Yom Kippur: Degrees of Sin ~ Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein

Throughout the Yom Kippur services we repeatedly confess our sins and beg for forgiveness. In doing so, we mimic the confessionals of the Kohen Gadol in the Holy Temple. The Mishnah (Yoma 4:2) relates that when the Kohen Gadolwould confess his sins and the sins of his household, he would specifically admit to three types of sins: chetavon, and pesha. These three words are not synonymous, but rather refer to different degrees of sin. The Talmud (Yoma36b) explains that chet refers to an inadvertent sin (the state of mind known as shogeg), avon refers to wanton/intentional sins (meizid), and pesha refers to sins of rebellion. Nevertheless, there are other ways of explaining the differences between these three types of sins.

When King David was nearing the end of his life, his oldest surviving son, Adonijah, began to proclaim himself as king. Batsheba, the mother of Solomon, came before her husband, King David, and demanded that he fulfill his promise that Solomon would succeed him. She said to him that if Adonijah succeeds in securing the throne, “…then I and my son Solomon will be chataim” (I Kings 1:21). What does the word chataim meanin this context? Rashi explains that chet means “lacking”, and in this case it means that Batsheba and Solomon would be lacking the royal titles due to them. Probably based on Rashi’s comment, the Vilna Gaon (in his commentary to Prov. 1:10; 13:6) writes that chet means a sin through a lacking. In other words, he writes, a chet refers to thefailure to perform a positive commandment.

Rabbi Yechezkel Landau (1713-1793) also understands that chet refers to the lack of fulfilling a positive commandment, but synthesizes this with the Talmud’s contention that chet refers to an inadvertent sin by explaining that it refers specifically to the failure to fulfill the commandment of repenting after one has committed an inadvertent sin.

Rabbi Moshe Shapiro (1935-2017) defends the classic rabbinic definition of chet as an inadvertent sin, but still draws an important lesson from Rashi associating chet with a “lack”. He explains that a chet is not simply the lack of something, but represents the failure to achieve a goal. A sin is therefore called a chet because the sinner deviates from the goal of mankind, and misses his intended objective. His lack of achievement in that area is called a chet.

Similarly, Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim of Breslau (1740-1814) writes that chetdenotes the sinner’s lack of intentions/mindfulness when committing his sin. By contrast, an avon denotes the sin of one who “thinks too much”. He wrongly concludes that sinning is the proper way to go, and acts accordingly. A pesha refers to the sin of somebody who knows that his forbidden actions are completely wrong and should not be done, but carries them out anyways in order to rebel against G-d.

Malbim takes a slightly different approach. He understands that all three wordscouldrefer to an offense committed purposely, but reflect varying motives. A chet refers to a sin committed because a person was swayed by his physical temptations, and purposely indulged in what he knew to be wrong. An avon refers to a sin that a person commits because his intellect had been negatively persuaded, causing him to stray. Finally, a pesha refers to the iniquities of one who shamelessly sins as a way of rebelling against G-d.

Peirush HaRokeach also slightly disagrees with the Talmud’s way of differentiating between chetavon, and pesha. He explains that chet refers to an inadvertent sin, pesha refers to a willful sin, and avon refers specifically to a sin from which one derived physical pleasure or gained some other benefit.

The truth is, it’s not so simple. Rabbi Netanel Weil (1687-1769) writes that the differences between the terms chet and avon are only apparent when those terms are juxtaposed to each other. In such contexts, chet means whatever chet means, and avon means whatever avon means. However, when the terms appear on their own, without the other, then each of these terms includes all types of sins, not just the specific type of sin that it otherwise means.

Moreover, classifying sins is not so black-and-white. In his Laws of Teshuvah(Repentance), Maimonides codifies the requirement for a penitent to confess his sins by saying, “Chatati (I committed a chet), Aviti (I committed an avon), Pashati (I committed a pesha)” — the same formula that the Kohen Gadol said in the Temple.

