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February 6, 1999 20 Shebat 5759

Pop Quiz: What was seen at Har Sinai that was never seen before or since?


"And you shall not go up the altar on steps so as not to reveal your nakedness." (Shemot 20:22)

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.

A MEAL FIT FOR A KING by Rabbi Reuven Semah

"Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it...Honor your father and mother"

(Shemot 20:8-12)

The command to remember the Shabbat is put right before the command to honor one's parents. There is a strong connection between the two misvot. We observe the Shabbat out of the great feeling of gratitude to Hashem. It is the least we can do to show our appreciation to Him for creating us and giving us the many benefits of the beautiful world He created for us. So too, we honor our parents because it is the least we can do to those wonderful parents who brought us into this world.

In this version of the Ten Commandments, the misvah of Shabbat begins with the word "zachor, remember." In Parashat Vaet'hanan, when the Ten Commandments are repeated, the word "shamor, observe," is used. To remember Shabbat means to honor it with beautiful clothing and festive meals. To observe means not to violate this day by doing prohibited work. The Midrash tells us that both words were said at the same time by Hashem. This teaches us that both concepts are equally important. One must honor the Shabbat with nice clothes and meals just as much as he doesn't violate it with labor. As a matter of fact, in the order of the Torah, the word zachor, remember, comes before shamor, observe. This teaches us that we must make festive meals. Meat, wine and bread are required for Friday night and the Shabbat meal of the day. Even Seudah Shelisheet should be with bread. It is the least we can do to show our gratitude to Hashem. We wouldn't think of shortchanging our parents. Give Hashem at least the same honor. Shabbat Shalom.


"And Yitro, the priest of Midian, the father-in-law of Moshe, heard all that Hashem did for Moshe and to Israel, His people" (Shemot 18:1)

Rashi cites the Talmud (Zebahim 116a): What did Yitro hear to make him come to join the Jewish people? The miracle of the crossing of the Red Sea and the war with Amalek.

What was unique about what Yitro heard? Didn't all the other surrounding nations hear about this also? The answer is, said Rabbi Yehuda Leib Chasman, that they heard and remained the same. Yitro, however, didn't merely hear, he took action. Others were moved and inspired for a few moments but stayed where they were. Yitro picked himself up and changed his life.

Everyone has moments of inspiration. The difference between a great person and an ordinary person is that the great person acts upon his inspirations. When you obtain an important awareness, let it move you to actual changes in your life.

Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian asked on this Rashi: We can understand how the miracles at the Red Sea influenced Yitro, but what was so moving about the war with Amalek? He replied: At times the best way to appreciate Torah values for living is to observe the behavior of those who lack those values. Amalek also heard about the crossing of the Red Sea. They themselves were in no danger of the Israelites. Nevertheless, they cruelly tried to wipe them out. Hearing this, Yitro was moved. He realized how one needs Hashem in his life for basic values. (Growth through Torah)


"And Moshe sent away his father-in-law and he [Yitro] went his way to his own land" (Shemot 18:27)

Rashi states that Yitro went home solely in order to convert the remainder of his family to Judaism. The Maharal interprets the words "And Moshe sent" to imply that Moshe gave his blessing to this return. Rav A.H. Lebovitz poignantly extols the supreme sacrifice that Yitro made by leaving B'nei Yisrael and returning to Midian. B'nei Yisrael had been privy to a unique miraculous existence. Sustained by manna, protected by the Clouds of Glory and a Pillar of Fire, they had experienced the most intense spiritual moments of all time. Under the tutelage of Moshe, the greatest teacher, they shared the consummate environment for unparalleled spiritual growth.

It would have required a formidable reason for Yitro to withdraw from this idyllic environment in order to return to heathen surroundings, antithetical to Torah world view. Moshe felt it worthwhile that Yitro leave at this time, so that he would return and inspire his countrymen. Harav Lebovitz states that we can certainly learn from Yitro regarding our responsibility to reach out to our alienated brethren. If Yitro was willing to perform this task, how much more so are we obligated to reach out to our fellow Jews, even when it forces us to make personal sacrifices. The spiritual and physical welfare of our brethren is a responsibility which we must shoulder with love, devotion and pride. (Peninim on the Torah)


"And G-d spoke all these words, saying, I am..." (Shemot 20:1,2)

The Gemara relates that prior to giving the Torah to the Jewish people, Hashem offered it to the nations of the world, who refused it because some of its laws did not please them.

Why did Hashem reveal to the Jewish people that He offered the Torah to the nations of the world and that they refused to accept it? Doesn't this cast the Jewish people in a bad light?

By imparting this to the Jewish people, Hashem intended to convey a very important message regarding the sanctity of the Torah. The people of Yishmael refused to accept the Torah because it contained the commandment "You shall not steal," and the character trait of Yishmael was "His hand will be extended against all people" (Beresheet 16:12). The people of Esav declined the Torah because it included the commandment "You shall not kill," and Esav was told by Yitzhak, "You will live by your sword" (Beresheet 27:40).

Apparently, the entire Torah suited these nations, except for one commandment. If so, should they not have accepted the Torah and disregarded the single law which they could not contend with?

Hashem was emphasizing that the other nations realized that the Torah is comprised of 613 totally unified misvot, and the slightest omission takes away from the Torah in its totality. A Torah of 612 misvot is not an abbreviated Torah, but no Torah at all! After this introduction, Hashem's question to the Jewish people concerned their willingness to accept the whole Torah of 613 misvot, to which they unequivocally responded, "We will do and we will listen - we accept the Torah in its entirety." (Vedibarta Bam)

Answer to Pop Quiz: Thunder.

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