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 Shavuos Potpourri - Vol. 2, Issue 28

Vayikra ailav Hashem min haHar leimor koh somar l’Beis Yaakov v’tageid liV’nei Yisroel (Shemos 19:3)

Hashem commanded Moshe to speak to the Jewish men and women about accepting the Torah. This verse was immortalized by Sorah Schenirer when she coined the name “Bais Yaakov” for schools for girls. However, in refererence to the men, the Torah uses the phrase the “sons” of Israel. Why when discussing the women does it use the phrase the “house” of Yaakov when “daughters” would seem to be the appropriate parallel?

Rav Meir Shapiro observes that when a person becomes ill, there are hypothetically two ways for a doctor to treat him. The standard procedure is to prescribe medication, although another theoretical option would be to design a room in which the air is full of the necessary antibiotic. The former option has the drawbacks that it only helps one patient and requires active administration, whereas the latter could benefit many people without any effort on their parts.

Similarly, in fighting the universal illness known as the yetzer hara (evil inclination), men follow the prescription of the Gemora (Kiddushin 30b) to repel it through the study of Torah. Although the latter option isn’t currently medically feasible, Jewish women nevertheless use it to ward off spiritual illness. As the backbones of the house, they imbue the entire home with an atmosphere of holiness and spirituality, which automatically benefits not only themselves but also their husbands and children and all who are fortunate to enter their homes.

This is also alluded to in a well-known verse (Mishlei 1:8) Shema b’ni Mussar avicha v’al titosh toras imecha – Listen my son to the rebuke of your father, and don’t forsake the teachings of your mother. Shlomo Hamelech found it necessary to instruct one to listen to the lessons of one’s father, but a mother’s wisdom permeates the very air of the house and will be absorbed even without effort.  It is to emphasize this connection that the Torah refers to the women not as the daughters of Yaakov but as the house of Yaakov.


Zachor es yom haShabbos l’kadsho sheishes yamim ta’avod v’asisa kol melachtecha v’yom hashevi’I Shabbos l’Hashem Elokecha lo sa’aseh kol melacha atah u’vincha u’vitecha avd’cha v’amascha uv’hemt’cha v’ger’cha asher bish’arecha (20:8-10)

In the list of people who are prohibited from working on Shabbos, the Vilna Gaon notes that every one begins with a connecting “vov” – “and” – except for the servant. He therefore suggests a brilliant and original way of re-reading the verses based on a Gemora in Berachos (35b).

The Gemora states that when a Jew is doing what Hashem’s will, then he will merit that his work will be done for him by others, but when he is transgressing Hashem’s will, then he will have to do his own work. We can therefore interpret as follows: somebody who only remembers Shabbos in his mind (zachor es yom haShabbos l’kadsho) but doesn’t keep it in action will therefore have to work hard, as it says sheishes yamim ta’avod v’asisa kol melachtecha – six days he will have to work and do all of his labor.

On the other hand, if he doesn’t merely think about Shabbos but actually keeps it and makes it Holy in accordance with its laws (v’yom hashevi’I Shabbos l’Hashem Elokecha), then he and his family members won’t have to work even during the week – lo sa’aseh kol melacha atah u’vincha u’vitecha. If so, one may ask, how will he possibly live and who will take care of him if he and his family never do any work? To that the Torah answers that there will be others, such as servants and foreigners, to do his work for him, with the connecting “vov” left out to indicate that this is indeed a new list and a separate category – avd’cha v’amascha uv’hemt’cha v’ger’cha asher bish’arecha!


Lech emor lahem shuvu lachem l’ohaleichem (Devorim 5:27)

            There is a Talmudic maxim (Yevamos 97b) that ger shenisgayer k’katan shenolad dami – a non-Jew who converts to Judaism is considered for legal purposes to have been newly reborn and is no longer Biblically considered the person he was with the relatives he used to have. In his commentary on Avodah Zara (63b), the Chasam Sofer writes that he has been troubled his entire life at his inability to locate a source for this ruling which the Gemora seems in many places to take for granted.

            The Meshech Chochmah suggests that this rule may be derived from our verse. Moshe’s father Amram was one of the greatest men of his generation and was married to Yocheved, his aunt, a marriage which is forbidden to Jews but permitted to non-Jews. If one of the leaders was married to such a close relative, it is reasonable to assume that a number of other Jews did likewise and married the various family members which aren’t forbidden to non-Jews.

            After the giving of the Torah, Hashem instructed Moshe to tell the people to return to their tents. The Gemora in Moed Katan (7b) understands this as a reference to their wives. Although they were required to abstain from marital relations for 3 days prior to the giving of the Torah in order to receive it in a state of spiritual purity, they were now permitted to resume normal family life. However, after the Torah was given, those Jews who were married to relatives to whom they were now forbidden by the Torah shouldn’t have been allowed to return to their wives, but rather should have been required to divorce them. If Hashem nevertheless told Moshe to permit all of the Jews to return to their wives, it must be that their conversion made them as if they were reborn and no longer related to their wives, thus permitting them to remain married, and from here we may derive the source for the law which the Chasam Sofer sought!


Shavuos Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     The mitzvah of counting the Omer requires one to begin counting the days from the 2nd day of Pesach until the day before Shavuos, which is the 49th day. If one continues counting beyond that point (e.g. with Shavuos being the 50th day), does he violate the Torah prohibition (Devorim 4:2) against adding to the mitzvos?

