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A Torah For All

In this week’s Parsha, the Jewish people received the Torah at Har Sinai. The revelation at Sinai was a very exclusive event that was only experienced by the Jewish people. It’s interesting to note that this event which happened that was exclusive to the Jews is placed in a Parsha named after Yisro, a gentile- כהן מדין. Similarly, on Shavuos which is the Yom Tov celebrating Kabolas HaTorah, we read the story of Rus who at least originally was not Jewish. What could be a message from such a thing?

Perhaps the message could be that although the Jews received the Torah, nevertheless we don’t have a monopoly on the Torah. It’s not like if you aren’t part of the tribe, then you can’t have anything to do with the Torah. On the contrary, Matan Torah is in Parshas Yisro to express this idea that the Torah is really accessible to anyone who cares enough and makes the effort. By telling us that Torah is available even to outsiders who take the journey and make the effort, we can also learn that even for insiders, if they don’t make the effort, then they can lose the connection. The Rambam in the end of Hilchos Shmita V’Yovel writes the following:

ולא שבט לוי בלבד אלא כל איש ואיש מכל באי העולם אשר נדבה רוחו אותו והבינו מדעו להבדל לעמוד לפני יי לשרתו ולעובדו לדעה את יי והלך ישר כמו שעשהו האלהים ופרק מעל צוארו עול החשבונות הרבים אשר בקשו בני האדם הרי זה נתקדש קדש קדשים ויהיה י"י חלקו ונחלתו לעולם ולעולמי עולמים ויזכה לו בעה"ז דבר המספיק לו כמו שזכה לכהנים ללוים וכו'.

The Rambam is not specifically talking about Jews in this Halacha rather he says כל איש ואיש מכל באי העולם referring to anyone from any race is able to come and dedicate his life to a higher purpose. The source for the Rambam seems to be the Gemara in Sanhedrin 59a which says מניין שאפילו עובד כוכבים ועוסק בתורה שהוא ככהן גדול שנאמר (ויקרא יח, ה) אשר יעשה אותם האדם וחי בהם כהנים לוים וישראלים לא נאמר אלא האדם הא למדת שאפילו עובד כוכבים ועוסק בתורה הרי הוא ככהן גדול. This Gemara which says about a non-Jew who learns Torah is ככהן גדול is the reason why the Rambam is able to say ולא שבט לוי בלבד אלא כל איש ואיש מכל באי העולם that one who learns Torah, even a non-Jew- כל איש ואיש מכל באי העולםis compared to שבט לוי. The Gemara concludes that it’s only within the שבע מצוות בני נח that he is able to learn. So in spite of the fact that in order to learn all of Torah he would need to be מגייר, nevertheless in learning the שבע מצוות בני נח, even a non-Jew could reach the highest level of connection with the Ribbono Shel Oilam.

By Har Sinai, the Psukim say והגבלת את העם סביב לאמר השמרו לכם עלות בהר ונגע בקצהו כל הנגע בהר מות יומת, לא תגע בו יד כי סקול יסקל או ירה יירה אם בהמה אם איש לא יחיה במשך היבל המה יעלו בהר (יט,יב-יג). After describing the boundaries that were put in place, the Pasuk ends with after the blowing of the Shofar, the people will be able to go on Har Sinai. What is the significance that afterward, anyone can go on Har Sinai?

By Har Moriah, the מקום המקדש, there are restrictions as to who may go on the mountain, only descendants of Aaron HaKohen. There are Halachos regarding time that the Avodah can only be done by day, not by night. There are even Halachos dictating one’s thoughts because a מחשבה חוץ לזמנו and חוץ למקומו-a thought about doing it outside the time and place make the Korban פסול.So the time and place and not only relevant in the actual Avodah, but they even play out in the thoughts of the Kohen as he is doing the Avodah. However, when it comes to Har Sinai, this is not the case. The restrictions and boundaries were only for Matan Torah but immediately afterward anyone can go on the mountain. The message could be that Torah is not exclusive to a specific race, time, or place, rather it is accessible to all, anytime and anywhere.

