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

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Vol. 10   No. 17

This issue is sponsored l'iluy zecher Nishmas
Yonah ben Elchonon Moshe z"l.
May he be a meilitz yosher for his family
and for all of Klal Yisroel.

Parshas Yisro

A Treasured Nation

A 'Segulah', Rashi explains, following in the footsteps of Targum Unklus and Targum Yonasan, means something precious, a treasure that one puts away under lock and key. It describes G-d's relationship towards His people Yisrael, and hints at the Divine protection that they enjoy.

Rabeinu Bachye adds that just as a king's most precious treasures remain stored under his own private jurisdiction, and are not given to a third person for safekeeping, so too do K'lal Yisrael remain directly under G-d's personal supervision, whilst all other nations are placed under the jurisdiction of the various celestial superpowers. Seeing as G-d's palace is located in Eretz Yisrael, this explanation will serve as the basis for Chazal's statement, that whoever leaves Eretz Yisrael (which is governed solely by Hashem), it is as if he had no G-d.

The Ba'al ha'Turim observes that the last letters of the words "viheyisem li segulah mi'kol ho'amim" spell 'Milah'. This in turn, describes Yisrael's relationship with G-d. Because G-d's relationship with Yisrael is based on their relationship with Him. He chose them precisely because they first displayed an oath of allegiance towards Him, which is embodied in the Mitzvah of Milah. This Mitzvah symbolizes both a Jew's intrinsic subservience to Him, and his ability (indeed his undertaking) to raise himself above the level of an animal, to curb his desires and to live a life of sanctity. And this two-way bond is what Chazal refer to when they say 'Ani le'Dodi ve'Dodi Li'.

Interestingly, the root of the word 'Segulah' is 'Segol', a note of the Leining that is depicted by three dots in the form of a triangle. This surely teaches us that the two-way bond to which we just referred is only possible through a third partner. For so Chazal have said 'Yisrael, ve'Oraysa, ve'Kudsha-B'rich-Hu Chad Hu'. It is the Torah that enables us to attain the levels of which we just spoke, that make possible such a bond. That is why it is as we stood at Har Sinai, that G-d proffered upon us the title of 'Am Segulah'. Indeed, the phrase that immediately precedes "vi'heyisem li segulah ... " is "u'sh'martem es b'risi" (which refers to the Torah). It is our adherence to Torah that makes us special, that in turn, renders us eligible to receive special treatment at the Hand of Hashem.


The Ha'amek Davar adds an additional dimension to the concept of 'Am Segulah'. Before Matan Torah, he explains, anyone was able to serve G-d, each in his own individual way. But once the Torah was given, this changed. There are many gentiles who are ready to become servants of Hashem, he explains. It is no longer possible to achieve this however, unless one converts to Judaism and accept the entire Torah. Which is what the Torah means when it concludes "because the whole world belongs to Me". Even though all the nations belong to Hashem, the Pasuk is saying, there is only one treasury - Yisrael, and there is no way of becoming treasured by Him, other than via that treasury.


The Or ha'Chayim elaborates at length, giving a further three or four interpretations of 'Am Segulah'. In the first of them, he interprets a segulah in the colloquial sense, as a charm that supercedes logic. For example, he says, there are certain herbs that are cold by nature, yet they are miraculously capable of curing colds. Likewise, there are 'hot' herbs that can cure fever. These are generally known as segulos, because they appear to defy the laws of nature.

In the same way, when G-d refers to Yisrael as an Am Segulah, He means that they possess certain magical properties which have no logical explanation. For example, Chazal in Shabbos (63a) have said that if a Jew intends to perform a mitzvah and is prevented from so doing, he receives reward as if he would have performed it. If, on the other hand, he is prevented from performing a sin, this same principle will not apply. In the case of a gentile, it works in the reverse. He is taken to task for sins that he intends to perform, but receives no reward for the good deeds that he did not manage to carry out.

Now if thoughts are taken into account, then a. why is a Jew not taken to task for his evil designs? and b. why is a gentile not rewarded for his good intentions?

