The Meaning of the Mitzvot according to Rabbi S.R. Hirsch

The Meaning of the Mitzvot according to Rabbi S.R. Hirsch

Rav Baruch Horovitz

Adapted from a lecture at the Rabbi S.R. Hirsch Centre of the Jerusalem Academy, Pesach 5749. (With thanks to Rav A. Carmell, Prof. M. Breuer and Prof. L. Levi for their comments, some of which have been included.)


The major characteristic of the teachings of Rav Hirsch in his time, and also for our time, is his demonstration of the uniqueness and unity of the Torah.

This approach of “Gaining a deep understanding of every aspect of the Torah, and also of life, by studying the Torah’s outlook from its own sources (sich-selbst-begreifendes Judenthum)”, characterised every aspect of his educational and communal activities. This is related to the absolute truth of the Torah as God’s word; other human, relative knowledge is true only in relationship to Torah1.


Explanation of the Tenach

In contrast to other modernist commentators, who compared aspects of the Tenach to situations in the environment, Rav Hirsch explained both the simple and deeper meaning of every word and phrase by comparing it to other phrases throughout the Tenach. He demonstrated a psychological ‘close reading’ of the narratives. Taking as the basic axiom the Divinity and authenticity of the Written and Oral Traditions he showed how these were not two separate aspects, but were intertwined one with the other, and that the nuances of the verses were explained through the Oral Tradition2.

Analysis of the Hebrew Language

He went to the root of every word comparing it to similar roots that were phonetically connected in Tenach, Talmud and Midrash, formulating a “Speculative Etymology”, demonstrating a deep understanding of language in general and of the Hebrew roots. Every Hebrew word-root has three letters which go back to two basic letters, the third one being a variant. He built up a unified outlook upon life according to his system of the psychological and philosophical roots which are expressed in the Hebrew, without reference to comparative philology3.

Understanding the Mitzvot

Nearly all Jewish thinkers declare that the Mitzvot have reasons. These were often found in environmental factors. For example, Maimonides explained many Mitzvot as opposing idolatorous practices of the time. Rav Hirsch, however, made a detailed study of the Mitzvah trying to understand it from its stucture and from its sources in Tenach, Talmud and Midrash, elucidating the symbolic significance, based on its root4.

Torah with Derech Eretz

The Torah is a total system of how to answer all the problems of life for Jew and Gentile, for the individual and the nation, producing a dynamic unified harmonious approach. This is the deeper meaning of his principle of Torah im Derech Eretz which is often (mis)understood to be a synthesis and fusion of Judaism with the humanism of his day. However, he understood the Torah to be the guide for all aspects of life. By applying the yardstick of the Torah to different situations one sees the Torah in action, with the Derech Eretz being the transitory element in every age, group and environment6. One should dedicate oneself to Torah not only in the Bet Hamidrash, but also in business life, in the use of technology and in politics. This is not a combination between Torah and secularism7, for Torah im Derech Eretz means sanctifying all that is secular8.

In Rav Hirsch’s time and environment therefore Derech Eretz also meant teaching Schiller9. Today, however, if we are going to be true to Rav Hirsch’s principle we must reject the morally bankrupt German culture and apply Derech Eretz to our scientific, post-Holocaust, ecology-conscious nuclear age, with its completely different problems. Dr. Yitzchak Breuer developed the concept of Torah and Derech Eretz Yisrael10. The renewed life here in Eretz Israel with its national environment gives an opportunity to act out Torah and Derech Eretz far more completely in accordance with Rav Hirsch’s initial teaching than was ever possible in the educational program of the Hirschian Schools where there was an imbalance with far less Torah than culture11. Now in Eretz Israel, more time can be spent on mastering Torah subjects in order to apply the Torah’s criteria to the study of nature, history and other subjects.

The Jewish Community

Why should a Torah community be dependent upon a larger community that is not guided by Torah values? This was the basis for “Austritt”12. If we are to translate Rav Hirsch’s communal approach from Frankfurt to the present situation in Eretz Israel, it means as far as possible being independent of a national communal structure and government which oppose Torah values. The Torah community would gain self-respect and respect from others.

All the above aspects of his teaching share the common factor of understanding and application of Torah ‘from itself with consistency, thoroughness and independence. This, and not preconceived terms of reference from prevailing cultures, is the true science of Judaism.


The Nature of the Symbol

We are surrounded in life by “natural” and “conventional” symbols. “Natural” refer to the sounds, facial expressions and bodily gestures that we and animals make to express feelings. There are also many “conventional” symbols, including language, artistic expression, clothing, the handshake, flags and other social gestures13.

Symbolism in the Torah


“Let there be light-giving bodies in the firmament of the heavens and they shall be for signs”14. The symbolical significance of the sun, moon, and the stars is mentioned before their function as time-guides and light-givers.

