A short commentary to the beginning of Shulchan Aruch.


It’s known that the first paragraph of every book is generally an introduction and a summary of the whole book. At times even the first sentence or just the first word summarizes the entire book, as for example the first sentence of Torah is the Klal (general summary) of the entire Torah and the first word “Bereyshis” is Klal of Klalim (GR”A on the fifth chapter of Sifra Detzniuta, see appendix.)


Apparently our sages also followed this rule. They usually tried to make the first Mishna of a tractate to be the fundamental principal of the entire tractate. This tradition continued so that even the books written by Acharonim (the latest sages) usually start with the summary of the entire book. The most fundamental book of Jewish law is, without doubt, the Shulchan Aruch. Thus, by understanding the first law of the Shulchan Aruch, we can in a way understand the entire foundation of keeping the commandments.


The two authors of the Shulchan Aruch describe to us in the very beginning the most desired character traits needed in order to serve the Creator! Interestingly enough, they start with character traits rather than the practical Halachos. The reason is known in the writings of other sages, (GR”A on Mishley 22:5, R. Chaim Vital, see appendix) that the qualities are even more important than the rest of the mitzvos. Without good character traits, one is not able to keep the mitzvos.


The two qualities that are stated as essential by the authors of the Shulchan Aruch are taken from the four qualities declared fundamental by the Tur, based on a mishna in Pirkey Avos (Ethics from Fathers) [5:24]: Yehudah Ben Teyma said: "Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer and strong as a lion to do the will of your Father in Heaven."  The Shulchan Aruch mentions the importance of starting the day with zerizus: “One has to get up from bed with the strength of a lion”. The REM”A adds the importance of being bold when it comes to serving the Creator in front of those who make fun of us. Let us first discuss the general order of the four qualities in Tur and then we will say a few words about two of these four qualities that the Shulchan Aruch mentioned.


The GR”A writes in his commentary to Mishley 18:10 that these four qualities are hinted in this verse:  מִגְדַּל עׂז שֵׁם יי בּוֹ יָרוּץ צַדִּיק וְנִשְּׂגָּב – “migdal oz shem Hashem bo yarutz tzadik venisgav” – Tower of might of the name of Hashem, in it will run the righteous and be strengthened. Migdal (high tower) corresponds to being as light as an eagle, Oz – to be bold as a leopard (the word  עז bold comes from the same root), Yarutz (will run) corresponds to being as swift as a deer and Nisgav (strong) corresponds to being as strong as a lion. All four qualities are actually hinted by the four letters of Divine Name, that is why the verse states that “shem Hashem”, the name of Hashem, hints to these four qualities. The first letter of the Divine name corresponds to the positive commandments – the actions the Torah commands as to do, the second letter corresponds to the negative commands – what the Torah tells us to abstain from doing. This is called the left side – the side of judgment. The third letter corresponds to learning Torah, and the fourth to Tefillah – prayer. There is also another amazing correspondence: The four books of the Tur and of the Shulchan Aruch seem to also correspond to these four character traits. We thus have the following correlation:



Word in the posuk:

Letter of the Name:



Positive Commands



swift as a deer

Orach Chaim

Negative Commands



strong as a lion

Choshen Mishpat




bold as a leopard

Yore Deah




light as an eagle

Even Haezer


*See however Aruch Hashulchan 1:16, where he apparently relates the four qualities to the four natural elements in a different order.

Note how perfect this correspondence is: Orach Chaim (the way of life) is the first part of the Shulchan Aruch. It contains the laws that are most applicable to our every day actions. Most of it is full of positive commands! Choshen Mishpat is the portion that deals with financial laws and avoiding damages. This has to do with the left side, hence the word Mishpat – judgment.) Yore Deah includes most diverse laws; this is the part studied by those who want to receive Smicha and become rabbis, hence the word Deah – understanding. This part certainly corresponds to Torah learning. At last, Even Haezer – the laws relating to marriage. It is known that the last letter of the Divine name corresponds to the Sefirah of Malchus which relates to the feminine aspect. Note also, that the woman has always been a symbol of spontaneous prayer.


