Chazal record that when Hashem prepared to give the Torah to
the Jewish People, several mountains came forth and claimed that
the Torah should be given on their summits. One of these was Har
Tavor and another was Har Carmel. However, both mountains were
rejected in favor of humble Har Sinai.
R' Yechezkel Abramsky z"l (died 1976) explains: Har Tavor
represents Yisrael's military might (as described in last week's
haftarah). Har Carmel represents Yisrael's ability to persuade,
as reflected in the successful challenge that Eliyahu Hanavi made
on Har Carmel to the prophets of the idol Ba'al (see Melachim I
ch.18). Each of these mountains argued that through the strength
which it represents, the Jewish people would spread the Torah to
the whole world.
What these mountains failed to understand was that the Torah
was not meant to be imposed on other nations either by military
might or by persuasion. "I am Hashem your G-d, Who took you out
of Egypt." The Torah is intended only for the nation that was
taken out of Egypt. Only that nation said, "na'aseh
ve'nishmah"/"we will do it even before we understand it," which
is a prerequisite to receiving the Torah.
In fact, "na'aseh ve'nishmah" conveys two important ideas. One
is the recognition that feelings follow, and are the result of,
deeds. (One must act like a "spiritual" being before he can feel
like one, not vice-versa.) The other is that the depth of
feeling that one attains is commensurate with the level of his
service and toil. The Torah states regarding the mitzvot
(Vayikra 18:5), "That a person shall do them and live through
them." To the extent that a person does the mitzvot, to that
extent will his soul attain life. (Chazon Yechezkel: Pesachim,
"And her two sons, of whom the name of one was Gershom, for
[Moshe] had said, "I was a ger / sojourner in a strange
land.' And the name of the other was Eliezer, for 'the G-d
of my father came to my aid / ezri, and He saved me from the
sword of Pharaoh'." (18:2-3)
R' Yekutiel Yehuda Halberstam z"l (the "Klausenberger Rebbe";
died 1994) lost his wife and eleven children in the Holocaust and
later established a large chassidic community in Netanya, Israel.
He asked: Why did Moshe name his first son after the fact that he
was a ger / sojourner in a foreign land and only with his second
son, commemorate the fact that Hashem saved him from Pharaoh?
Also, why only regarding the first son does the verse say, "for
he had said"?
R' Halberstam explained: After the Holocaust, numerous Jews
left Eastern Europe and settled in the "civilized" countries of
the West, such as the United States. However, the midrash
teaches that true security can be attained in only one place -
Eretz Yisrael. If we simply move from one exile to another
exile, we will eventually end up no better than we started. In
that case, there will have been no purpose in our being saved,
and no reason to thank Hashem for saving us.
Moshe escaped from Pharaoh only to enter another exile in the
land of Midian. He even took a wife in Midian, something which
placed him in danger of settling comfortably in that land. Moshe
therefore named his first son "Gershom" and he declared - "he
said" - that he was an exile in a strange land. Only then could
he name his second son "Eliezer" to commemorate his salvation.
(Quoted in Otzrot Tzaddikei U'geonei Ha'dorot)
"The entire people saw the thunder and the flames, the sound
of the shofar and the smoking mountain . . ." (20:15)
What was the purpose of this spectacle? R' Moshe Sternbuch
shlita explains with the following parable:
A certain wealthy man once betrothed his daughter to a
distinguished young man. They agreed that the wedding would take
place in the young man's town on a certain date, and that the
young couple would settle in that town.
When the wedding date approached, the bride and her family set
out in a golden carriage. In every town through which they
passed, the bride's father spent money lavishly, and the
newspapers reported on the fabulous wealth of the bride's family.
In the groom's town, the bride's family was greeted as royalty.
Yet the bride's father saw that the groom himself looked
depressed. Asking why, he was told, "Even with your daughter's
dowry, how will I ever maintain the lifestyle she is used to?"
"Don't worry," said the bride's father. "My daughter and I
both know that she will live a simpler life from now on. I
merely arrived here in this way so that you would appreciate
where she came from and always do your best to give her
everything that you can."
Similarly, says R' Sternbuch, the Torah is the daughter of the
King of Kings, who betrothed her to common man. In order to
remind us of the Torah's glorious origins, G-d gave her away
amidst a spectacular show of fire and sound.
