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

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Vol. 17   No. 17

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Parshas Yisro

Yisro and Har Sinai
(Adapted from Rabeinu Bachye)

The Medrash discusses two opinions as to whether Yisro arrived at Har Sinai before or after Matan Torah, each opinion with its proofs and counter-proofs.

Those who maintain that he came after Matan Torah base their opinion on three Pesukim. Firstly, the Torah describes how Yisro came "to the desert where they were encamped, by the Mountain of G-d" (18:5). As is well-known, Yisrael camped at Har Sinai for an entire year, and the Pasuk suggests that Yisro arrived during the course of that year. Secondly, Moshe informed Yisro that he taught the people the statutes of Hashem and his laws (ibid. Pasuk 16), and it was only after the Torah was given that a substantial number of statutes and laws existed that needed to be taught. And thirdly, the fact that the Pasuk finally relates that Moshe sent Yisro home (Pasuk 27) indicates that Yisro arrived only after Matan Torah. Had he arrived before the Torah was given, it is inconceivable that Moshe would send his father-in-law home immediately without allowing him to remain for the duration of Matan Torah!


The problem with this explanation is that if Yisro did arrive after Matan Torah, why does the opening Pasuk, which relates how Yisro traveled to join Yisrael at Har Sinai because he had heard all the many wonderful things that G-d had done on behalf of Yisrael, and above all, how He had taken them out of Egypt, fail to mention a word about the unique Revelation at Har Sinai and the giving of the Torah. And the same glaring omission exists in the words of Moshe to his father-in-law immediately following Yisro's arrival, when he informed him how G-d had punished Par'oh and the Egyptians. Why did he not also tell him about Matan Torah. And now that Yisro responded by acknowledging G-d's greatness, he would certainly have been even more impressed had Moshe described to him the awe-inspiring experience of Matan Torah.


For these reasons, R. Bachye concurs with the opinion that Yisro arrived at Har Sinai before Matan Torah, and he adds, this is also the opinion of the Ramban. In that case, the Parshiyos follow the order in which they are written, and neither the Pasuk nor Moshe mentions Matan Torah at this stage, simply because it had not yet taken place.

To answer the questions posed by those who maintain that he came after Matan Torah, the author explains that although the Pasuk states that Yisro arrived at the Mountain of G-d , in fact, he first traveled to Refidim (where Yisrael were encamped prior to leaving for Har Sinai). And the Torah mentions "Har ha'Elokim", because it was already well-known that this was Yisrael's destination, and that they had only left Egypt in order to receive the Torah there. Consequently, the Torah wishes to stress Yisro's righteousness, in that he willingly left a world of comfort and his family to travel to the desert in order to serve G-d at His Mountain.


According to the current explanation, when Moshe spoke about teaching the people the statutes of G-d and his laws, he was referring, not to the laws and statutes of the Torah, but rather to the civil laws and instructions on how to live in the desert that Moshe had taught them when they were encamped in Marah (See 'Chok & Mishpat', in last week's 'Parshah Pearls'). And when the Torah informs us that Moshe sent Yisro back home, this does not mean that he went and did not come back. The Torah does not say 'and he returned to his land' (which would have implied that he went home to stay); but "and he went to his land". He did not simply return; he went on a mission - to convert the members of his family (as Rashi explains), before returning to rejoin Yisrael, who were still encamped in front of Har Sinai. Indeed, the Medrash quotes Yisro as having said "I will go and convert my fellow-countrymen". And it goes on to refute the suggestion that he did not return, by referring to the Pasuk in the Book of Shoftim (1:16), which specifically states "And the sons of Keini the father-in-law of Moshe ascended from the City of Dates (Yericho) ".


Incidentally, in connection with opinion that Yisro came after Matan Torah, the Medrash attributes the fact that he missed Matan Torah to the Pasuk in Mishlei (14:10) "The heart knows its own bitterness, and in its joy no stranger will share." Yisrael, who suffered in Egypt, were worthy of receiving the Torah, those who did not, had no place at that holy gathering in front of Sinai.

The Medrash does not explain the strange phenomenon that the only three people in the whole of Yisrael who did not participate in Matan Torah were Moshe's own wife and two sons!

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Parshah Pearls
(Adapted from Rabeinu Bachye)

Day by Day

"On the third month after B'nei Yisrael left Egypt, on this day they arrived at Midbar Sinai " (19:1).

"This day", Rashi explains, was Rosh Chodesh Sivan.

