Back to This Week's Parsha| Previous Issues

Parashas Yisro

I Am Hashem!

And Elokim spoke to Moshe and said to him, "I am Hashem." (Shemos 6:2)

Mt. Sinai or Mt. Chorev

On the third day when it was morning, and there was thunder and lightning and a heavy cloud on the mountain...And Hashem descended upon Mt. Sinai to the top of the mountain and Moshe ascended.?(Shemos 19:16, 20)

R. Yehoshua ben Levi said: "Each day a voice [bas kol] comes forth from Mt. Chorev and announces, 'Woe to the people for the disgrace of Torah...'"?(Pirkei Avos 6:2)

There are five names for that mountain...R. Abbahu said its real name is Mt. Sinai. Why, then, was it called [in Pirkei Avos] Mt. Chorev? Because when the Torah was being given, churbah [a cognate of the word "chorev," meanning destruction] descended upon the nations for their rejection of it.?(Shabbos 89b)

This is from Ruach Chaim by R. Chaim Volozhin.

If this is the case for the nations of the world, it is even more so for Israel when they don't fulfill what they accepted. This is why Pirkei Avos refers to the place as Mt. Chorev.

In our generation, a great number of people who have distanced themselves from Torah study claim that they must devote their time and energy to the pursuit of a livelihood. In truth, however, this is just an excuse, and an old one at that - for this was what the nations of the world claimed at the time of the giving of the Torah. They couldn't accept the Torah because it interfered with their outlawed professions, such as murder and theft, as we find in the Midrash. Thus, when Israel proclaimed in unison, "We will do and we will understand," it meant that they accepted the Torah even if it would interfere with their livelihood. If so, how can a Jew abandon the most important mitzvah of all because of livelihood?! It is for this reason that this mishnah refers to Mt. Sinai as Mt. Chorev.

The Yoke of Torah or the Yoke of Government

And Moshe said to the people, Do not fear, for in order to elevate you has God come, so that awe of Him should be upon your faces, so that you shall not sin.?(Shemos 20:17)

R. Nechuniah ben Hakanah says: "If one accepts the yoke of Torah upon himself, then the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly occupation are removed from him. However, if one throws off the yoke of Torah from himself, then the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly occupation are put upon him." (Pirkei Avos 3:5)

From the commentary of Rabbeinu Yonah on Pirkei Avos.

R. Nechuniah ben Hakanah says: "If one accepts the yoke of Torah upon himself, then the yoke of government…[is] removed from him." If a person makes Torah his main occupation and treats work as secondary, the Almighty will guard him from everything that interferes with his Torah study. For example, if the government decides to conscript its citizens to do forced labor, Hashem will cause this person to be overlooked, so that he can continue his studies.

"The yoke of worldly occupation...[is] removed": He won't have to exert undue effort to secure his livelihood; rather, he will be able to provide for his needs with a minimal amount of exertion. This is because the work of a tzaddik is blessed, and he is content with his lot.

"However, if one throws off the yoke of Torah from himself, then the yoke of government…[is] put upon him": He thought that if he left the work of the Torah, he would then be able to work for himself. Therefore, Hashem will invalidate his thoughts by inducing the king to have him do the government's work.

"The yoke of worldly occupation...[is] put upon him": He will wander around absorbed in the task of winning a livelihood for himself, but he won't be successful. Moreover, if he should happen to find something, he still won't be happy with his lot. All his life he will work for nothing in the vain hope of becoming wealthy. This is similar to what was said by Shlomo Ha-Melech (Koheles 5:9): "One who loves money will never be satisfied with money." All his life he will toil and sweat with no respite.

Rabbi, This Is War

The following is adapted from All for the Boss by Rebbetzin Ruchoma Shain, pp. 335-338.

It was on August 16, 1939, that Papa and Mama began their voyage to Eretz Yisrael. They were scheduled to dock at Haifa port on Wednesday, August 30. Arrangements were made for Papa and Mama to stay in Haifa for a few days at the home of Rabbi and Mrs. Alfa, where Avremal was boarding.

