Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 7   No. 17

Parshas Yisro

When G-d Says "No"!

"And Hashem said to Moshe, 'Go down and warn the people, lest they break their ranks to see Hashem, and many of them will fall ... ' " (19"21).

"And Moshe said to Hashem, 'The people are unable to ascend Har Sinai (it is not necessary to warn them - Rashi), since you have warned us (not to) ... ' " (19:23).

"And Hashem said to him, 'Descend (the mountain) and re-ascend it, you and Aharon ... ' " (19:24).

To understand the above dialogue between Hashem and Moshe, let us take a look at a Gemoro in B'rochos (33b) where our sages, commenting on the posuk "And now Yisroel, what does Hashem ask from you other than to fear Him?" ask: 'Since when is the fear of Hashem such a simple matter?'

'Yes', replies the Gemoro, 'to Moshe Rabeinu it was indeed a simple matter'.


So ingrained and so obvious was the fear of Heaven in the eyes of Moshe Rabeinu, that he took it for granted that all other Jews were imbued with it, just like he was. Consequently, the possibility for a Jew to willfully contravene a Divine command transcended the realms of possibility. And that is how the Kedushas Levi explains the above dialogue:

Hashem's very command not to climb the mountain rendered such an act totally impossible. When therefore, Hashem instructed Moshe to go down and warn the people not to ascend the mountain, he was genuinely puzzled as to the need for such a warning, since the B'nei Yisroel had already been warned three days earlier not to ascend Har Sinai - as a result, it had, at least in the eyes of Moshe Rabeinu, become physically impossible to do so, so what purpose could possibly be served by repeating the warning?

Hashem therefore replied, 'Descend - climb down from your greatness' (Rashi Sh'mos 32:7). You may well be on such a level of Yir'as Shomayim, but the people are not - go down to their level (where you will see that it is not considered impossible to transgress the command of G-d), and repeat the warning.


The Ma'yonoh shel Torah tells the story of a certain article that had gone missing from the home of the Kotzke Rebbe. His family concluded that the article must have been stolen. 'Stolen?' exclaimed the Kotzke Rebbe, 'But that's impossible! The Torah writes "Do not steal!"

The S'fas Emes, who was a child at the time, later remarked that, when he heard those words from the mouth of his Rebbe, they made such an impression on him, that for years afterwards "Do not steal" stood before his eyes like an iron wall - rendering the slightest inclination to steal impossible.

Now imagine, if the words of the Kotzke Rebbe who, when all's said and done, was only a human being, and his words were uttered not as a command, but as a statement of fact, then how deep an effect must the words of the Divine G-d, King of Kings, have had on the B'nei Yisroel, when He issued the command: "Do not steal" - to pierce the heart of every Jew like an arrow.


Perhaps this will help us to answer the famous question posed by the Ibn Ezra: How can a person possibly avoid coveting something precious and wonderful that his friend owns? After all, these are but thoughts, and how can one be blamed if such thoughts well up in one's heart? What control can a man have over the thoughts of his heart?

Perhaps the answer is as we just explained. Every Jew was at Har Sinai, when Hashem proclaimed "Do not covet". And "Do not covet", like "Do not steal', , penetrated the heart of each one. It is a mitzvah to remember Ma'amad Har Sinai, so that everything that was said there remains fresh in our minds. In fact, there are many people who recite the posuk containing Ma'amad Har Sinai each day, as part of the 'Six Remembrances'. Consequently, if one is overcome with feelings of jealousy, one needs but to conjure up Ma'amad Har Sinai, and to visualise the words of the tenth commandment 'Lo Tachmod' being said by G-d. That will certainly suffice to banish all covetous thoughts from one's heart.


See also Parshah Pearls, 'When the Impossible Became Possible'.

Parshah Pearls


When the Impossible Became Possible

"And Hashem said to Moshe, 'Go down and warn the people ... ' And Moshe said to Hashem, 'The people are not able to ascend ...' And Hashem said to him 'Go down, and you and Aharon with you should ascend ... ' " (19:21-24).

