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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Yisro

The entire people responded together and said, "Everything that Hashem has spoken we shall do." (19:8)

Chazal praise Klal Yisrael's affirmative response, their ability to accept the challenge of performing Hashem's command without demanding a rationale. "Naase v'nishma," - "We will do and we will listen," was the clarion cry of our anscestors as they accepted the Torah. Chazal cite the awesome reward that Klal Yisrael received for declaring "naase", we will do, before "nishma," we will listen. Indeed, Hashem queried, "Who revealed this secret to My children, a phrase that only the ministering angels use?" Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves: What difference does it really make? In the end, they accepted both aspects- to do and to listen. Does the sequence really make a difference? What is the special secret that is contingent upon declaring naase before nishma?

Horav Nissan Alpert,zl, comments that "listening" means more than just being attuned, more than simply hearing what is being said. The whole world heard what happened to the Egyptians: How they were vanquished by Hashem; how the Jews were miraculously saved. Only regarding Yisro, however, did the Torah state "Vayishma Yisro," "And Yisro heard." Hearing changed his life. How was his shmia, hearing, different than everyone else's?

An individual's resonse depends upon his attitude before he hears or experiences a miraculous occurrence. A unique experience will affect a person only if he is prepared to change - if he has already decided that "the time has come" for a transformation. This explains why two people can respond so differently to a single miraculous occurrence. One individual will be moved to change, while the other one remains immovable, a product of indifference, a victim of complacency. Yisro was a seeker; he sought the truth. When the truth became apparent, he seized the moment. This is the "secret" of "naase v'nishma." If Klal Yisrael are inclined to "listen," to open up their minds to accept the dvar Hashem, word of the Almighty, they must adjust their lives to be open to communications of emes, truth. The Angels of Heaven are first and foremost angels waiting to hear Hashem's command, to do His bidding. Klal Yisrael exclaimed "Naase v'nishma" with zeal and fervor. Hashem, we are ready - prepared to perform Your will. Had they not been "bnei shmia," actively attuned to listening, they would never have gone so far as to fulfill the "naase," to act in the appropriate manner.

Hashem said to Moshe, "Go to the people and sanctify them...and they shall wash their clothing...You shall set boundaries for the people roundabout... (19:10,12)

The Torah is enjoining people to prepare for the moment of Revelation when they will receive the Torah. They are to wash their clothes and fix limits around the mountain, so that no human or animal would be able to come closer. We may note the distinction of these two mitzvos - washing clothes and cordoning off the periphery of the mountain. What is the significance for these two forms of preparation for Kabolas HaTorah?

Horav Y.A. Hirshovitz, zl, suggests that these two mitzvos serve not only as preparatory agents for Klal Yisrael's ascent to religious nationhood, they underscore the kedushas ha'Torah, the sanctity of Torah. The remind us how distant we were then from the Torah's ideal.

Every religion is the product of the generation in which it was introduced. Thus, all religions are subject to the influence of the place, time and culture from which it emerged. Certainly, the people who initiated it as a creed affected the formation of the religious dogma, codes, and form of service. A religion which the people initiated will ostensibly have passed the critique of the people. This applies to all religions - except the one religion that was given by the Almighty to His Chosen People. Judaism is not a figment of human imagination. It is, therefore, not subject to the influence of the time and place from which it originated. It is not bound by a specific culture. It does not revolve around the social climate of a given era. It transcends time and space.

Man must bring himself closer to the religion, because it stands on a sublime plane, above everything and everyone. It is a beacon of perfection -- shining through clouds of ambiguity and weakness -- which inspires each of us to identify our mission in life. Because other religions are of human origin, they achieved acceptance even before they were practiced. The converse is true of Judaism. Indeed, in the beginning people were not yet ready to accept it. Hashem raised the mountain above their heads, catalyzing an affirmative response. Many hundreds of years later -- after struggle and, at times, "kashyus oref," stiff-necked, opposition -- the Torah was finally accepted whole-heartedly, with joy and goodwill. This, once again, demonstrates its supernatural origin.

