Verse 1:  And Na’ami, her mother-in-law, said to her, my daughter, shall I not seek for you a security/read GUY so that it should be good for you. Verse 2:  And now, Boaz is our relative, and you were with his servants, and he is now winnowing his barley tonight.

 What is the point of the introduction of Boaz and about the “you were with his servants” part – Na’ami was redting a Shidduch and had to do it properly, introduce the best aspects of the guy.

Verse 3:  And you should wash yourself, anoint yourself, put on your dress, and you should go down the winnowing place and don’t let man see you until he finishes to eat and drink.

Put on your dress:  Rashi – get dressed in Shabbos clothing.

Verse 4:  And when he lies down, note the place that he is laying and you should go and uncover his foot and lie down and he will tell you what to do.

Please note:  nothing wrong was being instructed since Yichud for an unmarried woman only came about in the times of Dovid (who was a grandson of Rus)

Verse 5:   And she said to her, whatever you said {to me is read but not written} I will do

Why this weird reading out of a word that is not written?  To show the greatness of Rus, she left herself out of the equation.

Verse 6:  And she went down to the winnowing place, and she did as her mother-in-law commanded

Rashi:  she reversed part of the order – she got dressed and perfumed only once she was down there so that while she was walking on her way there she should not attract undue attention

Verse 7:  And Boaz ate, drank and his heart was good, and he came to sleep on the edge of the grain pile and she came quietly and uncovered his feet and and she lie down.

His heart was good:  he was learning Torah

Verse 8:  and it was midnight and the man was startled because there was a woman lying by his feet.

Midnight:  He got up to learn Torah.  His grandson Dovid wrote in Psalm “Chatzos Layla Akum…”MidnightI wake up to thank/acknowledge You Hashem.

Verse 9:  And he said, who are you and she said, I am Rus your servant and please spread your wings over your servant because you are a redeemer.

 Verse 10:  And he said, you should be blessed by Hashem, my daughter, you have extended your latest kindness from the first because you did not chase after the young guys, poor or rich.

 Verse 11:  And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid, I will do whatever you want of me, because all know you to be a woman of valor.

 Verse 12:  and now, I am a redeemer, but there is a closer redeemer than me

 Verse 13:  Stay the night and when it is morning, if the other guy redeems you, great, and if he doesn’t want to redeem you, I will redeem you, Chai Hashem, lay until morning.

 Why did he swear?  Rashi:  to put his Yetzar Harah  under his control, by promising that until he married her, he would not have a relationship with her.

Verse 14:  And she lay there by his feet until morning and he got up before it was time when one person could recognize his friend and he said let it not be known that the woman came to the winnowing place.

He davened all night, please G-d don’t let her reputation be ruined, let no one know she was here so that no one casts aspersions against her, spreading false rumors about why she was here.

Verse 15:  And he said, give me your shawl and grasp the other end, and he put six measures of barley and put it on her back and then he went to the city.

 He alluded in prophecy to six of the great descendants they would have together or (Rashi) alluded to the fact that a descendant would have six measures of praises/wisdom.  Why did he go to the city?  Rashi to walk her back so she would get home safe.

Verse 16:  And she came to her mother-in-law and she asked, who are you, my daughter,  and she told her all he had done.

Who are you – married yet or not?

Verse 17:  And she told her, he gave me these six measures of barley because he said I should not come empty-handed to my mother-in-law.

 Verse 18:  and she said to her, stay put, my daughter, until we know how the matter will fall, he will not be silent, this man, until this matter is concluded today.

A righteous person always follows through on his commitment, so Na’ami was no longer worried once she knew Boaz had committed himself to helping make sure Rus got married.


 Verse 1:  And Boaz went up to the gate and sat there, and behold, the redeemer who he spoke about passed by, and he said, turn aside and sit here, Ploni-Almoni, and he turned aside and sat there.

 Why was he called Ploni-Almoni, because it was an indignity that he didn’t want to do this Chesed, so he gets named ANON.