Why did Hashem find it necessary to issue Moshe with the second command, in addition to the first one, asks the Gro?

Earlier, he explains, Moshe was given three sets of commands: to sanctify the people, to prepare them and to fence off the mountain.

However, when Moshe descended from the mountain to the people, he sanctified them and he warned them to be prepared for three days time, but not about fencing off the mountain.

The reason for this, explains the Gro, is because Moshe thought that he and Aharon would remain in the Camp of Yisroel together with the people. In that case, it was not necessary to warn them, because if he and Aharon would not ascend Har Sinai, then nobody else would ascend it either. And that is what Moshe meant when he replied "the people are not able to ascend Har Sinai because You warned us (Moshe nd Aharon) saying 'Fence off the mountain'. To which Hashem replied 'Go down and ascend, you and Aharon your brother, but the Kohanim and the people shall not break their ranks - and since you and Aharon will ascend, the danger of the people ascending becomes a reality. Therefore it is indeed necessary for you to warn them to fence off the mountain.'


Left, Right!

"I am Hashem your G-d, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slaves" (20:2).

In connection with the Aseres ha'Dibros, the Tikunei Zohar writes that 'the left is incorporated in the right and what should be on the left is on the right'. A puzzling statement, to say the least.

The Gro explains it like this: the ten commandments were written of course, on the two luchos even (stone tablets), five on one, five on the other. Given the well-known fact the the right represents Hashem's Midas ho'Rachamim, and the left, His Midas ha'Din, one would have expected the right-hand lu'ach to contain the four-letter Name, "Havayah' (Hashem's Name of mercy), and the left-hand lu'ach, the Name Elokim, (which embodies His Midas ha'Din).


The problem with that would be however, that the Midas ha'Din would then be indpendent, when in fact, it is vital that it should be tempered with the Midas ho'Rachamim, bcause that is the way that Hashem deals with the world at large and with Klal Yisroel in particular (like we find by the creation, where Hashem created the world with the Name Elokim, but the moment He created Odom, He combined it with Hashem, referring to Himself as 'Hashem Elokim'. And the way that Hashem conducts Klal Yisroel and the upper worlds is exclusively through the Torah which must therefore present the correct combination of the two Midos.

So what did Hashem do? He took the Name 'Elokim' from the left lu'ach (wherever it was meant to be) and placed it in the right lu'ach, in order to temper it with the Midas ho'Rachamim. That explains why it appears there six times, whereas it does not appear at all in the left lu'ach (which is where one would normally have expected to see it).

And that is what the Tikunei Zohar means when it says that the left is incorporated in the right and what should be on the left is on the right.


The Written, The Oral and the Mystic

The Novi writes in the Haftarah: "And he said 'Go and say to this people:

Listen, but you do not understand, and see, but you do not know'. The heart of this people has become fat, their ears, hard of hearing and their eyes dim -lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears and understand with their heart, and they will repent and be cured."

Many express surprise at the repetition contained in this posuk, says the Gro. Moreover, why does Yeshayah ha'Novi use the expression 'understand' ('tavinu') with regard to listening and with regard to seeing, 'knowing' ('tei'du'). And thirdly, why does he switch the order at the end, beginning with seeing with the eyes, and then going on to hearing with the ears and understanding with the heart, when initially, he began with the understanding of the heart?

To answer these questions, we need to remember that the Torah is divided into three parts: The written Torah, the oral Torah and the Torah of Mysticism (the Kaboloh). The written Torah is seen with the eyes, the oral Torah is heard with the ears, and the Torah of Kaboloh, which is not meant to be revealed to everyone, is understood with the heart.

As far as forgetting Torah goes, the Yeitzer ho'Ra ensures that one first forgets the Kaboloh, then the oral Torah, then the written one, which explains the order in the earlier part of the posuk. "The heart of this people has become fat" - that they stop learning kaboloh, "their ears hard of hearing" - that they stop learning the oral Torah too, and finally, their eyes will become dim - that they will even cease to learn the written Torah.