The answer lies in the fact that these laws are not dictated by logic. They are segulos!

Furthermore, we learned in Sanhedrin (59a) that a gentile who studies Torah or who keeps Shabbos is Chayav Miysah (subject to the death-penalty). Here too, if these Mitzvos earn such tremendous reward for us, then why should they be so strictly forbidden to gentiles?

And here too, the answer is, that Torah and Mitzvos are a segulah that work wonders when they are performed by Jews, but can even cause harm when performed by gentiles. That is why the Torah writes "and you will be for Me an Am Segulah from all the nations". These Segulos will work for your benefit, but for not anybody else's.


Parshah Pearls

From Hell to Heaven

Yisro, says the Ba'al ha'Turim, quoting his father, the Rosh (Rabeinu Asher), has the same numerical value, at one and the same time, as 'Komer hoyoh la'avodah-zarah' (he was a priest of idol-worship) and as 'ha'Torah'.

This describes Yisro, who after being a priest of idolatry, converted and came to receive the Torah.


A G-d of Justice

"And Yisro ... heard all that G-d (Elokim) had done to Moshe ... , that Hashem had taken Yisrael out of Egypt" (18:1).

Why does the Torah begin with the name 'Elokim', which denotes the G-d of justice, asks the Ba'al ha'Turim, and end with Hashem, denoting the G-d of mercy?

In one interpretation, he explains that Yisro was impressed when he heard how Hashem had nearly killed Moshe for not circumcising his son, and how he was saved when Tziporah quickly took the matter in hand.


G-d created the world with Midas ha'Din ("Bereishis boro Elokim ... "). Later, when He saw that it cannot exist on Midas ha'Din alone, says Rashi, He combined it with Midas Rachamim. And that explains why, after the creation of Adam, He switched to "Hashem Elokim".

Some people associate Divinity with stringency. They perceive god as one who punishes all evildoers. Others perceive him as all goodness, a god who distributes reward to good and bad alike (a deity who cannot and will not, hurt a fly).

But our G-d is a G-d of justice, who punishes those who sin, and rewards those who do good, and what's more, He tempers His Midas ha'Din with Midas Rachamim, giving a chance to the sinner to repent and attain Divine pardon. And that is what impressed Yisro.


A Strange Condition By a Stranger in a Strange Land

" ... the name of the one was Gershom, because, he said 'I was a stranger in a foreign land. And the name of the other one was Eliezer, because the G-d of my father assisted me ... " (18:3/4).

The words "because he said" do not appear by Eliezer, the Ba'al ha'Turim observes, though he does concede to the possibility that those written by Menasheh refer to Eliezer as well.

Alternatively however, he explains the Torah's distinction, with the Medrash that Yisro forced Moshe into an agreement that he would dedicate his first son to Avodah-Zarah, which is why Gershom had not been circumcised. Consequently, "and he said" is meant as a form of excuse, that he did not perform the Mitzvah of Milah, because he was a stranger in a foreign land, and had to acquiesce to the wishes of his father-in-law. That is why when Tziporah saw the danger Moshe was in, she released Moshe from the neder he had made to her father, and circumcised her son (Gershom).

Despite Moshe's excuse, the Ba'al ha'Turim points out, Gershom's son Yonoson, became a priest to Avodah-Zarah.

With regard to Eliezer however, such an excuse was not necessary, since he was named after Moshe's exile, the result of his killing the Egyptian (for which he was certainly blameless and) required no excuse. Consequently, "the Torah omits "because he said".

The Ba'al ha'Turim himself queries this explanation. The Gemara in Nedarim implies that Eliezer was the son who was not yet circumcised. The Gemara there (see Rashi Sh'mos 4:24) presents part of Moshe 's reason for delaying the B'ris Milah as 'if he were to circumcise the baby before traveling, this would endanger him. Now, if this refers to Gershom, he concludes, there is not the least indication that he had any more children once he reached Egypt.

The Ba'al ha'Turim's final statement is difficult to understand however, on two scores. Firstly, because the Gemara clearly does not agree with the above Medrash. If it did, then it should have attributed Moshe's reason for his failure to circumcise the baby, to the condition that he made with Yisro, rather than to Moshe's personal reasoning.