Verse 2:  And he took ten men from the leaders of the city and said, sit here and they sat there.

 Verse 3:  The field of Avimelech is being sold by Na’ami who came back from the fields of Moav

 Verse 4:  And I said, I will let you know you can buy the field in front of those who sit here, in front of these Elders, and if you redeem it, redeem it, and if not, tell me because other than you, I am next in line for redeemer and I told myself I will redeem it.

 Verse 5:  And Boaz said, on the day you buy the field from Na’ami and from Rus the Moaviyah, the wife of the dead, you must establish a name for the dead on his inheritance/his land portion.

 Verse 6:  And the redeemer said, I cannot redeem in case I destroy my own inheritance – you redeem my redemption-obligation – I cannot redeem.

 Verse 7:  and this used to be the redemption method or exchange contract by the Jews to fulfill it, a man would draw off the shoe and would give it to his friend and this was the way of ratification.

Verse 8:  And the Redeemer said to Boaz, buy it for yourself, and he removed his shoe.

 Verse 9:  And Boaz said to the Elders and to all the people, you are witnesses today that I bought all that belonged to Elimelech and all that was to Kilyon and Machlon from the hands of Na’ami

 Verse 10:  and also Rus the Maoviyah the wife of Machlon I purchased as a wife to establish the name of the dead on his inheritance and the name of the dead man shall not be cut off from his brother and from the gates of his place, you are all witnesses today.

 Verse 11:  And all the nation who was by the gate and all the elders said we are witnesses, May G-d give you the woman who comes into your home like Rachel and like Laya that both built the house of Yisroel, may you prosper in Efrat and be renowned in Bais Lechem

 Verse 12:  And may your house be like the house of Peretz that was born to Tamar and Yehuda from the children that G-d will give you from this girl

The people told Boaz that it should be just as Yehuda – who it was the right thing to have a child with Tamar because it too was a redemption.

Verse 13:  And Boaz took Rus and married her and she became pregnant and she gave birth to a son.

 Boaz died that night – Rus had the baby alone

Verse 14:  And the women said to Na’ami Blessed is G-d who did not withhold a redeemer and his name should be called in Israel.

 Verse 15:  And he will be for you a restorer of your spirit and to fill your days of elderliness because your daughter-in-law who you love gave birth and she is better to you than seven sons.

Verse 16:And Na’ami took the boy and held him and was his nanny.

 Verse 17:  And the neighbors (the wags) said a son was born to Na’ami and she called his name Oved, he is the father of Yishai, the father of Dovid.

 Verse 18:  And these are the descendants of Peretz:  Peretz had Chetzron

 Verse 19:  And Chetzron had Ram, and Ram had Aminadav

 Verse 20:  And Aminadav had Nachshon and Nachson had Shalmah

 Verse 21:  And Shalmon had Boaz and Boaz had Ovaid

Verse 22:  And Ovaid had Yishai and Yisha gave birth to Dovid.

Dovid is the Melech HaMashiach – -the forefather of our future redeemer – -here starts our redemption – by a woman who taught us how to be giving, how to go above and beyond ourselves to build a solid Jewish home.  My blessing to us all is that each of us learn how to be unselfish so that we merit to see generations of amazing children.  Rus lived to see Shlomo HaMelech, who installed a throne in his palace for her and had her sit with him so that she could see, firsthand, the amazing results and rewards of her hard work.  Life can be hard when we do the right thing, but the reward for doing the right thing, the impact on the whole face of history, is beyond our wildest calculations.  Go, do, give and build.

Pirkei Avot, Chapter 3:7 Part 1


Rav Shaya Karlinsky Chapter 3: Mishna 7: Part 1

ג,ז  [ו] רבי חלפתא איש כפר חנניה אומר, עשרה שהיו יושבין ועוסקין בתורה–שכינה עימהן, שנאמר “אלוהים, ניצב בעדת אל” (תהילים פב,א).  ומניין שאפילו חמישה, שנאמר “ואגודתו על ארץ יסדה” (עמוס ט,ו).  ומניין שאפילו שלושה, שנאמר “בקרב אלוהים, ישפוט” (תהילים פב,א).  ומניין שאפילו שניים, שנאמר “אז נדברו יראי ה’, איש אל ריעהו” (מלאכי ג,טז).  ומניין שאפילו אחד, שנאמר “בכל המקום אשר אזכיר את שמי, אבוא אליך ובירכתיך” (שמות כ,כ).

