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

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Vol. 5 No. 17

Parshas Yisro

I am Hashem...

Most commentaries agree that 'Onochi Hashem Elokecho", etc. - "I am Hashem your G-d, who brought you out of the land of Egypt from the house of bondage" is a positive mitzvah - as is implied by the expression 'Aseres Ha'dibros' ('the Ten Commandments'), the title Chazal give to this set of communications between G-d and Yisroel. True, the word 'dibros' does not really mean command (nor does the 'aseres ha'devorim' that the Torah uses - 'devorim' meaning 'words' or 'things'), it is nevertheless implied that all ten belong to the same category. Consequently, if the last nine are 'mitzvos', so too, is the first. In any event, the Gemoro at the end of Makos (23b and 24a) clearly states that 613 mitzvos were handed to us at Har Sinai, 611 through Moshe, and 2 directly from Hashem: "Onochi" and "Lo yihye lecho" (I am Hashem your God - do not worship other gods).

What is not clear is what exactly this mitzvah entails. Clearly, it is not a mitzvah that requires action, like Tefillin, nor is it one which is connected with speech, like Kriy'as Shema. The mitzvah of Onochi would appear to be one of thought, but its process and how it functions, require elaboration.

The Rambam, in the opening paragraphs of Yesodei ha'Torah, categorizes this mitzvah, (pairing it with "Lo yihye lecho") in the following way: To believe ...
1. ... that Hashem was the original existence;
2. ... that He created everything that exists;
3. ... that without Him they could not exist;
4. ... that Hashem moves the world around (directly causing the entire nature-system to function);
5. ... that He is absolutely One (without partners);
6. ... that He has no physical appearance or attributes whatsoever.

The Seforno (in line with what the Rambam writes in his 13 Principles of Faith, but what he appears to omit in his above description of the mitzvah of "Onochi"), explains "your G-d" to mean that Hashem was undertaking to act as their G-d directly, without any medium, as Yisroel took upon themselves when they said - at the Yam-Suf - "This is My G-d and I shall build Him a dwelling" (the Beis ha'Mikdosh). Consequently, your prayers should be directed to Me exclusively’. "...who took you out of the land of Egypt", using actions which clearly precluded the participation of any medium, such as the powers of nature and the heavenly bodies.

The Ramban explains that the Exodus with all the events that led up to it, demonstrates ...
1. ... the existence of Hashem;
2. ... His inter-relationship with us;
3. ... that the world was created (for if the world evolved, then no unnatural events could possibly occur); 4. ... Hashem's power and ability.

In Parshas Bo (13:16), he subdivides emunah into slightly different categories. There he writes: "Since the days of Enosh (grandson of Odom ho'Rishon), there were people who denied the existence of G-d, whereas others denied His knowledge of worldly events. And there were those who believed in all this, but they were sceptical of G-d's Divine supervision, preferring to believe that He left the world to its own devices". G-d's decision to favour Klal Yisroel and then to go on to perform miracles for them, discredits all of these theories; it proves that there is a G-d Who created the world, that He knows all that transpires, and that he not only supervises it, but that He also possesses the power to exercise full control over it. That explains, says the Ramban, a number of phrases that the Torah uses during the course of the ten plagues:

"So that you should know that I am Hashem in the midst of the land" (Divine Supervision); "in order you should know that the land is mine" (the Creation - He created it and so He owns it); "because there is no-one like Me in the whole world" (G-d's absolute power - that nobody can stop Him from doing what He wants). And it is because it was never Hashem's intention to perform miracles for each generation, to satisfy the whim of every sceptic, that He performed an unparalleled series of miracles in Egypt and at the Yam-Suf, and by then perpetuating them in the form of numerous mitzvos - Pesach, Tefillin, Mezuzah, First-born, the bi-daily mention of the Exodus, Shabbos, Yom Tov, etc. All these ensure that we will never forget - for a single moment - the miracles of Yetzi'as Mitzrayim.

That, says the Ramban, is the essence of 'Kabbolas ol Malchus Shomayim' - (the essence of ‘Onochi’.)

Parshah Pearls
Parshas Yisro

Why did Yisro Come?

'What did Yisro hear that made him come (to join Yisroel at Har Sinai)?' asks Rashi. 'The crossing of the Reed Sea and the battle with Amolek' he answers, quoting a Gemoro in Zevachim.

In fact, the Gemoro cites three opinions in this matter: Rebbi Yehoshua, who holds that it was the battle with Amolek (which precedes the Torah's account of Yisro) that prompted Yisro to come - the victory; R. Elozor ha'Moda'i , who holds that it was the giving of the Torah (of which the whole world was aware) which resulted in Yisro's decision to convert - the Torah; whereas according to R. Eliezer, it was K'riy'as Yam Suf (of which the entire world was also aware) which served as the catalyst - the miracle. Interestingly, the Gemoro quotes this Machlokes, to demonstrate that the date of Yisro’s arrival is also a matter of dispute. According to R. Elozor ha'Modai, since it was Mattan Torah that prompted Yisro to come, he must have (left Midyon and) arrived at Har Sinai after Mattan Torah, whereas, according to the two other Tano'im, he will have arrived at Har Sinai before Mattan Torah.

When did Yisro Arrive?

'Yisro must have come after Mattan Torah,' the Gemoro contends. Why is that? Because he brought peace offerings, as well as burnt-offerings, as the Torah explicitly writes. And before Mattan Torah, only burnt-offerings were sacrificed, but no peace-offerings. So for Yisro to have brought peace-offerings, he must have arrived after Mattan Torah. (This is one of the opinions in the Gemoro.)

