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All Torah TeachingsEssay on Parshat Mishpatim/ Trumah Holiness

Essay on Parshat Mishpatim/ Trumah Holiness

In last week’s portion, Parashat Mishpatim, there are many different laws that are brought down dealing with a variety of monetary, social, criminal, agricultural and other topics. I want to begin by focusing on a verse that is the only dietary law mentioned in the portion. Be unto me a people of holiness. You must not eat the meat of a wounded animal that is found in the field; throw it to the dogs.” (Exodus 22:30)

When looking at the Targum Onkelos, Yonatan Ben Uziel, and Yerushalmi one will discover that they all translate this verse – “be unto me a holy people”. Most English translations follow the Targumim and translate it the same way. Nevertheless, the literal translation is the way I translated it above – “Be unto me a people of holiness.” You are probably asking yourself- “what is the difference between “be unto me a holy people” to “be unto me a people of holiness”?

In order to demonstrate the fact that there is a difference, let us look at another verse dealing with a different but somewhat similar dietary law mentioned in Deuteronomy “You shall not eat any animal which either dies naturally or is slaughtered improperly. You may give it to the sojourner who is in your town, so that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a gentile, for you are a holy people to the LORD your God. You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk. (Deuteronomy 14:21)

Here the literal translation is “for you are a holy people“. In order to understand what I am getting to, we must compare the verses in the original Hebrew. In (Exodus 22) it says “Anshey Kodesh Tihiyun Li” whereas in Deuteronomy is says “Ki Am Kadosh Ata”. Looking at the transliteration, we can easily see the difference between the words Kodesh to Kadosh. In Hebrew the word – “Kodesh”, is a noun meaning holiness whereas the word Kadosh is an adjective describing someone or something that is holy. Before we explain the implications of the word usage variation in each of the above verses, let us first understand what each of these laws are all about.

In Parashat Mishpatim, Exodus 22:30, the Torah prohibits eating an animal of a kosher type called a “Terefah”. A Terefah is an animal that because of a serious blemish or injury will not be able to live more than a year. The oral law outlines 70 different types of blemishes that render animals “Terefot“. After slaughtering an animal according to Torah law and then discovering that it had a serious blemish or injury, it is unfit for kosher eating. However, one can benefit from it in other ways. This we learn from the Torah saying that it shall be given to the dogs. This does not mean that one has to give it to the dogs; it is an option. One can sell it or give it to a non-Jew as well.  Except for eating, any other type of benefit is allowed.

In the verse in Deuteronomy 14:21 the Torah talks about what is called in Hebrew – a Nevaylah. A Nevaylah is an animal of a kosher type that died naturally, was killed by another animal, or was slaughtered improperly. Unlike a Terefah, if one touches the carcass of a Nevaylah or carries it, he is rendered unclean. In order to purify himself he must immerse in a kosher mikvah (ritual bath). Here also the Torah allows one to benefit from the animal by giving it to a sojourner or selling it to a gentile. It is interesting that in this instance the Torah does not suggest giving it to dogs.

One possible reason is that a Terefah has a blemish or serious injury and therefore is not fit for human consumption a Nevaylah on the other hand, was a healthy animal that wasn’t slaughtered properly. Although, this is not true in every circumstance, since a Terefah will become a Nevaylah if it died before being slaughtered. Nevertheless, the Torah in Deuteronomy 14:21 is speaking about the majority of instances. It is important to note, that in order to maintain the status of a Terefah it must be slaughtered according to Halacha. It is this act that brands the animal as a Terefah preventing it from becoming a Nevaylah, which we mentioned before is more severe than a Terefah in that it is a type of uncleanliness.

Now that we understand the difference between the two above laws, we can get back to our original discussion. Why does the Torah in Parashat Mishpatim choose the noun expression “people of holiness” and in Deuteronomy use the adjective “a holy people”?