Rebbe Chalaftah ben Dosa from Kfar Chanina says: Ten people who are sitting and involved in Torah [study] have the Divine presence residing among them, as it is written “G-d stands in a Divine gathering…”(Tehillim 82:1). What is the source that even among five people [His presence resides]? As it is written “…and He established the foundation of His group upon the earth” (Amos 9:6). What is the source that this is true even among three people? As it is written “ the presence of judges He will judge” (Tehillim 82:1). What is the source that this is true even among two? As it is written “Then those who fear G-d spoke to each other, and G-d listened and heard…” (Malachi 3:16). What is the source that this is true even of one [sitting and involved in Torah]? As it is written “In every place that I allow my name to be mentioned, I will come to you and bless you” (Shmoth 20:21).

A number of questions need to be asked. First, what is the significance specifically of ten people? And what is the significance of exactly five? Three? Secondly, if the Divine presence resides with even one person who is involved in Torah study, what was the need for telling us two, three, five and ten!? Another question is why the verse “Let him sit in solitude and be still, for he has taken it upon himself” was not used as the proof text for one person involved in Torah study, since it was used by Rebbe Chanania ben Tradyon (Ch. 3, Mishna 3). The Tanna used the same verse as Rebbe Chanania ben Tradyon for two people, so why did he bring a different verse for one person? Finally, what proof is being brought from the verse “and founded his group (agudato) on the earth,” which has no mention of any number in it?

It is known that the number ten is called an “eidah”, which refers to the “klal” (comprehensive, all-inclusive). Neither an eidah nor a klal can be less than ten.. This can be seen from the structure of the numbers. No number goes beyond ten, for at that point, the counting begins again at one. Every number below ten is viewed as incomplete, since we can add to it, and reach a higher number. Ten represents completeness, since we don’t go higher than ten, but rather we start over again. (Twelve is ten and another two; thirty seven is three tens and another seven. Two hundred seventy five is two groups of ten tens, another seven tens, and an additional five.) This will be further explained in the fifth chapter

(The opening Mishnayot of that chapter inform us that there were ten statements of creation, ten generations from Adam to Noach and ten from Noach to Avaraham, ten tests of Avraham, ten miracles at the exodus from Egypt and another ten at the Red Sea, ten plagues visited upon the Egyptians, ten tests of the Jews in the desert, ten daily miracles in the Holy Temple, and ten things created at twilight before Shabbat. It is not coincidental that each of the above were ten, and the Maharal will elaborate on this in his commentary there.)

(The significance of ten as the number that gathers together all the “ones” that come before and represents them in a new column reflects something fundamental about the number ten. In addition, the fact that we use a base 10 for our mathematics, rather than a different base, is not viewed as simply functional. “Hey, we have ten fingers and ten toes.” Nor that base 10 simply lets us minimize the number of places we need to use for larger numbers, since in a base 8, the number 83 would have to be written as 123, and in a base 2, it would stretch to 1,010,011 . Using 10 as our base is fundamental, based on the inner meaning of each number. The Pesach song “Echad mi yodeiah” is a Kabbalistic presentation of the inner meaning of each number. In fact, even in other bases, we see that the number 10 represents the completion of the base. With all the units being grouped together, whether it is a base of two, eight or ten, the 1 of the 10 represents that group, with the counting process beginning over again,.)

Since every number until ten is viewed as incomplete, and the number ten represents completeness, G-d’s presence resides among ten, and no activity of sanctification can take place with less than ten. (See Brachoth 21b, and Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 55.)