Rabbi Yosef Babad (1801-1874), in his seminal work Minchat Chinuch, writes that one need not necessarily make all three declarations. Rather, one should confess whatever sins are relevant in each situation. However, Rabbi Elazar Menachem Mann Shach (1899-2001) disagrees with this position, and maintains that Maimonides’ wording implies that in all situations a person should always recite all three declarations. He argues that not only is this because the formula instituted for the confessional includes all three types of sins, but also for another reason: Even though these three words represent three different degrees of sin, Rabbi Shach argues that no sin is so clear-cut that it fully fits into one of these three categories. Rather, every sin has different elements of chetavon, and pesha. For example, someone may have sinned inadvertently, but that sin also contains elements of wantonness and rebelliousness. Or, conversely, somebody may have sinned rebelliously, but his sin may also have some traces of inadvertency and/or pure wantonness.

A fourth term for a “sin” appears in rabbinic sources, but not in the Bible: aveiraAveira literally means “transgression” or “violation”, and although it once specifically referred to crimes of indecency, it now colloquially serves as a general term for all types of wrongdoings. Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg (1785-1865) writes that aveira comes from the root AYIN-BET-REISH, which means “passes” in a physical sense. He explains that the concept of an aveira is that somebody morally “passes over” his thoughts in order to not focus on the nefariousness of his deeds. We might also suggest that he who commits an aveira has crossed a rabbinic red line, and, indeed, the Talmud (Shabbat 40a) maintains that even a person who violates a rabbinic prohibition can be called an avaryan.

Rosh HaShannah: A Tale of Two Beginnings ~ Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein

The Mishnah teaches that on Rosh Hashana all the inhabitants of the world pass before G-d like the animals of a corral, and G-d passes judgement over the entirety of creation. In this way Rosh Hashana is considered the Day of Judgment (Yom ha’Din). However, Yom Kippur is also called the Day of Judgment. This begs the question: What is the difference between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur if they are both called the Day of Judgment?

Nachmanides explains that Rosh Hashana is the day of din be’rachamim (judgment in mercy) and Yom Kippur is the day of rachamim be’din (mercy in judgment). This cryptic distinction must be further clarified before we can fully understand how Nachmanides resolves the issue. In this essay we will focus on explaining why Rosh Hashana is the day of din be’rachamim, leaving our discussion about Yom Kippur for a different time.

As you probably know, Rosh Hashana (literally, “the Head of the Year”) marks the beginning of the New Year. However, besides serving as the first day of the New Year, Rosh Hashana has another role: It is the beginning of the month of Tishrei; it is like Rosh Chodesh. Rosh Hashana is both the beginning of a moon-related time (a month) and a sun-related time (a year). It is the first day of the year and the first day of the month. In this way Rosh Hashana represents the beginning of two cycles. Thus, it is the nexus of two opposing systems — of the sun and of the moon. The conflict between these two forces is highlighted by the concept of a solar eclipse, whereby the moon can block the light of the sun (a rare phenomenon which Americans experienced this year on Rosh Chodesh Elul).

As is well-known, the Jewish calendar is neither solar nor lunar, but is rather a synthesis of both forms of keeping time. The months of the Jewish calendar are lunar-based because they are tied to the appearance of the New Moon, and the years of the Jewish calendar are comprised of twelve or thirteen such months. The year of the Jewish calendar roughly follows a sun-based system because the movement of the sun determines whether the year will have twelve or thirteen months. The purpose of adding a thirteenth month is to synchronize the seasons of the solar year with the lunar months. This intercalated month compensates for the discrepancies between the amount of days in twelve lunar months and the amount of days in one solar year. (Nowadays, we add a thirteenth month at set intervals: In a nineteen-year cycle, years 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17, and 19 have thirteen months, while the rest have only twelve.)

When we talk about the sun and the moon, there is an interesting dynamic which they represent. The sun and moon represent the concepts of “he who gives” and “he who receives”. The sun represents the idea of giving, as the sun gives off light, while the moon does not radiate from its own light. The moon inherently does not illuminate anything. Rather, the light that comes from the sun, reflects off the moon, and bounces into our eyes. It is really sunlight which appears to be the light of the moon. So the moon is not a giver: the moon is a receiver.

