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L’chvod Rav Avi, Rabbi Lopatin, Rabbi Linzer, Rabbi Love, Rav Katz and the rest of the faculty and staff, Obviously, we are grateful that you have created a holy place of learning for both Chai and Tzachi. But do you realize the profound influence you have had and continue to have in our lives? Thank you for helping us to create an open orthodox home where Torah is observed consciously. Thank you for modeling for us how to live the Torah that we learn. Thank you for helping us to raise our children with the knowledge that they could question anything that did not make sense to them, and that that is a proper and healthy attitude to apply to all aspects of Torah living. It brings us tremendous comfort and gives us strength knowing that Yeshivat Chovevei Torah is here to inspire and guide all of us.

With heartfelt thanks,
Estelle and Harvey Posner
Parents of Chai Posner (YCT ’10) and Tzachi Posner (YCT ’17)

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Written by Rabbi Avi Weiss   
Thursday, 27 January 2011

Looking at the Commandments Horizontally

January 28-29, 2011/ 24 Shevat 5771

By Rabbi Avi Weiss

Jewish law is commonly broken down into two groups, laws which refer to the link between humanity and God (bein adam la-Makom) and laws which govern interpersonal relationships (bein adam le-havero).

For this reason, many traditional commentators have suggested that the Ten Declarations (Aseret Ha-dibrot) can split vertically. The first five statements are associated with our commitment to God, the second five with our commitment to our fellow human beings.

The tradition of this demarcation raises concerns for it seems that the laws connecting human beings with God pre-dominate. According to this line of reasoning, relating to God seems to be more important than the way we interact with other people.

Yet, there are several Rabbinic sources that take the opposite approach. For example, the Midrash comments on the verse describing Avraham (Abraham) being visited by God after his circumcision. As the famous story in Bereishit (Genesis) tells us, he sees three visitors. Running to greet them, he asks God to wait as he welcomes his guests. (Genesis 18:3)  "From here," the Midrash says, "we learn it is more important to attend to guests than to receive the presence of God." Concerned that bein adam le-havero would be viewed as less important, this Midrash emphasizes its paramount nature.

So while there are opinions on both sides, there exists a third option. This position claims that there, indeed, exists no demarcation between bein adam la-Makom and bein adam le-havero -- each of these categories complement one another.

Bearing in mind that every human being is created in God's image (tzelem Elokim), it follows that the way we conduct ourselves towards our fellow person, impacts directly upon God. If I bring joy or sorrow to another, I bring joy or sorrow to the tzelem Elokim within that person.

Kli Yakar (Rabbi Ephraim Luntshitz, Poland, 16c.) makes this point in his unique approach which insists that the Aseret Ha-dibrot be split horizontally rather than vertically. For example, "Thou shalt not murder" (Declaration #6) is opposite belief in God (Declaration #1), as murdering the other means that the image of God, as manifested in the victim, has been obliterated.

The flip side is also true. Jewish ritual, commonly associated with our relationship to God, invariably connects us to other humans and in fact is the pathway to Torah ethicism. Proof of this phenomenon is the fact that before prayer, an act associated with the relationship to God, there is a tradition to give charity, an act associated with our relationship to fellow humans. Additionally, virtually all our prayers are in the plural to teach that even as we participate in a very personal encounter with the Divine, we must express concern for those in need, and pray not only for ourselves, but for others as well.

Our portion clearly reflects this idea. It states: "Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest, that your ox and your ass may have rest and the son of your handmaid and the stranger shall be refreshed." (Exodus 23:12) Here, the Torah deflects from its prior reasoning for Shabbat presented in the Ten Declarations. The first two times Shabbat is mentioned in the Torah it is associated with recognizing that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. (Genesis 2:1-3, Exodus 20:8-11) Shabbat seems to be a law that resides solely in the realm of our acknowledgement of the rule of God.

But here, in our portion, God is not at all associated with Shabbat, His name is not mentioned. In our text, Shabbat teaches us something about human relationships and our responsibility to others. It tells us to rest on Shabbat so that all in your household will rest. In other words, Shabbat is the great equalizer - all people whatever their station, must rest. Here the Torah is displaying the important priority of giving dignity to all. Extraordinary. Shabbat, which heretofore is only mentioned as describing our relationship to God, is here fashioned in terms of interpersonal ethics.

By loving our fellow person, we learn to love God; and through loving God and doing His ritual, we can achieve love of his fellow human being. From this perspective, the human-God and human-human laws do not stand as opposing forces, they stand as perfect complements, leading to an increased ability for us all to help achieve unity between heaven and earth.



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