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Parshas Yisro 5757 - 1996

Outline # 21

Chodshei Hashanah Following the Weekly Parsha

by Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein

The Receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai

The parsha describes the revelation of the Torah in the desert. After the Ten Commandments were pronounced, Moshe ascended the mountain for forty days and nights. The commandments at the end of this parsha and the beginning of the next were received by Moshe during those forty days and nights.

The first two commandments of the ten -- to believe in G-d and the crime of idolatry -- concern thought. The third -- not to swear in vain -- deals with speech. The fourth -- Shabbos -- concerns action. The Torah provides guidance for all aspects of life; in these three ways -- thought, speech, and deed -- the soul communicates. (Rav Eli Munk) All of the 613 commandments were said orally. The ten were heard by the people themselves. In fright, they told Moshe to go alone, but they themselves would withdraw. Only Moshe would hear the other 603. He will relate them to the people later, and eventually record them on parchment.

The Healing Power of Torah

A verse in Proverbs ch. 15 states: 'The tree of life is healing speech.' Rabbenu Bachaye explains in the introduction to our parsha (free translation): "The soul sustains the body. The soul can animate the body even if the body be ill, or lacking food and drink. If the soul is ill, however, who can maintain it? Therefore the verse says: 'The tree of life is healing speech.' The Torah -- the Tree of Life -- is the healing speech that heals the broken spirit.

"Speech is a dangerous weapon, for physical weapons destroy the body but leave the soul intact; words can destroy the soul. Disgracing, mocking another person causes extreme spiritual pain. Thus the Talmud says that one who shames another publicly has no share in the world to come, because he has brought such damage to the soul.

"The cure for the broken soul is, as we said, words of Torah. Torah is a more potent medicine than chemicals and herbs, for they are at best doubtful remedies, but the healing power of Torah study is certain. Chemicals and herbs can at best remove the illness, but not increase life. The Torah, however, is called the Tree of Life -- because it increases life.

Accepting the Torah's Commands (Exodus 19:7-8)

Classical Judaism is based on commandments. The mitzvos are commandments, orders from the Supernal Judge. Classically observant Jews see themselves as obeying the King.

Today, however:

-We question before listening. Before finding out WHAT or HOW, we already question WHY. As a parent knows, the question WHY as a response to an order, is not worthy of an answer. The WHY before commitment -- before performance - - is merely the attempt to rationalize, to justify the refusal to listen to orders. The child who is allowed to know the why before he must obey -- such pampering will obstruct character development to an incredible degree. Now the private judges the general.

Questions should indicate a desire to know, not a rejection without ever even knowing. I am very familiar, after nearly 20 years of post-graduate religious study, how fallacious it is when people assume that classical religious practices have no meaning behind them.

This is more of an issue than merely current social trends threatening traditional religious environments. It also concerns respect and sensitivity for others. Standing up for equality and individual rights is a matter of fairness. Must it necessitate assertive defiance and breakdown of all respect for traditional role- models?


-High officials show no respect for their office, and no one shows respect for them either.

-Men and women must be treated in exactly the same way. Not respecting themselves, and seeing the others as exactly the same as themselves -- they cannot respect each other.

-Leaders and citizens must be treated in exactly the same way. Again, as they have no respect for themselves, they will have no respect for the others, either. Thus, everyone insults the president; a "religious" citizen assassinates the Israeli prime minister.

When there is no mutual respect, standing up for rights is not a matter of fairness. The situations described here are not "fair." Cannot a president or prime minister have rights, because of the office they hold? Cannot men have certain rights as men, and women certain rights as women? Must women join the boy scouts, and men the girl scouts?

Cannot a classical approach to an enduring religion be protected? It is not difficult to imagine a time when an orthodox synagogue will become illegal... I wouldn't count on the ACLU to stand up for me.

Yes, even adversaries should respect each other. Disdain and hatred will accomplish nothing; dialogue in the spirit of understanding and desire to learn breeds harmony. We must understand and respect our differences, before we can establish similarities. I suggest the solution: " 'The tree of life is healing speech.' The Torah -- the Tree of Life -- is the healing speech that heals the broken spirit."

Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
PC Kollel
1 Babbin Court
Spring Valley, NY 10977
Phone: 914-425-3565
Fax: 914-425-4296

Good Shabbos!

Text Copyright © 1997 Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Project Genesis, Inc.



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