God established a covenant of “peace” after the flood with the sign of the rainbow15. This could mean that rainfall and clouds have a “silver lining,” that we should never give up hope when we experience destruction. Or it represents a “bow” which is not turned against the earth, as a sign of armistice and peace. Or the various colours of the spectrum symbolise different shades of human beings and character that all contribute to the pure light of Hashem16. There are many more such symbols instituted by Hashem mentioned in the Tenach. Most dreams related in the Tenach, both those that are direct prophecies and others, contain ideas and messages connected with symbols17. There are also prophecies which are not dreams combining a prophetic message with a symbol18.

The Mitzva as an Explicit Symbol

It is not surprising that Mitzvot are described in similar manner. There are some Mitzvot where the symbol and the meaning are explicit:

Some are called ot, a sign: – Circumcision – milah – is described as a “Sign of the Covenant’, the meaning of which is contained in the phrase “Walk in front of Me and become perfect.’’19

The tefillin “should be a sign on your arm and a remembrance between your eyes, so that the teaching of God should remain in your mouth.”20

The Shabbat is described as “an everlasting covenant. Between Me and the children of Israel it is a sign forever that in six days did God create heaven and earth, and with the seventh day he ceased and withdrew.”21

The Mitzvah as an Implicit Symbol

Those Mitzvot where a reason is stated, although the term ot is not used, are also symbolic. Rav Hirsch in his writings analysed the details of the above and the following categories of Mitzvot, basing himself upon the reasons declared or implied:

After Yaakov’s struggle during the night of his encounter with Esau, it is written: “therefore the children of Israel do not eat the sinew on the joint of the thigh.”22

The precept to eat matza and refrain from chametz is to remember that “in haste did you go out from the land of Egypt; that God delivered you with strength of hand.”23

“God slew all the first-born… therefore do I offer to God every first-born male.” 24

“Take the beautiful fruit, the branches of palm trees, myrtles and willows, and rejoice before God.” 25

“You shall dwell in huts for seven days, so that your generations will know that I caused the children of Israel do dwell in huts when I took them out of the land of Egypt.” 26

“This shall be to you for tzitzit so that you may see them and remember all the commandments of God and do them.” 27

There is a view that where the reason is mentioned there is a Mitzvah Min HaTorah to be conscious of this reason when fulfilling the Mitzvah. 28

The Apparently Super-Rational Laws (Hukkim) 29

Whilst the above two categories of Mitzvot and Edot (“testimonies”) have a rationale, there are other laws in the Torah where there is only a general motif of “holiness,” Kedushah, “purity” or Divine closeness. This includes the sexual and dietary code, the prohibition of intermingling species, the Priestly Code, the offerings, and the laws of purification. 30

The Sages say that hukkim are those Mitzvot opposed by the nations of the world and the Evil Inclination (yetzer hara) saying they do not have a reason. 31 According to Gentile culture and materialism they do not seem rational. Ramban32 and others, explain that they all have reasons though it may be difficult for us to understand them, hence they are not mentioned explicitly. Rav Hirsch analyses them deeply showing that these also have a moral symbolic significance.

Addressing himself to a generation that considered these laws obsolete and meaningless, he elaborated upon their detailed meaning is relationship to religious, moral and social principles, and a constructive approach to the animal and plant world, demonstrating that they are relevant today. 33

The Rational Law

The rational law includes the humanitarian social code of the Torah — justice and charity; love of man, kindness to animals; personal morality and self-discipline; improvement of character and the religious “direct” mitzvot of faith, awe, love and worship of God.

These are the principles of life which form the spiritual foundation for the symbolic pattern of the other Mitzvot.

The Talmud relates: a non-Jew came to Hillel and said “Teach me the whole Torah while I am standing on one leg.” Hillel replied, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. This is the whole Torah, the rest is commentary; go and learn.” 34

Is this the whole Torah? Rashi explains: “Robbery, theft, adultery and most Mitzvot.” How is the love of man involved in most Mitzvot? According to Rav Hirsch’s symbolic interpretation, every Mitzvah, including hukkim, improve our character. Drawing nearer to Hashem means to come closer to the moral idea of kedushah (holiness), which is ‘wholeness’ and saintliness. It means developing moral characteristics to their highest potential. So Hillel’s dictum means that all the mitzvot strengthen our attachment to Hashem, who is the moral ideal, and improve our character in relationship to our fellow man; some directly, but others indirectly through the power of the symbol. 235



The day represents independence and activity; the night, dependence and weakness. Rav Hirsch explains: the emphasis of the Torah is not that we should feel our weakness and our dependence upon Hashem; instead He wants each human being and the people of Israel to reach the highest level of activity. Most symbolic Mitzvot, that are meant to develop character, are only done in the daytime. 36

