Volume XII, Number 17
18 Shevat 5758
February 14, 1998
The Marwick family
in memory of Reba Sklaroff a"h
Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Edeson and family
on the yahrzeits of mother, Hannah Salsbury a"h
and grandfather Shnayer Zalman Scher a"h
The highlight of this week's parashah is Matan Torah/The Giving
of the Torah. The Torah introduces this event with the verse
(19:2), "They traveled from Refidim, and they arrived in the
Sinai Desert, and they camped in the desert, and Yisrael camped
there, opposite the mountain."
Chazal note that the phrases, "[T]hey arrived" and "[T]hey
camped," both use a plural verb form, while the phrase, "Yisrael
camped there," uses a singular form. They explain that the
singular form is intended to convey the unity of the Jewish
people at that moment - in the words of Chazal, "Like one man
with on heart."
Why was this unity a necessary prelude to Matan Torah? R'
Elazar Kallir z"l (died 1801; not to be confused with the
liturgical poet with a similar name) explains that no person can
perform all of the mitzvot. Some mitzvot are only for men and
others are only for women. Some can be performed only by
kohanim, some only by levi'im, and some by neither, etc.
However, when the Jewish people are united as one body, with one
heart, then that body can observe the entire Torah.
We read in Tehilim (29:11), "Hashem will give might to His
nation; Hashem will bless His nation with peace," and Chazal
interpret this "might" as a reference to the Torah. In light of
the above, writes R' Kallir, the connection between the first and
second parts of the verse is understandable. Without peace, we
cannot observe the Torah in its entirety.
If there is not peace among the Jewish people, R' Kallir
continues, then the only way an individual soul can be credited
with keeping the entire Torah is to return in several different
incarnations (as a kohen, a levi, a yisrael, a woman, etc.).
This is the meaning of the gemara's teaching that mashiach cannot
come until Hashem's storehouse is emptied of souls. For mashiach
to come, we must keep the Torah. The sign that we are keeping
the Torah properly is that Hashem's "supply" of souls will be
exhausted, for that means that "old" souls are not returning in
new incarnations. (Chavot Yair: Drush Ohr Yakar p.16a)
"An Astonishing Midrash"
When Bnei Yisrael said, "Na'aseh ve'nishmah"/"We will observe
and we will hear," Hashem revealed to them what was created on
each of the days of creation.
Chazal say: "Why was man created last, so that if he becomes
haughty, he can remind himself that even the smallest gnat was
created before him." But are there not other ways for man to
remind himself not to be haughty? In Pirkei Avot, for example,
we are taught that man should remind himself of his eventual
death and then he will not sin!
The answer is that when the Bnei Yisrael said "Na'aseh
ve'nishmah," Hashem decreed that they would live forever. (This
decree was reversed when they made the golden calf.) They could
not remind themselves to be humble by thinking of the day of
death - they were destined to live forever! Accordingly, Hashem
taught them what was created on each day as a tool to remain
"Yitro, the kohen of Midian, the father-in-law of Moshe,
heard . . ." (18:1)
Rashi writes: What did he hear? He heard that Hashem split the
Why did the splitting of the sea inspire Yitro to join the
Jewish people? Chazal say that when Hashem prepared to split the
sea, the angels complained that Bnei Yisrael were idol worshipers
just like the Egyptians and did not deserve to be saved.
However, Hashem, who knows man's innermost thoughts, understood
that the Jews did not sin willingly.
In his younger years, Yitro had been an advisor in Pharaoh's
court and was required to worship Pharaoh's idols. He knew it
was wrong, but he felt that he had no choice. When Yitro heard
that Hashem split the sea, he understood that the way Hashem
judges man, he (Yitro) could be excused just as Bnei Yisrael had
been excused. [Ed. Note: Halachically, one is required to forfeit
his life rather than worship idols. Nevertheless, G-d looks at
man's motives in determining how to respond to sin.]
This is why the Torah reminds us here that the same Yitro who
was the kohen/priest of Midian was the father-in-law of Moshe.
