top of page

A Double Standard

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Re'eh
A Double Standard

One of the many Mitzvos (commandments) in this week's portion is to tithe the produce of the field. The verse says,"Aser T'aser (you must certainly tithe) all the produce of your seeds that comes out of the ground yearly" (Dt. 14:22).

The Midrash Tanchumah (siman 13) expounds on this Mitzvah by saying that although the judgement of the wicked in purgatory lasts for twelve months, six months in burning heat and six months in freezing cold; nevertheless, the Jewish People can be spared that torture on account of fulfilling Mitzvos that are doubled, such as Milah and Priah (two stages of circumcision; cutting the foreskin away and pulling the thin membrane back), Tzitzis and Tefillin, Ha'anek Ta'anik (gifting a Jewish slave when he is being freed; Dt. 15:14), Pasoach Tiftach and Nason Titein (opening your hand to give charity; Dt. 15:8-10), and Aser T'aser.

Parenthetically, the Arizal (Likutei Torah, Parshas Shemos) explains that the six months of burning heat in purgatory is to atone for the heat of passion we invest into a sin, and the six months of freezing cold in purgatory is to atone for the "cooling off" from performing a Mitzvah that we demonstrated to the point of not fulfilling the Mitzvah at all on account of laziness.

Perhaps we could suggest that it is specifically the duality of the Mitzvos which spare us from purgatory because there are two aspects of purgatory (hot and cold). Therefore, only the duality of the Mitzvos can spare us from both components of purgatory.

In any case, our Midrash seems to be problematic. Although Milah and Priah are two Mitzvos, and although Tzitzis and Tefillin are two Mitzvos; nevertheless, Ha'anek Ta'anik, Pasoach Tiftach, Nason Titein, and Aser T'aser are actually only one Mitzvah each. How then can the Midrash compare all of them together? The double wording in the verses does not make them a double Mitzvah. How then do those Mitzvos spare us from the tortures of purgatory if they are not doubled?

The Arugas Habosem (Parshas Mishpatim) writes that he heard from Rebbi Yehoshuah from Belz in the name of the Ba'al Shem Tov that if a Mitzvah presents itself to a person, but he feels that it is too difficult for him to do, then he should first say that Mitzvah the way it is written in the Torah. In other words, he should first recite the verse or verses that discuss that Mitzvah. If there is no verse in the Torah, then he can say a section of the Oral Tradition (Mishnah or Talmud) that discuss that Mitzvah. Then he will be able to perform the actual Mitzvah without being held back.

The Shvilei Pinchas explains the mechanics behind this Segulah (charm). He says that it is the Yetzer Harah (evil impulse) that prevents us from doing the Mitzvos. Therefore, the recitation of Torah verses is extremely beneficial because the Talmud says that God said that He created the Yetzer Harah, but He created Torah as the antidote. When a person is involved in Torah study, he is not delivered into the hands of the Yetzer Harah (Kedushin, chap. 1, "Ha-isha Niknis", pg. 30b). Therefore, when a person finds it difficult to keep any Mitzvah, whether it be a positive one or a negative one, the mere recitation of Torah verses, especially verses related to that Mitzvah, helps diminish the Yetzer Harah considerably. So much so that he will be able to do the Mitzvah with little to no resistance.

Moreover, says the Shvilei Pinchas, when a person studies about a Mitzvah, he is credited as having fulfilled that Mitzvah (Reish Lakish and Rebbi Yitzchak, Menachos, chap. 13, "Harei Alai Isaron", pg. 110a). Therefore, the principal of "Mitzvah Goreres Mitzvah" (one Mitzvah automatically leads to doing another Mitzvah; Avos, chap. 4, "Ben Zoma", Mishnah 2, Ben Azai) applies. This also explains how reciting Torah verses prior to doing a Mitzvah helps to actually perform it. When a person first says the verse about the Mitzvah he is going to do, he is already credited with doing that Mitzvah. This in and of itself will bring the person to do the actual Mitzvah.

The Shvilei Pinchas goes on to suggest that this very well might be a deeper understanding of a Rashi (Dt. 8:1) citing a Midrash Aggadah (see Tanchumah #6) that says that a Mitzvah is only credited "Al Shem Hagomrah" (to the one who completes it). The word "Hagomrah" does not only mean "complete", but it can also be translated as "learning", (See Shabbos, chap. 13, "Ha-oreg", pg. 106b, "Gemarah Gemor"). Based on this new translation, Rashi means to say that a Mitzvah will certainly be fulfilled "Al Shem Hagomrah", by the one who learns about it first.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this will help us understand the duality of Mitzvos, such as Ha'anek Ta'anik, Pasoach Tiftach, Aser T'aser, even though they are really just one Mitzvah each. From the fact that Hashem gave us some Mitzvos in a double fashion, like Tzitzis and Tefillin, and Milah and Priah, we see that it is God's intention that we perform all Mitzvos in the same way. Tzitzis and Tefillin and Milah and Priah are just a couple of examples of how Hashem wants all the Mitzvos to be done.

How can we fulfil all Mitzvos in a double fashion if in reality they are just one Mitzvah each? The answer is that we are supposed to learn about each Mitzvah before doing them. In this way, we actually do the Mitzvah twice; once by learning about it (through which he is credited as if he actually did it), and second by actually doing the Mitzvah. One will lead to the other in such a way that there will be little to no resistance from the Yetzer Harah.

This is how the Midrash compares the duality of all Mitzvos to Tzitzis and Tefillin and to Milah and Priah. Not only are Tzitzis and Tefillin two Mitzvos, but all Mitzvos can and should be two Mitzvos. We can achieve this by learning about the Mitzvah before doing it. This is how all Mitzvos can spare us from both types of torture in purgatory, because they all have the essence of dualism.

The Shvilei Pinchas adds that the concept of learning the Torah about the Mitzvah prior to doing the Mitzvah is actually hinted to in the verses. All of the Mitzvos we mentioned above that have a double lingo; contain the letter "taf" before the second word. For example, "Aser T'aser" (the "t" or "taf" appears before the second word), Pasoach Tiftach, Nason Titein, Ha'anek Ta'anik. The letter "taf" stands for the word "Torah" (which begins with a "taf"). This teaches us that if we want to fulfil the Mitzvah of, let's say, tithing (Aser), first "T'aser", meaning, learn the Torah about Ma'aser (tithing). This practice will bring us to the actual Mitzvah, and it will help the Mitzvah to be done with very little or no resistance from the Yetzer Harah.

Many Mitzvos we do have introductory paragraphs that we are supposed to say before doing the Mitzvah. In them, they usually quote verses or oral traditions about the Mitzvah we are about to do (see for example the paragraphs prior to wrapping ourselves in a Talis, donning Tefillin, Benching, and lighting Channukah candles). Besides helping us concentrate on the Mitzvah and getting us into the mood of the Mitzvah, these preliminary paragraphs assist us in actually doing the Mitzvah without resistance from the Yetzer Harah.

For this week's practical application, we could choose to start saying one or more of those paragraphs. Or, we could focus on one Mitzvah (positive or negative) that we find particularly difficult to fulfil. Let's write down a verse or a passage from the Oral Law that talks about that Mitzvah. When the opportunity arises, take out that piece of paper, say the holy words, and then go on to do the Mitzvah that God commanded us to do. What a great way to tackle the inner monster who tries to prevent us from doing what's right!

May we all be blessed to do the Mitzvos coupled with Torah, defeat our Yetzer Harah, and be spared from the tortures of purgatory.

bottom of page