We would like to end now by noting why (in our opinion) the authors of the Shulchan Aruch chose the second and the third qualities as the main ones to be mentioned in the first law. It is known our actions at the start of the day determine how well the day goes. The yetzer hara (evil inclination) in the morning tempts us to stay in bed just a little longer. Often, the one who does not get up on time misses the proper time to read the morning Shema, thus losing an opportunity to fulfill a fundamental Torah commandment. He may also miss the opportunity to pray all of the morning prayers with the congregation.   A day with such a start usually has little accomplishment. Thus, the one who will be strong as a lion to get up in the morning has a good chance of serving the Creator for the rest of the day in the best possible manner.


The REM”A mentions the third quality since this is the quality needed to overcome peer pressure. One always gets influenced by his surroundings (RAMBA”M: Deos 6:1). In many instances the people that surround us make fun of our wish to serve the Creator. To overcome this, we need the quality of boldness. In general, boldness is considered to not be a positive quality and it is not to be desired. However, when standing up against the multitudes and overcoming peer pressure, we do need to use the quality of boldness, like a leopard – a small animal with enormous audacity.




גר"א. פירוש לספרא דצניעותא:


והכלל כי כל מה שהיה והוה ויהיה עד עולם הכל כלול בתורה מבראשית עד לעיני כל ישראל. ולא הכללים בלבד אלא אפילו פרטיו של כל מין ומין ושל כל אדם בפרט וכל מה שאירע לו מיום הולדו עד סופו וכל גלגוליו וכל פרטיו ופרטי פרטיו. וכן של כל מין בהמה וחיה וכל בעל חי שבעולם וכל עשב וצומח ודומם וכל פרטיהם ופרטי פרטיהם בכל מין ומין ואישי המינים עד לעולם ומה שיארע להם ושרשם. וכן כל מ"ש באבות ומשה וישראל כלם הן בכל דור ודור שכלם מתגלגלים ניצוצותיהם בכל דור ודור כידוע: וכן כל מעשיהם מאדה"ר עד סוף התורה הוא בכל דור כידוע למבין. וכ"ה בכל אדם ואדם לבד כמו שהתחיל לבאר במדרש הנעלם ברמז: וכל זה נכלל כלו בפרשת בראשית עד נח כמ"ש כאן בס"ד: וכללו נכלל בפרשה הראשונה עד ברא אלקים לעשות כנ"ל: וכלל כללי הכללים בפסוק ראשון (הגהה - ובמקום אחר כתב עוד שמקור כלל הכללים הוא בתיבת בראשית ו' אותיות ודגש של הב'. ש"ל): בז' תיבות ז' אלפי שנה כמ"ש בפ"א שתא אלפי שנין תליין בשתא קדמאי כו': והן ד' כללים נגד ד' עולמות בכל עולם שלמעלה יותר בכלל והולך ומתפרט





ר חיים ויטל. שערי קדושה חלק א שער ב.


והנה ענין המדות הן מוטבעות באדם בנפש השפלה הנקראת יסודית הכלולה מארבע בחינות, הדומם והצומחת והבהמית והמדברת. כי גם הן מורכבות מטוב ורע, והנה בנפש הזה תלויות המדות הטובות והרעות והן כסא ויסוד ושורש אל הנפש העליונה השכלית אשר בה תלויין תרי"ג מצות התורה כנזכר לעיל בשער ראשון. ולפיכך אין המדות מכלל התרי"ג מצות, ואמנם הן הכנות עקריות אל תרי"ג המצות בקיומן או בביטולם, יען כי אין כח בנפש השכלית לקיים המצות על ידי תרי"ג איברי הגוף אלא באמצעות נפש היסודית המחוברת אל הגוף עצמו בסוד (ויקרא י"ז י"ד) כי נפש כל בשר דמ"ו בנפשו הוא, ולפיכך ענין המדות הרעות קשים מן העברות עצמן מאד מאד.