Photo Credit: Asher Schwartz

Everyone is familiar with the famous Gemara (Shabbat 31a), where a non-Jew asked to convert on the condition that Shamai would teach him the entire Torah while “standing on one foot” – to condense the entire Torah into one fundamental principle. Shamai (a builder by trade) pushed him away with the amah – measure in his hand. The Maharsha says that Shamai was hinting that a good builder does not construct a building on one single foundation, but on many. The convert went to Hillel with the same request. Hillel rose to the challenge – “What you hate, do not do to your fellow man,” – the single fundamental principle of the Torah is וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ, which Rebi Akiva (Yerushalmi, Nedarim 9, 4) called a כלל גדול בתורה.

An interesting feature of this mitzvah is that it is “sandwiched” in the pasuk (Vayikra 19,18) after the prefix לֹא תִקֹּם וְלֹא תִטֹּר and before the suffix אֲנִי ה’.


The Mabit, Rebi Moshe de Mitrani, says that of the two categories of mitzvot, בין אדם למקום and בין אדם לחברו, the yetzer hara does not overly interfere with our בין אדם למקום. If Hashem tells us to wear tzitzit on four-cornered garments, the yetzer hara does not interfere. If Hashem tells us to put tefillin on the arm and on the forehead, the yetzer hara doesn’t stir. The yetzer hara knows that in this category of mitzvot he has little power over us. However, in the category of בין אדם לחברו he lets rip! The reason for this is that we humans instinctively feel that in the realm of בין אדם לחברו – we can get along just fine on our own, using our own instincts, without involving HKB”H.

Chazal tell us that when Moshe came down from Har Sinai and wanted to break the Luchot HaBrit, the elders said to him – “Why break the second set, בין אדם לחברו? The sin of the golden calf was a sin of בין אדם למקום, only break that tablet!” Moshe replied, “They are one integral unit, messing with one means messing with the other.”

This is why in the Luchot, the five commandments relating to בין אדם למקום are in “small print” (lots of text to fit on the tablet) and the five relating to בין אדם לחברו are emblazoned in LARGE, bold font – Do not kill! Do not commit adultery etc. (less text, larger letters) to drive home the message.

You see your neighbor returning from the market carrying ten trays of eggs and that afternoon you just happen to run short of one egg for your baking. So you knock on your neighbor’s door and ask to borrow an egg and incredibly she replies “Sorry, I don’t have any!” You are thinking in your head “Right…. you just finished 60 eggs in the space of two hours!” and trying to conceal your consternation, you fake a smile and take your leave. The next day that same neighbor knocks on your door and asks if she can borrow a cup of sugar. You have tons of sugar in the cupboard, but human nature tells you to lie and say you just ran out, just to teach her a lesson. On second thoughts – OK, give her the sugar, but add a small dig “Enjoy the sugar ….. with the eggs!” Or not say anything at all, but when you close the door, you just slam it a little bit harder than normal!

The Torah says “Sorry, you cannot do any of the above! It is לֹא תִקֹּם וְלֹא תִטֹּר. You have to give the sugar willingly, with no trace of resentment, no snide comments, no door slamming, under the assumption that there was a justified reason that your neighbor could not spare you one egg – and hold no grudge. This is counter to human nature. It needs a commandment to make it happen.

The Torah is teaching us that the prefix לֹא תִקֹּם וְלֹא תִטֹּר is the same as the suffix אֲנִי ה’. The source of tefillin on the arm and forehead and tzitzit on four-cornered garments is the same source as not holding a grudge – the mitzvot בין אדם למקום and בין אדם לחברו are from the same source and are one integral unit. You break one, you break the other.

Hillel in his wisdom understood that the key to observing both “tablets” begins with בין אדם לחברו where the yetzer hara has a stronger foothold. If someone can overcome and surpass their natural inclinations in their interactions with their fellow man, they will have less trouble observing the mitzvot בין אדם למקום.

The key to controlling your yetzer hara in mitzvot בין אדם לחברו is וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ. The word רֵעֲךָ could mean “fellow man,” but it could also mean “someone who did you wrong,” from the word רַע. Even if someone did you wrong, do not do to them what you hate being done to you. It is counter intuitive and against human nature. It requires superhuman effort, but it is what Hashem requires of us, because it is the cornerstone of a stable, just society.

It is the same model of social harmony as in Noah’s Ark. The animals all came two by two, the lions, the sheep, the eagles and the mice. Nobody ate anyone else, nobody attacked anyone else. Each gave the other right of way, despite their natural inclinations to the contrary. This is what וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ is. The gematria of וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ is שְׁנַייִם שְׁנַייִם, two by two. In the pasuk (Breishit 7, 9) regarding the animals in the Ark the word שְׁנַיִם is written with only one yud. The phenomenon in the Noah’s Ark was the result of a miracle. We don’t need a miracle we have the ability to achieve the same effect by adding the yud, the “ten” (commandments).

Only when we accept that the two Luchot, one בין אדם למקום and the other בין אדם לחברו, are both from the same source אֲנִי ה’, do not rely on our natural instincts in our dealings with our fellow man, but follow the commandments of the Torah, will we be on the path to a stable, just society.

Parshat HaShavua Trivia Question: Which one of the priestly garments of the Kohen had sha’atnez in?

Answer to Last Week’s Trivia Question: What is the origin of the word עֲזָאזֵֽל? When HKB”H wanted to create Adam HaRishon, two angels עוזא (also named שמחזאי) and עזאל advised against it saying that man would eventually sin. After the generation of Noah sinned the same angels said “See, we told You so!” Hashem replied, “You think you are better?” and sent them down to earth to live like humans and they too eventually sinned. To atone for their sin we send one of the goats on Yom Kippur to עזאזל (Yoma 66b).


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Eliezer Meir Saidel ([email protected]) is Managing Director of research institute Machon Lechem Hapanim and owner of the Jewish Baking Center which researches and bakes traditional Jewish historical and contemporary bread. His sefer “Meir Panim” is the first book dedicated entirely to the subject of the Lechem Hapanim.