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Parshas Yisro 5759

Outline Vol. 3, # 12

by Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein

This issue has been anonymously dedicated in honor of the Bas Mitzva of Ellen Melissa Fishman.

At Mount Sinai, the Jewish People were praised for saying, "We will do and we will listen." (Shmos, 24:7) By saying "we will do," before mentioning "we will listen," they stressed performance of the commandments. In spite of questions, before fully understanding the reasons, the Jewish People promised to fulfill the Torah.

The Maor Einoyim says: There are always ups and downs. The important thing is to keep the determination and concentration on the same intense level. Keep striving, and serve with vigor and exertion.

This is the great praise of the people, found in the verse, "We will do and we will listen." Even in our falling, we will not slacken in our work, our concentration and our striving. We will continue to cling to Hashem to the extent of our abilities! Then -- "we will listen" -- we will still merit to understand with clarity, even though we feel weak at this time. Recognizing our failings and feeling the need to improve, we will strengthen our resolve to return to an elevated level.

Honor and Shame

Moshe's father-in-law, Yisro, came to the desert. He was able to teach Moshe -- and the people -- vital character lessons.

Upon seeing Moshe sit in judgment all day, Yisro reproved his son-in-law, and suggested that Moshe designate authority to 78,600 judges.

According to Rashi, the lesson Yisro taught was that it was disrespectful to keep the people standing and waiting all day.

Moshe was the greatest of all the prophets. The Torah is associated Moshe alone, as the verse indicates: "Remember the Torah of Moshe, My servant..." (Zichru Toras Moshe Ovdi) (Malachi 3:22) No prophet is permitted to add, detract or alter the Torah of Moshe. Yet, Yisro reproved Moshe, because the honor of the people was at stake.

Other lessons were conveyed, as well. The Beis Yisrael (Zedichov) explains that Yisro taught the idea that every individual needs a personal mentor, to be able to constantly seek advice. Thus, Yisro said that there needed to be leaders over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Every ten need a teacher uniquely their own! This is the idea of the "Rebbe."

Moshe, too, would become exhausted if he had to do all the work himself. Nonetheless, the main concern was the first -- the honor of the people should take precedence. (Rav Yerucham Halevy)

Now, 78,600 judges is a large number. The context of the verses shows that these individuals were not merely giving advice, but were making judicial decisions. Such decision-making requires great knowledge; obviously, Yisrael was meant to be a highly educated people.

Rav Yerucham Halevy showed, though, that there is a different point here. Why would every ten people need their own judicial decisions? It must be that the people would be asking for precise guidance in monetary matters. Minute questions of theft are at least as important as other matters of Jewish Law.

Really, everyone needs to be a judge. Each person needs to apply the same careful scrutiny to his daily affairs, as a judge must. See Rashi and Ramban, that one of the qualifications of a judge is that he be wary of his own profits, and be prepared to forfeit them voluntarily, rather than be ordered by the court to do so.

Honor and Shame, Part II

When Yisro first appeared in the desert, he sent word: "I, Yisro, your father-in-law, have come to you -- with your wife and her two sons." (Shmos 18:6) Rashi explains Yisro's intent: "Come out for my sake; if not, for the sake of your wife; if not, for the sake of your sons." What was the purpose of this lengthy introduction -- "Come for my sake...?" Was Yisro seeking honor?

The Maharal answered simply. There is a distinction between seeking honor and avoiding embarrassment and shame. If Moshe would not have come to greet his father-in-law, Yisro would have been publicly embarrassed. Even great Tzadikim wish to avoid the degradation of shame.

There is another kind of shame. At the receiving of the Torah, the people were frightened. Moshe told them: "Don't be afraid. Hashem comes to you in order to test you, and that His fear be upon your faces, that you not err..." (Shmos 20:17) The Talmud describes this "fear" as "shame." The "shame on your faces" comes from the realization that Hashem is among us, that we are responsible for our conduct and the consequences of our actions.

The departure from Egypt revealed Hashem dramatically. The awareness of His personal supervision, however, was only fully realized at Mount Sinai, where the singular choice of the Jewish People was made known. Corresponding to the direct guidance and personal supervision, is the awareness of the responsibilities. Such awareness would naturally bring about a sense of shame (as Moshe was ashamed at the Burning Bush, and had to look down).

Although such shame is a good thing, and protects from errors, it can be, nonetheless, painful. The people did not abide by Moshe's advice, but retreated, requesting that Moshe approach the mountain alone.

Elsewhere, Ramban explains that Moshe wanted them all to be prophets, and not need any kind of intercessor. The assurance that they would have future prophets was not the greatest blessing, but in lieu of being prophets themselves.

The Rabbis say that the Jews experienced death at Mount Sinai, but their souls were returned to them.

Rav Yitzchak Hutner explained that the death the Rabbis refer to, actually alludes to the shame, the "fear on the faces" of which Moshe spoke about. The immense shame at Mount Sinai was a kind of momentary death. Returning to consciousness, the people were newly energized to serve with alacrity; they had been brought back from the dead.

Indeed, Tosafos brings an opinion that to shame another person is included among the cardinal crimes in Judaism (murder, adulterous and incestuous relationships and idolatry) because of its relationship to death.

Unfortunately, we live in a time where there is little or no sense of shame. Not being sensitive to one's own shame, people are not sensitive about shaming others.

Fortunately, we have something to look forward to. Sota, 49b, lists several signs indicative that the future redemption is approaching. The descriptions of lack sensitivity to shame sound very much like our times.

Remembering the words of the Maor Einoyim, let's concentrate our efforts to return to an elevated level, even as we see ourselves temporarily on a lower plane.

Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
11 Kiryas Radin
Spring Valley, NY 10977
Phone: (914) 362-5156

Good Shabbos!

Text Copyright © '98 Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Project Genesis, Inc.



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