And secondly, because there is no reason why, according to the Medrash, the baby concerned should not have been Gershom, who was still uncircumcised from his birth a year or two earlier. Perhaps Eliezer, had been born on the eighth day after birth, a short while before Moshe left Midian. This in fact, seems to be the way the Targum Yonasan's understood the facts.


Let Good not Cease

"Honour your father and your mother, in order to live a long time in the land ... " (20:12).

The Gemara in Bava Kama (54b) cites Rebbi Chanina ben Agil. Rebbi Chanina asked Rebbi Chiya bar Aba why, in the first set of Luchos (which we are currently quoting), the Torah omits the word "tov" (good), whereas in the second set, it inserts it, when it adds "and in order that He will do good to you ... " (Devarim 5:16).

To which he received the strange reply that rather than ask him why the Torah writes "tov" in the second Luchos, he should ask him whether the Torah did indeed, write "tov", since he (Rebbi Chiya bar Aba) was not sure that it did. In view of the fact that "tov'' undeniably appears in the text, and is something that every child knows, Rebbi Chiya bar Aba's reply appears absurd.


Before we proceed to explain the dialogue between the Amora'im, says the G'ro, we need to understand that it cannot have been merely the change of expression between the two sets of Luchos, that they were discussing. For there are many differences between the two sets of luchos, such as "Zachor" and "Shamor", "Sheker" and "Shav", as well as many others, with which they did not seem to be too concerned.

It appears therefore, that Rebbi Chanina ben Agil was worried, not so much about the change of words, as he was about the change of context. In fact, their concern was connected with the Dr'ashah of Chazal, which defines "in order that He will do good with you" as reward in this world, and "in order to live a long time in the land ... ", as reward in the World to Come. Consequently, the initial question of Rebbi Chanina ben Agil was why, in the first Luchos, the Torah does not insert "good", to promise reward in this world for honouring one's parents?

And it is with regard to this question that Rebbi Chiya bar Aba replied that he was not so sure that it does, by which he meant that he was not so sure that the Torah does promise reward in this world (as the questioner believed) even in the second Luchos. This is because he followed the opinion of Rebbi Ya'akov, who maintains that the reward for Mitzvos is not due in this world, but is reserved for Olam ha'Ba (the World to Come). And in that case, even the "tov" in the first Luchos does not signify reward in this world. What the Pasuk is saying is "in order that He will do good to you", 'in the world that is all good', and "and in order to live a long time in the land ... ", 'in a world that lasts forever', as the Gemara in Kidushin (32b) explains.

However, he continued, if Rebbi Chanina, according to his understanding of "tov", wished to discover why the Torah indeed omits reward in this world from the first Luchos, he should go and ask Rebbi Tanchum bar Chamila'i (the author of the Medrash Tanchuma). He was frequently by Rebbi Yehoshua ben Levi, who was an expert in Agadah. Perhaps he was of the opinion that the Torah does promise reward for Mitzvos in this world, and he would explain to him why "tov" was omitted from the first Luchos.

So Rebbi Chanina ben Agil went to ask Rebbi Tanchum bar Channila'i, who replied that the first Luchos were destined to be broken, and that consequently, if "tov" had appeared there, it would have meant, chas ve'shalom, that with their breaking, all reward in this world for honoring one's parents would have ceased.


The question however, arises, that the Torah should not have written "in order to live a long time in the land ... " either. Why does this not imply that, with the breaking of the first Luchos, all reward for Mitzvos in Olam ha'Ba will have ceased too?

The answer to that, says the G'ro, is that when the Luchos were broken, they returned to where they came from in Heaven, which is synonymous with Olam ha'Ba. Consequently, it would not have mattered if 'long life' had returned there too, since that is its place. But had ''tov'' gone back to its place in Heaven, it would have meant no more reward in this world for honoring one's parents. And that is why the Torah omitted it from the first Luchos, placing it only in the second Luchos, which remained intact.



