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   by Jacob Solomon

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1. Why does the High Priest perform the Yom Kippur Temple Service in simple lined garments, and not in the more elaborate clothes he usually wears in Temple Service? - according to Rashi.

2. What, according to R. Bachya, may be learnt from the Torah's insistence that no one should be in the entire Tent of Meeting when the High Priest enters the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur?

3. What, according to Hirsch, may be learnt from the presence of the two male goats in the Yom Kippur Temple Service - one 'for G-d' and one 'for the Azazel'?

4. What is the significance of the words 'lifnei Hashem' (before G-d), in 'you will be cleansed from all your sins "before G-d"'? (16:30) - according to the Kli Yakar.

5. Why would the taking away of an animal's life without due cause be reckoned as murder (17:4) according to the Kli Yakar?

6. Why, according to Hirsch, are the opening words of the section of the Torah dealing with forbidden sexual relationships the same as the opening words of the Ten Commandments - namely 'I am the L-rd your G-d'? (18:2)

7. How are the words 'You shall live by them' (the Mitzvot) (18:5) understood by (a) The Talmud (Sanhedrin 74a), and (b) The Ramban?

8. In what way does Rashi explain the words, in the context of forbidden sexual relationships, 'the land shall not vomit you out for having contaminated it'? (18:28)


1. The High Priest wears simple linen garments in performing the Yom Kippur Temple Service as an illustration of the principle that 'a prosecutor may not become a defender'. For the usual eight garments contained gold thread: gold points an accusing finger at the Israelites, as that was the material they used to make the Golden Calf. (Rashi ad loc, based on Talmud Rosh Hashana 26a)

2. This is meant to illustrate the principle that the Divine Blessing is most effective when received in modesty, in quiet solitude. (See, for example, Kings I 19)

3. According to Hirsch, the goat designated 'for G-d' represents positive forces - goodness. The goat designated for the 'azazel' - the scapegoat - signifies negative forces - evil. That conveys a Torah teaching that no-one has the option of being neutral. Those who do not pursue a positive way of life will find themselves moving towards a wasteland of spiritual destruction.

4. The words 'lifnei Hashem' mean literally 'before G-d'. Yom Kippur only atones for those who repent and purify themselves before they stand before G-d on Yom Kippur. If they do, then G-d Himself will ensure that they 'shall be cleansed'. (16:30)

5. The Kli Yakar derives from the words 'it shall be considered bloodshed' (17:4), that when a person kills an animal without a legitimate cause, he allowed himself to be influenced by the same bloodthirsty instincts that can cause people to commit murder - his cruel instincts have taken control over him.

6. The common link with the opening of the Ten Commandments (I am the L-rd your G-d), and the laws of sexual purity in this Parasha is to highlight the importance of sexual purity. Just as the nation can not exist as the Chosen People without acknowledging that G-d is the Almighty, so it also cannot exist as the Chosen People without following the rules of sexual purity contained in this chapter.

7. (a) The Talmud (Sanhedrin 74a) understands the words 'You shall live by them' (18:5) as emphasizing that preserving human life (with the exceptions of murder, adultery, and idolatry), takes precedence over Mitzva observance. One should live by the Mitzvot - not die for them. (b) The Ramban explains that 'living by' the Mitzvot is that people should work towards social harmony by respecting the rights and needs of other people. Only if society adheres to the laws 'between man and man' can people truly 'live' peacefully and harmoniously.

8. Rashi brings the following parable. The Holy Land is like a prince, a young man with a delicate constitution, who ate contaminated food. He cannot digest it, so he spewed it out. Similarly, the Holy Land cannot spiritually tolerate the violation of the Torah sexual norms (described in this chapter). When the Israelites slipped into that behavior, the Land indeed spewed them out. (See, for example, Ezekiel 16)


The Talmud records that the goat was dispatched to the Azazel with every possible speed. A special raised ramp had to be placed to prevent the designated man being pushed the by the crowd who wanted the goat to reach the Azazel as soon as possible (Yoma 6:4). Once that journey had started, the people waited for signs that the goat had reached the Azazel and performed its destiny in effecting the kappara for Klal Yisrael. The authorities in the Talmud vary as to how this news was communicated. One opinion holds that the news traveled through a system of flags waved from posts along the route from the Azazel back to the Temple. Another said that a scarlet thread in the Temple miraculously turned white to show that G-d had wiped clean previous records of sin. (Yoma 6:8).

Why was so much emphasis placed on speed?

My attempt on this issue should be found on the Shema Yisrael website for 5760


What is the meaning of the following, according to the commentaries stated?

(a) 'You shall be holy' (19:2), according to Rashi, and the S'forno.

(b) 'You shall revere your mother and father' (19:3), according to the Ramban.

(c) 'You must not put a stumbling block before the blind' (19:14), according to Rashi.

(d) 'You shall not commit a perversion of justice' (19:15), according to the Ohr Hachayim.