The months have a special significance in that all the festivals are based upon the lunar calendar. Just as the moon reflects the light of the sun to the earth and waxes and wanes, so also Israel should reflect the glory of Hashem to the world, as they have the ability of renewal, failure and rejuvenation. 37

The seasons of nature also teach us the meaning of spiritual seasons. For example, the festival of Pesach is in Spring, the time of the awakening of nature. So the spirit of Israel, every year, should be reawakened from winter slumber. 38 “The Jewish calendar is the catechism of the Jew. 39


The six days of the creation of the material world and the seventh day of Shabbat, the eighth day of Milah, the seven times seven days of counting the Omer, followed by Shavuot, reveal the symbol of six as the world of nature, seven as nature pervaded by the power of Hashem, and eight being supernature40. The eighth level of creation is that of Klal Israel and Torah which is a ‘metahistorical’ phenomenon. The fiftieth day comes after the seven and represents the supernatural level of the giving of the Torah. This is why seven days are the days of purification, culminating in the eighth day when a person brings the offering in the Sanctuary and reaches his highest, almost supernatural, level. As Shavuot is after seven times seven days, so Shemini Atzeret is the eighth day after Succot, representing the spiritual preservation of Israel through the joy of the Torah. The Shmittah and Jubilee years extend the symbolic pattern to the Land and State of Israel. The eight threads of the tzitzit and the High Priest’s eight garments represent transcendent sanctity as the ultimate mission of Israel. This is why there are eight days of Chanukah, celebrating consecration of the Menorah and the Temple, which represent dedication to the metahistorical powers of the Torah. 41


The origin and variety of species of animals and plants has puzzled many who have studied the environment. Rav Hirsch emphasises the principle of lemino (“after its kind”), which is emphasized at the beginning of the Humash; the plants and animals were given a blessing that they should multiply and develop “according to their species” 42. The law not to mix varying types of seeds, not to crossbreed animals, nor even to use them together, not to eat milk and meat cooked together, and not to wear a mixture of wool and linen, are based on the awareness of the unique function of differing species. This is to teach us that human beings have a unique specific task, just like the other species. He developed this concept in contrast to the theory which became popular in his time, that one species develops from another; that man descended from the mammals and the plants. The varied groups within mankind have specific functions, and especially the people of Israel have their unique function, outlined in the Torah43. Priests, Levites, men and women, each have a specific role44.

Man has within him levels in common with the plant and animal world. The “vegetable,” “animal,” “human” and “divine” levels are contained within the personality. The divine level should rule the human, the human should rule the animal, and the animal — the vegetable; and not vice-versa. The plant element (feeding and reproduction) should be subjected to the animal element (perception, motion and emotion) which should be subjected to the human element (mind, and creativity) which should be subjected to the divine soul — (conscience, transcendence, and awareness of God45).

Wool, an animal product, and flax, a plant product, when together, represent a creature whose perception and emotion are devoted entirely to food and sex. In man the food and sex instinct should be separated and subjected to perception and emotion, which in turn should be placed at the service of God46.

So also with milk and meat. Meat as muscles and organs of motion represents the specific animal side, and milk which is the specific food for carrying on the species. characterises the vegetative side within the animal. Their separation symbolises that vegetative be subject to animal and both submit to the human spirit. Just as in his upright position, in contrast to the horizontal position of the animals, the animal part of man is above the vegetative aild the human part above both, that is, the head which rises heavenwards; so in man, his animal forces are not to sink to vegetative allurements47.


These are mentioned in connection with the priestly garments, the coverings and curtains of the Sanctuary, and the Tzitzit.

Techelet (blue-violet), whose Hebrew root is k-l-h, “to come to end,’ is the colour at the end of the spectrum. It represent the tachlit (same root) — that “end” to which all is striving. This symbolises the divine element in man. Shani (scarlet) is the animal aspect. Argaman (purple i.e. red and blue together) represents the human aspect. Then the shesh, white linen, represents the purified vegetative element48.

These are just a few symbolic patterns amongst many.



Commandments of God or Reason?

If a person fulfils a Mizvah because of some reason or because it represents a moral concept is he really doing it for the purpose of fulfilling the will of God?

Rav Hirsch writes: “If one asks why should you do this and not do that there is but one answer: because it is the will of God and it is your duty to serve him. But the Torah calls upon you by deep reflection to trace the wisdom of God in his word, to understand why God commanded us to fulfil them. With Edoth this deeper penetration into their significance and interpretation of all their parts adds to their proper fulfilment50.

We Jews are the pilots of a space-craft called “the earth.” We have been given a book of instructions — the Torah — which shows us how to keep the Earth running smoothly, and to keep all the passengers, including ourselves, safe and sound. The pilot may also investigate the reasons for the instructions, prepared by the Divine Engineer. However, if he is to act upon his understanding, thinking he may disregard the detailed instructions, then he is likely to bring the spacecraft to disaster.