The Amidah
(based mainly on the Siddur "Otzar ha'Tefillos")

The B'rachah of 'Retzei'

'Retzei' is the seventeenth B'rachah, writes the Levush. Chazal instituted it corresponding to the angels, who said 'Baruch Atah Hashem, ha'Machzir Shechinoso le'Tzion' in the desert, when the Shechinah descended into the Mishkan.

They fixed it after 'Shomei'a Tefilah', because when Tefilah comes, Avodah follows, as the Navi Yeshayah writes "(56:7) ... and I will make them happy in My house of prayer, their burned-offerings and their peace-offerings will be brought for goodwill on My Mizbei'ach".


Retzei Hashem Elokeinu ...

This wording is based on the Pasuk in Yeshayah (49:8)"at the time of goodwill I answered you". When is the time of goodwill? When the community Daven, the Eitz Yosef explains. That is why we ask Hashem to accept His people Yisrael and their prayers (in the plural), and that is why it is so important to Daven with a Minyan, and not on one's own.


The Iyun Tefilah comments on the double expression "Accept Yisrael and their prayers", when one would have expected the text to read "Accept the prayers of Yisrael". He explains that if G-d accepts Yisrael, he will automatically accept their prayers, for He will not then scrutinize them to check for flaws and inconsistencies, and He will not demand the same standards of devotion as he does from the individual before responding.


ve'Hosheiv es ho'Avodah li'D'vir Beisecha

Certain aspects of Tefilah, we have learned, simply replace the Avodah. Consequently, says the Eitz Yosef, it is appropriate, during the course of our Tefilos, to ask Hashem to return the Avodah to the Beis-Hamikdash, so as to reinstate the real thing, instead of just the replacement.

The D'vir, points out the Iyun Tefilah, is the Kodesh Kodshim, the Holy of Holies, from where the Voice of Hashem would emanate (from between the two Keruvim on the lid of the Aron) whenever G-d spoke to Moshe. It was the focal point of the main Avodah on Yom Kipur, by means of which the Kohen Gadol would atone for Yisrael's sins once a year. And that explains why we refer specifically to the 'D'vir' (which now has connotations of 'the inner-sanctum').


ve'Ishei Yisrael u'S'filosom ...

Having just prayed for the return of the Avodah to the Beis-Hamikdash, this phrase clearly refers to the current time, when there is no Beis-Hamikdash and no Avodah. In that case, it is unclear what is meant by 've'ishei Yisrael' (the fire-offerings of Yisrael), which are synonymous with the Avodah?

The Eitz Yosef therefore explains that it refers to Tefilah, which currently replaces the Avodah. What we are therefore requesting from Hashem is that He should accept the fire-offerings that our Tefilos supplement, as well as the Tefilos themselves. Perhaps 'the fire-offerings of Yisrael' is even a direct reference to our Tefilos.

Alternatively, he explains, it refers to the Neshamos of Tzadikim, which the Angel Micha'el sacrifices each day on the celestial Mizbei'ach on behalf of K'lal Yisrael. In that case, 'ishei Yisrael' has the same connotations as 'anshei Yisrael' (the men of Yisrael).

Others, among them the G'ro, attach 've'ishei Yisrael' to the previous phrase ,to read 'and return the Avodah to the inner sanctum of Your House, and the fire-offerings of Yisrael'.


The Eitz Yosef cites some texts that read 've'ishei Yisrael u'sfilosom meheirah (quickly) be'ahavah sekabel be'rotzon ' Others however, object to this text, since it implies that G-d should quickly take the Neshamos of the Tzadikim for Micha'el to sacrifice on the Mizbei'ach. And also, because it interferes with the tradition that this B'rachah contains thirty-four words.

The Eliyah Rabah however, connects 'meheirah' to 'sekabel' (in which case it is merely a request that Hashem accepts these Korbonos quickly (without the least reference to taking anyone's life prematurely]), and the Panim Me'iros adds that it is still possible to maintain the thirty-four words by omitting the word 'es' (to read 've'hosheiv ho'avodah li'D'vir Beisecho').


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