Rabeinu Bachye, following the opinion of the Chachamim, who maintain that the Torah was given on the sixth of Sivan (as opposed to R. Yossi, in whose opinion it was given on the seventh), presents the following timetable of the events that took place up until the Torah was given six days later:

They arrived in Midbar Sinai on Monday Rosh Chodesh Sivan. On the following day, Tuesday the second of Sivan - they moved camp to the area facing Har Sinai. Moshe then ascended the Mountain, and G-d commanded him to convey the message (contained in Pesukim 19:4-6) to the people, softly to the women, and harshly to the men, demanding loyalty in exchange for becoming G-d's treasured nation. When he conveyed the message that evening via the elders, the entire congregation accepted his words, and they replied in unison "All that Hashem said we will do!"

On Wednesday, the fourth of Sivan - Moshe informed Hashem of Yisrael's reply, and the Mitzvah of Hagbalah ('to fence off' the Mountain [see footnote]).

On Thursday, the fifth of Sivan, Moshe ordered Yisrael the Mitzvah of P'rishah (to separate from their wives) and that is when he instructed them to be prepared for the third day (Shabbos, the sixth of Sivan), when Hashem would reveal Himself to them and give them the Torah (in the form of the Ten Commandments).

On Friday night, the sixth of Sivan, Chazal teach us, the entire congregation performed Tevilah, and in the morning, G-d announced the Ten Commandments.


Words that are Hard Like Sinews

"So you shall tell (ve'sageid) to the B'nei Yisrael" (19:3).

Words, say Chazal, that are as tough as sinews (ke'gidin). Chazal explain that although he was to convey the Mitzvos to the women softly (as implied by the words "Koh somru "), when he spoke to the men, he was to speak harshly.

The question arises as to what is Chazal's source for this D'rashah?

They learn it, R. Bachye explains, from the 'Yud' in the word "ve'sageid". Throughout the Torah, he observes, 'Hagadah' in all its forms is written without a 'Yud'. And the reason that the Torah adds one here, is to Darshen from it a Lashon of 'Gidin' (sinews, which are exceptionally tough).


Kings and Priests

"And you shall be for Me a Kingdom of Priests and a holy nation" (19:6).

The Torah is saying here that by accepting the Torah, Yisrael became kings and Kohanim, besides becoming a holy nation. In other words, the 'Crown of Torah' incorporates the Crown of Kehunah (priesthood) and the Crown of Malchus (sovereignty). Indeed, commenting on the Pasuk in Mishlei "It is more precious than pearls (mi'Peninim)", Chazal have said that someone who learns Torah is more precious than the Kohen Gadol, who enters the Kodesh Kodshim (lifnai ve'li'fenim) on Yom Kipur.


Kabalistically speaking, R. Bachye explains, "a Kingdom of Priests" is said with reference to serving G-d like Kohanim, and what the Pasuk therefore means is that with Torah, Yisrael serve Hashem in this world, and will therefore merit to become a holy nation in the World to Come.


"Zochor" "Zochor"

"Zochor es yom ha'Shabbos lekadsho" (20:8).

The Gemara in Shabbos learns that, irrespective of whether the Torah was given on the sixth of Sivan or on the seventh, it was given on Shabbos, and the two opinions argue over whether Rosh Chodesh that year, fell on Sunday (the seventh) or on Monday (the sixth).

The source for the basic statement lies in the word "Zochor" which the Torah compares (via a Gezeirah-Shavah) to Pesach, where the Torah writes "Zochor es ha'Yom asher yetzosem mi'Mitzrayim". Just as there, the Beraisa extrapolates, the Mitzvah is to remember exodus on the day that it took place, so too, must the Mitzvah to remember Shabbos be performed on the day that Shabbos was given to us (as part of the Ten Commandments), which was on Shabbos.

And it is because the Torah was given on Shabbos that Chazal opened the Shacharis Shabbos Amidah with the words 'Yismach Moshe be'matnas chelko' (Moshe will rejoice with the gift of his portion), with reference to the Shabbos.

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The Aseres ha'Dibros
(through the Eyes of the Rosh)

" a zealous G-d, who visits the sins of the fathers on to the children, on to the third and fourth generations" (20:5). See Rashi.

The Rosh, citing 'some commentaries', explains that it is only with regard to Avodah-Zarah that G-d punishes up to four generations down the line. Regarding other sins, "every person will die for his own sins (and not for those of his father)", as the Torah writes in Ki Seitzei (24:15).

But that is only assuming that he is not in a position to object to the sins that his off-spring are perpetrating. says the Rosh; In the event that he is, but fails to do so, he will be taken to task for all the sins of the perpetrator, he together with his family,.


"Do not do any work, you or your convert (Gercho) within your gates" (20:10).

Quoting a Pasuk in Mishpatim, the Rosh concludes that the Ger mentioned here refers to a Ger Tzedek, not a Ger Toshav (though his proof is unclear). And what's more, unlike 'son and daughter, slave, maidservant and animal' (mentioned prior to Ger in the Pasuk), whom the Torah is forbidding from working on behalf of a Yisrael [see Rashi]), the Torah here is prohibiting a Ger Tzedek from working for himself on Shabbos!

