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Posted on July 26, 2023 (5783) By Shlomo Katz | Series: | Level:

Volume 37, No. 39
11 Av 5783
July 29, 2023

In this week’s Parashah, we read (for the second time) of the giving of the Aseret Ha’dibrot / Ten Commandments. The Gemara (Kiddushin 31a) relates: When Hashem said, “I am Hashem, your Elokim, Who has taken you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery,” the nations said, “He is concerned with His honor.” When he said, “You shall not recognize the gods of others in My Presence,” they said again, “He is concerned with His honor.” This continued until He said, “Honor your father and your mother.” Then, the nations acknowledged the legitimacy of the earlier commandments. [Until here from the Gemara]

R’ Nosson Lewin z”l (1857-1926; rabbi of Rzeszów, Poland) asks: Could anyone really think that Hashem needs respect from the puny creature–man–that He created? Of course not! Rather, R’ Lewin explains, this is a parable meant to teach us a lesson–that Hashem did not give us the Torah only to tell us what our obligations are to Him. Instead, He is also teaching us a way of life that will make organized society and the existence of nations possible.

This way of life, writes R’ Lewin, begins with honoring parents. Even those nations that could not fathom the great spiritual heights to which a person can rise when he believes in “I am Hashem, your Elokim” and “You shall not recognize the gods of others” could acknowledge the benefits of the Torah’s laws between man and his fellow–the first of which is the Mitzvah to honor parents. (Petach Ha’bayit to She’eilot U’teshuvot Bet Yitzchak: Choshen Mishpat)


“Honor your father and your mother . . .” (5:16)

We read (Mishlei 1:8), “Hear, my child, the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the teaching of your mother.” On this, a Midrash comments: Do not forsake the discipline you were given at Sinai regarding honoring your parents. [Until here from the Midrash]

R’ Eliyahu Hakohen z”l (1640-1729; Izmir, Turkey; prolific author) explains: Honoring parents is a common sense Mitzvah. Nevertheless, the Midrash is teaching, do not honor your parents because doing so makes sense to you. Rather, do it solely because that is what Hashem commanded us at Sinai. (Midrash Talipot: Anaf Av Va’em)


“Who will make it that this heart of theirs will continue to fear Me and observe all My commandments all the days . . . ?” (5:26)

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 5a) relates: Moshe said to Bnei Yisrael, “Ingrates the children of ingrates! When Hashem said, ‘“Who will make it . . . ?’ you should have responded, “You should make it so!’” [Until here from the Gemara]

R’ Daniel Haymann shlita (Tel Zion, Israel) writes: Granted that Bnei Yisrael should have responded thus, but why does Moshe call them “ingrates”? He cites three explanations from earlier commentaries:

First, Bnei Yisrael did not respond, “You should make it so” because they did not want to feel indebted to Hashem; they did not want to owe Him gratitude.

Second, Bnei Yisrael did not make this request of Hashem because they failed to recognize and be grateful for all of the goodness He had done for them until that point. This was reflected in their failure to ask for more goodness.

Third, Bnei Yisrael did not view it as being a good thing if Hashem would implant fear of Heaven in them. They were considered ungrateful for not appreciating that potential gift.

R’ Haymann notes that there is a novelty in the third answer. We might have thought that not recognizing the beauty of a gift is simply foolishness. No! say the commentaries. That failure originates from a character flaw. (Hakarat Ha’tov Ke’halachah p.26)


“If your child asks you tomorrow, saying, ‘What are the testimonies and decrees and ordinances that Hashem, our Elokim, commanded you?’” (6:20)

In the Pesach Haggadah, this question is attributed to the wise son. What distinguishes him from the wicked son, who also asks why we perform Mitzvot? R’ Gedaliah Silverstone z”l (1871-1944; rabbi in Belfast, Ireland and Washington, D.C.) explains: The wise son asks “tomorrow,” i.e., he performs the Mitzvot as he is taught, whether he understands them or not. Not so the wicked son; he demands to know now, before he agrees to perform the Mitzvah, what the purpose of the Mitzvah is. (Haggadah Shel Pesach Korban Pesach [2nd ed.] p.24)


“You shall love Hashem, your Elokim, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your resources.” (6:5)