The Mussar of the Mitzvot

Faced with the challenge of modernism and emancipation, it was found necessary in the Nineteenth-Century traditional communities to emphasize that Torah observance does not mean just studying Tenach, Gemarah, Shulchan Aruch and keeping the Mitzvot. Hassidut emphasized the inner depths of the Torah: to study and experience some of the deeper qualities of the service of God, communion with God, and closeness to the Rebbe51. In the non-hassidic circles in Eastern Europe, the Mussar (ethical) movement arose. Rav Yisrael Salanter and his disciples introduced into the Yeshivah program and also for the Ba’ale Habatim — the working populace — the daily learning of Mussar books. These stress the improvement of character and behaviour, increasing an awareness of God and of responsibility towards fellow men. In Mussar the text studied is the personality of the student for self-improvement in light of the ethical aphorisms52.

Rav Hirsch taught that Mussar is contained in each Mitzvah. In most Yeshivot one learns Gemarah, sometimes omitting the Aggadic passages, and one learns Shulchan Aruch and Mussar, as three different subjects. Rav Hirsch pointed out the unity of all these — that they are one and the same53.

Rabbi Yisrael Salanter said, “Learn Mesilat Yesharim ‘Path of the Upright,’54 and ‘the Duties of the Heart55 to improve character”. Rav Hirsch illustrated that all the Mitzvot are uprightness and that the “Duties of the Heart” are contained within the duties of the “Limbs”.

It is written: “Love your neighbour like yourself, I am God. Keep my statutes, do not crossbreed your animals, do not mix seeds in your fields, do not wear shaatnez — a mixture of wool and flax.”56

In order to develop true love of one’s fellow-man one must have an awareness of one’s specific mission in life, as shown by the principle of separation of species outlined above. You can only love your fellow man if you learn to discipline your own desires in favour of helping your fellow man. When man learns that the animal aspects of motion and perception should rule over his food and sex instincts (shaatnez — as explained above)57, only then he can love his fellow man.

“The love of man” is understood today in many circles to mean that you should treat everyone in the same way. There should be no difference between Jew and Gentile, men and women, adult and child, between one person and the other. This has developed the concept of “unisex”; and in some families the children are given the same vote as the parents. (So in large families parents will be out-voted.) In such an egalitarian society a uniformity is introduced, although some are often more ‘equal’ than others. But the Torah says “Love your fellow man,” “Keep my hukkim and do not mix.” Each seed, each animal and even each type of grain has its specific purpose. “Love” does not mean that everyone is to be treated equally. A husband cannot treat his wife as he would treat himself or vice-versa. He should know that a woman is different in character and role to a man, as parents are to children. Each group has a different role to fulfil: Priests, Levites, Israelites and Gentiles. This is not an egalitarian, but a functional approach, to love a person according to his role, and not to make a blanket rule that everyone is the same58.

Ethics is the essence of the laws of mixing, as it is with the laws of the Sanctuary, of Impurity, and of Diet. Mussar is the warp and woof of all the Mitzvot.


How can the mitzvot have this symbolic significance when many do not require intention.

The Talmudic debate on this59 refers to having the intention to fulfil the Mitzvot and has a limited application. Awareness of meaning is essential for prayers. “Prayer without heart and head, is like a body that is dead”60. But, for example, does one need to know when wearing Tzitzit that the eight threads represent the eighth dimension, the eighth creation, and the people of Israel? That the knots represent the need to tie and discipline ourselves? That one-third of the Tzitzit is knotted and two- thirds are left free to teach that one measure of self-discipline will lead to a double measure of creative freedom?61 If a person is not aware of this is his fulfilment incomplete? There are more complex symbols with the offerings and the Bigdei Kehuna (priestly garments). Do we have to assume that the Kohanim understood the symbols? There is no hint in the Gemarah that the Kohanim or the Kohen Gadol were aware of the symbolic significance of the animals, textiles, colors or numbers. Does the Jew need to have an awareness of the subtle symbolic distinctions between meat and milk, wool and flax?’ Rav Hirsch regarded his system as being scientific and as being proven by consistency with all the details of the Halachah62. How can we assume a complex symbolism as the basis of the Mitzvah when we fulfil the Mitzvah completely without any knowledge of that complexity?

The relationship between dream symbolism and mitzvot symbolism (as desribed in the Tenach, in the Talmud, and by Rav Hirsch) shows that the concept is not just conscious but also subconscious. It is a principle, exphasized by the author of Sefer Ha-hinuch63, that the purpose of many Mitzvot is to influence character by means of actions. Performing certain deeds in a specific manner, frequently, even though we do not think of their meaning as rooted in symbolism, will affect our subconscious mind. Rav Hirsch avoided discussions about the subconscious self in order to emphasize the importance of conscious moral awareness. But his symbolic system cannot be explained without assuming the subconscious impact. It is implied in his comments on incest, the prohibited animals, and the laws of impurity64.


