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

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Vol. 21   No. 17

This issue is sponsored
l'iluy Nishmas
Yonah ben Elchonon Moshe z"l
whose Yohrzeit will be on '
May he be a meilitz yosher
for his family and for all of K'lal Yisrael.

Parshas Yisro

A Mountain Over Their Heads
(Adapted from the Oznayim la'Torah)

"And Moshe took the people out from the camp to meet G-d, and they stood (vayisyatzvu) at the foot of the mountain" (19:17).

A Touch of Yir'as Shamayim

Last year, we discussed the question posed by Tosfos in Shabbos - Why it was necessary to coerce Yisrael to accept the Torah, when they had already declared 'Na'aseh ve'nishma!" We discussed a number of answers to the well-known Kashya. This year we will present two of the answers given by the Oznayim la'Torah.

Granted, the Oznayim la'Torah explains, Yisrael had already declared "Na'aseh ve'nishma". But G-d knows that making a promise is one thing, but keeping it is another (or, as he puts it, the distance between a promise and carrying it out is a long one). So he decided to boost Yisrael's declaration with a dose of Yir'as Shamayim, to ensure that Yisrael abide by their words. By exposing them to thunder and lightning and holding the mountain over their heads, He merely injected them with Yir'as Shamayim, which He knew would serve to cement their resolve.


This explanation conforms beautifully with the Yerushalmi, which says 'Perform the Mitzvos with love ('Na'aseh ve'nishma'); perform them with fear! Perform them with love, because a lover does not hate. Perform them with fear, because someone who is afraid does not lash out'.

What the Yerushalmi means is that fear alone often leads to hatred, therefore it is essential that one adopts the Midah of love to prevent that from happening. By the same token it is equally important to adopt the Midah of fear, since there are times when a lover feels frustrated and lashes out at his beloved. And it is a combination of these two Midos that strikes the perfect balance between the lover and his beloved.


Getting Rid of the Satan

The word "vayisyatzvu" really means 'and they placed themselves', a clear indication that Yisrael stood under the mountain willingly. Indeed, the Medrash Tanchuma explains that 'G-d held the mountain over their heads, and they went and stood underneath it' (we explained this Medrash many years ago). At first, this seems to clash with the implied explanation that G-d held the mountain over heads, forcing them to accept the Torah against their will, the explanation that prompts the question with which we began.

To resolve the apparent discrepancy, the Oznayim la'Torah cites a well-known Rambam. The Rambam, in the second Perek of Hilchos Gerushin, explains that, when the Gemara talks about Beis-Din beating a person until he agrees to perform a Mitzvah that he has hitherto refused to perform, it is not a matter of performing a Mitzvah under duress. When the culprit acquiesces and performs the Mitzvah, he has in fact performed the Mitzvah willingly. This is because a Jew really wants to perform Mitzvos, and it is the Yeitzer ha'Ra that stops him. Consequently, beating him into submission is merely a question of getting rid of the Yeitzer ha'Ra. Once one achieves that, the erstwhile sinner performs the Mitzvah willingly.

Similarly, at Har Sinai, after Yisrael proclaimed 'Na'aseh ve'nishma', the Satan (alias the Yeitzer ha'Ra) stepped in with the intention of forcing them to retract (using the terror that the great fire cast upon them - See Tosfos there). And it was to negate the Satan's plans that G-d threatened them with death, forcing them, despite the Satan's efforts, to accept the Torah by holding the mountain over their heads. To be sure they were coerced, but there is no doubt that deep down inside, they were willing partners in this act of coercion, all the more so bearing in mind that they had already demonstrated their true intentions when they announced - in no uncertain terms 'Na'aseh ve'nishma!'

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Parshah Pearls
(Adapted from the Oznayim la'Torah)

Yisro's Titles

"And Yisro the priest of Midyan, the father-in-law of Moshe, heard " (18:1).

The Oznayim la'Torah observes that earlier (in Sh'mos 3:1) it refers to him first as the father-in-law of Moshe and then as the priest of Midyan; whereas a few Pesukim later in this Parshah, it refers to him solely as Moshe's father-in-law.