This question is brought down In the Zohar Hakadosh – Parashat Mishpatim. The Zohar explains that the love that Hashem has for the people of Israel is described in four stages of spiritual development reflected to in the written law. Each level gives rise to another higher level unraveling the uniqueness of Israel.  The love Hashem has for Israel unfolds like a flower bud that blossoms to maturity. Until a flower completely blooms, one cannot enjoy the beauty of it in its entirety. In essence, Hashem is revealing to the people of Israel who they really are and what their purpose is.  The first verse quoted by the Zohar is found in Exodus 19:6 – “you shall be unto me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”. This verse refers to the first two functions of Israel in ascending order. First G-D tells us that we are a nation of priests, then He says that we are also a holy nation. A kingdom of priests is a nation that will serve the creator and function as a light unto the nations calling them to unite in Divine worship. As Isaiah says – “You will be called the priests of Hashem. You will be called the servants of our God” (Isaiah 61:6)

The next level being a holy nation means that just as holiness is eternal so are the people of Israel. This is supported in a verse from Isaiah as well “And he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy…,” (Isaiah 4:3) For example when one sanctifies his time by doing good deeds he is making it eternal.  On the other hand, time that is wasted on mundane matters of materialism is wasted and lost forever. When people leave this world, they will be remembered only on how they eternalized their time and not how they wasted it.

It is important to point out that the word in Hebrew for nation used in the above verse Exodus 19:6 is “Goy” –  “Mamlechet Kohanim vi’goy Kadosh” “Goy” has the same root as the Hebrew word “gviya” meaning body. It refers to the general body of a nation, the aura that radiates from the nation without looking inside at the people that make up the nation.

The more common word in Hebrew that is used to describe nation is “Am”. “Am” comes from the Hebrew word “Im” meaning to be with to join together. When people join together they create a nation. The word “Am” is used in the verse in Deuteronomy 14:21 mentioned above that talks about a Nevaylah – “Ki am Kadosh Atah L’Hashem Elokecha” for you are a holy people to the LORD your God. According to the Zohar this verse reveals the third level of holiness of Israel.

Before we explain this, it is important to point out the fact that the word holy regarding the people of Israel is always connected to eating or sexual prohibitions.

 “For thou art a holy people unto the Hashem your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be His own treasure out of all peoples that are upon the face of the earth.” You shall not eat any abominable thing” “These are the animals you may eat: the ox, the sheep, the goat” (Deuteronomy 14:2-4)

Regarding priests the Torah teaches us – “They shall not marry a prostitute or a woman who has been defiled, neither shall they marry a woman divorced from her husband, for the priest is holy to his God.You shall sanctify him therefore; for he offers the bread of your God: he shall be holy to you: for I the LORD, which sanctify you, am holy.” (Leviticus 21:7-8)

For the LORD your God walks throughout your camp to protect you and deliver your enemies to you; so your encampments must be holy. He must not see anything improper among you or He will turn away from you.” (Deuteronomy 23:15)

For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. (Leviticus 11:44)

Since all the laws in the Torah makes us holy why then were only the laws of kosher eating habits and sexual behavior brought down in reference to holiness? The answer is that the two most powerful desires of humans are related to sexual intercourse and food. The Torah is hinting to us that when it comes to food and sexual intercourse one has to sanctify himself more than any other realm. The Torah therefore outlines a strict dietary system together with sexual boundaries.

Now we can get back to the third level of holiness. As we mentioned above this verse uses the description “Am” for nation. Am, as we mentioned before, refers to the people that make up the nation. The Torah teaches us that every individual of Israel has the ability of reaching holiness. It is not just a general holiness that is reflected to in the second level, but permeates into each and every member of Israel.

The fourth level that the Zohar teaches us is hinted in the verse in Exodus 22:30 “Vi’Anshey Kodesh Tihiyun lee” “Be unto me a people of holiness. Here instead of the word “Goy” or “Am” for nation the Torah uses and unusual expression “Anshey“. This word literally means people. It comes from the word “Anashim” in Hebrew referring to individuals. This is obviously a unique expression to use here since the laws of a “Terefah” apply to every member of the house of Israel without exception. Why then does the Torah use this as an expression for nation? In addition, what makes this level higher than the third level both are talking about an eating prohibition?

The answer for both of these questions lies in the word for holiness used here. As we brought down earlier in our essay, the word used here for holiness is “Kodesh” which is a noun. This is higher than “Kadosh” holy which is an adjective. Here the Torah is revealing the fourth level where Israel has the potential to reach the epitome of holiness.  This level is attained when their being unites totally with the concept of holiness and they become one essence forming the ultimate expression of sanctification. It is similar to the verse in Psalms 109:4 King David says “Vani Tifilah – “I am prayer”. In other words, King David reach such a high level that his entire being became prayer.