There is a Machlokes in the Gemara whether or not Yisro came before Matan Torah or after Matan Torah. According to the opinion that he came after Matan Torah, why is the Parsha of his coming appearing before Matan Torah as opposed to just being written when it actually happened which was after Matan Torah? The Ibn Ezra (quoted by the Ramban) addresses this question and writes the following:

ואם כן נצטרך טעם למה מקדים הפרשה הזאת לכותבה בכאן. ואמר ר"א כי היה זה בעבור דבר עמלק, כי כאשר הזכיר הרעה שעשה עמנו עמלק וצוה שנגמלהו כרעתו, הזכיר שעשה לנו יתרו טובה, להורותינו שנשלם לו גמול טוב וכו' ע"ש.

The Ibn Ezra explains since the Torah just mentioned the רעה that Amalek did to us and Hashem told us that we should do unto them that which they did to us, the Torah want’s to mention immediately afterward that which Yisro did us a favor. To teach us that we should be kind to Yisro for the favor that he did for us.

The message of the Ibn Ezra could be that a person shouldn’t generalize. Although Amalek was a Goy who was evil, it doesn’t mean every Goy is evil. Amalek was a rare occurrence of pure evil and he shouldn’t be taken as the prototype that the typical person is out to get us. The Mechilta says at the end of Parshas Beshalach אין מקבלין גרים מעמלק. But then immediately afterward is the Parsha of Yisro who is a גר which could be to contrast Amalek from all other non-Jews to show that they aren’t all the same and therefore we shouldn’t generalize.

It’s generally assumed that Yisro was מתגייר. However the Ohr HaChaim in Parshas Behaloscha (10:30) actually brings a Machlokes as to whether or not he was מתגייר. So until now, everything can work with the opinion of רבי יהושע that Yisro never actually converted. But even according to רבי אלעזר who says he was נתגייר, Moshe Rabbeinu wasn’t so willing to accept him right away. The Psukim in the beginning of the Parsha say ויבא יתרו חתן משה ובניו ואשתו אל משה אל המדבר אשר הוא חנה שם הר האלהים: ויאמר אל משה אני חתנך יתרו בא אליך ואשתך ושני בניה עמה. But how was Yisro communicating with Moshe if Yisro hadn’t yet reached Moshe Rabbeinu yet? The Midrash Rabbah brings three opinions. The first, which is brought by Rashi, is that which it says ויאמר אל משה was through a messenger. The second opinion is that it was with an אגרת. The third opinion is that it was Hashem speaking to Moshe. The Medrash says the following:

ר"א אומר הקדוש ברוך הוא אמר לו צא, ויאמר אל משה, א"ל הקדוש ברוך הוא אני הוא שאמרתי והיה העולם וכו' אני הוא שאני מקרב אני הוא שאני מרחק, שנאמר (ירמיה כג) האלהי מקרוב אני נאם ה', אני הוא שקרבתי ליתרו ולא רחקתיו, אדם זה שבא אצלי לא בא אלא לשם שמים ולא בא אלא להתגייר, אף אתה קרבהו אל תרחיקהו וכו' ע"ש.

We see from this Medrash that Moshe Rabbeinu was really hesitant to accept Yisro into the tribe and Hashem had to specifically tell Moshe to be מקרב him and not be מרחק him.

But even with all of this, Yisro made a major impact as he reshaped the entire court system and it was because of him that this Parsha was written. Regarding this, the Ohr HaChaim writes the following:

ונראה כי טעם הדבר הוא להראות ה' את בני ישראל הדור ההוא וכל דור ודור כי יש באומות גדולים בהבנה ובהשכלה, וצא ולמד מהשכלת יתרו בעצתו ואופן סדר בני אדם אשר בחר כי יש באומות מכירים דברים המאושרים, והכונה בזה כי לא באה הבחירה בישראל לצד שיש בהם השכלה והכרה יותר מכל האומות, וזה לך האות השכלת יתרו הא למדת כי לא מרוב חכמת ישראל והשכלתם בחר ה' בהם אלא לחסד עליון ולאהבת האבות

