Breaking a Calf’s Neck (Maybe Beheading It)

by R. Gidon Rothstein Let’s get this out of the way: I chose this mitzvah for Parshat Mikeitz by mistake. I remembered Rashi 45;27 says Yosef sent agalot, wagons, to his father to remind him of their last topic of Torah discussion before he left to see his brothers (and was sold to Egypt), egla arufah, the requirement of a calf neck ceremony should ...

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To Not Hate Fellow Jews, In Secret and In Our Hearts

by R. Gidon Rothstein One of the two options She’iltot offered for mitzvot to study on Parshat Vayeshev is the ban on hating fellow Jews. That’s how he says it, but when we look at Sefer Ha-Mitzvot Prohibition 302, Rambam adds a significant caveat. While he agrees the Torah warned against hating other Jews, with the verse She’iltot did, Vayikra 19;17, Rambam then quotes Sifra, only a hatred held within, unrevealed to ...

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Gid Ha-Nasheh

by R. Gidon Rothstein The prohibition of gid ha-nasheh, the last of the mitzvot laid out in Bereshit, ostensibly comes because of the story in this week’s parsha, Ya’akov wrestling with an angel and being wounded in his hip (according to Sefaria, the hip being taken out of its socket). Sefaria also translates gid ha-nasheh to mean “thigh muscle,” where I grew up hearing it called the sciatic nerve. Let’s ...

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The Mitzvot of Shomrim

by R. Gidon Rothstein Ya’akov spends enough of Parshat VaYetzei watching Lavan’s flocks to spur She’iltot to discuss shomrim, the laws of who is responsible when matters go wrong while one Jew is in charge of another’s property. In Rambam’s presentation, we find two immediate surprises: he divides shomrim into three separate mitzvot ‘aseh, and batei din, courts, are the ones implicated in those mitzvot. [My point is: there ...

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The Mitzvah of Talmud Torah, Torah Study

by R. Gidon Rothstein In my experience, many Jews treat the obligation to study Torah as if the commandment is to perform an action—we eat matzah Pesah night, we (ideally) study some Torah daily. I think traditional sources consider it primarily an issue of acquiring a certain body of knowledge, although the acquisition does require daily involvement. Let’s look at ...

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The Mitzvah of Kiddushin

by R. Gidon Rothstein As we continue through the largely mitzvah-less Bereshit, I borrow from She’iltot on Parshat Hayye Sarah the idea to discuss kiddushin, a mitzvah whose surprising nature I am not sure we realize. Perhaps because non-Jews borrowed from us, a ring ceremony in marriage seems natural, where halachah portrays it as distinctly unnatural. Step out of our usual practice and look at ...

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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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