The same way the Zohar is teaching us that as Israel reveals it true essence they will completely unite themselves in pure sacredness. The word “Anshay” that is used for nation contains within it man and women. In Hebew “Ish” is man and “Ishah” is woman. Women is “Nashim” – the plural form. This hints to the fact that holiness is connected to the relationship between man and woman. It is through the intimacy between man and woman that has the ability to create the nation. The proper relationship built on Torah principles will bring holiness and the improper one will bring uncleanliness. The Torah is telling us that man and woman together can reach the epitome of holiness. As they unite with one another building a family that follows Torah they will become one pure essence of holiness.


In addition, the word “Lee” is used at the end of the first phrase of the verse in the original Hebrew “Vi’Anshey Kodesh Tihiyun lee Be unto me a people of holiness – “be unto me” This word “Lee” is the possessive representing an intimate relationship between two sides. It is the chemistry that unites two entities. When a man marries a woman according to Jewish law, he must say “Harey at mikudeshet lee”. You are holy to me.


In Isaiah 43:21 “Am Zu Yazartee Lee Tihilatee Yisapeyru” “this nation I formed for me to declare my praise” G-D is using the possessive stating that Israel is His nation that He created to declare His praise. This versed describes the intimate relationship that Hashem maintains with His people.


In Hosea 2:21 “And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD”. Here G-D is relating to Israel through a husband and wife relationship. The highest possible relationship between two parts.


In summary, this is why the expression “Anshay Kodesh Tihiyun Lee” is used for nation to describe this fourth level.


It is interesting that the first time the word “Lee” is mentioned in the Torah is in Genesis 3:12 where Adam is telling G-D that his wife gave him the fruit of the tree and he ate it. “she gave me of the tree and I ate it” The joining of man and woman can create the highest level of holiness or ,G-D forbid, sin as it was in this instance.

One question that must still be answered is why does the Torah hint to this highest level of holiness in the verse in Exodus regarding a Terefah and not in the verse of a Nevaylah? The answer is that a sign of true holiness is not disconnecting ourselves from the physical world like monks in a monastery. The opposite is true the higher a person rises in holiness the more he is concerned with others. Here, at the epitome of holiness, one must be concerned even for the welfare of poor animals like helpless dogs. Together with the holiness comes modesty. A person of true holiness treats every one of G-D’s creations with the utmost respect even the most inferior of beings like animals. This is why the Torah hints to the highest level of holiness in the verse of feeding the Terefah to the dogs.  Most people in such a holy state may assume it beneath their dignity to worry about such a low animal. Here the Torah teaches us the precisely a man of true holiness never forgets to show love and kindness to every one of Hashem’s creations even the lowest of them!

It is interesting that in the verse regarding the Nevaylah, describing the third level of holiness, the Torah suggests giving the animal to a sojourner or a non-Jew. There we see that the option of giving it to a dog is not mentioned. It is easier for a person to develop sensitivity towards another fellow human being.  Although, it is a high level of sensitivity, it is not on the same level as helping helpless creatures like a dogs.

Another possible explanation is that a Terefah as we mentioned does not render a person unclean for touching or carrying it. A Terefah  is unique in that if it is slaughtered properly, according to Jewish law, although it can’t be eaten, it  rectifies the animal and does not let it become unclean. This hints to the fact that when someone reaches this level of making his being one with holiness he has the power of eliminating uncleanliness caused by sin and evil. The Nevaylah, on the other hand, representing the third level does not have the power yet to rectify something that is unclean.

Taking these four levels of holiness into our lives leads us to this week’s portion “Parashat Trumah“.  In Exodus 25:8 it says: “and make me a temple and I will dwell within you”. The word for temple in Hebrew is Mikdash, which comes from the word holy – Kodesh! Being holy is the key in meriting in building the temple. The verse says – I will dwell within you! These means that if you utilize your potential in becoming holy by bringing Me into your life, then the blessing of restoring the temple will take place.

Let us work hard and together we will make the flower blossom!


Shabbat Shalom Rabbi Moshe Goldsmith






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