Rabbi Yehoshua Alt

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R’ Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander Ztz”l for close to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. R’ Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.


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Build Fences

We are instructed to have protective fences—cautionary rules—for the Torah—סיג לתורה.[1] This is so that we don’t come to transgress and as the Mishna says כדי להרחיק אדם מן העבירה, to distance oneself from sin.[2] A hint to this is found in והגבלת את העם סביב,[3] you shall set boundaries for the people, which is written in the context of Matan Torah.[4]


A wealthy man named R’ Issurel had a big store with all types of silk which he would close on Erev Shabbos at Chatzos. The Yetzer Hara once came to test him in this area in which he appeared in the guise of a big officer. Appearing as such, he entered the store and took lots of the expensive merchandise and measured it. Chatzos arrived while he was in the middle of his shopping. However, this didn’t deter the wealthy store owner as he began to close up like he always did. This officer pleaded with him to give him the merchandise but R’ Issurel objected thereby losing an abundance of money. Due to this, he was honored with such a holy son—the Rema[5] (1530-1572)![6]


It is written הגבל את ההר וקדשתו, make a boundary around the mountain, and sanctify it—since Hashem didn’t want the nation ascending Har Sinai at Matan Torah.[7] This also teaches us about setting limitations to avoid sin, as this is one of the preparations for receiving Torah. הגבל את ההר can also be translated to take the letters that are on the boundaries of הר. That is to say, the letters prior and that come after ה (ד,ו) and ר (ק,ש). These four letters spell קדוש because when one sets protective fences for Torah, he makes himself holy as the Pasuk continues וקדשתו.


We are told …ועשית מעקה לגגך ולא תשים דמים בביתך כי יפל הנפל ממנו, if you build a new house, you shall make a fence for your roof so that you will not place blood in your house if a fallen one falls from it.[8] The word גגך has a Gematria of 26, the same sum as י-ה-ו-ה. Consequently, it refers to actual Torah laws. On this, we should make fences—מעקה. Then, even if we fall (יפל הנפל), it will only be from the fence (ממנו) and not the actual Torah law.[9]


For going beyond the call of duty (having protective fences), one receives reward here, as this is above what is required.[10] This is how we can explain what it says when Bilaam was traveling to curse us—במשעל הכרמים גדר מזה וגדר מזה, stood in the path of the vineyards, a fence on this side and a fence on that side.[11] במשעל is an acronym for שכר מצוה בהאי עלמא ליכא,[12] the reward for fulfilling a Mitzva is not given in this world, as Bilaam thought he could curse us and our Mitzvos wouldn’t protect since there is no reward for it in this world. This was a mistake, as the Pasuk continues, because גדר מזה וגדר מזה—because we made fences to avoid sin thereby going beyond the call of duty, we are rewarded in this world as well.

[1] Avos 1:1. See Bamidbar 22:5, Rashi, s.v. ארץ. An example of this is that the Rabbanan forbade the handling of certain utensils on Shabbos—known as Muktza—since maybe one will use them to perform work forbidden by the Torah. Another instance is a Nazir where the Gemara states (Shabbos 13a) לך לך אמרי נזירא סחור סחור לכרמא לא תקרב, go away, go away, we say to the Nazir. Go around, go around, do not approach the vineyard. Although there is no prohibition for a Nazir to enter a vineyard, as he is prohibited from eating grapes, he should refrain from doing so in order that he not succumb to temptation.

[2] Brachos 2a. See Ohr Hachaim, Devarim, 11:22. For this reason, regarding Shema in the evening, one has until midnight to recite it, although biblically one has until dawn.

[3] Shemos  19:12. On a deeper level, the phrase ופרצו חומות מגדלי, which we say on Chanuka, means they breached the spiritual fences.

[4] In אז ישיר, we say אמר אויב ארדף אשיג אחלק שלל, the enemy declared I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide plunder (Shemos 15:9). The מהר”י of Belz is bothered how Paroh was so sure that he would be victorious and get the spoils? The Jewish people were firm in their Kedusha in Mitzrayim, as they didn’t change their name, clothing or language. This is also why they were redeemed. Paroh thought to seduce the Jewish people and remove them from this. In this way, he felt he would get them to stumble. This is how we can understand the above Pasuk: אמר אויב ארדף אשיג—he declared he will overtake the Jewish people. How? Through אחלק שלל, making us fall in the areas of שלל—שם, לשון, לבוש, name, language, and clothing.

[5] Some of the Rema’s students were the Levush, the Sma, the Bach, and the Masas Binyamin—the father of the Shela.

[6] Taamai HaMinhagim, p. 128, s.v. וצריך. In 1551-2 the mother of the Rema as well as his 20-year-old wife and maternal grandmother died. To perpetuate their memory, the Rema’s father built a shul in Krakow, Poland, which came to be known as the Rema’s shul.

[7] Shemos 19:23. See Panim Yafos, Yisro, s.v. ומה.

[8] Devarim 22:8.

[9] תורת מוהרי”ץ, Ki Seitzei. The Gemara says one doesn’t commit a transgression unless a רוח שטות, spirit of foolishness enters him (Sota 3a). If this is the case, asks R’ Chaim Shmuelevitz, why is one held accountable for his sins? This can be compared to one standing near a pit when a strong wind—רוח—pushes him into the pit, as in such a case it clearly isn’t his fault? R’ Chaim Shmuelevitz explains that the one who fell into the pit was negligent because he shouldn’t have stood near the pit when he knows a strong wind could push him in. Similarly, one is held responsible for being so close to sin that a רוח שטות can cause him to fall into sin.

[10] See Maharsha, Sota 14a, s.v. וא”ל. See Brachos 20b.

[11] Bamidbar 22:24.

[12] Kiddushin 39b. Arugas Habosem, Balak, s.v. ויעמד.

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