Although Rav Hirsch does not refer explicitly to the Kabbalah as a basis for his system we do know from his notes that he studied the Zohar and other Kabbalistic sources65. He gives symbolic interpretations similar to those given by some of the Kabbalists. The basic approach of the mystics is that the actions which we do here below have a cosmic impact — they affect the higher worlds66. Rav Hirsch spoke to a generation that, for many reasons, was far removed from such concepts67. But it is not surprising that the symbolism to which he refers as being conscious moral education or self- education has its parallel in the Kabbalah, although he was non-Kabbalistic in the substance of his thinking68.

Moral Autonomy and Heteronomy

Should we strive for virtue because it is good or because God wants us to follow virtue?

This is referred to philosophically as moral autonomy v. moral theonomy. Moral autonomy means, according to Kant and others, that a person’s action cannot be considered virtuous unless it is done out of his own free will. But if he does it because a gun is put in his back or because he thinks God or his parents are telling him to do it, then it is not virtuous. This is moral heteronomy, or with Mitzvot — theonomy versus autonomy69.

This is discussed in the Talmud70. Rav Yoseph who was blind said: “Originally, if someone would have told me that the blind are not obliged to fulfill the Mitzvot, I would have made a celebration as I perform the Mitzvot voluntarily. But now that I have heard that Rav Chanina said, ‘One who is commanded to do something is greater than one who is not commanded to do something, I will make a celebration if someone tells me that the blind are obliged to fulfil the Mitzvot.”71 For the commandment implies that this is his Divinely appointed task, or because he has to overcome rebelliousness against Divine authority.72 On the other hand, there is greater spontaneous free-will spirit involved in that which is not commanded, and the ideal saint fulfills all the Mitzvot because he recognizes that they are innately good73.

The answer to this question is given in the Ethics of the Fathers, “You should make your will to be like the will of God.” You have to do it because God commanded you to do it, but you should try to bring yourself to the level where you so much identify with and understand the will of God, that you also do it out of your own free will. Make an equivalence between autonomy and theonomy.

A person may be in a situation that he does not feel like “davening” (praying), so he says, “Hashem says I have do daven now.” He forces himself to daven and the experience brings him into a mood in which he wants, and is happy, to daven75. A person does not want to give charity, but Hashem says he has to make a habit of it until he brings himself to the level where he will want to give.

It is written in Shemot Ch. 23: — “If you meet the animal of your enemy going astray you should return it to him. If you see the ass of one whom you hate lying under its burden, you should hasten to his aid76.” In Devarim Ch. 22 it says: “You should return your brother’s animal to him and help your brother’s animal which has fallen77.” Why does it say in the earlier passage of the Torah “your enemy” and in the last book of the Torah “your brother”? Why is there such a large separation between the two otherwise similar passages? The answer could be that when beginning Mitzvah observance, you may not want to help your enemy, so the Torah says you have to help him. Through frequent deeds of this nature, and continuing right through the Torah and all the Mitzvot, you will reach the level when your enemy will become like your brother and you will want to help him. The Torah says: “Take it on as a Mitzvah even if it is difficult for you, and in the end, it will train you in doing kindness until your enemies become your brothers78”.

This applies even to the Hukkim which we cannot understand easily but also have an ethical purpose. They also do not pose a contradiction between autonomy and theonomy79.

The Torah discipline becomes a self-discipline, and what was at first a Mitzvah ultimately becomes part of one’s character. It is also true that good characteristics (Middot) lead to Mitzvah fulfilment. It works in both directions: The more good Middot one has, the more Mitzvot he wants to do, he will want to increase the challenge: he will want to do Mitzvot that are difficult for him, and that will, in turn, raise his level of Middot80.

Sow a deed, reap a habit,

Sow a habit, reap a character,

Sow a character, reap a destiny.


Nineteenth Century Germany

Some have claimed that Rav Hirsch was influenced by Kant, Hegel and Nineteenth- Century German ideas81.

He possessed a thorough understanding of German idealistic philosophers. He read widely, but primarily studied deeply all Torah sources, developing his independent approach82.


The Most Comprehensive Symbolism

Rav Hirsch’s symbolism represents a more systematic attempt at explaining the details of the Mitzvot than can be found elsewhere. Philo’s symbolic interpretation was philosophical. The Sefer Hahinuch’s educational, Recanati in his Ta’amei HaMitzvot, mystical, and the Remah in his Torat HaOlah explained rationally and kabbalistically details of many of the Mitzvot; but nobody dealt with the subject comprehensively as did Rav Hirsch.