Although an idolater, Yitro was a tzaddik, for obviously, an
ordinary idolater would not have merited to be Moshe's father-in-
(Sha'ar Bat Rabim)
shem, your G-d, Who has taken you out of the land of
Egypt, from the house of slavery." (20:2)
Ramban (Nachmanides) writes: "This is one of the positive
commandments, i.e., He commanded that they [Bnei Yisrael] should
know and believe in Hashem - that there is a Hashem, that He is G-
d, i.e., He exists now and always existed, that everything came
from Him because He desired that it be so and He has the ability
to make it so, and that they must serve Him."
(Ramban Al Ha'Torah)
R' Yaakov Emden z"l (18th century) writes: Knowing that G-d
exists cannot be a mitzvah, for no intelligent person can deny
this. The fact that G-d exists and that He is One is plainly
obvious. Moreover, there cannot be a mitzvah to believe in G-d,
because unless one believes in G-d he cannot be commanded to
What then is the mitzvah of the above verse? The mitzvah is
that we, who left Egypt, recognize G-d through His Unique Name
which He never revealed to the nations in general, and not even
to the Patriarchs. [Knowing His Name means recognizing that:] Our
King came and revealed Himself to us after He acquired us as
slaves by redeeming us from slavery in Egypt; He showed us His
honor and greatness; and He informed us of His actual Name [i.e.,
the four-letter ineffable Name] with which He took us out of
Egypt and overrode the laws of nature to show us that He alone
rules over the whole world. Through this knowledge we can
understand that He created the world.
Other nations also recognize that the world has a G-d. What is
unique about our mitzvah is the commandment to know G-d by His
Name [as that knowledge incorporates all of the above
(Migdal Oz, Ch. 1)
R' Aharon Soloveitchik shlita writes: Rambam (Maimonides)
appears to contradict himself. In Sefer Hamitzvot, his listing
of the 613 commandments, he writes that one must believe in G-d
on faith alone. However, in his Code (in Hil. Yesodei Ha'Torah
ch.1), he writes that one should seek logical proofs that G-d
R' Soloveitchik explains that the fundamental mitzvah is to
accept G-d's existence on faith. In addition, those who are
intellectually capable should use their intellect to prove G-d's
existence. However, for those who are not intellectually
capable, such an investigation would be a sin.
(Perach Mateh Aharon p.1)
R' Binyamin of Tudela z"l
died approx. 1175
Although there is evidence that R' Binyamin was a Talmudic
scholar, he earned his place in Jewish history as a traveler.
Setting out from Spain about 1160, he journeyed through southern
France, Italy, Greece, Syria, Eretz Yisrael and Baghdad. His
return trip took him through the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, to
Egypt, finally arriving home, by way of Sicily, in 1173.
R' Binyamin's diary was published under the title Masaot Shel
R' Binyamin/The Travels of R' Binyamin. This important chronicle
depicts the Jewish community of each city and describes the
writings of scholars and leaders, some of whom are still famous
and others who are known only thanks to R' Binyamin. Schools of
learning are listed, along with the occupations engaged in by the
Jewish populace, its civil status, population and its unique
R' Binyamin also provided information concerning Jewish
communities which he did not visit, including Germany, the Slavic
lands east of Prague, and northern France. His writings are
reported to be among the earliest European works to mention
R' Binyamin's diary is quoted in many later works, both
halachic and aggadic. In recent years, for example, R' Moshe
Feinstein z"l cited R' Binyamin regarding the design of the tomb
which Yaakov built for Rachel. (He wrote that it had twelve
columns and a dome.) R' Eliezer Waldenberg shlita cites R'
Binyamin in a discussion of the halachic status of an Indian
tribe that calls itself "Bnei Yisrael." (Sources: The Artscroll
Rishonim, p. 78; Igrot Moshe, Y.D. Vol. IV, No. 57; Tzitz
Eliezer, Vol. X, No. 25)