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

For sponsorships and advertising opportunities, send e-mail to:

Back to This Week's Parsha Previous Issues

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Vol. 14   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

The B'rachah of Shabbos
(Adapted from the Chochmas Chayim)

The following story is told by a grandson of R. Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld.

R. Yosef Chayim's wife once fell ill in the middle of Friday night, and it was necessary to call the doctor urgently. At that time, a certain Viennese doctor by the name of Dr. Schwartz served the Yerushalayim community. He was particularly popular among the Austro-Hungarian residents, though he himself was not religious.


R. Yosef Chayim arose and quickly made his way to the doctor's house. In answer to his urgent knocking, the door opened, and there stood Dr. Schwartz, holding a lantern. Needless to say, R. Yosef Chayim was extremely agitated over this blatant display of Chilul Shabbos. Yet, in view of the situation, which was one of life-danger, which obviously took precedence, he said nothing about it.

The doctor accompanied R. Yosef Chayim to his house, and after examining the patient, he administered the necessary medication, and the situation improved.

The rays of the sun were already beginning to appear on the horizon, when R. Yosef Chayim accompanied Dr. Schwartz back to his house. As they traversed the alleyways of Yerushalayim, he turned to the doctor and asked him the size of the head in proportion to the rest of the body. The doctor, somewhat taken aback by the strange question, looked quizzically at the Ga'on, and tried to figure out what he was aiming at. Nevertheless, he answered innocently that the head measured one seventh of the body.

'Only a seventh', R. Yosef Chayim echoed the doctor's reply, and he proceeded to elaborate with a parable. He described how the limbs of the body once approached the head with the following complaint: 'We do all the hard work', they said. 'The hands work, the legs walk, and the rest of the body indulges in back-breaking work. Yet when the time to eat arrives, you open your mouth and are the first to enjoy the food! Then again, when something needs to be said, it is you who opens your mouth and without consulting us, you just say it!'

'You are a hundred per cent correct', answered the head. 'However, you should know that what I take is mine by right, and not due to your gracious consent. Reflect a moment; who is the one that guides every single action that the body performs, issuing it with the necessary instructions of what to do and when to do it? Is it not I?

In short, were it not for me, you would all be useless, like an abandoned vessel for which no-one has any use. That is why I deserve the prime portion of all the benefits that you receive!'

Dr. Schwartz was duly impressed with the head's reply and jokingly remarked that the head seemed to have a head.


When R. Yosef Chayim saw that he had the doctor's full attention, he turned to him and said: 'G-d divided up time in exactly the same proportions as he did man's body, in that He took one seventh of man's life and fixed it as the day of Shabbos, which He designated as a day of rest, free of all types of physical labour, confining it to a day of spiritual growth. And it is from this day of rest that a person draws his blessings and success for the remaining days of the week, as we say in L'choh Dodi ' ... for it is the source of blessing, crowned from the very beginning of the creation'. And so it is. Just as the head governs and guides all the limbs of the body, so too, does the Shabbos govern and guide the daily life of the Jew, creating the necessary balance between body and soul. For, were it not for the Shabbos, that affords him the opportunity to engage entirely in spiritual activity, he would become totally enslaved to his ongoing physical pursuits, causing his intellectual and spiritual image to disappear, to the point that he and his donkey would be indistinguishable.

But now that G-d has given K'lal Yisrael this wonderful gift called Shabbos, which maintains a Jew's spiritual balance, and which brings blessing upon the remainder of the week, it is surely up to us to stringently guard the Shabbos just as the Shabbos guards us'.


The softly-spoken words of the Ga'on, which were spoken in fluent German, and which came from the heart, made a profound impact on the doctor, who replied humbly 'You are right, Rebbe! From now on it is the light of Shabbos that will illuminate my way, and not that of a paraffin lamp!'

* * *

Parshah Pearls
(Adapted mainly from the P'ninei Torah)

Two Kinds of Peace

"And Yisrael encamped there opposite the mountain" (19:2).