Another difference between the sun and the moon is that the sun always appears the same — it always looks like the same circle up in the sky. This is also characteristic of the giver. The giver constantly and reliably gives; there is no fluctuation or instability. In contrast, the moon plays the role of the receiver. Depending on the time of the month, there may sometimes be more of the moon visible, and sometimes less. In the beginning of the new month the new moon is but a small, barely-discernible sliver of white, but as the month progresses the moon waxes and waxes until it reaches its apex at the fifteenth of the Jewish month. At that point, the moon is visible as a full circle. Afterwards, it wanes smaller and smaller until the end of the month, when it finally disappears and restarts its cycle with the advent of the next month.

In short, there are two major differences between the sun and the moon. Firstly, while the moon’s image fluctuates throughout the month, the sun’s remains stagnant and consistent. Secondly, the moon epitomizes the concept of the receiver, while the sun represents the giver.

In an esoteric way, the relationship between the sun and the moon can be looked at as a parable for understanding two seemingly conflicting methods by which G-dinteracts with the world. There are essentially two basic ways in which He manifests His presence in creation: There is din (justice or judgment) and rachamim (mercy). The Kabbalists may sometimes use other terms to express these ideas: duchra and nukva — male and female, respectively in Aramaic — whereby the male force personifies the giver and the female force, the receiver; mashpia and mekabel (influencer and influencee), and others. But the meaning is always the same. What are these concepts of din and rachamim that G-d uses in running the world? How does He use these two opposing methods to run the world?

We can compare this to the case of two philanthropists: Two people donate tremendous amounts of money. The first man does not care to whom he gives money: he simply gives out an indiscriminate amount of cash to all and sundry. The second philanthropist also gives money — perhaps even the same amount or more — but he requires any recipient to undergo a thorough vetting process. They must submit an application, meet with him, and explain to him their cause. Then, depending on how much he believes in their cause and what he feels is appropriate, he will give them a donation. The amount, of course, is based on what he feels the individual coming to him deserves. What is the difference between these two philanthropists?

The difference is in their focus: the first philanthropist focuses on the giver (i.e. himself) because it does not really matter to him who the receiver is and what he wants. He is simply giving away donations whether or not the receiver deserves it. With the second philanthropist, the focus is on the receiver: does he deserve a donation or not, exactly how much, et cetra.

With this in mind we can understand the difference between din and rachamim: Certainly, every element of creation needs a constant flow of influence from G-d in order to continue to exist, but sometimes G-d might temporarily stop his influence or curtail it. Which way do we want G-d to act with us? Sometimes He acts with what we call rachamim, in which the focus is on the giver (i.e. Himself), and He gives an influx of His good to the world without any questions asked. But when He focuses on the receiver (i.e. us), that is called din, and under that rubric He also gives — but He also examines whether or not the receiver deserves His Divine influence, how much he deserves, when he deserves it, et cetra.

As mentioned above, the sun, as the never-changing celestial body that emanates light, represents a focus on the consistent, reliable giver. Conversely, the moon suggests a focus is on the receiver, for when the focus is on him, the flow of goods can fluctuate depending on what the receiver truly deserves, just like the image of the moon fluctuates throughout the month. These two ideas of din and rachmim meet on Rosh Hashana. It is the meeting point of the solar year and the lunar month — the marriage of the sun and the moon, the rachamim and the din. It is truly the best of times and the worst of times.

In different places in the Bible we use different words to denote Gd. Sometimes He is known by His four-letter ineffable name (referred to as the Tetragrammaton) — what we might colloquially call “Hashem”, literally “the Name”. And sometimes, we refer to Him as simply Elokim, “G-d”, or ha’Elokim “the G-d”. Tradition tells us that when encounter His four-letter name, it alludes to His mode of acting through rachamim, while the word Elokim refers to God as the Divine judge who metes out din. In fact, the word elohim sometimes appears in the Bible as a word that means a human judge. When we refer to Him as Elokim we mean to conjure His role as the ultimate Judge of creation.