Further Development

It is written84 “One generation to another should praise your actions.” A Hirschian-like interpretation of the word “Yeshabah” is given by the Malbim: le-shabbe’ah ‘to praise’, is connected to the word ‘shevah’ — ‘improvement’.” Leshabbe’ah means to praise a person in the sense of improving on what is already known about him, or to praise Hashem on a higher level, according to the greater knowledge that has been gained.88 In this way we can today build up the teachings of Rav Hirsch and reach a more comprehensive and deeper approach to the understanding of the Mitzvot.


In our generation the inner tradition of Jewish thought found in the Kabbalah is widely accepted as part and parcel of the deeper aspects of Torah, and can be understood much more easily because of the spread of Hassidut, Mussar, and the intermingling of varying Torah approaches86. There are many aspects in Kabbalistic literature that are related to symbolism87.

In Depth Psychology

There are today many differing schools of in-depth psychology which connect the symbols of life with man’s inner feelings. This is shown in the analysis of dreams, myths, language, and symbols used by groups and nations88. By a deeper study of in-depth psychology, one can come to a better appreciation and application of Ray Hirsch’s ideas.89.


Today many assume that the human being is more than a psychosomatic unity. The mind of man is connected to matter but also extends further than his own person. The mind of one person is connected to the mind of another, as shown by hypnotism, telepathy and other parapsychological phenomena, such as near-death experiences. These have shown the existence of the power of the mind outside the body and the material world90.



There is a parallel between times, sounds, numbers, colours, bodies, objects, and the feelings that they engender within us and within other people. When Jews of many generations in many countries all wear tzitzit, put on tefillin, observe the Shabbat in a special manner, this creates archetypes: basic national, and sometimes also universal principles that enter into many areas of life91.

For example: the impact of the sound of the Shofar on the New Year is called zichron teru’ah — ‘retrospection from the broken sound’92 – it should arouse within us national memories. The sound of the Shofar has an impact upon Jews, joining their minds and hearts with the minds of Jews from previous generations. It happens that a young person experiences in a dream something which took place some generations ago in the family or in the nation although he could not have heard or read about it from anybody. This is an archetype experience. The sound of the Shofar arouses within Jews the memory of the experiences of Mt. Sinai where there was the sound of the Shofar93 arousing their hearts. The symbolic subconscious power of the Mitzvot arouses the mind and heart to span time and space, and reach closeness to God.


The Mitzvot create, consciously and subconsciously, for the individual and for the nation, a power of kedushah, holiness and wholeness. As we say in many blessings:

“Sanctify us through Your commandments”94 This is the ultimate purpose of Torah life.