Song of Joy

If someone loses his case in court, and is subsequently forced to give his coat to his creditor as a security (see Aggodos Maharsho), the Gemoro in Sanhedrin (7a) advises him to sing for joy in the street on his way home.

When justice is not performed here in this world, there is a terrible accusation, as the Sotton prosecutes, and the din is handed over to G-d's midas ha'Din to carry out (like the Torah writes by Pinchas - 25:11 - "When He took My vengeance" [see Rashi]). But when man initiates justice, it relieves G-d from having to perform it, with the result that there is peace between Hashem and His people. That is why the Gemoro proves its previous point from the possuk in this week's Parshah - with regard to the appointment of judges initiated by Yisro - "and also all this people (including the party that is judged guilty - Torah Temimah) will arrive at their destination in peace".

This is what Chazal mean when they say 'If din is performed below, then the need to perform it above falls away'.

A similar idea emerges from the story told in the Gemoro in Pesochim (57a) - which we quoted recently. The Gemoro there relates how the Cohen Godol Yisochor Ish K'far Barkoi desecrated the Kehunah by wearing gloves whenever he served in the Beis Ha'mikdosh, contrary to Torah-law. One day, he insulted King Yanai, who ordered first one hand, and then the other, to be cut off.

'Blessed be Hashem,' proclaimed Rav Yosef, 'who gave him his due desert in this world'! When justice is performed in this world (which, when all's said and done, is only a passing one) it removes the necessity to perform it in the World to Come (where the punishment is more intensive and everlasting).

By the same token as we began, 'someone who is punished in this world, should go through the streets singing (since justice has been performed and he leaves this world at peace with his Creator). In all probability, if he could see what is in store for the sinners in the World to Come, he would do that anyway - spontaneously.

The Magic of Seven

"Zochor es yom ha'Shabbos le'kadsho" is the seventh posuk of the Aseres ha'Dibros, and it begins with a 'zayin' - because Shabbos is the seventh day. By the same token, seven people are mentioned here - "you, your son, your daughter, your slave, your slave-girl, your animal and the ger toshov within your gates". Corresponding to them, Chazal instituted seven times 'menuchah' in the Shabbos Minchah Amidah (Ba’al ha’Turim).


The Shema and its B'rochos (Part VIII)

For the Sake of our Fathers

Usually - though not always - 'our fathers' refers to Avrohom, Yitzchok and Ya'akov, to whom the phrase 'who trusted in You, and whom You taught the ways of life' etc., fits very aptly. Nor would it be a surprise to discover that success in our Torah-learning is granted to us on their merit, since the Exodus from Egypt, the giving of the Torah and the building of the Mishkon all took place due to z'chus ovos. Indeed, we cannot even begin to pray to Hashem without first evoking the z'chus ovos, which we mention in the first b'rochoh of every tefillah.

The commenteries however, ascribe the phrase 'our fathers who had faith in You' etc., not to the Ovos, but to the generation that left Egypt, who, in an incredible display of faith, followed Hashem into the barren desert, without any provisions to sustain them there (Eitz Yosef), or whose deep faith prompted them to announce "Na'aseh' before 'Nishma' (Iyun Tefilah) - and who then went on to receive the Torah at Har Sinai. We are their descendants, and we ask Hashem to grace us and teach us, like He graced and taught them. Perhaps we too, will go in their footsteps, and learn from them to develop a strong faith in Hashem.

So too, You will Grace Us and Teach Us

What a seemingly strange supplication! Why should we need to ask Hashem to grace us with the ability to learn, and then go down on our knees as it were, beseeching Him in His capacity as a merciful Father, to have compassion on us and to place in our hearts the ability to understand etc., when all we need to do is to take a Seifer and to study. What's to stop us? But first of all, we need to understand that the entire Tefilah for all its beauty and depth, is meaningless, unless we follow it up by actually studying the Torah. The Chofetz Chayim writes of the futility of asking Hashem to forgive us for our sins, and then banging our hearts for the sins which we have committed, when we are not in the least sorry for having committed them. In the same way, what is the point of fervently praying to Hashem to open our hearts to Torah, if we fail to follow this up with a minimal effort on our part to achieve that end. Do we really expect the Torah to fly into our heads whilst we busy ourselves with other pastimes? Consequently, the b'rochoh presumes that we learn diligently for many hours. Then, we may pray to Hashem that our efforts to grow in Torah-knowledge and that our observance of mitzvos should meet with success.

As for the seemingly strange request, we can understand it in two ways:

1) That we pray to Hashem to remove all obstacles which might deter us from studying Torah diligently - the yoke of parnosoh, bad friends, a bad wife, sickness, poverty, etc. - all things that are largely beyond our control.

2) Since Torah is one hundred per cent spiritual, it is in reality, beyond the capability of human-beings to fully grasp its teachings unaided. It is only with Divine inspiration that one is able to come to grips with the many levels of Torah understanding; and it is for that Divine inspiration that we are praying here. In all likelihood, it is due to the natural unatainability of Torah, that, as the Gemoro informs us in Nidah, every baby is taught the entire Torah before he is born - at a time when he possesses no physicality which might stand in his way, to prevent him from fully understanding the spiritual Torah. Having studied the Torah at that stage, provides him with the ability of re-acquiring the Torah that he has already learnt. The same feat would have been impossible to achieve, had he not learned it already beforehand.

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