Pop Quiz: Why were no steps allowed to be built on the Altar?
Rabbi Shmuel Choueka
"Do not bear Hashem's name (in an oath)" (Shemot 20:7)
One of the Ten Commandments is to not swear falsely or in vain. To swear falsely is self understood, but to swear in vain means to proclaim a fact which is obvious such as swearing that a book is a book, or anything similar to that. The Gemara tells us that the earth trembled when this prohibition was uttered because using Hashem's name in vain is truly a terrible thing with dire consequences. This should make us be careful whenever we mention Hashem's name in any situation. In addition, this should make us hesitate to swear in any manner, even without using Hashem's name, but all the more so when mentioning the Holy Name. Many times people say "I swear to G-d" in order to make a point - this is not something to take lightly. We must watch our mouths and get into the habit of saying "Beli Neder" ("Without an oath") even when not mentioning "I swear". Here is a short list of what is considered an oath:
1) By G-d, this is so-and-so.
2) G-d is my witness that I did or did not do this.
3) By my life that such and such happened or didn't happen.
4) I should be cursed if this isn't true, etc.
We see from here that even without using the word 'oath' or 'swear', we could be obligating ourselves in a very heavy way. We must also be careful from saying "I am going to do this misvah (such as giving charity, going to shul, etc.)" without saying "beli neder" because it's also considered binding. Also, if we do certain practices three times it may be considered as a vow, so we should say "beli neder." Let us attempt to be on guard and not swear in any which way or form. If one has a doubt, contact a Rabbi to see if he may need Hatarah.
Rabbi Reuven Semah
"And Moshe brought the people forth from the camp towards G-d, and they stood." (Shemot 19:17)
The goal of the Exodus from Egypt was to come to Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah. All of the plagues, the splitting of the Red Sea, even the slavery itself was a preparation for this great day at Mt. Sinai. One could only imagine the
anticipation the Israelites felt on that day. We have a custom on the night of Shabuot to stay awake all night and study the Torah. It is called the 'tikun' of Shabuot. A tikun implies a repair. We stay up to "repair" the damage. Our Sages in the Midrash tell us that the Israelites went to sleep on that all-important night, and when Hashem came down onto Mt. Sinai, the people were sleeping.
Frantically, Moshe had to wake them up telling them that the "groom" (Hashem) is here already awaiting his "bride" (Israel). How could this happen? How could they have slept?
Rabbi Shimon Schwab explains that the Jews didn't just go to sleep like any other night. They thought that the Torah would be given to them through prophecy, and like most prophets, Hashem appears to them in a dream-like appearance. They thought that the happiness of the holiday and its meal, together with a pleasant sleep would create a happy feeling
in order to receive the prophecy. Moshe had to wake them and tell them that Torah is not like prophecy. One must be fully awake with a clear head and a sharp logic. He taught them that otherwise we wouldn't be able to learn and study the Torah with clarity. Receiving the Torah is greater than prophecy! The Talmud (Baba Batra 12) says that a hacham is
greater than a prophet. We must utilize all of our senses to learn Torah. Therefore it had to be initially received with clarity. This is why the Torah makes a point that they "stood" (vayityatzvu) at Mt. Sinai.
The whole experience at Mt. Sinai is referred to as Ma'amad Har Sinai, the standing at Har Sinai, to imply that they stood on their own two feet and used their clear senses. This is why we stay up all night to study Torah, to be awake with open eyes and an open mind.
Hashem gave man an unbelievably powerful intellect. Man can develop almost anything. We see this all the time with man's scientific and technological advances which are mind boggling. Why did Hashem do this? Because Torah is mind boggling! He gave us a great mind to meet the challenge of Torah study. Let's grab that opportunity!
Answer to Pop Quiz: Because it would be disrespectful for the Kohen to be exposed when climbing up to the Altar.
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