In order to imbue into the Jewish psyche the idea that the spiritual plane upon which the people presently stood was not acceptable by Torah standards, Hashem enjoined them with two mitzvos that would demonstrate their distance from the Torah ideal. They were to sanctify and set boundaries for themselves. Although they are not presently on a level appropriate for accepting the Torah, they could prepare themselves to acheive Kabolas haTorah. The requirement of commitment to cleanse and purify their "clothes," was a reference to their spiritual raiment, which was at that time unclean. Setting boundaries around the mountain clarified to them that, even after all the preparations, they would still be distant from the mountain. They were not ready. Judaism is not a religion that emerged from a human. Hashem seeks conviction, commitment to perfection, striving for holiness and purity, a realization that we have not yet attained the required status. These two mitzvos taught us how far we were then. How are we to respond now?

On the third day...there was thunder and lightning...and the entire people that was in the camp shuddered. (19:16)

Klal Yisrael was not the only one to shudder from the noise. That awesome sound, the "mysterium tremendum" that accompanied the Revelation and Giving of the Torah, echoed far beyond the periphery of that mountain. It reached an entire world. They all gathered together, the kings and princes, the common man and scholar, to offer praise to the Almighty. The Midrash says that they were scared; they feared for their lives. They thought the world was coming to an end. Perhaps Hashem was deluging the world with another mabul, flood. They went to their "wise man," seeking guidance and encouragement. "Was the end near?" they asked Bilaam, the wicked archenemy of our People. "Is Hashem returning the world to a state of disaster?" they asked. "No," Bilaam responded, "there will no longer be a flood. The noise emanates from an entirely different experience. The Almighty has had a precious treasure hidden away since 974 years before the creation of the world. It is called the Torah. He has waited all this time to give it to His children, the Jewish People." When they heard this, they all began to sing shirah, a song of praise to the Almighty.

What is the Midrash teaching us? While the nations of the world were far from virtuous, what led them to believe that their behavior had deterioratd to the extent that they deserved to be obliterated like the generation of the flood? Horav Elchonon Sorotzkin, zl, feels that they were justified in their fears. The world population had fallen to a nadir of depravity on a level with the generation of the flood. After all, how do we explain a world that stands idly by while a treacherous Pharaoh enslaves an entire nation, drowns their male offspring, bathes in the blood of their slaughtered children, all directed at the persecution of the Jews? Is there a more revolting form of indifference than this? The world is deaf to the screams of the dying children, to the bitter cries of their grief-stricken parents, to the moaning sounds of the broken-hearted Jews falling under the Egyptian whip. And we wonder why Hashem would want to destroy them. Only Hashem heard the cries, empathized with the sorrow and felt the pain of the hapless Jews.

He liberated them from bondage, freed them from persecution and destroyed their cruel oppressors. The world heard a loud cacophony of sound, the sounds of Revelation. They were afraid, however, that the sound was for them, that it heralded their well-deserved punishment. Bilaam told them not to worry. Those were not the sounds that accompanied disaster; rather, they were the clarion call of hope, the harbinger of the Giving of the Torah. If the Jewish People would accept the Torah, guard it, and observe its precepts, then the entire world would be saved. Chazal analogize this to a king who entrusted his beautiful garden to the hands of a sharecropper. After awhile the king returned to see the fruits of the sharecropper's labor. He entered the garden and noticed thorns - large, ugly thorns all over. He quickly obtained a large shears and began cutting away at the thorns. Suddenly, a beautiful, perfectly shaped, sweet-smelling rose appeared. "For this rose, I will spare the entire garden!" exclaimed the king. So, too, does Hashem spare the world because of His rose - the Torah for which He created the world. He waited twenty-six generations after Creation and "looked down" at His garden; He took His shears and cut away the thorns of evil, the wicked generations that sinned unrepentently against Him. He kept on searching and cutting until He "discovered" a rose, the Jewish People who would accept His Torah. He took this rose and smelled it at the very moment that Klal Yisrael accepted the Aseres Ha'dibros, Ten Commandments, and He was revived/pleased. When Klal Yisrael rang out with the words "naase v'nishma", "we will do and we will listen, " Hashem responded, "Because of this rose/Klal Yisrael I will spare the world."