  1. 1.The Nineteen letters, Letter 2 & 8; S.A. Hirsch ‘Jewish Philisophy of Religion of S.R. Hirsch; the parallels to Hegelian concepts outlined by N. Rosenbloom in Historia Judaica XXII. no.1, demonstrate no indebtedness, as shown by Dayan Dr. Grunfeld, Introd. to Horeb p.XLI, and applies equally to N.R.’s remarks in his ‘Tradition in an age of reform’ 174 ff. On Absolute Truth, Comm. on Bereshit Ch2, v.19; Ch9, v.27.
  2. 2.Introduction by Dayan Dr. Grunfeld to English Edition of Rabbi S.R.H.’s Commentary on the Torah.’
  3. 3.Rabbi S.R.H., Jüdische Welt- und Lebeasanschauung, Gesammelte Schriften V 143ff. T. Thas Thienemann. The Interpretation of Language.
  4. 4.R.S.R.H. in 18th Letter preferred Mendelssohn to Maimonides in the approach and not in general, as implied by chief Rabbi Lord Jakobovts, The Timely and the Timeless, 253.
  5. 5.Prof. M. Breuer, Torah Im Derech Eretz of R.S.R.H., 1970.
  6. 6.C.R. Jakobovits’ claim of contradiction to not admitting foreign influences in interpreting Judaism (ibid.255) is therefore invalid.
  7. 7.Comm. Of R.S.R.H., Devarim Ch.4, v.6
  8. 8.Nineteen Letters, 2nd letter; The Festival of Revelation in Coll. Writings I 183 ff.
  9. 9.Schiller Gedenkrede, Ges. Schriften VI, 308 ff.
  10. 10.Essay in Nachlat Zvi, Vol. III 338 f.; Weltwende 152.
  11. 11.M. Breuer, Jud. Orthodoxie im Deutschen Reich 106 ff.
  12. 12.Ges. Schriften IV ff; Historia Judaica, X, 2; Prof. M. Breuer’s vie, .in lecture this year at Jerusalem Academy, that according R.S.R.H. there should be separation of Religion and State in Israel. Chief Rabbi Jakobovits, R.S.R.H. sees contradiction to re-claiming estranged Jews; but his independent model-role brought respect and attracted them.
  13. 13.As above (3) & Collected Writings Vol III 3 ff; Dayan Dr. Grunfeld, Introduction to Horeb. CVII ff.; A.N. Whitehead, Symbolism, E. Cassirer, Symbo1ic Forms; Symbolism in Religion and Literatue.
  14. 14.Bereshit Ch. 1, v. 14. Shemoth Ch. 12. v.2. Commentary of R.S.R.H.
  15. 15.Bereshit, Ch. 9, v.12 ff. Commentary of Ramban.
  16. 16.Comm. of R.S.R.H. ibid.
  17. 17.Bereshit, Ch. 20, v.3, Ch,40 v.5 ff Commentary of R.S.R.H.
  18. 18.E.g. Bereshit, Ch.16; Ch. 28 v. 11ff Comm. of R.S.R.H.
  19. 19.Bereshit, Ch. 17, Comm. of R.S.R.H. & Coll. Writings IV 65 ff.
  20. 20.Shemot, Ch. 13, v. 1-6; Devarim Ch. 6, 4-9, Ch. 11, 13-21, Comment. of R.S.R.H. & Collected Writings, III 140 ff.
  21. 21.Shemot, Ch. 31, v. 17, Commentary of R.S.R.H.; Der Juedische Sabbath, Ges. Schriften I, 170 ff.
  22. 22.Bereshit, Ch. 32 v. 33, Comm. of R.S.R.H.
  23. 23.Shemot, Ch. 12, 14-17, Ch. 13, 3-9, Commentary of R.S.R.H.
  24. 24.Shemot, Ch. 23, v. 24, Commentary of R.S.R.H.
  25. 25.Vayikra, Ch. 23, v. 40, Comment, of R. S. R. H.
  26. 26.Vayikra, Ch. 23, v. 42-43, Comment, of R.S.R.H.
  27. 27.Bamidbar, Ch. 15, v. 37-41, Comment, of R.S.R.H., Coll. Writing III, 111 ff.
  28. 28.Bach & Bikure Ya’akov on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 625.
  29. 29.Nineteen Letters, Letter II. Horeb, Section 4.
  30. 30.Comment, of R.S.R.H. on Shemot & Vayikra
  31. 31.Bamidbar, Ch. 29 v. 2. Comm. of Midrashim and Rashi
  32. 32.Ramban ibid & on Devarim, Ch. 22. v. 6.
  33. 33.This explains his especially detailed exposition of the Sanctuary & the priestly service — the offerings — laws of purity and intermingling; Jewish Dietary Laws by Dayan Dr. Grunfeld.
  34. 34.Shabbat 3la
  35. 35.Comment. of R.S.R.H. on Vayikra Ch. 19, v. 18
  36. 36.Collected Writings III, 86 ff.
  37. 37.Comment. of R.S.R.H. on Shemot Ch. 12, v. 2. Bamidbar Ch. 28, v. 15, Comment. of Seforno and R.S.R.H.
  38. 38.Comment, of R.S.R.H. Shemot Ch. 12 & Vaykra Ch. 23.
  39. 39.Judaism Eternal I Ch. l. (p.3)
  40. 40.Coll. Writings III 96 ff.
  41. 41.The concept of metahistory was developed by R.S.R.H’s grandson, Yitzchak Breuer, Concepts of Judaism.
  42. 42.Bereshit ch. 1.v.11-13, Comment. of R.S.R.H.
  43. 43.Vayikra Ch. 19. v. 19, Comment, of R.S.R.H.
  44. 44.Devarim Ch. 22, v. 5-11, Comm. of R.S.R.H.
  45. 45.Coll. Writings 111 p. 181.
  46. 46.Coll. Writings III p. 175 ff. Vayikra Ch. 19, v. 19. comments, of R.S.R.H.
  47. 47.Shemot, Ch. 23. v. 19, comment. of R.S.R.H., Dayan Dr. Grunfeld: Jewish Dietary Laws 1.