"They said to Moshe, 'You speak to us and we shall hear, and
let not G-d speak to us, lest we die'." (20:16)
R' Yitzchak Arieli z"l (mashgiach of Yeshivat Merkaz Harav;
author of Enayim La'mishpat) writes: In response to this
statement by Bnei Yisrael, Hashem said (Devarim 5:25): "Haiteevu
/ They did well in all that they spoke." The midrash offers two
interpretations of Hashem's use of the word "Haiteevu / They did
well." According to one sage, Hashem was alluding to "Hatavat
Ha'nerot" / "cleaning the oil lamps of the Temple menorah," while
according to a second sage, Hashem was alluding to "Hatavat
Ha'ketoret" / "preparation of the incense."
What does this mean? R' Arieli explains:
Our verse has two parts: (1) "You speak to us and we shall
hear," and (2) "let not G-d speak to us, lest we die." The
latter part of the verse expresses the Jewish People's yirah /
fear or awe of G-d, a feeling traditionally associated with the
negative commandments, with the motto (Tehilim 34:15) "Sur
mai'ra" / "Distance yourself from evil." This motto is
represented in the Temple service by the cleaning of the oil
lamps, in which waste products -- symbolic of evil -- are cleaned
away and removed.
On the other hand, the first part of our verse represents
ahavah / love of G-d, for one who loves G-d longs to hear the
words of His prophets. This longing to hear the prophet's voice
is connected to the preparation of the ketoret because the Gemara
(Keritot 6b) teaches that any sounds that are made while the
incense is being ground somehow improve the incense. In
addition, important disputes between the Sages and the heretics
who denied the validity of the Oral Law centered on the ketoret;
thus, this offering can be seen as a symbol of the Oral Law,
which comes specifically from the mouth (rather than the pen) of
the prophet, Moshe.
Introductions . . .
In this feature, we present excerpts from the introductions to
famous (and not so famous) works. This week, we present the
fifth and final installment of Rambam's introduction to his
halachic code, Mishneh Torah.
Anything which is in the Talmud Bavli, every Jew must follow.
We compel every city and every province to act in accordance with
the customs of the sages of the Gemara, their decrees and their
enactments, because whatever is in the Gemara was agreed to by
all of Israel. . .
The sages that arose after the Gemara was written and built
upon it, and whose names spread throughout the world because of
their wisdom, are called the "Geonim." All of the Geonim who
arose -- in Eretz Yisrael, in Shinar [Iraq], in Spain or in
France -- learned the way of the Gemara, revealed its secrets,
and explained its content, for its way is extremely deep.
Moreover, the Gemara was written in Aramaic combined with other
languages, which is what was understood by the people of Shinar
at the time the Gemara was written. However, in other places,
and also in Shinar in the time of the Geonim, no one understood
that language unless it was taught to him. Many questions were
asked by the people of each city to each of the Geonim requesting
that they explain the words of the Gemara, and the Geonim would
answer them according to their wisdom. Those who asked the
questions would then gather the answers and make books to learn
The Geonim of each generation also wrote books to explain the
Gemara. Some of these books explained specific laws, some
explained specific chapters about which he was asked during his
lifetime, some explained specific tractates or orders (groups of
tractates), and some wrote compilations of halachic decisions...
In the present time [i.e., approx. 1170 C.E.], troubles have
overpowered us, the wisdom of our wise men is destroyed, and the
understanding of our understanding ones is ruined. Therefore,
those explanations, halachot and letters which the Geonim wrote
and which they saw as providing clear explanations have become
difficult in our days, and only a few people understand them
properly. It goes without saying [that few people understand]
the Talmud Bavli, Talmud Yerushalmi, Sifra, Sifrei and Tosefta,
all of which require intellect, a wise soul and a great deal of
time. Therefore, I, Moshe the son of Maimon the Sepharadi,
girded my loins and relied upon the Rock, Blessed is He, and I
looked in all of these works and saw fit to compose those things
which become clear from all of these works regarding what is
forbidden, permitted, tamei, and tahor, together with the other
laws of the Torah. All of these are in a clear language such
that the Oral Torah may be fluent on everyone's lips without
questions and answers -- not, "This one says thusly and this one
says thusly," rather clear words which are correct according to
the laws which are derived from all the works which have come
into being from the days of Rabbenu Hakadosh [author of the
Mishnah] until today. . .
Elaine and Jerry Taragin
on the yahrzeits of Mrs. Shirley Taragin a"h
and Mr. Irving Rivkin a"h
Avi Vogel, on the occasion of his aufruf
and in honor of his kallah, Aviva Klein