We read in this week's parashah (Shmot 20:12), "Honor your father
and your mother, so that your days will be lengthened upon the land
that Hashem, your G-d, gives you." This implies, writes R' Naftali
Zvi Yehuda Berlin z"l (1817-1893; rabbi and rosh yeshiva in Volozhin,
Russia; known as the Netziv), that long life as a reward for honoring
parents is given only in Eretz Yisrael. Can this be true? There is
another mitzvah for which the reward is long life -- shiluach ha'kain
/ sending away a mother bird before taking her offspring. Regarding
that mitzvah, the Torah says (Devarim 22:7), "It will be good for you
and will prolong your days." Shiluach ha'kain is a far easier mitzvah
than honoring parents, and the reward for that mitzvah is not limited
to those living in Eretz Yisrael!
In fact, Netziv explains, those who honor their parents are
rewarded in the diaspora no differently than in Eretz Yisrael. The
reference in our verse to "the land that Hashem, your G-d, gives you"
is teaching a different lesson. R' Moshe ben Nachman z"l (Ramban;
1194-1270) writes that although there is a special category of mitzvot
that apply only in Eretz Yisrael, primarily agricultural mitzvot, all
mitzvot have a different spiritual quality when performed in the Holy
Land. Our verse, writes Netziv, is teaching that this is true as well
of the mitzvah of honoring one's parents. We might have thought that
Ramban's principle applies only to mitzvot bain adam la'Makom / man's
obligations to G-d, but not to mitzvot bain adam la'chavero / man's
obligations to other people, such as one's parents. Therefore, our
verse teaches that even the latter type of mitzvah is more special if
performed in Eretz Yisrael. (Ha'emek Davar)
"Yisrael encamped there, opposite the mountain." (19:2)
Rashi z"l comments on the fact that the word "encamped" is in the
singular form: "As one man with one heart; but all their other
encampments were made in a murmuring spirit and in a spirit of
According to some authorities, one is obligated to recall the
events at Har Sinai on a daily basis by reciting these verses from
Only beware for yourself and greatly beware for your soul,
lest you forget the things that your eyes have beheld and
lest you remove them from your heart all the days of your
life, and make them known to your children and your
children's children -- the day that you stood before Hashem,
your G-d, at Horev, when Hashem said to me, "Gather the
people to Me and I shall let them hear My words, so that they
shall learn to fear Me all the days that they live on the
earth, and they shall teach their children."
R' Chaim Yosef David Azulai z"l (Chida; 1724-1806) composed the
following prayer -- based in large part on the quoted verse from our
parashah and on Rashi's comment -- to be recited after reading the
May it be Your will, Hashem, our G-d and the G-d of our
fathers, that You be filled with mercy toward us, and that
You implant within us and all of Yisrael love, brotherhood,
peace and friendship that we may be as one -- just as there
was peace between us at Har Sinai, as it is written: "Yisrael
encamped there, opposite the mountain" -- as one man in
perfect unity. Likewise, in Your great mercy, may You cause
us to merit to remove from among us hatred, jealousy and
competition, so that we may love each other, and may You make
peace between us. Also, just as at Har Sinai the zuhamah /
the specific impurity that resulted from the sin of Adam and
Chava ceased, and You refined us and purified us from all
forms of impurity, sickness and zuhamah, and sanctified us in
Your holiness, likewise, in Your great mercy, purify us from
our impurity and zuhamah, sanctify us through Your mitzvot,
and purify our thoughts and hearts to serve and fear You.
Plant Your Torah in our hearts, and may fear of You be before
us so that we do not sin. Awaken our hearts to Your Torah,
and may we view every day as if we are then receiving the
Torah with attachment, longing and desire. Enlighten our
eyes to Your Torah and cause our hearts to cling to Your
mitzvot; make our hearts single-minded to love and fear Your
great, powerful and awesome Name, and redeem us for the sake
of Your mercy. Cause us to merit to receive and hear the
Torah from Your mouth, as it is written (Yeshayah 54:13),
"And all your children will be students of Hashem, and Your
children will have peace -- soon in our days. Amen. May
this be Your will.
From the Haftarah . . .