'Like one man, with one heart', comments Rashi.

The Gemara in Zevachim (116) relates that when the Torah was given, all the nations asked Bilam whether 'Hashem is returning to the great flood'? To which Bilam replied 'Hashem is giving strength (the Torah) to His people'. The people responded with 'Hashem shall bless His people with peace!'

R. Meir Shapiro explained this by asking what is so special about the prophecy of Yeshayah ha'Navi, who said, in connection with the coming of Mashi'ach "And the wolf will dwell together with the lamb, and the leopard will crouch together with the kid", considering that this already took place in No'ach's boat?

The answer is that the peaceful coexistence in No'ach's boat took place in a time of danger, and when danger lurks it is normal for enemies to make peace for their mutual benefit (see Rashi and Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'alei Tosfos at the beginning of Parshas Balak). But for the same peaceful coexistence to occur in time of peace is nothing short of a miracle, something that can only be expected in the days of Mashi'ach.


Now let us revert to the Gemara in Zevachim. When Yisrael received the Torah at Har Sinai, amidst such perfect harmony ('like one man ... '), the nations of the world could not fathom it, and immediately asked Bilam whether Hashem had reverted to the era of the flood, for such a peaceful coexistence is only possible in time of danger, like in the time of the flood.

Until Bilam assured them that nothing of the sort was happening, but that Hashem was giving Yisrael the Torah, the tool that united Yisrael with their Creator, and that had the power to create unity and harmony even in times of peace. 'In that case', the people replied, 'May Hashem bless His people with true and genuine peace!' (R. Meir Shapiro).


There Are Always Exceptions

"And Moshe took the people to meet G-d to outside the camp" (19:17).

When they asked Count Pototzki, the famous Ger Tzedek, what made him convert to Judaism, he gave the following reply: We find that when Hashem offered the Torah to the nations, they all declined to accept it. Yisrael accepted it. Logic dictates that, on the one hand, not every Jew accepted the Torah, and that, on the other, there were some gentiles who were willing to accept it. Only the majority of Yisrael wanted it, and the majority of each gentile nation did not - and it is the majority who determine.

And what happened to those Jewish souls who did not really want the Torah (but who stood at Har Sinai nonetheless), and to those gentile souls that did? The answer is that, in the course of history, the former left the fold, whereas the latter converted to Judaism. Up to here is the gist of Count Patotzki's words.


R. Meir Shapiro continues: Who were the Jews that rejected the Torah? The Eirev Rav. They are the ones whom Moshe took out (by force) to meet Hashem (indeed, the Torah uses the phrase 'es ha'am', which, as is well-known, refers to the Eirev Rav) and they are the ones over whose heads Hashem found it necessary to hold the mountain.


Two Levels of Shemiras Shabbos

"Remember the Shabbos day to sanctify it. Six days you shall work ... And on the seventh day it is Shabbos for Hashem your G-d, do not do any work ... " (20:8-10).

There are those who keep Shabbos only because they remember how their parents kept Shabbos, but not because it means anything to them. And then there are those who keep Shabbos because it is a Mitzvah that G-d commanded us to observe it.

These two levels are hinted in these Pesukim.

Regarding those who keep Shabbos only because they remember ... , the Torah writes "Six days you shall work".

Whereas with regard to those who keep Shabbos because it is Hashem's special day, it writes "You shall not do any work" - because you will merit that your work will be done through others (P'ninei Torah in the name of the G'ro).


The Kedushah of Shabbos


To fully understand how Chazal viewed the sanctity of Shabbos, we need only to recall how they negated the Mitzvos of blowing the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah, and of taking the Lulav on Succos, when either of these two Mitzvos fall on Shabbos. Both Mitzvos are basically Torah orientated, yet Chazal saw fit to cancel a Mitzvah that pertains to the entire community, just because of the few individuals who might inadvertently break the Shabbos. And this lesson is particularly powerful with regard to blowing the Shofar, which Chazal compare to entering the Kodesh Kodshim, because the tone of the Shofar penetrates the heaven and reaches G-d's throne. Yet Chazal decided that an inadvertent contravention of the Shabbos overrides such an important Mitzvah (Chochmas Chayim).