The contrast between these two characteristics is accentuated in Psalms 47 — the chapter of Psalms that we read seven times before blowing the shofar (ram’s horn) on Rosh Hashana. That passage discusses the universal recognition of G-d’s sovereignty, and one verse reads, “Elokim ascends with the teruah, Hashem, with the voice of the shofar”.

There are two types of sounds that the shofar makes on Rosh Hashana: a tekiah is a simple straight sound, while a teruah, on the other hand, is comprised of multiple short blasts together (there is a halachic uncertainty regarding whether they are 3 longer sounds, 9 shorter sounds, or 3 longer sound followed by 9 shorter sounds). A tekiah is one straight, consistent sound, while a teruah is a composite of several broken-up, fragmented sounds. In this way, the tekiah represents the concept of rachamim, because when the focus is on the giver, there is a consistent stream of giving. The teruah is related to the Aramaic word rauah, which means broken (like the expression that appears in the Talmud sulam rauah, a ladder with broken rungs). It represents din because it is not a constant flow, but is separated and fragmented depending on whether the receiver deserves to receive or not. The teruah focuses on the receiver. We especially associate Elokim with the teruah because Elokimrepresents the din aspect of G-d’s administration of the world, while tekiah is associated with rachamim, so it is linked to the name Hashem.

When we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana every teruah sound has a tekiah sound before and after. The teruah is always sandwiched by a tekiah. The idea behind this is because even though Rosh Hashana has the properties of din and rachamim (for it begins the solar year and lunar month), we strive to “hide” the din of Rosh Hashana. We say in Psalms 81, “Blow the shofar on (the first of) the month, on the hidden part of the holiday.” This alludes to the notion that the Rosh Chodesh aspect of Rosh Hashana is hidden, because we are trying to hide the fact that there is a dinon Rosh Hashana. It is the concealed facet of the holiday. The teruah, which represents din, is something that we want to suppress, so we hide it in between two instances of rachamim — the tekiah before and after. All that is visible from the outside of the sandwich is rachamim, not din.

This idea is known in Kabbalah as mesikas ha’din, “sweetening the din”. This is also the underlying principle at work when we dip the apple in honey on Rosh Hashana. Because honey is sweet it too represents rachamim, so we dip the apple in the honey to make the rachamim component of Rosh Hashana its dominant aspect.

But how does all of this work? Can we just close our eyes to the din of Rosh Hashana and then it won’t affect us? What are we doing by hiding from the din? Whom do we think we are fooling?

The answer, of course, is that we are trying to change ourselves for the better by changing the object of focus. If there is a judgment on us, then we are the object of focus, because G-d looks at us and judges whether or not we deserve His good. We do not want to be the object in focus because then we will almost inevitably be in trouble due to our sins. To resolve this, we do not talk about sins on Rosh Hashana. Instead we focus on G-d and His kingship. Throughout the prayers of Rosh Hashana we continually speak about His greatness, His universal kingship, and how He is so powerful. In doing so we switched the focus from being on the receiver to being on the giver; from being on ourselves to being on G-d. When the focus is on the giver, then the rachamim paradigm is in play, and God will give even without our deserving it. In this way Rosh Hashana is essentially the day of din, but is immersed in rachmim and sweetened on the outside.

Shavuot: Preparing for Kabbalas HaTorah ~ Tzvi Abrahams

Shavuos שָׁבֻעוֹת

Preparing for Kabbalas HaTorah

כִּלָה: finish, complete

כְּלִי: receiving vessel

תַּכְלִית: purpose

תְּכֵלֶת: aquamarine, green-blue

כַּלָה: bride

כִּלָה: Finish, Complete

On Shabbos we sing לְכָה דוֹדִי לִקְרַאת כַּלָּה/Come welcome my beloved the bride. Shabbos is compared to a bride.

At Friday night Kiddush we say וַיָכֻלוּ, which means “completion.” On Shabbos, Hashem completed the creation. Shabbos the Bride completes the creation. 