The Ohr HaChaim says the reason Hashem gave the Torah to Klal Yisrael is not because they are necessarily smarter than other nations as you see from Yisro and the advice that he gave regarding the court systems. Similarly Reb Moshe Kordovero, known as the Ramak, the great Kabbalist in his sefer שיעור קומה סי' ג writes אין שינוי בשכל בין קהל מקבלי התורה התמימה לשאר קהלות אומות העולם. However the Chazon Ish in קובץ אגרות אות פד in responding against a חוברת writes the following:

מצא לנחוץ שלא נטעה ח"ו להגיד קבל עם שילדי ישראל אינם טובים בכשרונותיהם מיתר ילדי העמים, ובשקר הזה כרוכים כל השקרים שבחוברת זו, אבל עם אחד ותורה אחת אי אפשר להחליפם וכל האלילים כליל יחלפו וישראל לעולם עומד.

It’s interesting to see the sharp difference of opinion between Gedolei Yisrael.

What Yisro Heard

The Parsha begins וישמע יתרו. Rashi, quoting the Gemara Zevachim 116a, says מה שמועה שמע ובא, קריעת ים סוף ומלחמת עמלק that Yisro heard Krias Yam Suf and the battle with Amalek and that’s what inspired him to come join the Jewish people. (Side note, it’s interesting that one could’ve thought the reason Yisro was coming was because of family reunion that he was bringing Moshe’s wife and children but no one mentions such an idea.) The Gemara in Zevachim brings three different opinions among the Tanaim as to what Yisro heard that inspired him to come. One opinion is that he heard Krias Yam Suf. Another opinion is he heard Matan Torah and the last is he heard Milchemes Amalek. It could be the reason Rashi left out the opinion of Matan Torah is because Rashi is of the opinion that he came before Matan Torah. However, why did Rashi combine two of the three opinions; Krias Yam Suf and Milchemes Amalek? Additionally there is room to be מדייק that why is it called Milchemes Amalek? Wouldn’t it be preferable to write it as the miracles which surrounded the victory over Amalek? It would seem that it was the war itself, Milchemes Amalek, which was a reason for Yisro to come. What about the war was a reason for Yisro to come?

These questions can be answered with what the חיד"א writes in the name of רבני אשכנז. He says that really Yisro was inspired and interested in joining Klal Yisrael after Krias Yam Suf, but he was afraid that he would be rejected. But once he also heard about Milchemes Amalek he knew they wouldn’t reject him anymore. The reason is because תמנע wanted to be the פלגש of Avraham Avinu but he rejected her. But in order to be דבק בזרעו she became the פלגש of אליפז and their son was Amalek and Avraham Avinu was punished that her child will forever oppress Klal Yisrael (Sanhedrin 99b). So once Yisro heard that Amalek attacked the Jews, he knew that Klal Yisrael would realize their mistake in rejecting תמנע because Amalek attacking them was a punishment for rejecting her and therefore they won’t reject Yisro. According to this it could be understood why it says specifically Milchemes Amalek because although the inspiration came from Krias Yam Suf, what removed his concern that they wouldn’t accept him was the Milchemes Amalek.

Perhaps another answer could be as follows. By Krias Yam Suf, the Ibn Ezra ask why didn’t the Jews, who were שש מאות אלף איש, turn around and fight back. He answers that the Mitzriim were these Jews masters and the Jews had a slave mentality. They were למד מנעוריו לסבול עול מצרים ונפשו שפלה-because they were brought up to be slaves, they lacked the courage to fight back. So Hakadosh Boruch Hu needed to do Krias Yam Suf to save them because they were incapable to act on their own. However, the Ribbono Shel Oilam expects of us that we learn how to stand on our own. Eventually the Jews would have to get the courage in order to stand up for themselves. At Milchemes Amalek, the Jews took an active role and they needed to participate and take action and fight on their own. What Yisro learned from Milchemes Amalek is that one can’t depend on revelation and inspiration forever. Revelation and inspiration are there to bring a person to a point where he will be able to act on his own.

