Our sedra contains a mixture of bein adam lechaveiro mitzvos, and bein adam lemakom mitzvos (i.e. mitzvos which involve interpersonal relationships, and mitzvos which involve our relationship with HaShem, respectively). For example, the laws of how to treat slaves, the laws of damages, and theft are centred around the bein adam lechaveiro theme. Whilst the three foot festivals, the Shemittah year, and bikkurim are centred around the bein adam lemakom aspect. Given that our sedra seems to be constantly oscillating between these two categories of mitzvos, this week is an ideal time to compare and contrast mitzvos bein adam lechaveiro with those of bein adam lemakom. So let's take a deep breath…and here goes . Which is the more severe category of mitzvos; bein adam lechaveiro or bein adam lemakom. Most people would assume that bein adam lemakom mitzvos are more essential or stringent. And on one level this assumption would seem to be correct.

 Thus, the bein adam lemakom sins carry worse punishments than their bein adam lechaveiro counterparts. For example, desecrating Shabbos can incur the death penalty or kares, as does serving idols or incestuous relationships – all of which are firmly on the bein adam lemakom pole. But for transgressions of bein adam lechaveiro, the punishments are much less severe; for theft one gets no death or lashes, but rather has to pay pack what he stole (sometimes double). And for speaking evil of someone else, beis din do not even administer a punishment. In fact, of the thirty six sins which carry the death penalty, only three are bein adam lechaveiro,[1] and only twelve out of the two-hundred and seven sins which incur lashes are of bein adam lechaveiro ilk.[2] However, the show is not over. The Meshech Chochmah[3] contrasts this with the fact that over history, Bnei Yisrael have gotten into more 'trouble' by transgressing the bein adam lechaveiro sins than the bein adam lemakom ones. For example, the first beis hamikdash was destroyed because of sins of the bein adam lemakom variety, [4] and its subsequent exile lasted seventy years. But the second beis hamikdash was caused by bein adam lechaveiro sins, and we are still in exile because of it today. The gemarra itself[4] uses this to prove that the sins of the second mikdash era were more severe than those of the first mikdash era. Similarly, we are told that though the generation of the flood failed miserably in the bein adam lemakom aspect, it was the widespread theft that sealed their fate of drowning in the flood.[5] And indeed, the subsequent generation which built the tower of Bavel did not suffer the same fate as their (drowned) predecessors, but instead were scattered around the world, because they did not stray from their interpersonal responsibilities. Furthermore, the Meshech Chochmah cites the Talmud Yerushalmi,[6] which points out that though the generation of David were righteous, it was a certain lacking in the bein adam lechaveiro discipline that saw them fall in battle. Yet the generation of Achav who were idolatrous were successful in war because they excelled in bein adam lechaveiro. Certainly, from this viewpoint, it seems that mitzvos bein adam lechaveiro are more severe. So which one is it; is the bein adam lemakom category more severe or is it that of bein adam lechaveiro? And how does one resolve the above contradiction raised by the Meshech Chochmah? The Meshech Chochmah himself provides an answer, which is going to need explanation. He answers that in the realm of the individual, a bein adam lemakom sin is more severe, but in the realm of the communal, a bein adam lechaveiro sin is worse. Why? Because a community can be forgiven, but when they infringe the bein adam lechaveiro aspect, they are no longer regarded as a community. Let's explain this answer fully…

Rav Yehoshua Hartman explains this Meshech Chochmah in the following way. There are two plains in Judaism; the individual (p’rat) and the communal/national (klal). These correspond to another two plains; what I do and what I am. We shall explain this distinction before returning to pair them with the individual and the communal. The ‘what I do’ plain is fairly simple; it means the mitzvos and aveiros that one does – one’s spiritual output in this world. The ‘what I am’ plain, in contrast, is not involved with actions, but rather with a status; what one is. There are many aspects in Judaism which show this contrast. For example, the tefillin shel yad are involved in action; the mitzvah is to do the act of tying them on your arm, whilst the mitzvah of the tefillin shel rosh is their being on one’s head.[7] The latter is a state of being as opposed to an action. Similarly, on Purim the enemy wanted to wipe us out simply because we were Jewish (regardless of how religious we were), whilst on Chanuka the enemy attacked what we do; our performance of mitzvos. In fact, these two points mirror the two facets of yichud HaShem enumerated by the Ramchal;[8] the recognition that our existence is dependent on HaShem (who we are), and the recognition that the capacity of what we do is determined by what HaShem allows us to do. Let’s connect this distinction with the realms of the individual and the communal, and hopefully this will make them become a bit clearer…