So too with the חָתָן וְכַּלָה, the כַּלָּה completes the man.

Before he is married, man is incomplete. He is only half a man. He needs a woman to complete him, and, as they say, once a man gets married, he is truly finished!

So too we, the Jewish People, are Hashem’s bride. Not that we complete Hashem, for He is perfect, but rather that we complete His creation. We are Hashem’s partners in creation.

Just like שַׁבָּת is known as the Shabbos Queen, so too we when fulfill our role as Hashem’s כַּלָּה, we too become Hashem’s queen.

כְּלִי: Vessel

In lashon hakodesh, a כְּלִי for the most part needs to be a kli kibul, a vessel that receives. A כְּלִי is created to receive. So too a כַּלָּה/bride is created to receive.

תַּכְלִית: Purpose

What is the purpose of Creation? To be a fitting כְּלִי to receive Hashem’s light.

תְּכֵלֶת: Aquamarine, Green-blue

In the parshah of tzitzis, the Kli Yakar brings the Gemara that says that the תְּכֵלֶת, the aquamarine color of the tzitzis, is to remind us of the sea, which in turn is to remind us of the Shamayim, which in turn reminds us of the sapphire color of the כִּסֵא הַכָּבוֹד/Hashem’s throne.

Each of our neshamos is carved out from the כִּסֵא הַכָּבוֹד/Hashem’s throne. This is the origin of who we are and this is the place to which we return. The color תְּכֵלֶת is therefore also to remind us of our ultimate תַּכְלִית/purpose, which is to return to Hashem, and this is worn particularly on our tzitzis to remind us that the way to return to Hashem is through observing the 613 mitzvos. The gematria of צִיצִית is 600, plus the eight threads and five knots add up to 613, which is also alluded to in the words: וּזְכַרְתֶּם אֶת כָל מִצְוֹת ה’/and you shall remember all the mitzvos of Hashem.

The haftarah portion that we read on Shavuos describes how the throne of Hashem is made of sapphire, which is why the blue of the techeiles of the tzitzis connects the blue of the sea and the heavens to the sapphire blue of the כִּסֵא הַכָּבוֹד/Hashem’s throne. Sapphire is from the family of precious gemstones that have this mesmerizing aspect of reflecting light through their crystal surface. The blue of תְּכֵלֶת/techeiles, which comes from the word תַּכְלִית/purpose, signifies to us that our purpose is to connect to that heavenly aspect of sapphire, and to reflect Hashem’s light into the world, infusing it with an aspect of crystal clarity.

There is an expression “it came out of the blue,” meaning that it came unexpectedly, out of nowhere. I think we can say that the deeper meaning behind this is that there is no other explanation but to say this was mamash Heaven-sent. 

The Sea – Refining Ourselves

If you were to ask yourself what color the sea is, you may be surprised by the answer. Naturally, the answer is blue! But on close inspection, the sea is made up of water, which is clearly colorless — in Hebrew שָׁקוּף. The sea is really just a reflection of the heavens, which is why on an overcast day the sea is grey, a reflection of the clouds that block out the blue sky. The shallow waters are more of an aquamarine color because the water also reflects the color of the yellow sand, which, when mixed with sky blue, gives off this beautiful blue-green color of תְּכֵלֶת.

On day one of creation, everything to a great extent was still one. On day two, however, Hashem split the waters into the upper waters and lower waters. The upper waters He called שָׁמַיִם/Shamayim, a reference to שָׁם מַיִם/literally, “there the waters.” The lower waters can be further subdivided into freshwater rivers and saltwater seas. The rivers represent Hashem’s flow of life, carrying the life-giving waters that nourish the Earth. Unlike the river, which flows with purpose, the sea is the final destination, as Solomon says: “All the waters flow into the sea.” The sea represents completion of a mission and can no longer be utilized unless it goes through a process of separation — refinement (desalinization). If we refine ourselves by separating the good from the bad, then we too, like the waters, can vaporize and return to Shamayim.

