It is common to divide the mitzvot into two categories: commandments concerning the relationship between man and G-d, and commandments concerning the relationship between man and man. However, it is obvious to every believing Jew that the distinction between these two categories is not absolute. The same One who commanded us to observe the Shabbat commanded “love your neighbour like yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). A person is obligated to be careful about the honour or the property of his friend because G-d commanded us to behave in that way, not merely because it is an ethical and noble or nice way to do things.
It follows that just as a person is happy to be saved from eating some prohibited food by virtue of some decision of a rabbi, although it will cost him money, he should also be happy if the rabbinical court decides that he has to pay someone, because in this way he is also fulfilling the Will of G-d in the creation.
In this week’s parsha it is written, “A person shall not defraud his friend, and fear G-d, because I am the L-rd your G-d” (Leviticus 25:17). In other words, it might be difficult to relate to harming another person with the same sense of holy awe and trepidation before G-d which are aroused when we are relating to G-d. Nevertheless, we are commanded to do just that. And furthermore, transgressions between man and man take precedence over all the transgressions between man and G-d.
Chazal have explained that this verse prohibits fraudulent speech. It includes a warning not to belittle another person with words, and not to advise him to do something which is not really for his benefit, but for the benefit of the advisor. He should not use his power of speech to cause pain or embarrassment to anyone. He should not even examine merchandise which is for sale if he does not have the money or the intention to buy it [ haven’t we all ‘pseudo shopped’ at one time or another?]. Even a word which hints at something that will cause sorrow to another person is a transgression of this prohibition.
However, the society in which we live is characterised by the opposite of all that is prohibited by this mitzvah. It is commonplace to belittle another person and laugh at him because of some seeming deficiency which is in him. If the humiliation of the other person is slight, then it is an easier and slighter thing for us to do. We say that we are just fooling around, although we are really not joking with him, but making a joke about him.
The root of this impudence is the deficiency in our attitude towards the mitzvot between man and man. Just as much as we do not esteem this category of mitzvot, so we do not esteem other people in the right amount. This superficiality leads directly to a lenient attitude which permits impudent behaviour.
In contrast, it seems that we understand the commandments between man and G-d better. There we know that the law pertains equally to a small amount as for a large amount, and that it is meaningless to observe those mitzvot only partially. There we know that an animal is not kosher if there is a hole in its lung, whether the hole is small or big. There is no difference if a person harvests his entire field on the Shabbat, or if he only pulls a few plants out of the ground; if he eats an entire pig, or just a gelatine candy.
However, if we realise that proper behaviour towards other human beings is obligatory because it is commanded by G-d, then it becomes more obvious that even the smallest “sting” that causes pain to another person is a major transgression of the prohibition not to harm another person with our words. And blessed is one who fulfils this thing.
A person should think in his mind that the saying of these words acheives tremendous and awesome rectifications (tikunim) in the spiritual realm. He should also think that by this recitation he is causing serenity in those realms and giving satisfaction, so to speak, to the Creator, may His Name be blessed and exalted.
He should then pray: “May it be Your Will… that the Holy Temple should be built… and there we will serve You… and it will be pleasing….”
A person should pray for the building of the Temple with a broken heart and from the depths of his soul. He should direct his prayer to the Creator, may His Name be blessed and exalted, asking that the building of the Holy Temple should take place speedily in our lifetimes in order that wewill be able to bring sacrifices there, and this will give satisfaction to G-d, may His Name be blessed and exalted and remembered forever. This is the main concentration of this prayer which is a further rectification accomplished by the counting. Because it further rectifies the spiritual realms, it is obligatory upon a person to recite this prayer immediately after the sephirah. All this is according to the writings of the Arizal, and therefore, a person should be very careful about what is in his mind when he is reciting it.
Afterwards he should say with tremendous concentration Psalm 67, “To the chief musician on neginot, a psalm and song…. G-d, be gracious unto us….” It is also one of the rectifications of the sephirah. Even if it is said with thought to the meaning of the words alone, as they are explained by Rashi, it will arouse within the person a fiery and powerful love for his G-d, may His Name be blessed and exalted and remembered forever. Also, he will be aroused to think about how fortunate he is for the pleasing portion allotted to adorn him. Similarly, he will be aroused to a great desire for the glorification of the Name of G-d in the world because all this is harmoniously included in the words of this Psalm. He should prepare his mind to think about these things, and say each word slowly with great deliberation for the meaning of the words according to the commentary of Rashi. Then, automatically, he will achieve all the proper concentrations. (Yesod Veshoresh Ha’avodah, Shemini)
“If your brother becomes impoverished…” (Leviticus 25:25).
There was a lonely and downtrodden Jew who had a reputation for being a thief. People kept him at a distance and shamed him. It happened that he came to the town of Radin where he met Rabbi Naftali Tropp zt”l, who greeted him kindly. The Rabbi invited the poor man to his home to eat at his table, and he prepared a bed for him to sleep during the night. The Rabbi did not spare any trouble to please the guest during his stay in the Rabbi’s home.
The Rabbi’s associates wondered what was going on between the Rosh Yeshivah and this Jew of questionable character. Rabbi Naftali suspected their amazement, and he said the following.
“Until now I knew that a thief has to repay double if he is caught. If he steals sheep or cattle and slaughters them, then he has to pay four or five times the amount. If he does not have the money to pay, then he is sold into slavery for a maximum period of six years. But I never knew that it is written any place that as far as he is concerned we are exempt from the mitzvah of “hachnasat orchim” (taking guests into our home). Isn’t he a Jew? Isn’t he a human being like us? Didn’t our father Avraham fulfil this mitzvah with everyone, even Arabs?
“It is true, however, that when we take such a person into our homes we are endangering ourselves with the threat of impoverishment. He might steal things from the house. Therefore, we need to take care, watch him and guard ourselves all the time that he is in the house. But this is not a cause to be exempt from the mitzvah.”
The house of the Rosh Yeshivah became a place where guests who wandered into Radin could spend the night. There they all felt like honoured guests.
Once one of the members of the Rabbi’s household told him that one of the guests could not find a bed to sleep in during the night and he gave the man some money to go sleep in a hotel. When Rabbi Naftali heard this he became angry and said, “Why didn’t you go to sleep in the hotel. You feel at home here, but you must know that from this day onward the house of these poor people is also here. No member of our family has any more right here than any one of them.”