To explain the 'discrepancy', he interprets "Kohen Midyan" with reference to Yisro's doubts about his religion and his search for the truth (as the Medrash explains). Consequently, he says, in this Pasuk, which speaks before Yisro converted and where Moshe was not living with him, the Pasuk refers to him first as a man who was disenchanted with his religion and searching for the true one, and then as Moshe's father-in-law.

In Sh'mos, which speaks when Moshe was living with him and who no doubt influenced him greatly, it refers to him first and foremost as the father-in-law of Moshe, whereas, later, which speaks about a time when all his doubts had been resolved and when he had already converted, it refers to him simply as Moshe's father-in-law.


Sending Tziporah Back

And Yisro took Tziporah after he had sent her away" (18:2).

The Oznayim la'Torah cites the Medrash that Moshe sent Tziporah with their two sons back to Midyan, on the advice of Aharon, who advised his younger brother not to bring any new Jews to Egypt.

Granted, the tribe of Levi was not enslaved and were free to come and go as they pleased, but there was always the possibility that a fresh decree would force them to work too, Indeed, we find that the decree to throw all newborn babies into the river also applied to the tribe of Levi, which we know from the fact that Moshe was cast into the water. And Eliezer, who was circumcised on the way down to Egypt was certainly eligible to be thrown into the river too. So prudence dictated that Tziporah and her two sons return to Midyan, were they would not be subject to Paroh's vicious decrees.


How Did Yisro Find Them?

"And Yisro came to the desert where he (Moshe) was encamped there, to the Mountain of G-d" (18:5).

Somebody once asked the Oznayim la'Torah how Yisro knew where to find Moshe in the desert.

The Oznayim la'Torah gave him three answers:

1. (Tongue in cheek) - Yisro understood that when one searches for a Jew, the obvious place to search is by the Mountain of G-d.

2. Shortly after the episode with the Burning Bush, Moshe met Aharon on Har Sinai and informed him that after leaving Egypt, Yisrael would serve G-d on that very mountain. One can assume that, Moshe's wife Tziporah, heard the conversation and passed on the information to her father Yisro.

3. It should not be difficult to find a large nation numbering several million people in a desert, even without knowing their exact location.


Timeless Torah

"On this day they arrived at Har Sinai" (19:1).

Rashi explains that this refers to Rosh Chodesh Sivan. On this point nobody argues.


It is remarkable, says the Oznayim la'Torah, that the Torah does not reveal the date on which the Torah was given. We know that they arrived at Har Sinai on Rosh Chodesh Sivan, yet when it comes to the date of Matan Torah, there is a Machlokes as to whether it was given on the sixth or the seventh of Sivan. Perhaps, he answers, it is to teach us that Torah is not subject to time. It supersedes time. When people think that Torah is old-fashioned and not for today's generation, it is because their vision (understanding of what Torah is) is impaired. Because Torah, the blueprint of the world, is for all time. Consequently, one must learn to adapt one's lifestyle to the Torah's requirements, and not vice-versa.


Why G-d Mentioned Yetzi'as Mitzrayim

"I am Hashem your G-d who took you out of the land of Egypt" (20:2).

Why, asks the Oznayim la'Torah, did G-d refer to the Exodus from Egypt? Why did He not say "I am Hashem your G-d who created Heaven and earth"?

Had He done so, the Oznayim la'Torah answers, Yisrael could have claimed that G-d created the world not only for them but also for all the other nations. So why place the yoke of Torah exclusively on their shoulders?

Therefore He reminded them of what He had done specifically for them, conveying the message that they were now under His jurisdiction and that they were better off as His slaves than as slaves of Par'oh.


Moreover, he explains, G-d was not merely telling Yisrael about His wonderful deeds, His intention was to infuse them with faith and trust. In order to achieve this, He needed to mention the Exodus from Egypt, which they had all just experienced firsthand. It would have been pointless to refer to the Creation, which nobody of that generation had witnessed.

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