The Midrash says that due to their separation from the upper waters, the lower waters of the seas cried, making them salty. Unlike the river, the sea does not have defined borders; it therefore represents תַּאַוָה/desire, which knows no bounds. The sea is therefore a dangerous place, where life is compared to a boat crossing the sea, being tossed and turned around by the challenges of life. 

If we take the colors red and blue, red represents desire and blue the cool opposite. We are also compared to the sun, which is red hot. In our youth we are full of misplaced energy, hot-blooded and full of desire, as it says: כּי יֵצֶר לֵב הָאָדָם רַע מִן נְעוּרָיו. As we get older and closer to our time in Shamayim, we cool off and are compared to the sun setting over the sea. The purpose of the Torah, which is compared to mayim, is not only to give us borders like a river, but also to cool us off. It neutralizes us to the point where we lose our color and become שָׁקוּף/translucent like the water. Then we can arrive at a clear הַשְׁקָפָה/outlook on how to see and navigate our way through life.

One of the preparations for Kabbalas HaTorah is to immerse in the mikveh. מִקְוֶה/mikveh comes from the word תִּקְוֶה/hope. By immersing in the mikveh, we are purifying ourselves by putting our hope in Hashem — קַוֵה אֶל ה’.


Another preparation for Kabbalas HaTorah is to set boundaries.

וְעָלִיתָ אַתָּה וְאַהֲרֹן עִמָּךְ וְהַכֹּהֲנִים 

Hashem instructs Moshe to warn the people not to cross the border surrounding the mountain while Aharon and the kohanim should go up with Moshe — Moshe within his own mechitzah, Aharon within his mechitzah, and the kohanim within their mechitzah, where Moshe drew closer than Aharon, and Aharon closer than the kohanim.

If we cross the mark we die, because if we get too close to Hashem, like the Ishim angels, the so-called fiery angels, we will cease to exist, because as they draw closer and closer to Hashem, they burn up and lose their self-identity, blending into the oneness of everything. In order to be able to draw closer to Hashem and still maintain our identity, we have to develop and expand our boundaries so that we can attain a greater capacity to be able to receive more of Hashem’s light without being burnt up and blown away by the awesomeness of Hashem’s power. Hashem says to Moshe, “No one can see my face and live; Nadav and Avihu drew too close and were burned up.” So we need to keep within our own mechitzos.

Even though we need to keep within our own mechitzos we can still expand their boundaries. 

So how do we expand the boundaries?

The har/mountain is known as the yetzer hara. When the tzaddikim look back on their lives and see the yetzer hara, they are overwhelmed by how big it was and compare it to a mountain. The more we do battle with the yetzer hara, the higher we go, closer and closer to the top, and on top, above the mountain, is Hashem.

מִי יַעַלֶה בְהַר ה’, וּמִי יָקוּם בִמְקוֹם קָדְשוֹ, נְקִי כּפַּיִם וּבַר לֵבָב/who can climb the mountain of Hashem and who can stand in His holy place? One who has clean hands and a pure heart. In other words, he who has cleansed his actions and purified his mind from the influence of the yetzer hara.

The Wall

One year we spent Shavuos with my brother-in-law Yosef. On the way to shul, Yosef asked me, “What does Hashem want from me?!” Just as he was about to leave to go to shul, his son had woken up in a fit. Not only did Yosef miss minchah, he had also been unable to sleep in the afternoon, so how was he going to learn late into the night in preparation for Kabbalas HaTorah?

I said to him, “It looks like Hashem is challenging you. He has put a wall in front of you, but not that you should stop. Rather, it’s for you to climb over. Hashem loves you, since by climbing over the wall you will feel a greater sense of achievement.”

These words were echoed by his rabbi’s pre-maariv derashah in shul. The rabbi asked that if someone slept five hours in the afternoon, then learned five hours in the evening, followed by another five hours of sleep, did he really push himself? Only someone who pushes himself beyond the boundaries shows Hashem how dear his Torah learning is.