(e) 'You should judge your fellow man with righteousness' (19:15) according to Hirsch.

(f) 'You shall not stand on your fellow's blood' (19:16), according to Rashi.

(g) 'You shall not take revenge, and you shall not bear a grudge' (19:18), according to Rashi.

(h) 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself', (19:18) according to the Ramban.

(i) 'You shall not place a tattoo upon yourself' (19:28), according to Rashi.

(j) 'You shall stand up in the presence of an old personů I am G-d' (19:32), according to Rashi.

(k) 'You shall sanctify yourself and you will be holy' (20:7), according to the Meshech Chochma.

(l) 'I have separated you from [other] peoples to be Mine' (20:26), according to Rashi.


(a) 'You shall be holy', according to Rashi, means that one should be 'separate'. The Israelites are enjoined to separate themselves as a G-d's servants by avoiding sexual relationships forbidden by the Torah. The S'forno stresses that Mitzvot in general must be carried out in a fitting way - not by doing just the minimum, but though performing His Commandments in a spiritually elevated manner. For example honoring parents is not fulfilled by personal service, but it should be done with appropriate respect.

(b) 'You shall revere your mother and father', according to the Ramban, means that one is required to show the same respect to a parent as one would to a sovereign with the absolute power to punish.

(c) 'You must not put a stumbling block before the blind', according to Rashi, means that a person should not knowingly give an innocent party bad advice against his own interests.

(d) 'You shall not commit a perversion of justice', according to the Ohr Hachayim is not directed at the judge, but to litigants who knowingly lie in court and cause a miscarriage of justice.

(e) Hirsch understands that 'You should judge your fellow man with righteousness', refers to the importance of showing understanding towards other people. A person may have been found guilty by a judge, but there could have been extraneous circumstances which even though legally would still convict him, would morally still keep him as a 'decent person'. So this commandment tells people that they should take care not to condemn. That someone acted wrongly and was made liable does not necessarily render him a 'bad person' and worthy of rejection by other people.

(f) 'You shall not stand on your fellow's blood', according to Rashi, means that 'you should not stand aside whilst your fellow's blood is being shed'. A person transgresses that prohibition if he is able to help another person in distress and refuses to become involved.

(g) 'You shall not take revenge, and you shall not bear a grudge', according to Rashi, shows two forbidden means of 'getting even' with someone else. If Reuven asks Shimon for a loan which he can grant, and Shimon refuses outright, recalling Reuven's previous failure to help him out, he is taking revenge. If Shimon does grant the loan, but in the process recalls Reuven's recent meanness towards him, he has borne a grudge. Both are forbidden by the Torah.

(h) 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself', according to the Ramban, acknowledges that most people cannot feel the same love for others as they feel for themselves. Rather, it means that they should wish that other people should enjoy the same high degrees of success, achievement, and prosperity as they would wish for themselves.

(i) The commandment of: 'You shall not place a tattoo upon yourself', according to Rashi, is only violated if the tattoo marks are permanent (not, for example, where a person writes a telephone number on the palm of his hand).

(j) 'You shall stand up in the presence of an old personů I am G-d', according to Rashi is a warning against human nature. Applied to today, a person might be tempted not to offer his seat on the bus to someone older having to stand up, by acting as if he has not noticed that older person. The Torah therefore says 'You shall fearů G-d' - He knows our true intentions.

(k) 'You shall sanctify yourself and you will be holy', according to the Meshech Chochma, is a guarantee from G-d. If a person makes a sincere effort to observe the Mitzvot ('You shall sanctify yourself'), then 'you will indeed be holy': G-d will assist in purifying not only the person's actions, but his or her thoughts as well.

(l) 'I have separated you from [other] peoples to be Mine', according to Rashi, means the following. A person should not say, for example, that the reason he does not eat pork is because he does not like the taste of it. But rather, that he would like to savor pork, but 'what can I do - G-d decreed that it is forbidden!' That type of 'decree' is the mechanism by which G-d distinguishes the Israelites as being His People.


The actual meaning of, "You shall be holy", (19:2) is disputed between the commentators. The Midrash (Lev. Rabbah 24:6), followed by Rashi, states that this commands the avoiding of the illicit physical relationships described in the previous chapter. Holiness is a product of refraining from sexual immorality.

The problem with this explanation is as follows. On the three occasions in this Parasha where one is commanded to be holy (supra, 20:7, and 20:26), it is in the actual context of observing G-d's laws and the prohibition of idol worship. The commandment of 'being holy' does not actually occur in the actual context of sexual relationships. Why therefore, does Rashi nevertheless make the link between 'You shall be holy', and forbidden sexual relationships?

My efforts at tackling the issues raised above may be found on the Shema Yisrael website for Parashiot Tazria-Metzora for 5761.

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Also by Jacob Solomon:
Between the Fish and the Soup

From the Prophets on the Haftara


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