Pirkei Avot, Chapter 3:7 Part 2


Rav Shaya Karlinsky Chapter 3: Mishna 7: Part 2

The Mishna then continues: And how do we know that even five people who are sitting and involved in Torah study? As it is written “He established the foundation of His group upon the earth” (Amos 9:6). Even though the number five is not a number of “klal” and it possible to increase it (adding one to it creates a new number) there is a dimension of completeness to the number five which is absent from the number three. And three has a dimension of completeness that does not exist in the number two, and in two which is lacking in one. This is why each of these numbers was chosen.

(The Maharal doesn’t view the choice of the numbers in the Mishna as coincidental. The explanation he gives for the choice of each of the specific numbers mentioned in the Mishna is also a presentation of the philosophy of mathematics.)

Counting doesn’t start with one, but only when we have two objects. Therefore two has a quality that is fundamentally absent from the number one. But two is only a pair, with no separately counted units, for which we need to go to three, the first odd counting number. As it has been said “Two is the beginning of the even numbers, and three is beginning of the separated (odd) numbers.”

(The above quote brought by the Maharal is from the Ibn Ezra, Shmoth 3:15. It is probably one of the lengthiest of the Ibn Ezra’s commentaries on the Torah. In that section, he also discusses the unique quality of the number nine, in which each number that is divisible by nine has the sum of the digits add up to nine, and how that is graphically represented by a constructing a two column representation of a circle, with the number one in the upper right hand corner, two below it, going down to four at the bottom, then beginning the left column from the bottom with five, up to eight at the top of left column, culminating in the number nine at the top. The consequences of multiplying the nine by any number in either column produces the preceding/following line of the matrix. The Maharal actually brings the matrix and explains more about in later in this chapter, in Mishna 15, when discussing the lesson that tithes are a protection of wealth.)

The number five has a quality absent from the number three, in that it also contains an odd number, three plus two. (Four is simply a pair of pairs, adding nothing that wasn’t fundamentally present in the number two.) The proof text “He established the foundation of His group upon the earth” (Amos 9:6) is appropriate (even though no number is mentioned) for the word “agudah” represents a collection, and a full collection would be two, an even number, with three, an odd number.

Therefore, two is fundamentally different than one, and three is fundamentally different than two. Four isn’t fundamentally different than the numbers that preceded it (just “more of the same”) while the number five presents a fundamentally new quality that we haven’t had in the earlier numbers.

Why didn’t the Tanna didn’t simply inform us that the Divine presence resides with one person involved in Torah study, leaving us to draw the obvious conclusion that it is true for two, three, five and ten people? To teach that it preferable and better to be involved in Torah study with ten people than with five. And involvement with five is preferable to three, three better than two, and two better than one. Even though the Divine presence resides even with one, the quality of the attachment one has is increased when It dwells among two compared to one, it increases even more among three, even more among five, and even more among ten than among five.

Pirkei Avot, Chapter 3:7 Part 3


Rav Shaya Karlinsky Chapter 3: Mishna 7: Part 3

There is a deeper reason for the choice of the specific numbers in our Mishna, and the virtue of the number five compared to three, and three compared to two.

The Divine Presence connects with man when man manifests some replication of the Divine, however limited it may be. Since G-d is all-encompassing, He can be found when there is a group of people whose number is an all- encompassing one. The number ten is the number of completeness, since no increase is possible within that number. Therefore G-d’s presence resides within a group of ten.

The number four is a number of separation, and represents dispersal in all four directions. We see scripture describing division and separation as “…for I have scattered you like the four directions of the heavens” (Zechariah 2:10). Each of the four directions is discreet and independent of the others.