In my younger days, I ran the London Marathon. More experienced runners told me about “The Wall,” that there would be a time late into the marathon when you hit the point that you feel like you cannot continue, where all of your body aches, you have no more strength — that’s it! A lot of people give up at this point, but those who climb over the wall and push through experience the tremendous amount of achievement in crossing the finishing line. Just as the ones who finish are crowned with a medal, so too Hashem crowns the ones who push through with theכֶּתֶר תּוֹרָה/the crown of the Torah.

Similarly, if you were to sprint the 100–meter hurdles without jumping them, then the crowd would just laugh at you; you’ve done nothing by not jumping the hurdles. So too in life, Hashem puts lots of hurdles in the way so that we have what to jump over. These very walls and obstacles are what make us great.

Benefactor and Beneficiary 

What is קַבָּלַת הַתּוֹרָה/receiving of the Torah? To understand this, we have to define who was the benefactor, who was the beneficiary, what was given, and where was it given.

מַתַּן תּוֹרָה /the receiving of the Torah was a present from Hashem. Hashem is the ultimate giver. In order for Hashem to be able to give, there needs to be a receiver. We are that receiver. The world was created in such a way that we the receivers make ourselves into worthy receivers. The greater we become in our worthiness as receivers, the greater the giving by Hashem, and since Hashem is the ultimate giver, the desired end result is for there to be the ultimate giving, so in order to achieve this, we have to be the ultimate receiver.

In order for us to be ultimate receivers, we first have to become givers. The more we give, the more we can receive from Hashem, which in turn causes Hashem to give more. To help us give, Hashem gives us a helpmate, our wives, to whom we give to. Hashem created us in His image, male and female He created us. By giving through the male/female relationship, we become like Hashem, the Ultimate Giver. This is what it means to be a צֶלֶם אֶ-לֹהִים, that when we give, we become the image of G-d.

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler says in Michtav M’Eliyahu that more than you give to the one you love, you love the one you give. As we see with Yitzchak when he married Rivkah, he first took her into his tent and then he loved her. The purpose of all this giving is to come to love Hashem.

Where Was It Given

The Gemara in Eruvin and Nedarim says that in order to receive the gift of the Torah, one has to make oneself into a midbar/desert, a place that is hefker/ownerless. Just like the desert is a place where everyone is free to tread, so too one should be humble, to the extent that one will not be bothered if anyone treads on his shoes.

The Torah is compared to מַיִם. Just like water flows from the heights of the mountains and doesn’t stop until it reaches the lowest point, the sea, so too Torah can only be retained by someone who is lowly. “All who are thirsty go to the water,” because just like we cannot survive without water for more than three days, so too spiritually we cannot survive without the Torah. For this reason, the Torah is read on Mondays and Thursdays — so that we don’t go without Torah for more than three days.

What Was Given

The Torah is the word of G-d. The Torah is referred to as תּוֹרַת הַחַיִים/the instructions for living. It is the communication of the benefactor to the beneficiary on how to understand our place in Hashem’s master plan of creation.

In the end of days, Hashem will return us to our land where He will no longer relate to us as our Master, but rather as a husband to a wife. The giving of the Torah on Har Sinai was compared to the ceremony between bride and groom, where the Torah in a way was the kesubah. But Har Sinai was only the engagement. The whole of our lives is a big dress rehearsal for the big day when we complete our mission of becoming Hashem’s bride. Then, when we have fulfilled our part, Hashem will return us to our land, and He will be our Husband.

Hashem is further prophesized as saying, “I will betroth you to me forever, I will betroth you to me with righteousness, judgment, kindness and mercy, and I will betroth you to me with emunah, and you will know Hashem.” We say this each morning as we put on our tefillin, thinking that we are doing the betrothing, but in essence it is Hashem who has betrothed us. He betrothed us at Har Sinai, and at the end of days, He will betroth us forever.