But when it comes to studying Torah, the order is reversed. Because the Yeitzer ho'ra is worried (the posuk continues) that "he will see with his eyes" (to begin learning the written Torah), "and hear with his ears" (the Oral Torah) "and understand with his yeart (the Kaboloh), because this is the order that one studies Torah - first the written, then the oral, and finally Kaboloh.



(The Mitzvos Lo Sa'aseh)

Adapted from the Seifer ha'Mitzvos ha'Kotzer of the Chofetz Chayim.

45. Not to curse an observant Jew - as the Torah writes in Kedoshim (19:14) "Do not curse a deaf person". The reason that the Torah writes "a deaf person" is to teach us that even if the person concerned is deaf, and is not directly hurt by the curse, it is nevertheless forbidden.

Someone who curses himself also transgresses this la'av.

One only transgresses if one curses using the (four-letter) Name of Hashem, or one of the other Names, even if it is in another language (i.e. using the Name 'G-d').

This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike.


46. Not to curse one's parents - as the Torah writes in Mishpotim (21:17) "And someone who curses his father or mother shall surely be put to death". If he cursed them with the four-letter Name of Hashem, he is sentenced to death by stoning, even if he cursed them after their death, but if he used one of the other Names of Hashem he only receives Malkos.

One may not obligate his father to take an oath that contains a curse, nor may he act in the capacity of an emissary of Beis-din to place a niduy (a form of ban) on him. It is also forbidden to abuse one's parents in any way. Anyone who does so, even if it is only by means of a hint, is cursed by G-d, for so the Torah writes in Ki Sovo (27:16) "Cursed is the person who despises his father or mother".

This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike.

47. Not to cheat one another when doing business - as the Torah writes in Behar (25:14) "And when you sell ... or buy from your fellow-Jew, do not cheat one another".

It is forbidden to overcharge an unsuspecting purchaser (nor may the purchaser underpay an unsuspecting seller). If one overcharges to the value of less than a sixth more than the regular price, the sale is valid; more than a sixth, the sale is cancelled. If he charges him exactly a sixth more than the accepted value of the object, then the sale remains intact, but the seller is obliged to return the difference to the purchaser (and the reverse will be the case should the purchaser underpay the seller). These regulations do not apply to the sale of land or houses (though in certain cases, the sale does become invalidated.) Neither do the laws of overcharging apply to private individuals, who, as a rule, will only sell their personal belongings at a higher price than the going rate.

This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike.


About the Mitzvos


The Mishnah at the end of Makos teaches us that someone who refrains from sinning is considered as if he had performed a mitzvah.

Does this mean that whenever one does not steal, shall we say, one performs a mitzvah? Unlikely! What the Mishnah probably means is that whenever one overcomes the temptation to steal, one performs the mitzvah. And so it is with all the mitzvos lo sa'asei.

It is also safe to assume that it is only considered a mitzvah if one refrains from sinning because Hashem commanded us to, not if one does so for any other motive - however noble that motive may be. This is certainly the case, according to those who hold "Mitzvos require kavonoh', but even those who hold that they do not, will probably agree that, when it comes to a mitzvas lo sa'aseh, without kavonoh, one will not have performed a mitzvah, since, unlike the performance of an asei, someone who refrains from transgressing a la'av, has not actually done anything. Consequently, without an act and without kavonoh, how can this possibly be turned into a mitzvah?


Perhaps that is what Rashi means when, quoting Rebbi Elozor ben Azaryah (in the Toras Kohanim), he says 'From where do we know that a person should not say "Pig's meat makes me sick" or "I cannot possibly wear sha'atnez"? What he should say is "I could eat pig's meat , I could wear sha'atnez, but what shall I do, seeing as My Father in Heaven decreed that I may not?"

And we learn from this from the posuk in Kedoshim (20:26) "And I divided you from the nations to be mine" - meaning that when you behave differently than the other nations, you should do it for My sake. Refrain from sinning and (in the process) accept the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven.


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