But the “fifth” is the unifier, since it resides in the middle of the four directions, and it is the middle element which always unifies the other elements. For this reason, five is called “agudah,” a group, with the fifth unifying the other four. (In order to add a fifth element to the four elements of the plane, that additional one must be placed, conceptually, in the middle. This parallels the structure of the number three being the unifier of the number two, with two representing contrast, and the extremes of a line.) So, the verse “…His group upon the earth” is referring to five, even though no number is mentioned explicitly. Five, a unifier, is fundamentally (not simply quantitatively) different than four which represents division. G-d is a unifier and a totality, and the unifying power of five is the reason the Divine presence is more manifest among five people. (See Gevuroth HaShem, the end of Ch. 23 and the beginning of Ch. 58 for further elaboration of the con cept of the number of five and its relationship to four. Four is the number representing exile, and five is the number representing redemption. Five is also the number of fingers that make up the hand.)

The same principle applies to the number three, which is why the Tanna teaches “What is the source that when three people are sitting and involved in Torah study that the Divine Presence resides aomong them…”. The number three unifies the division and contrast that exists in every pair of elements, as we explained above (see Mishna 4, part 2 in this chapter, “Three who ate at one table…”). Two represents the fundamental nature of division, with each element contrasting with its opposite. It is the third element that connects and unifies them. Five is still a greater and more complete unifier than three (which is why the Divine presence dwells among five in a more intense way than among three). Five unites four discrete sides, while three unites only two sides, which doesn’t create a complete group, a full “agudah”.

This perspective enables us to provide a response to a difficulty raised by Tosafoth in the first chapter of Masecheth Sukkah (13a, “B’shalosh”). The discussion there implies that three is considered an “agudah” in relation to the bundle of sprigs used for the sprinkling of red heifer purification water. Yet our Mishna implies that an “agudah” is five (which should have required five branches for the bundle used in sprinkling the purification water). Tosafos proposes a correction in the text of our Mishna, where a different proof text would be used to prove that the Divine presence resides among five, and the text “foundation of His group” which mentions “agudah” would be used to prove that the Divine presence resides among three. But he proves that such a correction is not possible, and provides a very stretched response. (We have not brought the details of the discussion in Tosafos in Sukkah, which the Maharal reviews here.)

According to our understanding (the Maharal writes) there is no problem, and all is clear. Even though three is also considered an “agudah,” it is not a complete one. The complete is when the four sides are united together through the number five. (When discussing the “agudah” for the purificationwaters, the one with the minimum number of elements is sufficient. But when assessing the different levels of Divine presence among those involved in Torah study, five is a more complete “agudah” and will have a more intense level of that Divine presence than three.)

Therefore, five people learning involved in Torah study is greater than three, and two is greater than one. For two is till a pair, which enables connection, and “Two are better than one” (Koheleth 4:9). Two is the beginning of true counting, which means uniting discrete single elements. This is the power of two over one.

Pirkei Avot, Chapter 3:7 Part 4


Rav Shaya Karlinsky Chapter 3: Mishna 7: Part 4

In the first chapter of Berachoth (6a) it is taught “Ravin bar Ada said in the name of Rebbi Yitzchak: What is the source that when ten people pray, the Divine Presence resides among them? As it is written ‘Elokim stands in a Divine gathering…’ (Tehillim 82:1). And what is the source that when three people sit in judgment, the Divine Presence is with them? As it is written ‘In the midst of Elohim(referring to judges) He (referring to G-d) shall judge’ (ibid). And what is the source that when two sit and are involved in Torah [study] that the Divine Presence is with them? As it is written ‘Then those who fear G-d spoke to each other, and G-d listened and He heard; and a book of remembrance was written before Him…’ (Malachi 3:16). And what is the source that even one [person] who sits and is involved in Torah [study] that the Divine Presence is with him? As it is written ‘In every place that I allow my name to be mentioned, I wi ll come to you and bless you’ (Shmoth 20:21). And since it is true of even one, is it necessary to teach me about two? Two have their words recorded in a book of remembrance; one does not have his words recorded. And since it is true of two (who study Torah) is it necessary to teach me about three (who sit in a Torah judgment)? [Had three not been taught explicitly] I would have said that a judgment is simply making peace (conflict resolution), and the Divine Presence doesn’t arrive. [Therefore] it informs me that a judgment is also Torah [study]. And since it is true of even three, did it need to teach me about ten? With ten, the Divine Presence arrives even before the entire group of ten [has gathered]; with three, It doesn’t arrive until they have all sat down (in judgment/ to study).”