The ultimate reason for this betrothal is to come to know Hashem — this is the number one mitzvah. How we achieve this mitzvah is through the Torah. The more we learn the Torah the more we come to understand our Creator. Knowledge is what connects us to Hashem. The most intimate connection between man and wife is described as knowledge: “And Adam knew Chava.” In order to be worthy to be Hashem’s wife, we have to become intimate, and intimacy is only through knowledge, and knowledge is only through the Torah: “And you will know Hashem…”

כָּל: kol/perfection

וַיּוֹצֵא מֹשֶׁה אֶת הָעָם לִקְרַאת הָאֱלֹהִים מִן הַמַּחֲנֶה/and Moshe and the people went out toward Hashem from the camp. Rashi says that this tells us that Hashem went out toward them לִקְרָאתָם כְּחָתָן הַיוֹצֵא לִקְרַאַת כַּלָה/like a groom to his bridegroom.

This is the ideal relationship. Hashem wants us to be His bride.

Without us being Hashem’s כַּלָה, the world would be incomplete. Hashem created us in order to give to His כַּלָה. Our role in the tikkun olam is to perfect ourselves so that we can become worthy of receiving His goodness.

I was once at a family wedding of distant relatives and I observed the concentric circles around the chasan. The outer circles were big and moving very slowly, while the inside circles were smaller and moving with greater energy. Of course, the innermost circle was on fire. I was one of those moving slowly around the outside, and I felt very much like an outsider looking in, wishing I could be in the center, though I didn’t belong there. Even though I was a relative, I was still only a distant cousin.

The centerpiece is the chasan, the most fired up of all. By far the happiest day in a person’s life is the day he gets married. There is no comparison to the immense pleasure one experiences at his own wedding versus being at someone else’s wedding, because he is the centerpiece, and everyone is dancing around him and being involved in the mitzvah of simchas chasan v’kallah/making the groom and bride happy.

Just like it is a mitzvah to be mesamei’ach the chasan, so too it is our job to be mesamei’ach Hashem the Chasan. In turn, then, Hashem will be mesamei’ach us, His kallah.

כָּל: kol/all, perfection

כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל יֵש לָהֶם חֵלֶק לְעוֹלָם הַבָּא/all the Jewish People have a portion in the World to Come, but what exactly does that mean? Just because we have a portion doesn’t mean we have the same portion. If we were to compare Olam HaBa to the marriage of Hashem to the Jewish People, then to the extent that we utilize our lives in this world to do battle with our yetzer hara, to climb the mountain and draw closer to Hashem, the closer we will be to Hashem in the next world. The ones who are not so close to Hashem will be on the outer circles, while those who have devoted their lives to service of Hashem will be on the inside. There is no comparison. It’s literally worlds apart.

Now that we have counted the forty-nine sefiros, we have reached the level of Malchus She’beMalchus. This is the point where we have drawn Hashem’s light down to the earthly domain of מַלְכוּת/kingship, but in order to reach the fiftieth level, we, the כַּלָה/bride, have to accept Hashem fully as King, to be mekabel עוֹל מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם/the yoke of Heaven. This is achieved when we let go completely of our individual שְׁלִיטָה/control and become a complete כְּלִי קִיבּוּל/ receiving vessel to shine Hashem’s sapphire crystal-clear light into the world.

May we truly merit to be Hashem’s shining star, and merit to wear the keter haTorah and be crowned Hashem’s queen!

1 See Rashi to Shemos 19:17.

2 Bamidbar 15:38.

3 Menachos 43b.

4 Yechezkel 1:26.

5 Koheles 1:7.

6 Baal HaTurim to Bereishis 23:1.

7 Ibid., 8:21.

8 Shemos 19:24.

9 See Rashi there.

10 Succos 52a.

11 Tehillim 24:3–4.

12 See the beginning of Derech Hashem.

13 Michtav M’Eliyahu 1:126.

14 Eruvin 54a; Nedarim 55b.

15 Yeshayah 55:1.

16 Hoshea 2:18.

17 Shemos 19:17.

18 Where לִקְרַאַת has the connotation of both parties drawing close to each other. See Sifsei Chachamim and Kli Yakar there.

19 Where כָּל/all, which has the gematria of fifty, signifying completeness, is also connected to this root.