Yisro was inspired and taken by the great miracle of Krias Yam Suf. But who is to say that he should take that inspiration and put it into a way of life. Milchemes Amalek showed him that he should take the inspiration of Krias Yam Suf and be able to do a Milchemes Amalek on his own just as the Jewish people did. It’s not that a person should wait until the next miracle rather he should act and do something about it. This was the idea of Kabalas HaTorah, taking upon oneself a way of life that will reflect those ideas and not just sit around and wait for another lightning.

Identifying With The Jewish Fate

The Pasuk says ויספר משה לחתנו את כל אשר עשה ה' לפרעה ולמצרים על אודת ישראל את כל התלאה אשר מצאתם בדרך ויצלם ה' (יח,ח). Rashi says Moshe Rabbeinu was telling him about everything that happened at Krias Yam Suf and with Amalek למשוך את לבו לקרבו לתורה. But a few Psukim earlier in פסוק ה, Rashi says about Yisro שהיה יושב בכבודו של עולם ונדבו לבו לצאת אל המדבר, מקום תהו, לשמוע דברי תורה. It’s clear that Yisro already made a great move to go from כבודו של עולם to go to the מדבר which was a place of תהו in order to hear Divrei Torah. Therefore why does Moshe feel the need to tell him these things למשוך את לבו לקרבו לתורה if he’s seemingly already on board?

On the words את כל התלאה, Rashi says שעל הים ושל עמלק. The word התלאה means travail, meaning Moshe Rabbeinu was telling Yisro all the troubles and tribulations that had happened to them. Moshe wasn’t telling him the glory of Krias Yam Suf and Milchemes Amalek rather he was telling him all the difficulties and צרות that led up to those miraculous event. This is consistent with what the Rambam says in Hilchos Isurei Biah 14:1 that when a person comes to be מגייר:

מה ראית שבאת להתגייר, אי אתה יודע שישראל בזמן הזה דוויים ודחופים ומסוחפין ומטורפין ויסורין באין עליהן, אם אמר אני יודע ואיני כדאי מקבלין אותו מיד.

When a person comes to be מגייר, we tell him how the Jews are a hated and disgraced people, to which he must respond איני כדאי that he isn’t worthy to be part of such a people who suffer like that. This is why Moshe Rabbeinu was telling Yisro את כל התלאה, all the travail and tribulations that had happened to the people until now because in order to be מגייר, one must identify with the fate of the Jewish people. Similarly, Rus said עמך עמי ואלוהיך אלוהי (א,טז). The first thing is one needs to identify with the people and not with their successes rather being able to share their troubles. Moshe Rabbeinu was saying to Yisro that I know you were very impressed with these miracles but miracles don’t happen every day. There is a long story of suffering that leads up those miracles and in order to become a Jew he must understand what the Jewish fate is.

Serving Hashem In The Mundane

In the Aseres Hadibros, the Pasuk says ששת ימים תעבוד ועשית כל מלאכתך. The Rabbeinu Bachya writes the following in the name of the Rambam (of which the source is unknown):

כל הששת ימים אפשר לך שתעבוד את השם יתברך עם עשיית כל מלאכתך, כענין האבות שהיו עובדים את השם יתברך עם עבודת המקנה ושאר ענינים הגופניים, אבל “יום השביעי שבת”, כלו יהיה לה' אלהיך, “לא תעשה בו מלאכה” כלל. זה שמעתי בשם הרמב"ם ז"ל.

Rabbeinu Bachya is saying that תעבוד in the Pasuk ששת ימים תעבוד ועשית כל מלאכתך means Avodas Hashem that a person should be תעבוד-serve the Ribbono Shel Oilam ועשית כל מלאכתך with doing mundane work. But Shabbos is לא תעשה בו מלאכה that there is no mundane work and it’s just ותעבוד את ה' אלוקיך.