Why is five not mentioned in the above discussion, while in our Mishna, five is mentioned? Furthermore, it discusses three who are sitting in judgment, while in our Mishna, we are taught only about three who are involved in Torah study that the Divine Presence among them! And the discussion about two and one seems to be superfluous, since it is an explicit Mishna! (The Amoraim of the Talmud don’t simply restate lessons that have already been taught in the Mishna. If they seem to be saying the same thing, there must be a new lesson to justify this seeming repetition.)

But the thesis we have presented above (in our last shiurim, parts 2 and 3) clarifies the difference between the lesson of the Mishna and the lesson of Ravin bar Ada. The Mishna is discussing how the variation in the number of people participating in the Torah study affects the intensity of the Divine attachment they receive. Not all attachments are equal. Ten creates a more intense attachment than five, which creates a more intense attachment than three, etc. (And that there is no fundamental increase when going from three to four, or from five to six, seven, etc. The transformation points are at ten, five, three, two and one.)

But Ravin bar Ada is teaching us what it unique about each number, which has something that doesn’t exist in any other size group. Therefore, he omits five, since a group of five doesn’t bring about something that isn’t also found in the other groups. And three people involved in Torah study aren’t creating a reality that isn’t also created by other size groups. (Even though what is created my vary in intensity, it doesn’t vary in kind. Five and three are creating an attachment to the Divine Presence, and the only difference between the five/three and the other size groups is in the intensity of that attachment.) Now the questions and answers of the Gemara are better understood. First it asks “Since it is true of one, why was it necessary to teach me about two?” And the Gemara responds that two have their words written, something which doesn’t happen at all with one.

Why should two have their words written, something which isn’t attainable at all by one person? (The Maharal implies that it is understandable that two can bring about the same result in a more intense fashion compared to one, as indicated by our Mishna,. But he requires ­ and provides ­ and explanation of why two should be able to bring about a result that is not available at all to one person.)

The explanation is based on what we studied in Mishna 3. (See our explanations of this Mishna, especially parts 2 and 3. We will elaborate in those ideas here.) When two people sit together and study Torah, there is an element of stability and permanence, since they require an appointed time and place, compared to one person, who can study Torah in a more haphazard way. The result of this stability and permanence is that their words are “written in a book,” since writing results in a dimension of permanence for the words (relative to words which are simply spoken).

What is the meaning of this “writing”? As we have explained earlier, man and his actions “draw” the image and representation of the world. (See our explanation of Mishna 2 in this chapter, all three parts) While the actions of animals don’t have a fundamental effect on the way the world looks, man, due to his elevated nature (being created as a reflection of G-d, as a creator) has his actions define a picture of the world. If man’s actions are good, the world looks good. And if, Heaven forbid, man’s actions are corrupt, a picture is created, and that picture reflects the negative world that man has drawn. (A drawing or a picture is not identical with the original but is rather a representation of it. The implication is that the world man draws is a representation of a higher level, more transcendent reality.) This is the “book” in which all of man’s actions are written, as we explained in the first Mishna of Chapter 2. (See our explanation of Ch. 2, Mishna 1, part 5 ­ whi ch should be available in the archive ­ it was distributed over eight years ago!) This book is the impression on the world created by the Torah study of two people. There is a stability and permanence inherent in their study, since it is being done together, rather than individually. To make a lasting impression on a world — “writing in the book” — which was created with a dimension of stability, requires an activity which itself has a dimension of stability. This cannot be accomplished if less than two people are studying Torah together.

Pirkei Avot, Chapter 2:1


Rabbi David Rosenfeld, Israel’s Dual Mission

 “Rabbi [Yehuda haNasi] said: What is the proper path a person should choose for himself? Whatever brings glory to himself [before G-d], and grants him glory before others. Be careful with a minor mitzvah (commandment) as with a major one, for you do not know the reward for the mitzvos. Consider the loss incurred for performing a mitzvah compared to its reward, and the ‘reward’ received for sinning compared to the loss. Consider three things and you will not come to sin: Know what is above you: an eye that sees and an ear that hears, and all your deeds are recorded in the Book.” 

