There is an interesting Ohr HaChaim haKadosh in Parshas Yisro. Parshas Yisro contains the narration of the giving of the Aseres Hadibros (Ten Commandments) on Har Sinai, which is the most fundamental event in the history of the Jewish people, even more fundamental than Yetzias Mitzrayim (the exodus from Egypt). And yet, the first part of the parsha (and the source of the its name) is about Yisro and the method he proposes to Moshe Rabbeinu for streamlining the process by which the people resolved disputes and received answers to their questions. The Ohr HaChaim asks: Why does the setting up the judicial system suggested by Yisro precede Kabalas HaTorah?
The Ohr HaChaim answers that the Ribono shel Olam wanted to relay a message to that generation and every subsequent generation. Hashem is informing us that there are plenty of smart people in the non-Jewish world and it behooves us to take advantage of their wisdom and expertise.
We should not think that Hashem gave the Torah to the Jewish people because they were so smart. We might have chauvinistically claimed that others are not worthy of receiving and dealing with the Divine Wisdom contained in the Torah. The Ohr HaChaim points out that there are many very smart—even brilliant—non-Jews in the world.
The last time I checked, Bill Gates is not Jewish. Warren Buffet is not Jewish either. You can go through history and find brilliant non-Jews in every generation. Michelangelo was not Jewish. Neither was Aristotle. There are plenty of great people in the world who are not Jewish. Some are very, very smart.
The Ohr HaChaim says that it is instructive that a story of a non-Jew who takes stock of the situation, and proclaims, “You are doing this all wrong!” precedes Kabbalas Hatorah (the Revelation at Sinai). This demonstrates that we were not chosen for our brains. The Ribono shel Olam chose us to be His people as part of a Divine Kindness, and because of His love for our patriarchs. We were chosen for our yichus (lineage). We are the descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov whom the Ribono shel Olam loved.
There is another lesson here, beside the fact that brain power was not the reason why we merited Torah:
There is a parallel parsha to Parshas Yisro, and that is Parshas Devorim. At the beginning of Sefer Devorim, the Torah recounts this whole story. Moshe complains that he is overburdened with his duties of leadership: “How can I alone carry your contentiousness, your burdens, and your quarrels?” (Devorim 1:12). This is then followed by the solution to his challenge: “Provide for yourselves distinguished men, who are wise, understanding, and well known to your tribes and I shall appoint them as your heads.” (Devorim 1:13). To which the people respond positively: “The thing that you have proposed to do is good” (Devorim 1:14).
Rashi there (Pasuk 14) sheds a somewhat negative light on the people’s acceptance of the plan: The people’s response should not have been “Great idea!” Their response should have been “Moshe Rabbeinu, we want you!” “We are willing to wait in line for four hours, if necessary, because we want to learn Torah from you!” Moshe was suspicious, Rashi adds, that perhaps the people were so enthused about the proposal because they thought they would be able to bribe or otherwise gain the favor of these “district judges” who they felt would perhaps not be as incorruptible as Moshe Rabbeinu.
So, perhaps this parsha, which seems so positive in Parshas Yisro (everyone was happy; great idea!), was not such a slam-dunk best policy solution. Even if at the end of the day, Moshe would have had to convince the people “No. This is a good idea.” – at least their initial response should have been “We do not like the idea because, Moshe Rabbeinu—we want you!”
I saw a very interesting insight into this comment of Rashi in the sefer Yad HaTorah. The reason that Rashi provides why they should have said that they prefer to learn Torah from Moshe was “Because you pained yourself for this” (nitzta’arta aleha). You were on that mountain for forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. Therefore, your Torah is superior because you suffered over it. It was not brain power that made Moshe’s Torah superior to that of his students. It was his shvitzing over it.
It was not brain power in Parshas Yisro which caused Hashem to choose us and it was not brain power in Rashi in Parshas Devorim which should have caused them to prefer Moshe’s Torah over that of his disciples.
This is a key lesson. The way a person acquires Torah is not through brain power. It is not necessarily acquired by the smartest kid in the class. It is be acquired by the person who shvitzes, who works the hardest.
The Ponnevezer Rav said a fantastic thing. Why were there people in Europe who, compared to today (with rare exceptions), were such great gedolim? We do not have someone like Rav Chaim Ozer. We do not have a Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk or a Rav Chaim Soleveitchik of Brisk. This is not to knock anyone, but is this because they were so much smarter in pre-war Europe? The Ponnevezer Rav answered that the reason they were so much bigger was because they shvitzed for it. They were moser nefesh for it.
Today, we sit in air-conditioned Batei Midrash. We have everything at our fingertips. It is beautiful. I am not belittling it. The amount of Torah today exceeds what existed in Europe. Europe was not utopia. But the gedolim emerged as a result of their shvitzing.
Rav Shach—before he arrived to Eretz Yisroel—owned one shirt. He washed the shirt on Erev Shabbos so he would have something clean to wear for Shabbos. He slept on a bench in the Beis Medrash. There were days when he literally starved for lack of food. That does not exist today. The key to Torah acquisition is not brain power, but rather the pain and effort that a person endures in the acquisition of Torah.