2)     Rashi writes (19:3) that Hashem instructed Moshe to speak the words He was about to tell him to the women in a soft, calm manner and to the men with a harsh and threatening demeanor. In what way did Moshe do so, as a quick perusal of the following verses seems to indicate that there was no difference in the message given to each, nor are there any intimidating words that inspire fear, and lest one answer that Moshe relayed additional ideas – gentle for the women and sharp for the men – Rashi (19:6) writes that Hashem concluded by commanding Moshe not to add or subtract a word from those written here? (Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, Even Yisroel, Shemos Rabbah)

3)     The Medrash (Sifri V’zos HaBeracha 2) relates that before giving the Torah to the Jews, Hashem first offered it to the other nations of the world. Each of them asked what is written in it, to which Hashem responded with the single mitzvah which would be most difficult for the people of that nation to observe. Not surprisingly, they all declined. The Jewish people told Moshe (Shemos 19:8) that everything that Hashem has spoken, na’aseh – we will do. Had they instead asked the same question as the other nations, which mitzvah would have been deemed the most difficult for them and presented to them to determine the sincerity of their willingness to accept the Torah?

4)     The Gemora in Avodah Zara (2b) relates that before giving the Torah to the Jews, Hashem first presented it to the other nations of the world, all of whom refused to accept it. How could He offer the Torah to them when He promised our forefathers that He would give the Torah and the land of Israel, which goes together with the Torah, to their descendants, and what would have happened had one of the other nations actually chosen to accept the offer? (Mas’as HaMelech, Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh Shemos 19:5, Maharal)

5)     The Gemora in Shabbos (87a) states that Moshe deduced from 19:10 that he should add an additional day of preparations for the giving of the Torah, which ended up being given on Shabbos. The Gemora in Avodah Zara (3a) teaches that Hashem created the universe on condition that the Jewish people accept the Torah on the 6th day of the week, and if they didn’t, He would return the universe to its pre-Creation state of nothingness. Although they accepted the Torah, how was the condition fulfilled when they didn’t receive the Torah until Shabbos because Moshe added a day to their preparations? (Chasam Sofer, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

6)     The Gemora in Shabbos (88a) states that when the Jewish people were encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai, Hashem lifted the mountain above them like a barrel and threatened them that if they won’t accept the Torah, sham t’hei kevuraschem – there will be your burial place. The Gemora continues to say that although the Jewish people accepted the Torah, they were able to argue that they shouldn’t be punished for any sins they would commit because they were forced to do so under duress. The Gemora concludes that this changed in the times of the Purim miracle, when they willingly confirmed their acceptance of the Torah. How could they be punished with the destruction of the first Temple if at that point they hadn’t reaccepted the Torah and weren’t held responsible for their sins? (Rashba Shabbos 88a, Parshas Derochim 22, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

7)     The Medrash (Tehillim 8) states that when the angels objected to the giving of the Torah to mere mortals, they were reminded of the fact that they had violated the prohibition (23:19) against eating meat and milk together when they were guests of Avrohom (Bereishis 18:8). As the meat and milk dishes weren’t cooked together, in what way did the angels transgress a Biblical prohibition? (Beis HaLevi, Malbim, Birkas Peretz)

8)     The Gemora in Shabbos (86b) states that the Torah was given at Mount Sinai on Shabbos, and the Gemora there (87b) also records that the Exodus from Egypt occurred on a Thursday. How can Shavuos be celebrated as the holiday of the giving of the Torah on the 50th day of the Omer when according to the above, the Torah was received on the 51st day of the Omer? (Magen Avrohom 494, Shu”t Rivash 96, Maharsha Avodah Zara 3a, Moadim U’Zmanim, M’rafsin Igri)

9)     The Gemora in Shabbos (88b) states that each time that the Jewish people heard Hashem say one of the 10 Commandments, their souls left them and He had to miraculously revive them in order to continue. According to the opinion in Niddah (61b) that a person who has died is exempt from performing all mitzvos even after he is revived, were the Jews of that generation required to observe the mitzvos after the completion of the 10 Commandments, and if so on what basis? (Kovetz Shiurim 2:29, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

10)  Rashi writes (20:1) that Hashem initially said all of the Aseres HaDibros (Ten Commandments) simultaneously, and then stated each one individually because the human ear isn’t capable of understanding two things said at the same time. What was Hashem’s purpose in initially stating the Aseres HaDibros in an incomprehensible manner?

11)  Rashi (20:1) writes that upon hearing each of the 10 Commandments, the Jewish people responded to each positive commandment henyes and lavno to each negative one. What did they respond to the mitzvah of Shabbos, about which Rashi writes (20:8) that Hashem said both the positive commandment of zachorremember and the negative mitzvah of shamorsafeguard at the same time? (Rav Meir Shapiro quoted in Torah L’Daas Vol. 9)

12)  The Gemora in Nedorim (8a) rules that an oath taken by a person to fulfill a mitzvah has no effect because the person was already sworn to keep all of the mitzvos at Mount Sinai, and an oath cannot take effect in the place of a preexisting oath. If the acceptance of the Jews at Mount Sinai of the Torah is legally considered an oath, why isn’t a person who violates any of the mitzvos punished with lashes for violating the prohibition (20:7) against making a false oath? (Chazon Ish Yoreh Deah 2, M’rafsin Igri, Eebay’ei L’hu)

13)  Parshas Re’eh contains the mitzvah to ascend to the Beis HaMikdash three times annually on the festivals of Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkos. In the present day, when there is no Temple, is there still a concept of ascending as close as possible to the Temple Mount on these festivals, and if so, must one actually see the floor of the Temple Mount when doing so? (Ran beginning of Taanis d.h. v’eeka, Kaftor V’Ferach Chapter 6 d.h. v’kein, Shu”t Maharit 1:114, Shulchan Aruch HaRav 117:1, Maharatz Chayos Nedorim 23a, S’dei Chemed Ma’areches Eretz Yisroel Os Aleph, Moadim U’zmanim 7:141, Piskei Teshuvos 529:13)

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