In mid-route, the captain received orders to sail in a circuitous route in case the waters of the Mediterranean Sea had been mined because of the impending war. And so, instead of arriving on Wednesday as scheduled, the boat docked on Friday, September 1, one hour before sunset. A few hours before that, World War II had erupted with the German invasion of Poland. From the loudspeakers came the announcement that passengers were to debark immediately. All the baggage from the hold of the ship would be unloaded onto the pier, and the passengers would be responsible for having it removed as quickly as possible.

Pandemonium reigned.

Papa and Mama were terribly upset. It would soon be Shabbos! How could they take care of their baggage when they would have to leave the port immediately in order to get to Rabbi Alfa's house in time for Shabbos?

Papa grabbed the suitcase that contained his sefer Torah and his tallis and tefillin, and Mama took only her pocketbook.

They edged their way through the pier and asked to be shown to the head customs officer.

A tall English officer listened as Papa explained to him, "I cannot deal with our baggage now. I have never desecrated the Sabbath in my life. To arrive in the Holy Land and desecrate it here is impossible!" Tears rolled down Papa's cheeks.

The officer answered curtly, "Rabbi, this is war; you must make allowances."

"Just stamp our passports and let us through. We'll pick up our baggage after the Sabbath," Papa pleaded.

"That will not be possible. We are removing all the baggage from the ship and leaving it on the pier."

"I don't care about our baggage! Please, just stamp our passports so we can leave."

The officer looked at Papa quizzically. "How much baggage do you have?"

"Sixteen crates in the hold and nine suitcases in our cabin."

"What?! Do you realize that once you leave here, your baggage will be on the pier with no one responsible for it? By tomorrow night, I assure you, you will not find a shred of your belongings. The Arabs will have stolen them all," the officer said emphatically.

"I have no alternative. It's almost time for the Sabbath, and we cannot travel on the Sabbath. Please, please, just clear our passports and let us go," Papa's voice rose in desperation.

The officer, incredulous, called to another English officer, "Stamp their passports and let them through. This rabbi is willing to lose all his belongings in order to get to where he's going in time for their Sabbath." The second officer stared at Papa in amazement, as he stamped their passports and cleared their papers.

Papa, clutching the suitcase with his sefer Torah, and Mama, holding on to her pocketbook, grabbed a taxi and arrived at Rabbi Alfa's house just in time for Mama to light the Shabbos candles.

That entire Shabbos, Papa was spiritually elated. Over and over again he repeated to Mama, "The Boss does everything for me. What could I ever do for Him? Now at last I have the zechus to give all for the Boss for His mitzvah of Shabbos and to be mekaddesh Hashem."

For Mama it was difficult to share his elation fully. She was physically exhausted and bereft emotionally. The loneliness for her children weighed heavily on her mind and heart. The additional loss of all her worldly possessions was not an easy pill to swallow. But Mama did not complain, and being with Avremal comforted her.

Saturday night, after Papa had waited the seventy-two minutes after sunset to say his evening prayers and then make Havdalah, Rabbi Alfa suggested to him, "Let's go to the port. Maybe some of your crates are still there." Papa and Mama did not share his optimism, but they went along with him.

It was pitch dark at the port. However, they spied a little light at the far end of the pier. As they neared the lighted area, a clipped English voice rang out, "Who goes there?"

Papa called out, "Some passengers from the boat that docked late yesterday afternoon."

The English guard approached them. "What is your name?" he asked tersely.

"Jacob J. Herman," Papa answered.

"Well, well, Rabbi, it's about time you put in your appearance. I was assured that you would be here the minute the sun set. You are a little late. I have been responsible for your baggage for more than twenty-four hours. My commanding officer said he would have my head if any of your baggage was missing. Kindly check to see that all is in order and sign these papers. Please remove it all as quickly as possible. I am exhausted!"

Wishing everyone a Gut Shabbos!

© Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Rosh Yeshiva
Yeshiva Shaare Chaim.

Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop ? Lakewood).

If you would like to correspond with Rabbi Parkoff please contact him: or 732-325-1257

Yeshiva Shaare Chaim
Rechov Sorotzkin 3
Jerusalem, Israel

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel