The Obligation to Obey a Prophet

by R. Gidon Rothstein Parashat Vayera’s mitzvah is my own choice (there are no mitzvot in Sefer Ha-Hinuch, and She’iltot’s options didn’t work for me). I thought of it because Sanhedrin 89b wonders how Yitzhak (whom the Gemara probably thought was 37 at the time) permitted himself to obey Avraham, allowed himself to be tied to an altar to be sacrificed, a violation of the ...

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Milah, Circumcision

by R. Gidon Rothstein We skipped him completely last time, and often give him less attention than he deserves, so let’s start our discussion of milah, the mitzvah to circumcise sons, with Aruch Ha-Shulhan, who spends Yoreh De’ah 260 recapping Talmudic sources that lay out the importance of the mitzvah (Shulhan Aruch itself said only the father has a mitzvah, gedolah, greater, than all other mitzvot). Aruch Ha-Shulhan tells ...

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Versions of Theft, All Prohibited

by R. Gidon Rothstein Once in a while, change is good. Parshat Noah has no mitzvot of its own, but the Torah attributes the Flood to hamas, a form of theft. Rambam has eight mitzvot related to taking money improperly, so just seeing those, with Sefer Ha-Hinuch, will take up the time we have this week. With apologies to Minhat Hinuch and Aruch Ha-Shulhan. Paying Wages on Time Let’s start with what ...

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The Obligation to Propagate

by R. Gidon Rothstein Parshat Bereshit: The Obligation to Propagets My Jewish background makes it always jarring for me when I hear a man speak as if having children is a choice (for women, it still is a choice, as we will see). Rambam’s Obligation 212 lays out why a Jewish man must think of it as a commandment, not a choice. ...

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The Mitzvah of Kiddush/Zachor on Shabbat

by R. Gidon Rothstein She’ilta 166 sets us on our course for a mitzvah for Ve-Zot Ha-Berachah, where he lays out the obligation to welcome Shabbat over a cup of wine. Kiddush, Maybe Havdallah Sefer Ha-Mitzvot 155 agrees there is a Biblical mitzvah to sanctify Shabbat by declaring its entry and adds the mitzvah includes noting its departure as well. Because the verse says zachor, ...

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Yeyn Nesech, Wine Libated to a Power Other than God

by R. Gidon Rothstein Parshat Ha’azinu has no specific mitzvot of its own, so we turn to R. Ahai Gaon, whose She’ilta 162 reminds us it is prohibited for Jews (he writes beit Yisra’el, the House of Israel) to drink yeyn nesech, wine libated [poured or even just turned over; I have heard Prof. Haym Soloveitchik point out the Gemara assumed it could happen in an instant, because ...

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The Obligation to Write a Sefer Torah

by R. Gidon Rothstein This week is a two for one, because just before the mitzvah from this week’s parsha, that every male Jew own/write a Torah, Rambam records the obligation for a king to write one. I hope that looking at them together will give us productive comparisons and contrasts. The Two Mitzvot Obligation 17 in Sefer Ha-Mitzvot records the command for each ...

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The Mitzvah of Hakhel

by R. Gidon Rothstein Sefer Ha-Hinuch folds Va-Yelech into Nitzavim, listing the two mitzvot in Va-Yelech as if they were in Nitzavim—he does not let on that there is such a parsha as Va-Yelech. If we remember that he thought Mishpatim was two parashiyyot, Mishpatim and Im Kessef, we see there he “gained” one, here he has “lost” one. This year, I’ll take one of those mitzvot for Nitzavim, the mitzvah of Hakhel, the other (writing a sefer Torah) for Va-Yelech. This is a good year to study Hakhel, ...

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Emulating Gd’s Ways

by R. Gidon Rothstein Teaser: I have more a personal stake in this mitzvah than most, for reasons I will share along the way. For now, let’s see how our usual teachers wrote about the obligation to emulate God’s Ways. For Rambam, Obligation Eight commands us le-hidamot bo yit’aleh, “to emulate Him,” more literally “to become like Him, the Exalted One.” Rambam ...

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The Obligation to Bury

by R. Gidon Rothstein Last week, I took on a mitzvah we find ways not to observe, this week let’s discuss a mitzvah Jewish communities work to observe in the best possible way, burying the dead. From the Criminals to the Rest of Us Rambam in Obligation 231 points out we derive a general obligation to bury those who have ...

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