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Parshas Yisro

Torah from Heaven

Volume 26, No. 17

Sponsored by Irving and Arline Katz on the yahrzeits of her mother Fradel bat Yaakov Shulim a”h (19 Shevat) and his father Chaim Eliezer ben Avigdor Moshe Hakohen a”h (21 Shevat)

The Marwick family in memory of grandparents Samuel and Reba Sklaroff a”h

In this week’s parashah, the Torah is given. R’ Moshe ben Maimon z”l (Rambam; 1135-1204) writes about this in his exposition of the 13 ikkarim / fundamental beliefs: “The eighth ikkar is that the Torah is from Heaven. This requires us to believe that the entire Torah which is in our possession, which was given to Moshe Rabbeinu a”h, is from the ‘mouth’ of the All Powerful One. This means that it was received by him [Moshe Rabbeinu] through a process which, for lack of a better term, we call ‘speech,’ though we really don’t know how he received it. Moshe alone knew how he received it. He was like a scribe who wrote down the history, the events and the laws; that is why he is called a ‘mechokek / legislator.’

There is no difference [in holiness] between [the verses or phrases]: ‘The sons of Cham--Kush, Mitzrayim, Put, and Cana’an’ (Bereishit 10:6); ‘His wife’s name was Meheitav’el, daughter of Matred, daughter of Mei-zahav’ (36:39); and ‘Timna was a concubine’ (36:11), on the one hand, and ‘Anochi / I am Hashem your Elokim’ and ‘Shema Yisrael,’ on the other. They are all from the ‘mouth’ of the All Powerful One, they are all the Torah of Hashem--perfect, pure, and the truth which is holy. . . One who says that Moshe told the Torah’s stories on his own is classified as one who denies [an essential belief], for he believes that the Torah has a ‘heart’ and a ‘rind’ and that these stories have no purpose. This is included in ‘denying the Divine origin of the Torah,’ [which causes one to forfeit Olam Haba, according to the Mishnah]. . . The way we make a sukkah, lulav, shofar, tefilin and other [mitzvah] objects today is exactly the form that Hashem told Moshe. He [Moshe] told us, and he is trusted that he fulfilled his mission honestly. The verse that teaches this principle is (Bemidbar 16:28), ‘Through this [punishment of the mutinous Korach] you shall know that Hashem sent me to perform all these acts, that it was not from my heart.’ [This demonstrates that trusting Moshe is a prerequisite to accepting the Divine origin of the Torah.]” (Hakdamah L’perek Cheilek)

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“Now I know that Hashem is the greatest of all the gods . . .” (18:11)

R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach z”l (Yerushalayim; 1910-1995) writes: This implies that Yitro was aware of Hashem before; he just did not appreciate His power. It seems difficult to understand how one can know of Hashem but not know His greatness. The explanation is that if one knows of G-d’s existence but does not analyze his own day-to-day life to see Hashem’s hashgachah pratit / Divine providence, if one doesn’t realize that it is not his own efforts that cause his success, then he is in effect an idolator like Yitro had been!

R’ Auerbach writes further: What was the idolatry of old? It involved trying to draw sustenance or blessings from the forces of the universe. Contemporary man is focused on harnessing nature for his own ends. He thinks that success is a function of how many hours one spends at work and doesn’t realize that nature is merely G-d’s agent. He is oblivious to the role of G-d in the world and is no different that the idolators of the past. (Minchat Avot p.125)

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“It was on the next day that Moshe sat to judge the people . . .” (18:13)

Rashi z”l writes that it was the day after Yom Kippur.

R’ Isser Yehuda Malin z”l (1810-1876; av bet din of Brisk) asks: Did people have nothing better to do on that day than go to court? Why weren’t they preparing for Sukkot?

He answers: Precisely because Sukkot was approaching and a stolen lulav is not kosher, nor should one build a sukkah from stolen materials, they had to resolve their monetary disputes before the holiday. (Ohr Yisrael Al Ha’Torah)

What types of property disputes did Bnei Yisrael have in the desert? R’ Shalom Rokeach z”l (first Belzer Rebbe; died 1855) answers that they were arguing over the booty from the Red Sea. One man said, “This fine object washed up on the beach closest to you. It’s yours.” The second man replied, “No, you picked it up. It’s yours.” The first man retorted, “I picked it up on your behalf. It’s yours.” Pretty soon, they found themselves in court. (Quoted in Sefer Maharash)

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“If you do this thing--and G-d shall command you--then you will be able to endure, and this entire people, as well, will arrive at its destination in peace.” (18:23)

In this verse, Yitro tells Moshe Rabbeinu that, if he creates a judicial system, “this entire people . . . will arrive at its destination in peace.” The Gemara (Sanhedrin 7a) cites our verse as the basis for the saying, “If one leaves the courthouse without his shirt [which was seized to pay a judgment], let him sing as he goes.” R’ Raphael Hakohen Hamburger z”l (1722-1803; rabbi of Altona-Hamburg-Wandsbeck) explains:

If one loses a court case, it should give him peace of mind. He should know that a judgment has been entered against him in Heaven because of a sin, and this was the means chosen to execute it. Perhaps if he had won the court case or had no litigation at all, the judgment might have had to be executed in a much more drastic fashion. This is the essence of bitachon / trust--to believe that whatever happens is for the best. When a person accepts the court’s judgment in this spirit, he performs two mitzvot–the mitzvah of placing one’s trust in G-d and the mitzvah of obeying the bet din.

Furthermore, R’ Hamburger writes, if a person wins his case, he has to worry that his cleverness caused the court to award him property that is not his. In contrast, one who loses can be happy that he has clean hands. (Marpeh Lashon p.100)

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“In the third month from the Exodus of Bnei Yisrael from Egypt, on this day, they arrived at the Wilderness of Sinai.” (19:1)

The Gemara (Shabbat 86b) states that this occurred on rosh chodesh. Why did it have to be rosh chodesh?

R’ Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z”l (1865-1935; Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael) writes: The arrival of a new unit of time renews the spirit of both the individual and the congregation. Just as the preparations for the Exodus--the renewal of Yisrael’s physical freedom--were related to rosh chodesh (see Shmot 12:2), so the preparations for the renewal of the inner spirit through the Giving of the Torah were related to rosh chodesh.

The Gemara cited above continues: “Everyone agrees that the Torah was given on Shabbat. The Sages only disagree as to what day of the month it was.”

R’ Kook comments: Holiness is manifested in two forms. In some manifestations, it is consistent and unchanging. This is represented by Shabbat [which comes regularly like clockwork and], which shines a permanent, unchanging “light.” In other manifestations, it seems to be fluid, changing with the times. This is represented by the festivals, whose time is fluid and cannot be scheduled in advance because they are dependent on witnesses seeing the new moon. [Ed. note: This is how it is meant to be, but today we do have a fixed calendar.] The above dichotomy parallels the fact that there are some expressions of holiness regarding which there is no room for debate, while there is room for different opinions about other expressions of holiness. (Ein Ayah: Shabbat ch.9 Nos. 18 & 20)

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“Honor your father and your mother . . .” (20:12)

The Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 240:7) states: A child is obligated to stand up in the presence of his parent.

R’ Nissim Karelitz shlita (a leading halachic authority in Bnei Brak) notes that halachah permits a parent to excuse a child from standing for the parent just as a teacher of Torah may forego the honor that his students owe him. Nevertheless, the Gemara (Kiddushin 32b) cites several incidents in which teachers were upset that their students did not stand for them. Why were they upset? asks R’ Karelitz. What did they gain thereby?

He answers: It’s natural for a person to stand up in the presence of someone for whom he feels awe. The Sages involved in the incidents mentioned in the Gemara understood that it is the Torah’s will that such a feeling be instilled and encouraged in a student toward a teacher and a child toward a parent. A student’s or child’s recognition that his teacher or parent is more important than he is a healthy and important feeling which the above halachah is meant to foster. Therefore, he writes, teachers and parents should not forego this honor too readily. (Chut Ha’shani: Hil. Kibbud Av V’em p.287)

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Letters from Our Sages

The letter below was written by R’ Ovadiah Sforno z”l (Italy; 1475-1550), who is best known for his Torah commentary, which is reprinted frequently. This letter is addressed to the author’s younger brother, who was a banker and, at one point, supported R’ Ovadiah financially. The letter is reprinted in Kitvei Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno, p.513. Most of the notes in the text below are by the editor of that work.

To the noble, honorable sir, Chananel Sforno.

I received your letter two days ago, my brother and leader. I was concerned that you [plural, apparently referring to a group of people] have been unable to reach agreement regarding the tribute [apparently, a payment to the king or a nobleman], as is the way of fighting Hebrews [paraphrasing Shmot 2:13], finding fault and reasons for hatred, making the sweet bitter, may Hashem save us.

Regarding your question, why the great reward and eternal punishment are not mentioned in the Torah [i.e., Olam Haba is not mentioned], I have written you a special letter to answer your question. In it, I inform you that eternal happiness is mentioned before the commandments are given [i.e., in our parashah (19:5-6), “Now, if you listen well to Me and observe My covenant, you will be to Me the most beloved treasure of all peoples, for the entire world is Mine. You shall be to Me a kingdom of ministers and a holy nation.”] and their end [Devarim 26:18-19]. However, it is not made into a big deal, just enough to inform us of the intention of the G-d Who commands and teaches the ways of justice in His kindness, so that we will be aware of the eternal happiness. The reason is that it is not proper to promise big things or make grand threats regarding observance of the Torah, whose intention is that we serve G-d out of love and awe, not because of fear of punishment or hope of reward. . .

I always look forward to seeing your pleasant countenance, together with the children, may Hashem protect them. May you be together in wholeness for length of days and years of life and peace.


The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.

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