  48. 48.He identifies the four levels &.colours of the ‘Cherubim’- tapestry of the Sanctuary — The pure vegetative element shesh with shor the form of the ox in Yecheskel 10:20; the crimson shani animal level with ari ; the purple human argaman with adam; and the sky-blue godly level techelet with nesher . This seems to contradict his view in Commentary on Bereshit, Ch. 1, v. 26 & Ch. 9 v. 15. that adam the red one is nearest to the godly as the least broken ray of the spectrum — nearest to the pure ray of light of God, & techeler the most distant from the pure light, losing itself in darkness.
  49. 49.Dayan Dr. Grunfeld, Introduction to Horeb cvii ff.
  50. 50.Foreword to Horeb
  51. 51.Movements in Contemporary Judaism, R. Joseph Elias, New York
  52. 52.The Mussar Movement, R. Dov Katz.
  53. 53.R. Yechiel Weinberg, Das Volk der Religion; ‘Seride Esh’ IV 372 ff.
  54. 54.By R. Moshe Chaim Luzzatto
  55. 55.By R. Bachy Ibn Pakuda
  56. 56.Vayikra Ch. 19v. 18-19
  57. 57.Coll. Writings 111. 175 ff. Comment. on Devarim Ch. 23 v. 11-12.
  58. 58.The Meaning of Kashrut — B. Horovitz, Jewish Study Magazine 12, p. 17.
  59. 59.Berachot 13 b; Pesachim 114 b; Rosh Hashana 28 b.
  60. 60.Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 98; Rav A. Carmell, Concentration in Prayer, Jewish Study Magazine 20, p. 12; B. Horovitz Jewish Prayer, Jerusalem Academy Publication.
  61. 61.Collected Writings I I I 111 ff.
  62. 62.Nineteen Letters, 18th Letter;Foreword to Horeb; M. Munk, Zum Problem ein. jud. Symbolik, Fests. Realschule, 1928
  63. 63.By R. Aharon Halevi of Barcelona; A Philosophy of Mizvot G. Appel.
  64. 64.Dayan Dr. Grunfeld, Introduction to Horeb p, cviii R. Dr. B. Cohen, Ex Profundis, Nachlat Z’vi I, 137 ff, 297 ff; Comm. of R.S.R.H. Br. Ch. v. 24, Vay. Ch. 11-12, 18; Bam. Ch. 19.
  65. 65.R.J. Breuer Aus den Vorarbeiten zum Horeb, Nachiat Z’vi V 142 ff mentions more sources from Zohar than from any other text. Dayan Dr. Grunfeld “Introd. to Horeb” cxx ff. There are many parallels to teaching of Maharal. Chief R. Jakobovits sees contradiction in H.’s admiration of Ramban the Kabbalist and H’s criticism of Kabbalah; but he opposed the abuse of Kabbalah.
  66. 66.Dayan Dr. Grunfeld, The Jewish Dietary Laws, 12 ff.
  67. 67.Dayan Dr. Grunfeld, “Introduction to Horeb,” cxxiii.
  68. 68.E. Munk. R. Hirsch als Rationalist der Kabbalah, Nachlat Z’vi 111.54 ff.
  69. 69.Dayan Dr. Grunfeld. Introd. to Horeb lx ff, B. Horovitz, Law & Morality, Jewish Study Magazine no. 14, 5 ff.
  70. 70.Kidushin 31 a, Bava Kama 38 a, 87 a.
  71. 71.Maharal, Tiferet Yisrael, 20.
  72. 72.Maharsha, Tosafot & commentaries on Kidushin 31a.
  73. 73.Magid Mishna on Rambam. Mishneh Torah, end of Hilchot Sukah.
  74. 74.Ch.2,4.
  75. 75.B. Horovitz, Jewish Prayer.
  76. 76.v. 4-5. Comm of Rashi, R.S.R.H. Torah Temimah.
  77. 77.v.-4, Commentary of Rashi, R.S.R.H. & Meshech Chochmah.
  78. 78.Bava kama 32 b — ‘To overcome his evil inclination of hatred’ — Tosafoth.
  79. 79.Devarim Ch. 4, v. 6— ‘will hear these hukkim, and will say only a wise and understanding people.’ (Comment. of R.S.R.H. Malbim)
  80. 80.Gaon of Vilna. Even Shlema, commentary on Mishle.
  81. 81.N. H. Rosenbloom, Tradition in Age of Reform, 152 ff. and throughout; M. Breuer, Juedische Orthodoxie, 62 ff.
  82. 82.Dayan Dr. Grunfeld, Introduction to Horeb, lxxix If. This explains his preference for Yehuda Halevi against Maimonides, despite the former’s nationalistic views.
  83. 83.Dayan Dr. Grunfeld. The Jewish Dietary laws. I Ch. 1.
  84. 84.Tehillim Ch. 145, v. 4 Commentaries of Malbim & R.S.R.H.
  85. 85.M. Breuer. Juedische Orthodoxie 51ff.
  86. 86.Dayan Dr. Grunfeld, S.R.H. & the Kabbalah, Introd. to Horeb. cxx ff.
  87. 87.E. Munk, R. Hirsch alr Rationalist der Kabbalah, Nachlat Zwi III 54ff. M. Breuer J. Orthodoxie 71-2.
  88. 88.Works of C. Jung; E. Fromm, The Forgotten Language; T. Tass-Thienenman The Interpretation of Language.
  89. 89.RB. Cohen. Ex Profundis, Nachlat Zwi 137 ff.
  90. 90.Y. Neumann. Judgement After Life, Jew Study Mag 31.
  91. 91.Works of C. Jung; R.B. Cohen, Ex profundis, Nachalat Zvi 1,137 ff.
  92. 92.Vayikra Ch. 23, v. 24. Comm. R.S.R.H.
  93. 93.Shemoth, Ch. 19, v. 16, H. Wouk, This is my God.
  94. 94.Shabbath Synagogue Service.

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