Longevity and Honoring Parents

"Honour your father and your mother, in order that you will live long on the ground that Hashem your G-d gives you" (20:12).

One of the only Mitzvos that are assigned a specific reward is the Mitzvah of Kibud Av va'Eim.

The Chochmas Chayim explains this in the following way. A person is likely to say that although he knows about the Mitzvah of honouring parents, this does not mean that he is obligated to spend his precious time fulfilling it, just as, strictly speaking, one is not obligated to using one's own money (since Chazal have confined the basic obligation to using the money belonging to one's parents).

So the Torah prescribes longevity for performing the Mitzvah, assuring the person who spends time on it that he will be re-compensated later with extra years of life. The more time one spends, the more extra years one will earn.


In similar vein, they once asked the Chasam Sofer why he Davened such a long Amidah, since the excessive time constituted 'Bitul Torah'.

Back came the reply that this did not worry him, as Chazal have said that someone who Davens long, will enjoy extended days and years. In that case, he said, all the time he spent Davening, would be repaid later, and then he would be able to make up for the learning that he 'lost'.


Your Shabbos or My Shabbos!


The Gemara says in Shabbos 118, that one should rather treat one's Shabbos like a weekday (and not eat anything special) than have to borrow from others. Yet another Gemara in Beitzah (15) says 'Borrow on My account and I will repay.'

The Beis Ya'akov reconciles the two conflicting statements via the words used by Chazal.

Someone who uses the Shabbos merely in order to eat his fill and enjoy life ('Make your Shabbos ... ), even though he may well say 'li'Chevod Shabbos Kodesh' is not permitted to borrow towards such an end; whereas someone who really eats in order to sanctify the Shabbos ('Levu Alai'), whereby he truly borrows for the sake of Hashem, is welcome to go ahead and borrow, blessed with a Divine assurance that his loan will be repaid.


Showing-off - One's Faults

"And do not climb My Mizbe'ach via steps, so as not to reveal one's nakedness on it" (20:23).

When a person boasts of his good qualities, says the No'am Elimelech, with reference to this Pasuk, all his shortcomings become revealed.

When a person stands in the spotlight, it is not only the nice things about him that everybody can see ... .

* * *


'And Yisro was happy on account of all the good that G-d had done for Yisrael; that He gave them the Mon and the well (see Rashi), and that He saved them from the Egyptians' (18:9).


' ... warn them about the statutes and the laws, and instruct them how they should Daven in their Shuls, the way in which they should visit the sick and in which they should go to bury the dead, to perform Chesed (with one another), the actions pertaining to the performing of the law and to act beyond the letter of the law regarding the Resha'im' (18:20).


'And Moshe chose men of valour from all of Yisrael, and he appointed them as leaders over the people: leaders of thousands (600), leaders of hundreds (6,000), leaders of fifty (12,000) and leaders of ten (60,000)' 18:25.


'You saw what I did to the Egyptians; how I carried you on clouds (like eagle's wings) from Pilusin (Ra'amses) and how I brought you to the location of the Beis-Hamikdash, to bring the Korban Pesach there; and how on the same night I returned you to Pilusin, and from there I brought you to the teachings of My Torah' (19:4).


'And you will be before Me kings wearing a crown, Kohanim who serve Me and a holy nation ... ' (19:6).


'Let a hand not touch it (Har Sinai), for one who does will be stoned with hail-stones or shot with arrows of fire' (19:13).


'And Moshe took the people out of the camp to meet the Shechinah of Hashem. Immediately, G-d uprooted the mountain and held it aloft, and it was transparent like a glass mirror (see Nosei K'lei Yonasan) ... ' (19:17).


' ... Moshe descended Har Sinai to the people and he said to them "Come close; accept the Torah together with the Ten Commandments" ' (see Rashi - 19:25).