The author of this mishna is Rabbi Yehuda the Nasi (lit., “the lifted or elevated one,” usually translated as “prince”). R. Yehuda was the leading scholar of final generation of the Mishna. He lived in the 1st to 2nd centuries C.E. and was a seventh generation descendant of Hillel (of 1:12-14). He is known throughout the Mishna simply as Rabbi (pronounced “Rah-bee” in Hebrew — and usually mispronounced “Rebbie”) — the teacher, par excellence. He was also a person of wealth and influence with the Roman government. Rabbi was the redactor of the Mishna, the one who collected the material of his time, reviewed it (together with his colleagues and students), and organized it into the Mishna we have today. His lifetime marked the end of the period of the Mishna. With the generation that followed him began the period of the Talmud.

Rabbi begins by providing us with the proper criteria for selecting a path in life. We are to act in a manner which brings “glory” to ourselves both in the eyes of G-d and in the eyes of man. (I couldn’t find a good English equivalent of the Hebrew term here — “tiferes”. The meaning is glory, majesty, splendor.)

This statement presents us almost immediately with an obvious question. Behaving in a manner which earns G-d’s admiration is certainly the correct idea. That is what we were created for. But the second criterion is more curious. Certainly we want to impress others and show them what true Judaism is about; it might even inspire them to become better people themselves. Yet how can this be placed on an equal footing with pleasing G-d? Our purpose in life is to serve G-d. If others admire us and are favorably impacted — great. But if not, what are we to do? Should we start compromising our own beliefs just so as not to rub others the wrong way? Or should we spend a lot of time “marketing” ourselves, looking over our shoulders attempting to ensure others are favorably impressed? If they can appreciate truth, that would seem frosting on the cake. But shouldn’t we care far more about what G-d thinks than what the neighbors say — than if we’ve earned the approval of fallible an d biased human beings?

In truth, however, Rabbi is telling us a profound insight, one which must fundamentally alter our own outlook in life. In a sense, we do have two masters when we observe our religion. Our success in fulfilling our purpose must not be gauged by how well we are performing the mitzvos (commandments) alone, but in how we are impacting upon the world around us. And it’s exceedingly easy (and quite tempting) to fulfill our obligations to G-d to the detriment of our mission to man. If someone is very holy and pious but somehow manages to get on everyone else’s nerves (yes, and we all know such people…) ;-), somehow he’s not doing it right. Our purpose is not to dwell in our own little ivory towers consecrating ourselves to G-d alone — and we must certainly not make our piety a weapon to distance ourselves from the world at large. Our mission is to transform the world around us into a reflection of G-dliness. We carry with us a message to the rest of the world. We must demonst rate through our deeds and behavior that G-d exists and His Presence can be felt within this world. We must raise families and build communities; we must interact with the world around us, transforming it into a sanctuary worthy of the Divine Presence. And then slowly, the world will grow to become a reflection of the G-d who created it.

In truth, however, Rabbi is telling us a profound insight, one which must fundamentally alter our own outlook in life. In a sense, we do have two masters when we observe our religion. Our success in fulfilling our purpose must not be gauged by how well we are performing the mitzvos (commandments) alone, but in how we are impacting upon the world around us. And it’s exceedingly easy (and quite tempting) to fulfill our obligations to G-d to the detriment of our mission to man. If someone is very holy and pious but somehow manages to get on everyone else’s nerves (yes, and we all know such people…) ;-), somehow he’s not doing it right. Our purpose is not to dwell in our own little ivory towers consecrating ourselves to G-d alone — and we must certainly not make our piety a weapon to distance ourselves from the world at large. Our mission is to transform the world around us into a reflection of G-dliness. We carry with us a message to the rest of the world. We must demonst rate through our deeds and behavior that G-d exists and His Presence can be felt within this world. We must raise families and build communities; we must interact with the world around us, transforming it into a sanctuary worthy of the Divine Presence. And then slowly, the world will grow to become a reflection of the G-d who created it.