But how can that be, the Rosh queries his own explanation? Is a Ger Tzedek not a fully-fledged Jew, who is anyway obligated to keep all the Mitzvos? So why does the Torah see fit to mention him independently?

We might otherwise have thought, he explains, that since Shabbos is particularly precious in the eyes of G-d, since He referred to it as 'Os' - a sign, He gave it exclusively to those who were conceived and born as Jews, but not to Geirim. (see also the Gemara in Shabbos [on Daf 10a] which describes Shabbos as a special gift that G-d gave to K'lal Yisrael [to the obvious exclusion of the nations of the world]))


And what is the difference between a ben No'ach and a Ger Toshav, asks the Rosh?

A Ger Toshav, he explains, undertakes in front of Beis-Din, not to worship idols, even though he continues to eat Neveilah. A ben-No'ach, he adds, remains obligated to observe all his seven Mitzvos, only G-d rewards them (on a smaller scale) as if they were not, as the Gemara explains in Bava Kama (38a). This insinuates that a Ger Toshav, who officially adopts what other B'nei No'ach relinquished, receives the full reward of one who has been commanded.


"Do not do any work, you or your animal" (Ibid.) The Gemara in Shabbos (113:/114.) learns from here the prohibition of guiding one's loaded animal on Shabbos (Mechamer), since the prohibition against allowing one's animal to work on one's behalf is already mentioned in the Pasuk in Va'eschanan (5:14) " in order that your ox and your donkey shall rest like you". Nevertheless, this La'av is not subject to Malkos, since the same La'av also leads to the death-penalty (and we have a principle that any La'av which leads to the death-penalty is not subject to Malkos). This means that although Mechamer itself, which is performed with the mouth (and is not subject to the death-penalty), since the same command ("Do not perform work") serves as the warning for someone who does a Melachah (which is), it can never lead to Malkos.

Similarly, lending one's animal to somebody who will perform a Melachah with it on Shabbos is prohibited. In the event that one lent it out before Shabbos, one is obligated to declare it Hefker (ownerless) on Shabbos. The declaration may be performed privately (i.e. it need not be done in the presence of three people).

Although one should likewise avoid lending other vessels on Shabbos, that is only because it gives the impression of appointing the borrower as one's Shali'ach. In the event that one did, it is not therefore necessary to declare them Hefker, since allowing one's household articles to work on Shabbos is not intrinsically forbidden.


"And He rested (va'yonach) on the seventh day" (20:11).

The Rosh cites the Rambam, who translates this as "And G-d stopped work ". Presumably, he does not consider the concept of Hashem resting, appropriate. And he cites a precedent for this translation in the Pasuk in Sh'muel (1, 25:9), where the Pasuk describes how the servants of David came to Naval and "related to him all the words of David, and they rested (vayonuchu)" - which really means and they stopped (speaking).


"Do not commit adultery" (20:13).

This La'av (which is subject to the death-sentence) refers exclusively to a married woman. Intimacy with an unmarried woman involves only the La'av of "Lo sih'yeh kedeishoh" (the prohibition against prostitution). Yet the Gemara in Sanhedrin (75a) tells the story of a man who had the urge to be intimate with an unmarried woman and who became ill to the point of death, because she was forbidden to him. In spite of the fact the doctors warned that he would die unless he was permitted to give vent to his lust even if he would not at least be permitted to speak with her from behind a wall, the Chachamim forbade it. Better, they said, that he should die than to be presented with a blanket Heter to give vent to his lust.

In answer to the question why he could not simply marry her, the Gemara quotes the Pasuk in Mishlei (9:17) "Stolen waters taste sweet" - meaning that it was specifically the fact that she was forbidden to him that would have saved his life. Living with her as man and wife would have afforded him no satisfaction.

The commentaries teach us that the man involved suppressed his desire, and became a great Ba'al-Teshuvah over whose head a halo could be seen. His name was Mar Ukva, chief Dayan in Neherda'a, in the Beis-Din of Shmuel, Rav's colleague.

Come and see, the Rosh concludes, how great is the sin of adultery (incorporating incest), inasmuch as all the cases of Kareis and death are written in connection with it (in fact, eighteen out of the thirty-six sins that are punishable by Kareis are connected with adultery).


From "Onochi" until "le're'eicho" there are six hundred and thirteen (Taryag) letters, says the Rosh, corresponding to the Taryag Mitzvos. This, he explains, supports those who claim that the Seifer-Torah that was carried by the king strapped to his arm comprised the Ten Commandments and no more. And the reason why it is referred to as a Seifer-Torah is because it contained the same number of letters as the Mitzvos.

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