"There will be asiriyah in it, then it shall regress and be
destroyed . . ." (Yeshayahu 6:13)
Numerous explanations have been offered as to the pshat / plain
meaning of this verse. For example, Rashi z"l writes that Hashem will
cleanse the Jewish People until only the most righteous -- one in eser
/ ten -- will remain. The commentary Metzudat David writes that it is
a prophecy that ten more kings would rule over Yehuda before the Bet
Hamikdash would be destroyed.
R' Yosef Chaim z"l (rabbi of Baghdad; died 1909) offers the
following homiletical explanation:
The word "asiriyah" may be read "ashiriyah," a reference to a
person's spiritual wealth. (An "ashir" is a wealthy person.) This
verse is a warning that even the person who is spiritually wealthy is
at risk of regressing spiritually and being destroyed.
How so? R' Yosef Chaim explains: Imagine a person who awakens
early, goes to shul to learn Zohar [Ed. note: or Daf Yomi, or any
other Torah subject], prays with intense concentration, recites
Tehilim, and then studies Torah again before going home for breakfast.
What will the yezter hara do to entrap such a person, who seems so
spiritually strong? It will cause him to enter his house and find
something about which to lose his temper. Or, the yetzer hara will
cause this person to go to work and cheat, lie or steal. When this
happens, writes R' Yosef Chaim, the person has not merely accumulated
bad deeds alongside his good deeds. Such a person is considered to be
a servant of the yetzer hara and his good deeds are considered a form
of idol worship.
Can any person withstand such a challenge? What can a person do
to avoid the loss of his good deeds when he is confronted by anger or
by financial temptation, as every person is at one time or another?
The answer, writes R' Yosef Chaim, is that Hashem, in His great
kindness, has given us the gift of repentance. Immediately upon
stumbling, a person must repent. When a person does sincere teshuvah,
all of the spiritual accomplishments that he forfeited through his
anger or other grave sin are returned to him.
Forgotten Holy Days
Introduction: One of the earliest written halachic works -
long before the Mishnah was set down in writing - was
Megillat Ta'anit / The Scroll of Fasts. Notwithstanding its
name, Megillat Ta'anit is not a list of fast days, but of
days on which fasting and/ or eulogizing were prohibited
because of miracles that occurred to our ancestors. The
Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 18 & 19) discusses whether these
prohibitions remain in effect today, and concludes that, for
the most part, they do not. As a result, most of the holy
days mentioned in Megillat Ta'anit have long since been
The anniversary of one holy day described in Megillat Ta'anit
is today. We read:
On the 22nd [of Shevat] the enemy's plan to place an idol in the
Temple was foiled; therefore, eulogies are prohibited.
There was a day when Gascalcus [Rashi: a Greek king] sent idols
to place in the Temple. When the word arrived in Yerushalayim, it was
Erev Sukkot. Shimon Ha'tzaddik [the Kohen Gadol] told the people, "Go
celebrate the holiday joyously, for none of the things you have heard
will come to pass. The One who has rested His Shechinah in this house
- just as He did miracles for our ancestors in every generation, so He
will do miracles for us in this time." Immediately, a voice was heard
emanating from the Holy of Holies [in the Temple], saying, "The
enemy's plan to place an idol in the Temple has been foiled.
Gascalcus has been killed and his decrees annulled." [Hearing this,]
the people took note and wrote down the time.
When he [Shimon Ha'tzaddik?] saw that the enemies were
approaching, he told the people, "Go out and meet them." [His
intention was to show Gascalcus' messengers honor in every town they
passed through, thus slowing down their advance until they would hear
that their king had died. (Eishel Avraham)] When this became known to
the other leaders of Israel, they objected: "Let us all die rather
than do this [i.e., show honor to idol worshipers]." Instead, they
cried and pleaded before the [king's] messenger [hoping to persuade
him that they felt unbearably oppressed]. He replied, "Rather than
crying to a messenger, cry to your G-d to save you."
When the messenger approached the cities, he saw people coming
toward him from each city, and he wondered, "How many of them are
there?" Certain traitors told him, "These are the Jews who have come
from each city [to support you (Eishel Avraham)]." However, when he
entered each city, he saw people sitting in the marketplaces wearing
sackcloth and ashes.
Even before he reached Antipras [Alexandria, Egypt (Peirush
Mahari Halevi)], he received a letter informing him that Gascalcus had
died and his decrees had been annulled. Immediately, they [the Jews?]
took the idols and dragged them through the streets, and that day [the
22nd of Shevat] was made a yom tov.
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
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