"Rovo said: `Why did Hashem write yetzias Mitzrayim in
the parsha of taking interest and of tzitzis?
HaKodosh Boruch Hu said: "I, Who discerned in Egypt
between the drop [of sperm] of a first born and that of a
child not a first born, will punish him who ties kolo
ilan (imitation techeiles for tzitzis) on
his garment and claims that it is techeiles"' (Bovo
Rashi explains that the Torah commands us (in the third
parsha of Shema) "to place upon the
tzitzis of each corner a thread of techeiles"
and the color of kolo ilan is similar to
techeiles. Since techeiles is dyed with the
blood of the chilozon, a creature which emerges from
the ocean only once in seventy years, it is expensive.
Tosafos adds that not only does the person putting kolo
ilan on his tzitzis not fulfill the mitzvah of
tzitzis, he is also committing an aveira from
the time he ties the pseudo- techeiles on his garment
because he fails to fulfill the mitzvah of wearing
As we see from the Midrash, the Torah censures the
failure to fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzis more than
that of other mitzvos. What is the reason for this? Moreover,
we see that Hashem punishes a person even before he actually
annuls the mitzvah of tzitzis. He sins from the time
he first ties the phony kolo ilan on the garment.
Some explain that it seems this singular attention is not
drawn to him because of his wanting to annul the positive
mitzvah of tzitzis but because he makes others assume
he is fulfilling the mitzvah. This person does not want
others to regard him as a rosho -- although he is
actually not fulfilling the mitzvah.
But this explanation is difficult to accept. On the contrary,
his punishment should be less than usual since he conceals
his sin; he is embarrassed to be a chotei. The Torah
is more stringent with a secretive thief who is more
concerned with honor in other people's eyes than honor in the
eyes of Heaven ("he does not even make the master's honor
equal to that of the servant" -- Bovo Kama 79b)
because he steals secretly. The ganov is embarrassed
because people look unfavorably on a thief because he is
doing something immoral.
On the other hand, the Torah is more lenient with a
gazlan who steals publicly ("he makes the master's
honor equal to that of the servant"). The one who uses the
counterfeit techeiles is, however, not like a
ganov, since he is embarrassed for people to know he
is not observing the Torah.
"It shall be to you as tzitzis, that you may look upon
it and remember all the mitzvos of Hashem" (Bamidbar
15:39). Chazal (Sotah 17a) write that techeiles
is different from all other colors because it is similar to
the ocean, and the ocean is similar to the sky, and the sky
is similar to Hashem's throne of glory.
How Do You Get There from Here?
A talmid once asked HaRav E. E. Dessler, How does this
far-fetched association work? How, through such a long chain
of similarities, will a person remember Hashem?
HaRav Dessler answered: "How then do you manage to understand
the gemora's statement (Avoda Zorah 20b) about
it being forbidden to look at women's garments? (Rashi, s.v.
bevigdei, `because he will remember how the woman
looks when she is dressed in it and will think about her'.)
Anything that a person encounters will connect him to
something he longs for. The love for Hashem must be so
implanted in a person's heart that immediately when he sees
techeiles, which is similar to the ocean, it will
induce him to think about Hashem."
A simpler explanation can be offered. Although normally a
person, when he sees techeiles, will not remember
Hashem and His mitzvos however, since HaKodosh Boruch
Hu writes "that you may look upon it and remember all the
mitzvos of Hashem," that itself causes the remembering to
happen. A person is motivated to act according to what the
But if this is true, why associate techeiles with the
ocean, the sky and the kisei hakovod? Why was the
suggestion itself of the Torah that we remember the mitzvos
of Hashem insufficient to cause us directly to remember
Hashem and His mitzvos?
The Torah does not write that by looking at the
tzitzis you will "know"; it writes that you will
"remember." Looking reminds a person but is not itself
knowledge of Hashem. Chazal simply reveal the chain of
associations that the Torah promises will cause one to
naturally awaken to think about Hashem.
Someone who ties kolo ilan instead of techeiles
on his garment, does so not because he is stingy and does not
want to pay more for real techeiles. This person
maintains that the entire aim of the mitzvah of
tzitzis is to see and remember Hashem's mitzvos. He
figures he can accomplish the same objective by using kolo
ilan instead of techeiles, since it is the same
color and is also similar to the ocean, the sky, and the
Actually this person denies that the Torah has the power to
change a person's nature and force him to make the chain of
associations when he sees techeiles. He mistakenly
reasons that any similar color is adequate.
The Torah is therefore exacting in its punishment of him.
This is not a typical failure to fulfill a positive mitzvah:
it is a blatant denial of the Torah's power and accordingly,
HaKodosh Boruch Hu punishes him severely.
To Make Sure it is Really Makkas Bechoros
Now we can understand the gemora mentioned above, that
Hashem's punishment for putting kolo ilan on a garment
is because, "HaKodosh Boruch Hu said: `I Who discerned
in Egypt between a drop [of sperm] of a first born and one
that is not of a first born, will punish someone who ties
kolo ilan on his garment and says it is
How did this discernment, which only Hashem can do, bring the
Redemption in Egypt nearer? Neither Pharaoh nor bnei
Yisroel were even aware of it.
Moreover, Hashem's discernment is similar to the other unique
ways Chazal (Tanchuma Beshalach 23) mention, through
which He acts when He punishes and later forgives.
It might seem that Pharaoh sent bnei Yisroel out of
Egypt after the plague of the first born because this was the
harshest makkah. The previous nine plagues did not
convince Pharaoh, and only this forceful makkah
This explanation is, however, unacceptable. The Rambam, in
his Yad HaChazokoh (Hilchos Teshuvah 6:5),
explains that at the fifth makkah Hashem took away
Pharaoh's free will. Although the following makkos
would have naturally moved him to free bnei Yisroel,
the hardening of his heart (the removal of his free will),
did not allow him to send them away.
If so, what difference did it make that makkas
bechoros was more forceful, since the other makkos
were anyway enough to force Pharaoh to let them out of Egypt -
- only he could not since the yetzer hora had complete
control of him?
It is true that really the makkas bechoros could not
cause Pharaoh to carry out yetzias Mitzrayim any more
than the rest of the last five plagues. However since
HaKodosh Boruch Hu said in the Torah that because of
this makkah Pharaoh will send out bnei Yisroel,
that makkah received the power to force Pharaoh to do
Since Hashem forms man's nature, as we explained in the
mitzvah of tzitzis, He knew that only the makkas
bechoros could free the Jewish people. Any other
makkah, even if more powerful, would not since
Pharaoh's free will was taken away. HaKodosh Boruch Hu
therefore had to discern all the firstborns, since if another
Egyptian were killed it would not be a makkas bechoros
but would be called another makkah.
It was irrelevant whether Pharaoh or Yisroel knew about this
or not. What was important was whether this was a real
makkas bechoros or not. It was only because of
Hashem's discernment that the Redemption of bnei
Yisroel came about. Without it, Pharaoh would not have
sent them from Egypt.
This is what Chazal mean: "I Who discerned in Egypt . . .
will punish him who ties kolo ilan on his garment and
says it is techeiles." Since what Hashem writes in the
Torah changes man's nature, Hashem will punish anyone who
ties kolo ilan on his garment. That person does not
acknowledge Hashem's having such power. That man thinks there
is nothing special about Hashem's saying that through
techeiles he will remember the mitzvos, and thinks it
is only because of the resemblance to the ocean, and so on,
and figures that kolo ilan is also enough for that
The Influences on a Ben Soreir Umoreh
About a ben soreir umoreh Chazal write, "He should die
innocent and not guilty, since eventually he will stand at
the crossroads and rob people and kill them. He becomes a
ben soreir only after he eats a tartimar of
meat . . . until he steals from his father, and if he eats
that meat at a seudas mitzvah he is potur." The
gemora explains that a seudas mitzvah referred
to is a meal made at ibur hashonoh (when another month
is added to the year).
But that potential soreir umoreh was surely not among
the talmidei chachomim invited to the ibur
shonoh. He did not take part in the meal they gave but
instead ate the meat he had stolen from his father. Although
his eating at the ibur shonoh meal was no more than
something that overhangs a mitzvah, this zechus
protected him from a death punishment.
If his being put to death was a punishment, we could
understand that any small zechus could save him from
such a grave misfortune. However, since the Torah says it is
preferable for him to die while innocent and not guilty, his
being put to death is because of what he would do in the
If it is not a punishment, how does a zechus help at
all? On the contrary, we are interfering with his chance to
die innocent. We are causing him to die guilty! That
zechus is actually causing a wrongdoing to that
We must conclude from this halocho that when he stands
at the crossroads and considers whether to kill his victim or
let him live, his decision is directly dependent on what he
did when still a minor. If he then ate the tartimar of
meat at a regular meal, not a seudas mitzvah, he will
kill the victim. If, on the other hand, there was some
mitzvah done when he ate that meal, his yetzer tov
will vanquish his yetzer hora and he will let him go.
We see to what degree even a minor mitzvah can change a
person's nature so that because of it he will not kill
From the mitzvah of ben soreir umoreh we can learn the
Torah's influence on a person. Chazal enumerate the stages of
a ben soreir umoreh's decline until he kills another
person. They write that eventually he will even forget all
the Torah he had once studied. He is therefore killed now and
not later so that he will die innocent.
Surely what Chazal write is astonishing. After all the
terrible aveiros he has done he is not yet called a
guilty person. Only after he forgets what he has studied is
he considered guilty, and Chazal rule that it is preferable
for him to die when "still innocent."
The simple explanation is that the ben soreir is only
killed because of what he eventually will become. It must be
certain that at the end he will be a guilty person, and
therefore as long as he does not forget his studies there is
still hope that the Torah's light will return him to the
right way. It is not yet definite whether he will be guilty.
If, however, he forgets his studies there is no hope left for
him and he will surely become a guilty person. It is
therefore better that he die now, while innocent.
A ben Torah is someone whom the Torah formed, someone
in whose way of behavior it is evident that he is a ben
Torah. When someone follows Hashem's ways, the Torah, its
mitzvos, and its teachings determine his character. Whatever
he does is what the Torah demands from man. Being a ben
Torah is not reserved only for yeshiva talmidim.
Anyone for whom the Torah is his only guide in all he does is
a ben Torah.
One obtains this title and deserves to be called a ben
Torah through two ways: 1) studying Torah and 2) living
according to the pure Torah and halocho. Anyone who
wants to reach this distinction in some other way will be "an
unlearned person, [who] cannot be scrupulously pious"
(Ovos 2:5). Eventually he will, chas vesholom,
deviate from the way of the Torah.
End of Part I
HaRav Shimon Moshe Diskin zt'l was a rosh yeshiva in
Yeshivas Kol Torah in Yerushalayim.