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JANUARY 29-30, 2005 19 SHEBAT 5765

Pop Quiz: When did B'nei Yisrael arrive at the desert of Sinai?


"And you shall not go up the altar on steps so as not to reveal your nakedness." (Shemot 20:23)

The last verse in this perashah tells us that when we construct the ramp leading to the Mizbeah, altar, it should be a flat surface going upwards, not like stairs. The reason is that when one walks up stairs he must take a wider step which might reveal those parts of the body which should be covered. But with a flat ramp, a person can take smaller steps, without having this problem. Rashi points out that in actuality there really was no problem since the Kohanim were very well clothed and there was no possibility of anything being revealed. The Torah is teaching us, however, that this is a sign of disrespect to the ramp to walk that way and therefore we were commanded to build a flat ramp. The real lesson is not limited to the way we treat the stairs. Rather, if we should even be careful with something which has no feeling, like stairs, how much more so with people, who have feelings.

It is instructive that this verse is in the same perashah as the giving of the Torah because it is teaching us the way to be able to receive the Torah. If we treat other people, and even inanimate objects, with respect, then we show that we appreciate the qualities of people and of objects. Then we can learn from them and that is part of the process of receiving the Torah. If, however, we don't have respect for belongings or for people themselves, we will not be able to learn from others, even those who are supposed to be teaching us Torah. It is no wonder that when we see the quality of education dropping in society, the amount of respect for people and for values is dropping proportionally. We would do well to strengthen ourselves and our families in these positive values so that we could properly receive the Torah. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

"And all the people answered together and said, 'Everything that Hashem has spoken we will do!'" (Shemot 19:8)

This week we read about Matan Torah, the Giving of the Torah to the Jewish people. When our people were approached with the question of whether they are willing to receive the Torah, their answer was, "We will do and we will listen - na'aseh v'nishma." Our Sages teach us that when they responded with this answer there was a tremendous reaction in Heaven. It was described as a response of angels and each Jew received two crowns, one for "na'aseh, we will do," and one for "nishma, we will listen.". Rabbi Simai in the Gemara says it was due to the order - that they said, "We will do," before they said, "We will listen."

Rabbi Nissan Alpert asks: What is the key point in the order of the words? The main thing should be that they accepted to both do and hear. What difference does the order make? The answer can be illustrated in the person of Yitro. It says that Yitro heard about the great miracles that occurred at the Exodus from Egypt, and as a result converted and joined the Jewish people. However, this needs explanation, because Yitro heard the same thing everyone heard, and only he joined. Why did he react differently than anyone else? The answer is that it all depends on the frame of mind of the person before he hears of the event. If a person is ready to change his lifestyle if he comes face to face with the truth, then he will be impressed by what he sees or hears and will change his life. However, if the person is not ready to change his habitual ways, then the power of the event that he hears about will not be strong enough to bring about a change. Let's say a person decides that he will not do anything or eat anything that will damage his health. Then he hears from the experts that smoking is damaging to the health. He will stop smoking. But, a person who didn't make such a commitment to good health will not stop, despite all the proofs and the level of expertise of the authority that makes the announcement. In addition to the difference of the reaction of these two smokers, there is another difference. The first one who made the commitment hears the words and they enter deep down into his heart. The second person doesn't allow the information to enter with any depth at all.

The Jews made a decision that they will change their lives when they hear the words of the great Giver of the Torah. It is due to this commitment that the words entered their hearts. Now we can understand the importance of the order in which they said "We will do and we will listen." First they said, "We will do," which means, "We are ready to do." Now that we are ready to do, we can properly hear, and the words will enter the heart. Are you a "doer?" Will you change when you are faced with the truth, like Yitro? Today we use the term "growth." Are you a growth-oriented Jew? If you are, then you can be proud to be a member of that elite group that received the Torah from Hashem at Mount Sinai. If you are ready to do then you are ready to hear. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah


"You shall not covet your fellow man's house; you shall not covet your fellow man's wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maiden-servant, nor his ox and donkey, nor anything which belongs to your fellow man" (Shemot 20:14)

A person who covets any possession belonging to his friend and pressures him into selling the article violates this prohibition. It makes no difference whether he applies the pressure himself or asks his friends to do so for him. Moreover, the very desiring of someone else's possession is a violation of a different prohibition: "You shall not desire the house of your fellow man, nor his ox and his donkey, nor anything which belongs to your fellow man" (Debarim 5:18).

Desire leads to coveting (that is, pressuring someone to sell) and coveting leads to stealing. For if a person strongly wants someone's possession and is unable to acquire it through payment, he may eventually steal it, and if the owner tries to protect his possession from being stolen, the coveter is apt to kill him.