What a beautiful interpretation of Chazal! What profound meaning Chazal's timeless words have for us today. Is the world that different today? Modern technology has blessed us with tools for destruction as never before. The world is filled with cruel demagogues bent on taking advantage and destroying those weaker than they. Our own people experienced a subhuman cruelty that would be impossible to believe if it were not true. All of this occurred while almost an entire world, including our own "host" country, turned away - deaf, mute, not seeing a thing. Yet, the world exists and is sustained by Hashem. Why? Why do they deserve to go on? It is because of the precious rose - Klal Yisrael and their commitment to the Torah!

The entire nation saw the thunder and the flames. (20:15)

The level of prophecy and spiritual perception which Klal Yisrael achieved during the Giving of the Torah was unprecedented. Indeed, as the pasuk implies, they were able to "see" the "sounds." Although thunder is an invisible sound, Klal Yisrael were able to transcend the barriers of human limitation and rise to a level of superhuman comprehension. They could now see what is heard under normal physical constraints. Seeing and hearing are two functions of the human body, each of which projects its own individual level of perception. One sees with clarity. To see means to perceive with an unambigious level of recognition. Hearing, on the other hand, does not present an equivalent clarity of perception. Indeed, regarding the testimony of witnesses, the Talmud says, "Hearing shall not be considered greater than seeing." While an individual sees more clearly, he is only able to see short distances - within the limitation of human vision. Hearing is, of course, not restrained to such limits, since one has the ability to hear much farther than he can see.

Horav Shlomo Yosef Zevin, zl, applies the distinction between sight and sound to explain Chazal's comment regarding Klal Yisrael's level of perception during the Revelation: "They saw what is (normally) heard, and heard what is (normally) seen." The physical dimension of man, or the world in which we live, usually is perceived through the concept of sight. In the spiritual dimension, the Eternal world, perception is defined through the concept of shmiah, hearing, since one cannot see the supernatural through the limited vision of the human eye. Hence, we find the enjoinment of "Shma Yisrael", Hear O Yisrael, or "V'haya im shemoa tishmeu el mitzvosai," "and it shall be if you will surely listen to My mitzvos." We listen; we are not able to see beyond the boundary of the physical.

During Matan Torah, Giving of the Torah, we transcended this boundary, when Hashem "opened" the Heavens. A Revelation heretofore never experienced by mankind occurred. Hashem revealed the hidden secrets of the spiritual dimension to them as never before. They could now "see" what until now had only been "heard." They could "traverse" the distance between the physical and the spiritual by experiencing through imagery - hearing. Furthermore, they could now "hear" what previously had been perceived only through "sight." This physical, mundane world until now had been contained within defined limits. Suddenly, the world became wider, as perception was not confined to the sense of sight. Klal Yisrael were so spiritually elevated that they no longer "saw" this world - they related to it through shmiah, hearing, because they were lifted beyond its physical periphery.

1. a. When did Moshe send his wife and children back to Midyan?

b. Who suggested that he do this?

2. What was Yisro's primary critique of Moshe's manner of judging people?

3. What was unique about the prevalent attitude among the Jewish people as they camped at Har Sinai?

4. Hashem came towards Klal Yisrael as a ___________towards his_______.

5. May the Mizbayach Adamah be placed upon a foundation?

6. a. May the stones used for the Mizbayach be cut with metal?

b. Why?


1. a. When he was on his way to Egypt to demand that Pharaoh release the Jews.

b. Aharon told him that there were enough people already suffering in Egypt, so he should not add to the existing suffering.

2. It bothered him that Moshe sat like a king while everybody stood waiting around to see him.

3. They were as "one man with one heart," so great was the harmony and unity among them.

4. Chassan, Kallah

5. No. It must be placed upon the earth.

6. A. No.

B. Metal is used to make weapons, which shorten a person's lifespan. In contrast, the Mizbayach lengthens a person's life.

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