Parshas Yisro 5759

Receiving The Torah
Refining the quality of kindness.

"And they journeyed from Refidim and came to the wilderness of Sinai and camped there. And Yisrael camped there facing the mountain. And Moshe ascended to Heaven and G-d called to him from the mountain saying, "Thus shall you say to the House of Jacob and speak to B'nai Yisrael.'" (Shemos 19:2)

The word camped is expressed in its singular form as opposed to the expected plural form, even though it refers to the whole Nation. Rashi says that this demonstrates that when B'nai Yisrael came to receive the Torah, they were a united people, of like heart and mind, sharing one goal and united in one experience. The very next verse tells us that Moshe Rabbenu was to ascend the mountain to prepare himself for receiving the Torah and to hear instructions from Hashem .

The 15th century Italian commentator, R' Ovadiah Seporno, says here, "This teaches us that Yisrael set themselves to the task of preparing the camp, and Moshe ascended to prepare himself for his approaching prophecy."

HaRav Chayim Shmuelevitz, zt"l, the former Rosh Yeshiva of the illustrious Mir Yeshiva of Poland and later Jerusalem, pointed out the apparent contradiction of the Seporno's comments. How is it possible to describe the activities of Moshe Rabbenu and the rest of the people in one breath?! Moshe is preparing for the worlds greatest revelation, and the people are digging latrines and pounding in tent pegs!

He answers that when B'nai Yisroel pitched camp, each member was concerned not with his own spot, rather he took the time to worry about his neighbor; was his camp in order, did he need some help. By performing Chesed (acts of kindness) with one another, they showed that they were indeed a nation that was fitting to receive the Torah; the Torah whose central mitzvah is "Love Your Neighbor as Yourself". Therefore Moshe's going up was facilitated by the nation's pitching camp.

A similar idea is expressed by the Yalkut Me'am Lo'ez. it quotes a Midrash which states that the most distressing aspect of the enslavement in Egypt was the consequence of the oppressive work; they didn't have enough physical nor emotional strength to do Kindness (chesed), for one another. Now that they finally had the opportunity, they immediately started to do Chesed again. Each one made sure that his neighbor had a good place to camp and that all of his needs were taken care of. They demonstrated that their true nature was consonant with the ways of the Torah. That being the case, Moshe Rabbenu was able to ascend the mountain to bring the Torah, Hashem's greatest gift to B'nai Yisroel.

May we always be a nation engaged in Chesed, and thereby each and every day receive the Torah anew.

(For a lengthier treatment of this idea, see the essay in Parsha Vayechi 5758.)

In Parshas Yisro, in the Ten Commandments, (Exodus 20:2), the first commandment states, "I am the Lord your G-d who took you out of the Land of Egypt, from the house of slavery."

Rashi, citing a Midrash, asks a question. "From the house of slavery", does this mean from the house of slavery (Pharaoh's household), or does this mean from the house of slaves (the households of the Egyptian citizens who were in fact themselves slaves to Pharaoh)? (see Genesis 47:19-23) The Midrash answers with a proof-text. "And he will redeem you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh, the King of Egypt." (Devarim 7:8)

From this we learn that Pharaoh enslaved all the Israelites for his own purposes. Therefore they were slaves to Pharaoh and only Pharaoh.

Slavery is a degrading and humiliating condition regardless of the master. Why should it matter if the Israelites were slaves to Pharaoh or to his subjects who were slaves to him?

There is a principle; "Malchusa d'ara k'aiyn malchusa d'rekia." The earthly Kingdom resembles the heavenly one. (Talmud Brachos 58a, Zohar 1,157a). The same systems which Hashem uses to operate the heavenly Kingdom are also operating in our world.

This is the underlying idea of the blessing one makes upon seeing an earthly king. "Blessed are You G-d, King of the world, who has conferred of his honor on a common man". The honor that comes to a flesh and blood king is only because he somehow resembles the King of Kings.

The Maharal of Prague explains that this is a positive state of affairs since the resemblance between the upper and lower Kingships points clearly to hand of Hashem at work. Hashem's providence is displayed by Klal Yisrael being under the dominion of a king.

In Tractate Megillah (14a), it states, "Greater was the removal of the ring (that King Achashveros gave to Haman [Esther 3:10]) than the rebuke that 48 prophets and 7 prophetesses gave to Yisrael." Said the Maharal, when power shifted from the hand of the King to a dictator, it spelled only calamity for Yisrael. (Nevertheless, in this case it was the cause for a great arousal of Teshuva which in turn insured the salvation of Yisrael.)

Reb Aharon, the previous Belzer Rebbe (1880-1957) pointed out two examples of the transfer of power from monarchy to a dictatorship in our own times. The results of such transfers are all too infamous. With the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm and the collapse of the Hohenzollern Monarchy in 1918, the German Empire came to an end. It was replaced by several attempts at democracy and ended with rise of the Nazi Party and its Chancellor Hitler (yemach shemo). In Russia after the revolution, Nicholas II signed his abdication on March 2, 1917. His brother Mikhail, who was supposed to take his place, never got to establish his reign. The Communists came into power and effectively squashed the Jewish religion in Russia.

Being slaves to the King is an entirely different condition than being slaves to common people. When Rashi tells us that B'nai Yisrael were slaves to Pharaoh and not to his subjects, he is telling us that despite the tortuous labor which broke their bodies and souls, it was for a purpose, the purpose of preparing them for the Torah. Through it all, Hashem was present, for being slaves to a King represents the presence of Hashem. When Yisrael is under the dominion of a King, it is a sign of Divine Providence at work.


When B'nai Yisrael received the Torah on Shavuos at Mt. Sinai they received not only the Ten Commandments, but the Written Torah and the Oral Torah as well. Not only that, but the Jerusalem Talmud tells us (Tractate Peah 2:4) that even the novellea (chiddushim) which any reputable scholar might pose in the future, were revealed on that day.

The Holy Zohar (Parshas Yisro 93b) says that this is true since the entire Torah is manifest in the Ten Commandments. Likewise, the Holy Zohar states (Parshas Yisro 85b), that all the Ten Commandments are manifest in the first word - "Anochi". (I, referring to Hashem), and "Anochi", in its first letter - à "alef" (Zohar Parshas Achrei Mos 73b). "Alef" in Hebrew numerology is "1" (one), and one stands for Emunah, faith.

This is the meaning of the Talmud in Tractate Makkos 24a, "And along came the prophet Habakkuk and distilled all the Mitzvos down to one, as it is written. 'And the Tzaddik lives by his faith'" (Habakkuk 2:4)

Therefore, concludes R' Avraham Yaacov of Sadigora, in his work Abir Yaacov (p.154), receiving the Torah is totally dependent on Faith!

It used to be that the Ten Commandments were recited every day. Then, with the rise of Jewish heresy in the time of the Talmud, the saying of the Ten Commandments was banned in public lest heretics claim that there is no Torah beside these commandments. The Arizal of Sfas concluded that if one wants to recite them, he may, but only after the conclusion of the morning prayers.

Nevertheless, it is brought in the Jerusalem Talmud (the end of the 1st Chapter of Brochos) that we find the Ten Commandments hinted at in the recitation of the Shema. It is a powerful kavannah (intention) to have in mind when saying the Shema. Sosiddurim (prayerbooks) have already marked these places. You may want to annotate your own Siddur.

The 10 Commandments

(1) I am G-d, your L-rd.
(2) You shall not have any other Gods before me.
(3) You shall not take the name of G-d in vain, (One who truly loves his King will not use his name recklessly or for false oaths.)

(4) You shall not covet. (Since it is written your house and not your neighbor's house.)

(5) Do not steal. (As it is written, gather in your produce and not the produce of your neighbor.)

(6) Do not kill. (The one who kills will eventually receive a like punishment.)

(7) Honor your mother and your father. (The Torah reveals that the reward for honoring ones parents is long life.)

(8) Do not commit adultery. (This verse refers to immorality.)

(9) Remember the Sabbath to keep it Holy. (Remembrance is the connection Also the Sabbath is equal to all the other mitzvos.)

(10) Don't bear false witness.

The Shema

Listen, Israel, (1)G-d is our L-rd, (2)G-d is One.

(3)You shall love G-d your L-rd with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I am commanding you today shall remain on your heart. You shall teach them to your children and speak of them when you are at home, when traveling on the road, when you lie down and when you get up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be a reminder between your eyes. (4)And you shall write them on [parchments affixed to] the doorposts of your houses and your gates.

And if you are careful to heed my commandments, which I am prescribing to you today, to love G-d your L-rd and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, [then G-d has made this promise]: "I will grant rains in your land at the proper time the early rain and the late rain (5)and you will gather in your grain, your wine and your oil. And I will grant forage in your fields for your animals, and you will eat and be satisfied." Be careful that your heart not be tempted; that you not go astray and worship other Gods and bow down to them. G-d's anger will then be flare up against you and He close up the heavens so that there will be no rain, and the earth will not yield its produce, (6)and you will quickly vanish from the good land that G-d is giving you.

Therefore, place these words of Mine upon your heart and upon your soul and bind them for a sign on your arm, and let them be a reminder between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children to speak of them, when you are at home, when traveling on the road, when you lie down and when you get up. And you shall write them on [parchments affixed to] the doorposts of your houses and gates - (7)so that your days and the days of your children may be prolonged on the Land which G-d swore to your ancestors, to give to them, for as long as the heavens are above the earth.

And G-d spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to B'nai Yisrael and tell them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments for all generations, and to include a thread of sky-blue wool on the fringe of each corner. These shall be your tzitzis, and you shall look upon them and remember all of G-d's commandments so as to keep them, (8)so you will not follow after your heart and after your eyes by which you go astray, so (9)that you will remember and keep all My commandments, and be holy to your G-d. I am G-d your L-rd, who brought you out of Egypt to be your G-d. (10)I am G-d your L-rd.

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