Moshe Lost His Job to Emphasize That the Mesorah is Exact
The pasuk says, “…thus say to the House of Yaakov and tell the Children of Israel.” (Shemos 19:3) Rashi comments “in this language and in this sequence.” Hashem tells Moshe to give over His message precisely as he is being told it. Similarly, two pesukim later, Rashi comments on the expression “…These are the words that you shall speak to the Children of Israel” (Shemos 19:5): “Neither more nor less.”
We would think that there would be no need to tell Moshe Rabbeinu. “Say it this way – neither more nor less, this is exactly how you need to say it!” Is it not obvious that Moshe Rabbeinu should and will transmit Hashem’s ‘script’ to Bnei Yisrael exactly as Hashem tells him? What is Rashi saying here?
Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky addresses this issue in his sefer. The principle he sets forth is basically an idea found in the Droshas haRan. There is a very famous teaching of Rav Nissim ben Reuven of Girona (1320-1380). Why is it that Moshe Rabbeinu, the leader of Klal Yisrael, had a speech impediment? We would think that the person who took the Jews out of Mitzrayim, gave them the Torah, and led them for forty years in the wilderness should be articulate. At least we would assume he should be a good speaker!
The Droshas haRan writes that Hashem wanted Moshe to have a speech impediment because He wanted that the people should accept him and listen to him, not because of his ‘golden tongue’ or because of his oratorical skills. Therefore, he was the leader of the people, not because of his power of speech but because he was Moshe Rabbeinu – the messenger of Hashem.
When the Ribono shel Olam told Moshe “I want you to give Torah to Klal Yisrael,” He emphasized “I do not want a ‘sales job’ over here.” There are people who are born salesmen. Someone walks into a car dealership wanting a stripped-down Corolla and walks out with a Lexus that has every single feature. Why? Because a slick salesman sold him a bill of goods. It is the same when you go buy a refrigerator. You want a basic model refrigerator. You wind up buying a model with an ice-maker that takes your blood pressure and does everything for you! Slick salesmen!
The Ribono shel Olam is emphasizing to Moshe: I do not want any sales jobs over here. I want them to accept the Torah as it is. “This is it.” Therefore, “nothing more and nothing less.”
Rav Yaakov uses this idea to answer a question that troubles all the meforshim. Moshe Rabbeinu made one slip-up in his life. He hit the rock rather than speaking to it (according to Rashi’s interpretation of the aveira (sin) of Mei Merivah). Essentially, Moshe Rabbeinu was fired for that! Because of that one slip-up, Moshe was unable to be the one to continue to lead Bnei Yisroel into Eretz Yisroel! Rav Yaakov explains why. It was vital that the Torah be transmitted exactly as given by Hashem. Once there is any addition or subtraction or modification to the word of Hashem, people can start speculating – “well, maybe other parts of it are not from Hashem either! Maybe this is Moshe’s own editorial comment.” To bring home this crucial idea that precisely the entire Torah is from Hashem, the one time that Moshe did do something not EXACTLY as commanded, he lost his job.
This Torah is the Word of G-d. It is not the word of Moshe Rabbeinu and not the word of anyone else. It is the Dvar Hashem.
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Edited by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Yisro is provided below:
- # 042 Kiddush: To Sit or Not to Sit
- # 085 Christianity in Halacha
- # 133 Honoring In-Laws
- # 180 The Mitzvah of Kiddush for Men and Women
- # 226 The Fearless Judge: A Difficult Task
- # 270 Parental Wishes vs. Staying in Israel
- # 316 The Reading of the “Aseres Hadibros”
- # 360 Dolls and Statues: Is There An Avodah Zarah Problem?
- # 404 Making a Bracha on a Makom Neis
- # 448 Lo Sachmod
- # 492 Eating Before Kiddush
- # 536 Newspapers on Shabbos
- # 580 Women and Havdalah
- # 624 Resting Your Animal on the Shabbos
- # 668 Kiddush B’mkom Seudah
- # 712 The Kiddush Club
- # 756 The Kosel Video Camera
- # 800 Avoda Zara and The Jewish Jeweler
- # 844 Yisro and Birchas Hagomel
- # 888 What Should It Be – Hello or Shalom?
- # 932 Saying The Shem Hashem While Learning – Yes or No?
- # 975 Kiddush on Wine: Absolutely Necessary?
- #1019 Unnecessary Brachos
- #1063 Ma’aris Ayin: The Power Lunch In A Treife Restaurant
- #1106 Must You Treat Your Father-in-Law Like Your Father?
- #1149 Kiddush Shabbos Day – On What? What Do You Say?
- #1192 I Keep 72 Minutes; You Keep 45 – Can You Do Melacha for Me?
- #1236 “I Want Your House and I’ll Make You an Offer You Can’t Refuse”: Muttar or Assur?
- #1280 The Shul Kiddish Shabbos Monring: Two Interesting Shailos
- #1281 Kiddush Shabbos Day – Must Everyone Drink the Wine?
- #1324 Saying Kaddish: All Aveilim Together or Each One Individually on a Rotating Basis?
- #1368 Davening For Personal Needs on Shabbos?
- #1412 Must One Keep Their Father’s Minhagim or What Bracha Do You Make on Potatoes
- #1456 I Haven’t Accepted Shabbos Yet, You Have. Can I Make Kiddush For You?
- #1500 The Case of the Son-in-Law Who Wants More Support Money From His Father-in-Law.
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