This week's parashah contains the Aseret Hadibrot/the so-called
"Ten Commandments." (There are actually more than ten
commandments in the Aseret Hadibrot, though the exact number is
the subject of a dispute among the Rishonim/early medieval
authorities.) Many commentaries offer explanations for the
organization of the Aseret Hadibrot, one of which is as follows:
R' Samson Raphael Hirsch z"l writes: The first five dibrot are
laws between man and G-d. They begin with a purely intellectual
and spiritual demand (i.e., believe in one G-d), but they
gradually progress into mitzvot that involve physical demands
(i.e., keeping Shabbat and honoring parents). In contrast, the
second set of five dibrot are obligations that man owes his
fellow man. They begin with a physical demand (i.e., do not
murder) and end with an intellectual demand (i.e., do not
From the progression in the first five dibrot, writesR' Hirsch, we learn that honoring G-d in spirit is worthless
unless one exercises control over his actions. One's deeds must
prove that the honor he gives G-d is genuine. The progression of
the second five dibrot teaches, on the other hand, that social
order demands more than adherence to the letter of the law; it
demands spirit and feelings. (The Hirsch Chumash p. 281)
"And you shall discern from among the entire people . . ."
In this parashah, Yitro sees Moshe judging the entire nation on
his own, and, in the above verse, Yitro recommends that Moshe
appoint other judges to help him. Rashi (to Rashi 18:1) refers
to the entire section which contains Yitro's discussion with
Moshe as the chapter of "And you shall discern." Why? After
all, this is not the first verse in the section?
R' Meir Shapiro z"l explained as follows: "And you shall
discern" is the beginning of Yitro's advice to Moshe. Yitro
criticized Moshe's methods of judging the nation, but he did not
stop there. Rather, he continued with positive advice: "Appoint
judges." Perhaps Rashi's intention is to teach us that criticism
is worth very little unless it is accompanied by a proposed
solution to the problem.
"So shall you say to the House of Yaakov and relate to the
Children of Israel." (19:3)
Rashi writes: The House of Yaakov refers to the women; the
Children of Israel refers to the men.
R' Joseph B. Soloveitckik z"l elaborated on this as follows:
People are mistaken in thinking that we have only one tradition,
the tradition of our fathers. The verse says (Mishlei 1:8),
"Hear, my son, the instruction of your father, and forsake not
the Torah of your mother." What is the difference between the
tradition or instruction of a father and the tradition or Torah
of a mother?
From one's father, one should learn the texts - the Bible or
the Talmud, how to analyze, how to classify, how to infer, etc.
One should also learn the detailed halachot from his father.
From his mother, one learns that Judaism is more than strict
compliance with the laws. R' Soloveitchik said about his own
mother: "She taught me that there is a flavor, a scent and a
warmth to mitzvot. I learned from her the most important thing
in life - to feel the presence of the Almighty and the gentle
pressure of His hand resting on my frail shoulder."
For example, R' Soloveitchik continued: "The laws of Shabbat
were passed on to me by my father. The Shabbat as a living
entity, a queen, was revealed to me by my mother; it is part of
'the Torah of your mother'."
(Quoted in The Rav, section 19.13)
"The entire people saw the thunder." (20:15)
Rashi comments that the people saw something which is usually
audible, i.e., the thunder.
What was the purpose of such a miracle? R' Moshe Feinstein z"l
answers that it teaches us the extent of our obligation to study
Torah. One must apply all of his energies and intellectual
capabilities to Torah study until he understands the Torah's
lessons as clearly as if they were spelled out before his eyes.
It goes without saying that one who issues halachic rulings,
leads others, or educates children must spell out the Torah's
lessons for his audience with that same degree of clarity.
(Darash Moshe Vol. II)
"Hashem said to Moshe, 'So shall you say to Bnei Yisrael:
"You have seen that I have spoken to you from heaven . . .
gods of silver and gods of gold you shall not make for
Why was it necessary for Hashem to repeat the commandment to
not make other gods after Bnei Yisrael just heard this in the
Aseret Hadibrot? Throughout history, there have been religions
and philosophies that taught that although there is a Creator, he
is too great to deal directly with human beings. Those who held
that belief prayed to intermediaries (e.g., the heavenly bodies
or idols) in order to reach Hashem, in much the same way that one
deals with an officer of the king because one cannot gain access
to the king himself.
In our verses, Hashem explains why we should not make gods of
gold or silver. Hashem emphasizes that He Himself spoke directly
to us at Har Sinai, and it therefore should be obvious that we do
not need intermediaries.
(Yalkut Me'am Loez)
"You shall not ascend My altar on steps . . ." (20:23)
R' Aharon Kahn shlita observed: The Torah declares that a kohen
must not use steps when approaching the altar, but rather a ramp.
A ramp is an incline; on a ramp, one must either continue to move
forward or he will inevitably fall backward. On steps, in
contrast, one can rest.
The Torah is teaching that if one does not continually move
closer to the altar, closer to Hashem, he will inevitably move
[Ed. note: In the same way, some compare spiritual growth to
walking up a "down-escalator." The yetzer hara and man's
physical nature both are opposed to spiritual growth, and they
constantly exert a downward pull. If one does not keep movingforward, he will move backward. Moreover, if one proceeds only
slowly, the best he will do is stay in place. Only with real
effort can one move upward on a down escalator.]
The story is told of a farmer who came to shul one Erev Shabbat
to speak with R' Meir of Lublin. The farmer spoke to R' Meir
with a sense of urgency: "Please rebbe/my master," he said.
"Help me! My cow is ill and refuses to eat. What shall I do?"
R' Meir instructed the farmer to mix water into the cow's feed.
This would help the cow digest its food, and the cow would be
The farmer thanked R' Meir and left. R' Meir's students,
however, were taken aback by this entire episode. Surely the
farmer could have sought help from a veterinarian. Why did he
have to disturb R' Meir?
R' Meir explained: "The farmer is not a learned man. He sees
many people asking me deep and difficult questions, and he feels
left out. He wants to have a mentor, but of course he cannot ask
me the types of questions that learned people ask. Instead, by
asking me questions that are relevant to himself, he develops a
relationship with me.
"This," said R' Meir, "is the meaning of the verse (18:15),
'Because the people come to me to seek G-d.' Yitro asked Moshe
why people stood in line all day long to see him, and Moshe
responded that they came to him to inquire about G-d. At first
glance, this does not seem to be true. Were not Bnei Yisrael
standing in line to have their arguments settled or to sue formoney owed to them?
"The answer is that people came to Moshe to resolve problems,
but those problems either were not real or were simple enough to
have been resolved without Moshe's intervention. People brought
these problems to Moshe because it provided them with an
opportunity to see Moshe, the gadol hador/preeminent scholar and
tzaddik of the time, to form a relationship with Moshe and,
through him, with G-d.
Menashe and Rachel Katz and family
on the shloshim of grandmother,
Sarah Deutsch a"h
Daniel and Rachel Dadusc and family
on the yahrzeits of father Sion ben Jamilah a"h
and grandmother Jamilah bat Sion a"h