As an individual, one is judged by their individual deeds; one’s spiritual output. But on the communal facet, there is an identity that exists regardless of how many mitzvos or aveiros one does; the fact that one is part of Klal Yisrael. Thus, if there are nine of the holiest Jews in the world, they do not constitute a minyan to be able to say kaddish, kedusha, etc. But ten average Jews can form a minyan and say kaddish, etc. Why; do the ten average Jews have more mitzvos in their accounts? No. But the communal facet (here a minyan) is nothing to do with ‘what you do;’ it is based upon who one is, and in our case this means ten Jews, who have the power to form a minyan (which welcomes HaShem’s Presence[9]) and say kaddish, etc. due to their innate kedusha. Another illustration is that Chazal tell us that ‘a Jew even though he sins, is still a Jew,’ and that Avraham Avinu sits on the entrance to Geehinnom and pulls out those Jews who are still connected to Klal Yisrael; despite their sins – because they have the identity of a Jew, regardless of their deeds. Thus, one’s actions can be ‘overlooked’ in favour of this identity of ‘who one is;’ a Jew. For example, a major goal of Rosh HaShanah is to try and be judged as part of Klal Yisrael, as opposed to standing alone in one’s individual judgement. This way, one’s sins can be ‘overlooked,’ because HaShem is looking at who one is (part of Klal Yisrael) as opposed to what one does. This is why Rav Elchonon Wasserman refused to receive an aliyah on Rosh HaShanah; he did not want his name called out as an individual – he wanted to merge with Klal Yisrael on the Day of Judgement. Using this information, we can now return to the Meshech Chochmah and the question as to which is the more severe category; mitzvos bein adam lemakom or mitzvos bein adam lechaveiro?

If one is looking at the individual aspect/identity, then certainly the mitzvos bein adam lemakom are more severe; as reflected by their appearance as amongst the most stringent punishments in beis din. However, if, despite these bein adam lemakom wrongdoings, one is part of a community and national identity as a Jew, then such sins can be 'overlooked.' Why? Because the national identity has nothing to do with 'what you do;' it is centred around 'who one is.' As the Meshech Chochmah cites (from the Midrash) 'an individual can be subject to kares ('becoming spiritually cut off'), but a community can never be subject to kares,' because of this point; that a community is centred around the aspect of who one is, as opposed to what one does, and therefore, sins can be 'overlooked.' However, when there is a breakdown of bein adam lechaveiro, then there is a breakdown of this communal facet; and with it goes the ability to be judged purely on one's identity of part of Klal Yisrael – on 'who one is.' This is why all the examples which showed the severity of bein adam lechaveiro over bein adam lemakom were examples of communal sins/breakdowns; because it was due to such sins that the people could no longer be judged according to who they are; they had to be judged on the 'what you do' aspect. And this meant being judged for one's individual spiritual output, which entailed their downfall.

This point about a breakdown in bein adam lechaverio relations causing the removal of the protection of being considered part of a community/national identity is seen in the gemarra.[10] The gemarra points out that a community enjoys certain advantages over an individual in judgement, and then cites the example of the yordei hayam, who did not enjoy such advantages. Why, asks the gemarra, surely they were a community? And the gemarra answers that they were considered as individuals. We may ask why was this so – if they comprised many people then why are they not considered as a community? The Shem Mishmuel[11] answers that people who wish to connect themselves to other people and feel others' pain are called a community. The yordei hayam did not have such a quality, and were thus considered as individuals. This mirrors out point too; if there is a breakdown in bein adam lechaveiro, this is born from a lack of care for each other, and the natural result is that the classification of being 'a community' and sharing the protection of that national identity is lost.

HaShem should help us care for each other and fulfil both mitzvos bein adam lemakom and bein adam lechaveiro,

If you want to receive my weekly parsha email,email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Have a great Shabbes

[1] See Rambam hilchos Sanhedrin 15:10-13 [2] See Rambam hilchos Sanhedrin 19:1-4 [3] Meshech Chochmah Shemos 14:29 [4] See gemarra Yoma 9b [5] Gemarra Sanhedrin 108a [6] Talmud Yerushalmi Peah 1:1 [7] Rambam, start of hilchos Tefillin. And the psukim say it too; 'uk'shartem' (an action) versus 'vehayu letotafos bein eineichem' (a state of being). [8] Derech HaShem Chelek Dalet, Perek 4:1 [9] Gemarra Brachos 8a, see Avos 3:7 for the same idea regarding learning Torah. [10] Gemarra Rosh HaShanah 17b [11] Shem Mishmuel, parshas Bamidbar

Add comment

Have something to say?
Please make your comment below!
All comments are reviewed prior to publication. Absolutely NO loshon hara or anything derogatory or hurtful to anyone will be permitted on the website.

Security code