Long Life

Regarding the שכר of אריכות ימים for כבד את אביך ואת אמך, the Rabbeinu Bachya writes the following in the name of הגאון רב סעדיה:

כי מפני שלפעמים עתידים שיחיו האבות עם הבנים זמן ארוך, והאבות הם למשא כבד על הבנים והכבוד יכבד עליהם, לכך קבע עליהם שכר המצוה הזאת: “למען יאריכון ימיך”, כלומר עליך לכבדם ותחיה עמהם ואם אולי תצטער על חייהם דע שעל חייך אתה מצטער, ע"כ.

It’s not clear exactly what Reb Saadia Gaon is saying at the end. But it could be he is saying that if a person is מצטער over the fact that he is burdened with taking care of his elderly parents, then he is really being מצטער over his own life because in a way he is saying that he doesn’t want to live long because he is complaining about having to take care of his elderly parents which has a reward for long life.

Controlling One’s Thoughts and Desires

On לא תחמד, the Ibn Ezra writes אנשים רבים יתמהו על זאת המצוה, איך יהיה אדם שלא יחמוד דבר יפה בלבו כל מה שהוא נחמד למראה עיניו-many people ask how could there be such a Mitzvah because how could a person control what his heart desires. The Chinuch inתטז on the Aseres Hadibros in Parshas Vaeshachana on לא תתאוה בית רעיך doesn’t understand such a question and he writes the following:

ואל תתמה לומר ואיך יהיה בידו של אדם למנוע לבבו מהתאוות אל אוצר כל כלי חמדה שיראה ברשות חבירו והוא מכולם ריק וריקם, ואיך תבוא מניעה בתורה במה שאי אפשר לו לאדם לעמוד עליו. שזה הדבר אינו כן, ולא יאמרו אותו זולתי הטפשים הרעים והחטאים בנפשותם, כי האמנם ביד האדם למנוע עצמו ומחשבותיו ותאוותיו מכל מה שירצה, וברשותו ודעתו להרחיק ולקרב חפצו בכל הדברים כרצונו.

He says that it’s completely up to a person to control his thoughts and that which he desires. However, the Chinuch doesn’t explain how a person can deal with these particular thoughts and desires. Regarding how a person can deal with these thoughts the Ibn Ezra gives a משל to answer the question. He says a כפרי-villager who sees the בת מלך doesn’t desire her because he knows that it is impossible. So to a person has to understand and internalize that something not in his possession is not שייך to him just like the villager understands simply that it’s not possible for him to be with the בת מלך. This really gives an explanation for the Chinuch as to how a person could come to a point where it’s ביד האדם למנוע עצמו ומחשבותיו ותאוותיו מכל מה שירצה.

Reb Henoch M’Alexnader who was a Talmid of the Rebba Reb Bunim M’Pshischa and afterward the Kutzker Rebbe, led the Gerrer Chassidim for four years after the death of the Chidushei Harim. He said this idea in the opposite way that it’s not that the Jew should view himself as the כפרי and that which is out of his reach, the בת מלך, is above him. Rather a Jew must view himself as above his desires and what is out of his reach are beneath his dignity. The Mesilat Yesharim in the first chapter says this idea:

וגם הנפש לא תמלא, משל למה הדבר דומה, לעירוני שנשא בת מלך, אם יביא לה כל מה שבעולם, אינם חשובים לה כלום, שהיא בת מלך - כך הנפש, אילו הבאת לה כל מעדני עולם, אינם כלום לה, למה שהיא מן העליונים.

The idea is that a Jew should view himself as a בן המלך and the Inyanei Oilam Hazeh are really beneath him and it doesn’t interest him.

Shabbos Mevorchim Chodesh Adar

This Shabbos is Shabbos Mevorchim Chodesh Adar. It’s unusual for there to be a full week in between the Shabbos Mevorchim and Rosh Chodesh. But maybe the din משנכנס אדר מרבים בשמחה should already begin from now. If by משנכנס אב ממטעטין בשמחה we begin thirteen days earlier and we say מרובה מידה טובה, then for sure it should be מרבין בשמחה already. But if a person realizes that ששת ימים תעבוד ועשית כל מלאכתך is really about serving Hashem with our daily work, then it’s always בשמחה because תחת אשר לא עבדת את ה' בשמחה.

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