The highlight of this week's parashah is the Giving of the Torah.
In preparation for that event, Moshe was told to fence-off Har Sinai
and to command Bnei Yisrael not to approach too closely. What was
this intended to teach?
R' Moshe Yechiel Halevi Epstein z"l (the Ozhorover Rebbe; 20th
century) writes that fencing-off Har Sinai was intended to teach us
humility. It teaches one to know his "place," and to realize that he
has not yet begun to "approach" where he should be spiritually.
This knowledge is a prerequisite to receiving the Torah. The
Gemara (Shabbat 87a) relates that Moshe delayed the Giving of the
Torah for one day of his own da'at. Literally, the Gemara means, "of
his own initiative." However, says R' Epstein the phrase also can
mean, "of his own understanding." Moshe understood that a
prerequisite to receiving the Torah is recognizing that we are not
entirely ready to receive it.
Based on the foregoing, R' Epstein answers a famous question
posed by the 17th century work Magen Avraham. Since the Torah was
given on the seventh of Sivan, why do we refer to the sixth day of
Sivan as "Zman Matan Torateinu" / "The time of the Giving of our
Torah"? (This reference is found in the Shavuot prayers.) The reason
that the Torah was given on the seventh was because Moshe caused
Hashem to delay for one day. However, that delay was itself part of
receiving the Torah. (Be'er Moshe)
"And now, if you listen well to Me and observe My covenant,
you shall be to Me the most beloved treasure of all peoples,
for the entire world is Mine." (19:5)
Rashi z"l comments: "If you will now take it upon yourselves, it
will be pleasant to you from now on, for every beginning is
R' Shlomo Wolbe z"l (one of the senior educators and mussar-
thinkers in Israel) elaborates: What is the "it" that we are being
told to take upon ourselves? It is the idea that studying Torah is
not optional; it is something we must do. Entering this world, this
mind-set, is indeed difficult, as Rashi says, for we live in a world
that surrounds us with imaginary attractions that distract us from
engaging in intellectual pursuits. But in the end, it is pleasant.
R' Wolbe adds: The greatest battle between truth and falsehood
takes place the moment one opens a Gemara. Suddenly, a person is
bombarded by memories of the past, worries about the future, and petty
issues from the present. Man's difficulty in concentrating on
learning is not caused by a lack of ability, but rather by the fact
that he is controlled by his imagination. The faster that one can
sweep away such thoughts, the greater one's chances of growing through
On the other hand, one who does dive into the depths of learning
and does nullify the distractions that try to stop him, feel the
sweetness of Torah. This is what Rashi means: "If you will now take
it upon yourselves"-if you will recognize the absolute obligation to
study Torah and you will fight against the distractions that try to
stop you, then "it-Torah study--will be pleasant to you from now on."
R' Wolbe offers some practical advice: Real learning takes place
only with a chavruta / study partner. Only with a chavruta does the
true meaning of the subject matter under study become revealed. When
Torah is studied with a chavruta, the two students sharpen each other,
and the Shechinah rests on them.
Of course, studying with a chavruta has its own dangers. On the
one hand, there is the temptation to engage in idle conversation with
one's study partner. On the other hand, there is the temptation to
show off and to "show-up" one's chavruta. It is regarding these twin
risks that our Sages said, "Torah only exists in one who kills himself
over it." In other words, one must negate his "self" and make the
pursuit of truth his only goal.
What makes an ideal chavruta? The only criterion should be the
speed at which one grasps the material. As for differences in style,
these will actually enhance the relationship, as each study partner
will make up for what the other lacks.
(Alei Shur pp.23-25)
"Anochi / I am Hashem, your G-d, Who has taken you out of the
land of Egypt, from the house of slavery." (20:2)
R' Eliyahu Capsali z"l (Crete; 17th century) quotes R' Eliezer
Rokeach z"l (Worms, Germany; 1160-1238) who writes: Why do the Asseret
Ha'dibrot begin with "Anochi"? Because Hashem spoke to the Patriarchs
using that word. He said to Avraham (Bereishit 15:1), "Anochi / I am
a shield for you." He said to Yitzchak (Bereishit 26:24), "Anochi / I
am the G-d of your father Abraham." Finally, He said to Yaakov
(Bereishit 28:15), "Anochi / I am with you."
