This issue has been anonymously dedicated in honor of the Bas Mitzva of
Ellen Melissa Fishman.
At Mount Sinai, the Jewish People were praised for saying, "We will do
and we will listen." (Shmos, 24:7) By saying "we will do," before
mentioning "we will listen," they stressed performance of the
commandments. In spite of questions, before fully understanding the
reasons, the Jewish People promised to fulfill the Torah.
The Maor Einoyim says: There are always ups and downs. The important
thing is to keep the determination and concentration on the same
intense level. Keep striving, and serve with vigor and exertion.
This is the great praise of the people, found in the verse, "We will do
and we will listen." Even in our falling, we will not slacken in our
work, our concentration and our striving. We will continue to cling to
Hashem to the extent of our abilities! Then -- "we will listen" -- we
will still merit to understand with clarity, even though we feel weak
at this time. Recognizing our failings and feeling the need to
improve, we will strengthen our resolve to return to an elevated level.
Honor and Shame
Moshe's father-in-law, Yisro, came to the desert. He was able to teach
Moshe -- and the people -- vital character lessons.
Upon seeing Moshe sit in judgment all day, Yisro reproved his
son-in-law, and suggested that Moshe designate authority to 78,600
According to Rashi, the lesson Yisro taught was that it was
disrespectful to keep the people standing and waiting all day.
Moshe was the greatest of all the prophets. The Torah is associated
Moshe alone, as the verse indicates: "Remember the Torah of Moshe, My
servant..." (Zichru Toras Moshe Ovdi) (Malachi 3:22) No prophet is
permitted to add, detract or alter the Torah of Moshe. Yet, Yisro
reproved Moshe, because the honor of the people was at stake.
Other lessons were conveyed, as well. The Beis Yisrael (Zedichov)
explains that Yisro taught the idea that every individual needs a
personal mentor, to be able to constantly seek advice. Thus, Yisro
said that there needed to be leaders over thousands, hundreds, fifties
and tens. Every ten need a teacher uniquely their own! This is the
idea of the "Rebbe."
Moshe, too, would become exhausted if he had to do all the work
himself. Nonetheless, the main concern was the first -- the honor of
the people should take precedence. (Rav Yerucham Halevy)
Now, 78,600 judges is a large number. The context of the verses shows
that these individuals were not merely giving advice, but were making
judicial decisions. Such decision-making requires great knowledge;
obviously, Yisrael was meant to be a highly educated people.
Rav Yerucham Halevy showed, though, that there is a different point
here. Why would every ten people need their own judicial decisions?
It must be that the people would be asking for precise guidance in
monetary matters. Minute questions of theft are at least as important
as other matters of Jewish Law.
Really, everyone needs to be a judge. Each person needs to apply the
same careful scrutiny to his daily affairs, as a judge must. See Rashi
and Ramban, that one of the qualifications of a judge is that he be
wary of his own profits, and be prepared to forfeit them voluntarily,
rather than be ordered by the court to do so.
Honor and Shame, Part II
When Yisro first appeared in the desert, he sent word: "I, Yisro, your
father-in-law, have come to you -- with your wife and her two sons."
(Shmos 18:6) Rashi explains Yisro's intent: "Come out for my sake; if
not, for the sake of your wife; if not, for the sake of your sons."
What was the purpose of this lengthy introduction -- "Come for my
sake...?" Was Yisro seeking honor?
The Maharal answered simply. There is a distinction between seeking
honor and avoiding embarrassment and shame. If Moshe would not have
come to greet his father-in-law, Yisro would have been publicly
embarrassed. Even great Tzadikim wish to avoid the degradation of
There is another kind of shame. At the receiving of the Torah, the
people were frightened. Moshe told them: "Don't be afraid. Hashem
comes to you in order to test you, and that His fear be upon your
faces, that you not err..." (Shmos 20:17) The Talmud describes this
"fear" as "shame." The "shame on your faces" comes from the
realization that Hashem is among us, that we are responsible for our
conduct and the consequences of our actions.
The departure from Egypt revealed Hashem dramatically. The awareness
of His personal supervision, however, was only fully realized at Mount
Sinai, where the singular choice of the Jewish People was made known.
Corresponding to the direct guidance and personal supervision, is the
awareness of the responsibilities. Such awareness would naturally
bring about a sense of shame (as Moshe was ashamed at the Burning Bush,
and had to look down).
Although such shame is a good thing, and protects from errors, it can
be, nonetheless, painful. The people did not abide by Moshe's advice,
but retreated, requesting that Moshe approach the mountain alone.
Elsewhere, Ramban explains that Moshe wanted them all to be prophets,
and not need any kind of intercessor. The assurance that they would
have future prophets was not the greatest blessing, but in lieu of
being prophets themselves.
The Rabbis say that the Jews experienced death at Mount Sinai, but
their souls were returned to them.
Rav Yitzchak Hutner explained that the death the Rabbis refer to,
actually alludes to the shame, the "fear on the faces" of which Moshe
spoke about. The immense shame at Mount Sinai was a kind of momentary
death. Returning to consciousness, the people were newly energized to
serve with alacrity; they had been brought back from the dead.
Indeed, Tosafos brings an opinion that to shame another person is
included among the cardinal crimes in Judaism (murder, adulterous and
incestuous relationships and idolatry) because of its relationship to
Unfortunately, we live in a time where there is little or no sense of
shame. Not being sensitive to one's own shame, people are not
sensitive about shaming others.
Fortunately, we have something to look forward to. Sota, 49b, lists
several signs indicative that the future redemption is approaching.
The descriptions of lack sensitivity to shame sound very much like our
Remembering the words of the Maor Einoyim, let's concentrate our
efforts to return to an elevated level, even as we see ourselves
temporarily on a lower plane.