The Talmud (Yoma 86a) derives from the verse “You shall love the L-rd your G-d…” (Deuteronomy 6:5) that each of us is obligated to make G-d beloved through his or her actions. One should study Torah and deal kindly with others, so that they say, “Fortunate is his father who taught him Torah! Fortunate is his rabbi who taught him Torah! Woe to those who do not study Torah! This one who has studied Torah, see how beautiful are his ways!”

It is often so very easy and tempting to fulfill G-d’s commandments to the letter but by doing so estrange ourselves from others — to exhibit a condescending, holier-than-thou attitude towards all we come in contact with — especially those we know best. It is simply our “evil inclination’s” way of attempting to frustrate our efforts after we have mastered the basics and have begun to serve G-d properly. We are tempted to use all of our good deeds and throw them in others’ faces rather than using them to bring others closer to G-d. But Judaism asks of us something far greater.

The dilemma involved, however, is far deeper. The world for the most part is hardly up to the messages of truth and spirituality we have to share with it. How are we to go about fulfilling our mission to mankind while maintaining our own standards to G-d — standards which appear archaic, old-fashioned, and anachronistic to the rest of the world? Can we really impress both G-d and man, or does it at times seem that we must simply decide between one or the other?

Allow me to ask this question on a more practical level. The following situation has repeated itself thousands of times in this and in past generations. A young man or woman discovers a little of the truth of religion and wants to become more observant than his or her parents. And guess what? The parents do not take it well. Their child is joining a cult, going off the deep end, rejecting our upbringing, showing little appreciation for all we’ve done for him, etc. etc. He is not going to go to the college of his choice (read: our choice) and living up to the image of success and achievement we have for him. Nothing new. It happens in almost every parent-child relationship — whether the issue is religion or any other issue, serious or not.

But what is the obligation of this young adult? Does G-d really want him or her to hurt his parents? Is it really a choice — either G-d or his parents — with no middle ground?

It is clear that when push comes to shove, we must serve our G-d first. Our bond to our beliefs must be far stronger than any flesh-and-blood bond. (The Talmud teaches that if your parents asks you to transgress a Torah law, you must not listen, for both you and your parents are obligated to listen to G-d (Bava Metziah 32a).) If the world really couldn’t care less about truth, we will just have to stand firm against an apathetic world (as did our forefather Abraham), preserve what we may, and hope for better times.

Nevertheless, it is my sincere belief that it is possible to do both. It is inconceivable to me that G-d would “force” us to hurt others. Let us return to that word above that we had trouble translating — “tiferes” or glory. There is a distinction here between being an idol, a folk hero everyone is in love with, and being someone others can respect. If we present ourselves as sincere, as firm in our beliefs and willing to stand up for what we believe in, chances are others will respect us — perhaps begrudgingly admire us — for whom we are. We must not flaunt our differences or use them to distance ourselves from others. And we must certainly exhibit the Jewish values of concern and love for every human being. But regardless of our specific beliefs or practices, even the most stalwart parent or Gentile — who may not admit it immediately — will come to admire us for whom we are and what we stand for.

This is the tightrope we must often walk in life — uncompromising rigidity yet friendliness, nonconformance yet love and concern. But it is possible to maintain differences between friends and relatives — even fundamental ones — and at the same time preserve a sense of love and mutual respect. Parents, of course, do have their own free will. They can be stubborn and refuse to come to terms with changes in their children no matter how well their children try. But there is a level on which they can respect and honor even if they do not agree.

Scripture sums up Torah observance as: “Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace” (Proverbs 3:17). Our practices might not always be socially acceptable or in the political mainstream, and we must at times stand aloof and apart, but our deeds, our conduct and our demeanor must always radiate love and pleasantness to all.