What is the significance of this parallelism? R' Capsali
explains: Hashem used the word "Anochi" at the beginning of the
Asseret Ha'dibrot to proclaim to the world the greatness of the
Patriarchs and that we received the Torah in their merit. All of the
wonders associated with the Giving of the Torah-the cadres of malachim
that "accompanied" Hashem and the honor that was shown the Jewish
People beyond what any nation has ever experienced, all of that was in
the merit of and in tribute to the Patriarchs.
(Meah She'arim p.12)
Many commentaries ask: Why did Hashem say, "Who has taken you out
of the land of Egypt," rather than, "Who created heaven and earth"?
R' Moshe Isserles z"l ("Rema"; Cracow, Poland; 1525-1572) answers:
The early commentaries point out that the plagues in Egypt
demonstrated three things: that Hashem has the power to do anything He
wants, that Hashem watches over and is actively engaged with the
world, and that Hashem is the Creator. Thus, writes Rema, the
expression, "Who took you out of Egypt," means exactly the same thing
as, "Who created heaven and earth."
This parallelism is alluded to in the Asseret Ha'dibrot
themselves. On the first luchot was inscribed (20:11), "For in six
days Hashem made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in
them, and He rested on the seventh day; therefore, Hashem blessed the
Sabbath day and sanctified it." However, on the second luchot was
inscribed (Devarim 5:15), "And you shall remember that you were a
slave in the land of Egypt, and Hashem, your G-d, has taken you out
from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm; therefore
Hashem, your G-d, has commanded you to make the Sabbath day."
Rema adds: The relationship between Creation and the Exodus is
spoken of by many early commentaries. The work Akeidat Yitzchak
writes that anyone who denies Creation must necessarily deny the
possibility of miracles. Such a person also cannot believe in the
prophecy of Moshe or in the eventual coming of mashiach. Rambam, too,
writes that one who believes that Moshe performed miracles and took us
from Egypt necessarily believes that G-d created the world.
The Gemara lists many miracles that took place on a regular basis
in the Bet Hamikdash. What was the purpose of these miracles? They,
too, served to remove any doubt as to the existence of the Creator.
(Torat Ha'olah III Ch.11)
R' Yisrael Alter z"l, who later became the Gerrer Rebbe, lost all
of his children in the Holocaust. R' Alter himself was saved
miraculously and for many years did not know his family's fate. As
long as he had no news, he assumed that his children were alive and,
at every opportunity, he tried to make arrangements to rescue them.
Eventually the news came that R' Alter's children were no longer
among the living. Those who saw R' Alter's reaction upon his
receiving the horrifying news testified that he sanctified G-d's Name.
For many years thereafter, he rarely spoke of his loss. However,
shortly before his death in 1977, he said the following:
We read in Parashat Yitro that Moshe named his first son Gershom,
to commemorate his exile, and his second son Eliezer, to commemorate
his personal salvation. Why didn't he name his children in the
reverse order, first giving thanks to Hashem for his salvation?
R' Alter answered, quoting his father, that as long as the Jewish
People were suffering in Egypt, Moshe could not focus on his personal
salvation. Then R' Alter added uncharacteristically: "In the last
war, we saw many Jews who lost everything. They were simple people
who lost their children, and with them, the will to live. They asked
themselves, `Why did we merit to survive?'
"In Egypt, also, the suffering was very great. Thus, even when
Moshe was saved, he could not rejoice. His life was worthless to him
when his people were suffering so. And how can we enjoy life, when we
know that our brethren are suffering? Only after Hashem had sent
Moshe to Egypt to save the Jewish People was Moshe able to name his
second son [who was circumcised on the way back to Egypt] Eliezer to
commemorate Moshe's personal salvation." (Quoted in Otzrotaihem Shel
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