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 Parshas Kedoshim - Vol. 6, Issue 31
Compiled by Oizer Alport


Lo sikom v'lo sitor es b'nei amecha (19:18)

In explaining the roots of the prohibition against taking revenge, the Sefer HaChinuch (241) writes that a person is obligated to believe and recognize that everything which happens to him was ordered by Hashem. In this vein, Dovid HaMelech commanded (Shmuel 2 16:11) that Shimi ben Geira not be harmed for cursing him, explaining that “Hashem told him to curse me.” The Torah therefore forbids taking revenge against a person who harms or hurts us, since he was just an agent to execute Hashem’s decrees.

This idea is difficult to reconcile with an explanation of the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh in Parshas Vayeishev. The Torah records (Bereishis 37:21) that while the rest of the brothers were plotting to kill Yosef, Reuven saved him by suggesting that they instead throw him into a pit. Since Rashi writes (37:24) that the pit was full of poisonous snakes and scorpions, in what way was this considered “saving” Yosef and not merely substituting one type of death for another?

The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh explains that while humans have free will and the ability to do something which wasn’t decreed in Heaven, animals have no such free choice and are limited to whatever was decided by Hashem. Reuven knew that Yosef wasn’t the wicked pursuer that the other brothers thought he was and was confident that a death sentence hadn’t been decreed upon him.

Nevertheless, Reuven feared that his brothers, with their free will, would succeed in their plans to kill Yosef. Reuven “saved” Yosef by having him thrown into a pit where he knew that the snakes and scorpions would have no permission to harm him. This seems to contradict the principle of the Sefer HaChinuch, who writes clearly that humans have no ability to harm innocent people and should be viewed as mere executors of Hashem’s decrees.

A possible reconciliation is that in Derech Sicha, Rav Chaim Kanievsky clarifies that the explanation of the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh isn’t to be taken completely literally. The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh didn’t mean to say that humans are capable of killing a totally innocent person against Hashem’s will, but rather that a person needs more merits to be saved from those with free will. According to this understanding, this explanation need not contradict the opinion of the Sefer HaChinuch that whatever transpires is ultimately a fulfillment of the Divine plan.


La sakifu pe'as roshchem (19:27)

            There is a custom, which has become more widespread in recent years, not to cut a boy's hair until his third birthday. The reason given for this practice is that the Torah compares man to a tree (Devorim 20:19), and just as the Torah commands us (19:23) not to use the fruits produced by a tree for the first three years, so too do we not cut a boy's hair until he turns three. Additionally, the Torah juxtaposes the mitzvah of not cutting the peyos - corners of the scalp - to the prohibition against benefitting from the fruits produced by a tree for its first three years.

            Nevertheless, there must be a deeper meaning to the fact that after his circumcision, this is the only other milestone in a Jewish boy's life until his Bar Mitzvah. What is the significance of waiting three years, and why is the celebration specifically centered around his first haircut and receiving peyos as opposed to any other mitzvah which could be performed for the first time when he turns three?

            We find repeatedly that the number three is significant in Judaism. We have three Avos - Avrohom, Yitzchok, and Yaakov - and the Medrash teaches that the first of them - Avrohom - discovered and recognized Hashem at the age of three. For legal purposes, when an action is repeated three times, it forms an established pattern known as a "chazakah," and for certain purposes, if two objects are within three units of one another, we view them as "lavud" - connected to one another.

            In light of this, the first three years of a boy's life can be viewed as the period during which we train him to develop the foundation for living a life of Torah and mitzvos. Once this connected unit of three years is complete, he is ready to graduate to the next stage with his first haircut and his yarmulke and tzitzis. It can't be a coincidence that the most popular day in the Jewish calendar to give a boy his first haircut is Lag B'Omer, which is the 33rd day (double 3) of the Omer.

            This sheds some light on the reason for waiting three years before observing this milestone, but why does the celebration specifically revolve around the boy's first haircut and the mitzvah of leaving peyos? In order to understand this, it is first necessary to explain the reason behind the mitzvah not to round off the edges of the scalp. The Rambam writes (Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 12:1) that the reason for this prohibition is that there used to be a custom among non-Jewish idolaters, and particularly their priests, to completely shave off the hair in this region, so in order to keep us separate and different from them and their practices, the Torah gave us this mitzvah.

            While it is quite common to find commentators disagreeing about the rationale for a mitzvah and offering different explanations, we find something quite unique and unusual in this case. After quoting the aforementioned opinion of the Rambam, the Tur (Yoreh Deah 181:1) rejects it, but not in favor of a different explanation. Instead, the Tur uncharacteristically writes that the entire concept of seeking out explanations for the mitzvos is inappropriate, and we should simply perform all mitzvos as Heavenly decrees even without knowing or understanding the reasons behind them.

            These two approaches of the Rambam and the Tur highlight the two fundamental concepts that are conveyed by specifically choosing this mitzvah as the one which is celebrated when a Jewish boy turns three. The Rambam teaches that this mitzvah is an integral part of the Jewish "uniform," which helps to identify a person as part of Hashem's Chosen Nation.

            The Medrash (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 3:24) explains that the expression "B'nei Tzion" refers to people who are uniquely identified by the fact that they are circumcised, wear tzitzis, and have peyos. When a Jewish boy is eight days old, he is circumcised and gets the first component of his unique Jewish appearance, and when he turns three, he receives his tzitzis and haircut to complete his Jewish uniform.

            The Tur, on the other hand, teaches that part of growing up and reaching the next milestone in Jewish development is understanding and internalizing that we are servants of Hashem who have to observe all 613 mitzvos, whether we think that we understand them or not. Although the Tur himself offers reasons for other mitzvos, the mitzvah which is used to mark the next stage of a Jewish boy's development is the one where the Tur takes a strong stand and argues that it must be performed simply because Hashem commanded us to do so. Hashem should help all Jewish children take pride in their unique uniforms and perform all of the 613 mitzvos as Heavenly decrees, especially my 3-year-old son Yosef Meir whose recent upsherin inspired these thoughts!


Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     The Torah prohibits a person from taking revenge against another Jew (19:18). Rashi gives an example of a person who asked to borrow his neighbor’s axe, but his neighbor refused. When his neighbor asks the following day to borrow his axe, it is prohibited to refuse to do so in order to get revenge. Why does the Torah forbid the person from withholding his axe, for which he has a legitimate reason, but doesn't also prohibit the neighbor from refusing to lend the axe to begin with, for which he has no justification? (Bechor Shor, Chizkuni)

2)     The Torah forbids the consumption of orlah, the fruits produced by a tree for the first three years (19:23). The Gemora in Shabbos (33b) relates that when Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai was forced to flee to a cave to save his life, a carob tree miraculously sprouted there to provide him sustenance. How was he permitted to eat the fruits, which are considered orlah? (Imrei Daas, Derech Emunah Hilchos Maaser Sheini 10:6, M’rafsin Igri, Ma’adanei Asher Lag B’Omer 5769)

3)     Is one permitted to say Birkas HaIlanos – the annual blessing recited over the flowering trees in the month of Nissan – upon seeing a tree whose fruit is orlah (19:23), as the wording of the blessing praises Hashem for giving us trees for the purpose of our enjoyment, yet the Gemora in Pesachim (22b) rules that orlah is forbidden in consumption and even in enjoyment? (Hagahos Rav Akiva Eiger Orach Chaim 226, Kaf HaChaim Orach Chaim 226:11, Shu”t Doveiv Meishorim 3:5, Shu”t Chelkas Yaakov 2:27, Bishvilei HaParsha)

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