Return to Sender
Volume 5 Issue 17
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
Yisro is the portion in which the Children of Israel arrive at their
spiritual, intellectual, and moral destination. It is the portion in which
the former Hebrew slaves choose to become the Chosen People, choosing the
responsibilities of 613 mitzvos and all their accountability. This week
the Jews accept the Torah at Mount Sinai.
It does not come easy. Hashem prefaces the offering with an overpowering
charge. He sends Moshe to speak to both the men and women. "You shall be
to Me a kingdom of ministers and a holy nation" (Exodus19:6). Accepting
the Torah included the responsibilities of a holy nation -- a new moral
divining rod for a world fraught with immorality. But they were up to the
challenge and they responded as such.
They did not murmur their response nor did they mumble their acceptance.
The Jews affirmed their agreement in unison with words that resound
throughout history as the battle cry of Jewish faith. They shouted in
unison, "All that Hashem has commanded, we shall do!" (Exodus 19:8). The
response, declaring total submission to Torah dictates, was proudly noted
by the Almighty, handing the Jews a most chosen nation status through all
But Moshe did not look up to heaven with a content smile, as if he was a
proud brother sharing nachas with a father who was watching from the
bleachers. The Torah tells us, "and Moshe related the words of the people
to Hashem" (Exodus19:9). He returned to the Master of the Universe and
reported the good news. He repeated the response, verbatim, to Hashem.
The question is obvious. Moshe knew, perhaps better than any mortal being,
that every action, gesture, and thought of any inhabitant of this planet is
duly recorded by the Almighty. Why, then, did he report back the response?
Hashem was well aware of the enthusiasm and willing acceptance of the
people. Furthermore, by telling us that Moshe went back to Hashem, isn't
the Torah opening a Pandora's box? Could one possibly infer that Hashem,
needed Moshe to find out the response? Obviously there is a deeper lesson
to be learned!
In New York State when a baby is born, tests are administered to determine
if the baby has any genetic diseases. Among them are tests for
histidinemia. This condition causes excessive levels of the protein
histadine to build up in the blood, which can damage the nervous system and
cause retardation. The disease must be attended to immediately. A
histadine level of 1 or 2 points is considered normal.
Ten days after a baby was born to a young couple, the hospital frantically
tracked down the parents to tell them that their child had a histadine
level -- of 12! The hospital told the young couple to rush back with the
baby. The father instantaneously called his Rebbe, Reb Yaakov Kamenetzky
who was the sandek at the baby's bris just a few days ago.
Reb Yaakov said he would pray for the child who appeared fine at the bris.
Then he told them to insist that the histadine test be repeated before any
treatment is administered. The parents rushed back to Bellevue Hospital
where they were greeted by an assortment of doctors, nurses, nutritionists,
and therapists. The staff wanted to admit the newborn into the hospital
immediately. They warned that if the baby was not admitted, permanent
brain damage could result. The parents insisted that the test be
re-administered to which the doctors grudgingly replied, "we will re-do the
test, but understand," they grumbled, "that these tests are extremely
accurate. We never get a false reading."
They re-administered the procedure and came out with a totally different
figure than the first time. The histadine level was a bit over one! After
further review, they realized that the first test was not off -- the
technician was! He put the decimal in the wrong place. The original
reading should not have been 12, but rather 1.2!
The couple, quite upset about the unnecessary scare and trauma, drove with
the baby straight to the home of Rabbi Kamenetzky to inform him that the
whole ordeal was a mistake. Reb Yaakov, who was elated at the news, held
the young father and kissed him. "Thank you for coming and telling me the
news," said the Torah sage. "So many people just tell me their tzorus
(problems), they ask me for advice, even prayers, but when things get
better, I never find out. I am left bearing the burden of their worries."
Moshe knew that Hashem heard the answer of the Jewish nation as loud, if
not louder, than he did. But he was sent on a mission and he had a
responsibility to convey the good news. But he wanted to send the Jewish
people a message as well. He taught his people that before one can receive
the Torah he must be a good messenger. Everything that we study -
everything we do on this earth is but a message that must be accounted to
for Hashem. Even if Hashem knows what we are doing, we must return with a
report of accomplishment. And Moshe taught us that Derech Eretz must not
only precede the learning of the Torah, it must precede the giving of it as
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
Dedicated by Michael & Rikki Charnowitz in memory of Ephraim Spinner
In memory of Reb Ephraim Yitzchak ben Reb Avraham
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
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The author is the Associate Dean of the
Yeshiva of South Shore.
Drasha is the e-mail edition of FaxHomily, a weekly torah facsimile on the weekly portion
which is sponsored by The Henry and Myrtle Hirsch Foundation