The Gemara (Berachot 61b) relates: The hour when the Romans took Rabbi Akiva out to be killed was the time to recite Kri’at Shema. As they were torturing him, he was accepting the yoke of Heaven upon himself [i.e., he was reciting Shema Yisrael]. His students asked him, “Even this [you accept without complaints]?” Rabbi Akiva answered, “All my life I was pained by the words, ‘With all your soul’–which our Sages interpret, ‘Even if He takes your soul.’ I said, ‘When will I have the opportunity to fulfill this commandment?!’ Now that I have the opportunity, should I not take it?” [Until here from the Gemara]

R’ Yosef Yozel Horowitz z”l (1847-1919; the Alter of Novardok) writes: Rabbi Akiva was prepared to give everything, even his life, for Hashem because he recognized how much Hashem had given him. This is not true of most people, as the Gemara (Niddah 31a) teaches: “The beneficiary of a miracle does not recognize that a miracle was done for him.” Most of the time, we are unaware when we are in danger, whether physical or spiritual; therefore, we do not recognize that we are saved.

We read (Mishlei 6:23), “For a Mitzvah is a lamp and the Torah is light, and Mussar / reproving discipline is the way of life.” The Midrash Yalkut Shimoni explains by way of a parable: A man walking in the darkness of night must worry about thorns and thistles, wild animals, and thieves, and he does not know which way to go. When he reaches a crossroads, he is saved [Until here from the Midrash]. The Alter quotes R’ Eliyahu z”l (1720-1797; the Vilna Gaon), who writes: Our material world can cause a person spiritual harm in three ways–it can keep him so busy that he has no time for spiritual pursuits, it can place prohibited temptations in front of him, and it can distract him from finding the true path to character perfection. As long as he is far from Torah, he is in danger of erring, as the Midrash says. But, when he reaches the crossroads, i.e., when Mussar puts him on the correct path, then he will be saved from spiritual ills. Until then, however, he does not even realize the danger he was in.

Similarly, with regard to physical dangers: The Gemara (Arachin 16b) teaches, “What is considered suffering [that can atone for a person’s sins]? Reaching into one’s pocket to retrieve three coins and coming up with only two.” If a person did not experience seemingly trivial inconveniences like this, he would never even know he was being judged for his sins, and he would not know that he was being saved from a worse fate. (Madreigat Ha’adam: Ma’amar Yir’ah Ve’ahavah ch. 17)



The Gemara (Shabbat 118b) teaches: If only the Jewish People would observe two Shabbatot in accordance with law, they would be redeemed immediately, as it is written (Yeshayah 56:4, 7-8–in the Haftarah for Fast Day afternoons), “For so says Hashem to the barren ones who observe My Sabbaths, . . . ‘I shall bring them to My holy mountain, and I shall gladden them in My house of prayer . . .’ The words of Hashem Elokim, Who gathers in the dispersed of Yisrael . . .” [Until here from the Gemara]

Why will observing two Shabbatot bring about the redemption?

R’ Yehuda Loewe z”l (Maharal of Prague; died 1609) explains: Shabbat is unique among the days, and Yisrael / the Jewish People is unique among the nations. Thus, Shabbat was given to Yisrael alone, and not to any other nation. Shabbat is elevated above all other days. If we would observe Shabbat, we would be elevated with it and we would be redeemed.

Also, Maharal writes, Shabbat is the “completion” of the Jewish People. When a person is burdened with physical toil and unable to find rest, he is incomplete. On Shabbat, however, a Jew can be complete. This is the idea of the “Neshamah Yeteirah” / “extra soul” that a Jew receives on Shabbat. And, when we are “complete,” we are ready to be redeemed.

Why, then, is it necessary to observe two Shabbatot to achieve redemption? Maharal explains: In exile, the Jewish People are subdued by the nations. Observing one Shabbat is sufficient to elevate us out of that lowly state, but a second Shabbat must be observed to raise us to the lofty level where we are ready to be redeemed. (Chiddushei Aggadot)

R’ Tzaddok Hakohen Rabinowitz z”l (1823-1900; Chassidic Rebbe in Lublin, Poland) writes: Shabbat is sanctified directly by Hashem. By observing a first Shabbat, we would bask in its G-d-given holiness. This would, in turn, give us the tools to sanctify the following workweek. Having sanctified the workweek, we could then sanctify the next Shabbat through our own efforts. With that, we would attain the pinnacle of holiness, which would free us from the Yetzer Ha’ra and from all forms of subjugation in this world that are inimical to true “rest.” (Pri Tzaddik: Kedushat Shabbat 2:6)