Some people might wonder how a person who desires something belonging to another person can overcome that desire. Ibn Ezra explained that it is all a matter of attaining the proper perspective. If a man sees that another person ahs a luxurious home, he should realize that it is G-d's will that this should belong to that person and not to him. His fellow man's possessions should be in his eyes as completely out of reach. A poor peasant will not desire to marry the king's daughter, writes Ibn Ezra, because he knows that she can never become his. This should be our attitude toward the possessions of others. We should be satisfied with what G-d has given us, and realize that what He has given to someone else is entirely unobtainable.

Rabenu Yonah writes that if you desire to buy an article belonging to someone who does not want to sell it, but by pleading with him he will be too embarrassed to refuse, you are forbidden to plead with him. Your pleading with him would be tantamount to forcing him to sell the item. Similarly, if a respected person desires something and knows that because people respect him he will not be refused, he may not ask the owner of an article to sell or give it to him unless he knows that the person will do it willingly. (Love Your Neighbor)


"You shall not ascend My Altar on steps" (Shemot 20:23)

The Gemara states that there was a stone in front of the Menorah having three steps upon which the Kohen would stand upon when lighting the Menorah. Why was it forbidden however to have steps to ascend the Altar?

The Altar represents the concept of teshubah. On it were brought offerings through which one would gain atonement. The Menorah exemplifies Torah. Its purpose was to give off light, and Torah is light, as it is written, "A Misvah is a candle and Torah is light" (Mishlei 6:23). The twenty-two cups on the Menorah represented the twenty-two letters of the aleph-bet with which the Torah was written.

A step is for gradual ascent and a ramp is for rapid movement. Consequently, in the study of Torah, one needs to progress gradually, step by step. However, teshubah can be accomplished instantly, moving from one status to another in a single moment. Thus, one can become a ba'al teshubah (penitent) instantaneously, while it requires many laborious years to reach the degree of a talmid hacham - Torah scholar.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk once said to his students, "We say of Hashem [that thanks to our teshubah) as far as east from west He has distanced our trangressions from us" (Tehillim 103:12). Perhaps one of you can tell me how far east is from west."

The students deliberated and grappled with this problem. Each one came up with a different astronomical figure. Suddenly, the Kotzker Rebbe interrupted them and declared, "You are all in error!" From east to west is only one swerve. When one stands facing east and turns around, instantly he is in the west. This is the immediacy of teshubah. (Vedibarta Bam)


Question: Why, when concluding the Amidah with "Oseh Shalom," do we say "Ve'imru Amen," even though nobody will be answering Amen?

Answer: This is based on the pasuk "Ki mal'achav yesaveh lach - He will assign His angels to you," which teaches that a person has angels that accompany him. The words "Ve'imru Amen" are directed to those angels. (Sefer Ta'amei Haminhagim Umkorei Hadinim)


"You shall provide from the whole nation able men, G-d fearing men, men of truth who hate unjust gain." (Shemot 18:21)

When Yitro saw that Moshe was spending his entire day judging the nation, he told Moshe, "The thing that you do is not good (16:17)." He then went on to recommend that Moshe appoint subordinate judges who would handle the smaller cases, while Moshe would continue to judge the larger cases.

Rashi (18:1), quoting the Sifre, states that Yitro had seven names. One of his names was Yeter (which means 'extra'), because he caused an extra section to be added to the Torah - the section that begins with the verse quoted above. One may ask: Since Yitro's advice began from verse 17 when he criticized Moshe's way of judging the nation, why did Sifre quote verse 21?

Rabbi Meir Shapiro explains that if Yitro simply criticized Moshe, he would not have merited an extra section in the Torah. It is very easy to find fault in others. It is the constructive advice that he gave Moshe that made it deserving to be mentioned in the Torah. Instead of just criticizing and rebuking others, we should make it a point to suggest ways for them to correct the fault. This will demonstrate that we are not looking to judge them, but we are truly interested in their welfare. If you are giving your criticism with anger, it is likely that you are not doing it properly. Question: When you rebuke others, do you try to suggest ways for them to correct the situation? How receptive are you to criticism given angrily or discourteously?


This week's Haftarah: Yeshayahu 6:1-13.

In the perashah, B'nei Yisrael experienced the greatest revelation of Hashem in history, the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai. In the haftarah, the prophet Yeshayahu describes his greatest and most fearful vision, in which he was shown Hashem's throne, and observed the heavenly angels paying homage to Hashem. Yeshayahu feared that he would die after seeing this vision but Hashem assured him that he would live. Similarly, at Har Sinai, the souls of B'nei Yisrael actually left them, but Hashem revived them.

Answer to Pop Quiz: On the first day of Sivan.

A quick tip to boost the power of your prayer. Hazal tell us (Masechet Baba Kama Daf 92A) that Hashem loves the tefilot of one Jew for another so much that anyone who prays on behalf of a fellow Jew with similar needs will have his prayer answered first. A special service has now begun to provide people with names of others who find themselves in a similar predicament. You can call with complete anonymity and get the name of someone to pray for and give the name of someone that needs our prayers. The name of the service is Kol Hamitpalel. Categories include: Marriage; Income; Health; To have children etc.

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