* * *

(Adapted from the Seifer ha'Chinuch)

Please bear in mind that the rulings in this article reflect the opinion of the Seifer ha'Chinuch and are not necessarily Halachah.

Mitzvah 71:
Not to Curse a King

It is forbidden to curse a 'Nasi', as the Torah writes in Mishpatim (22:27) "And do not curse a Nasi among your people". Even though basically "Nasi" means a king, it also incorporates the head of the Sanhedrin ha'Gedolah, who also bears the title 'Nasi'. In short, the Torah has in mind the leader of the people, irrespective of whether he is a leader in the secular field or in the field of Torah.

A reason for the Mitzvah ... because a society cannot survive without appointing one person as head, whose laws and decrees the remaining members undertake to adhere to. This is due to the diversity of opinions that inevitably exists among a large group of people, rendering it impossible to arrive at the same conclusion on all issues, with the result that matters of importance will never be decided upon. Hence the importance of appointing one person to reach the necessary decisions, when it comes to the crunch. It may well be that sometimes this person's decisions turn out to be detrimental to the community. But at least decisions will be made, often to the communal advantage. And this is certainly preferable to Machlokes which leads to stale-mate. In any event, seeing as the appointment of such a leader is to everyone's mutual advantage, both in spiritual matters (concerning Torah and its observance) and in matters of secular issues (to prevent the strong from harming the weak), it is only correct to refrain from treating either of the two above leaders disrespectfully and not to curse him, even when not in his presence, and certainly not in front of witnesses. And doing so will invariably lead to disagreeing with him and then to disregarding his orders. Because the bad traits that a person accustoms himself to, ultimately affect his actions detrimentally (refer to Mitzvah 69).

Some of the Dinim of the Mitzvah ... The Gemara in Shevu'os (35b) restricts the La'av to where one curses the Nasi using one of the names of G-d (as we explained in connection with the previous Mitzvah [the La'av of Birchas Hashem]) ... The person who curses a Nasi is subject to three sets of Malkos, one for "Elokim lo sekalel", one for "ve'Nasi ... lo so'or", and one for "Lo sekalel cheresh" (Vayikra 19:14), which is a general La'av applying to all of Yisrael.

This Mitzvah applies to men and women in Eretz Yisrael, and wherever else we find ourselves together with our king or with the head of the Sanhedrin ha'Gedolah. Someone who contravenes it and curses him using a Name of G-d or one of His descriptions, is subject to three sets of Malkos, and if his own son does the cursing, he receives an additional set, for cursing his father.


Mitzvah 72:
Not to Give One's Ma'asros in the Wrong Order

It is forbidden to switch the order of one's Ma'asros, but to give them in the right order. Once the wheat has been threshed and cleaned (through winnowing) it becomes Tevel (produce from which one's obligations have not yet been removed). One's first obligation is Terumah Gedolah, which min ha'Torah, comprises no more than one grain, though the Chachamim increased this to one fiftieth. From what remains, one is then obligated to separate one tenth as Ma'aser Rishon. Then, from the remainder, one separates Ma'aser Sheini. The Terumah, one gives to a Kohen, the Ma'aser Rishon, to a Levi, whereas the Ma'aser Sheini, the owner takes to Yerushalayim and eats it there. This is the order in which the above must be given, and we are not allowed to bring forward what must be given later, or vice-versa, as the Torah writes in Mishpatim (22:28) "Your first-fruit and your Terumah you shall not delay", and it is as if the Pasuk had said "Do not delay your first-fruit and your Terumah, both of which must be given first.

One of the reasons of the Mitzvah ... Doing things in the correct order avoids confusion and error. Conversely, doing things in the wrong order leads to constant mistakes. And seeing as T'rumos and Ma'asros are major issues in the realm of Mitzvos, as the author will explain in Parshas Re'ei and Shoftim, G-d commanded us specifically to be especially careful not to facilitate errors, by adhering to the right order. And when we hear a better explanation from the Mekubalim, we will accept it. (cont.)

For sponsorships and adverts call 651 9502

Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues

This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel