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Parashat Yitro

Essay of the Week
"I am the One at the Sea, I am the One at Sinai"

"The foundation of foundations and pillar of wisdom" is the belief in the Creator. This is how Rabbeinu, the Rambam zs"l opened his book. "And the knowledge of this is a positive commandment, as it says: I am Hashem, your G-d." One who does not believe in the Creator is called "One who denies the essence - for this is the great essential fact upon which everything else is dependent." In his Book of Commandments, he brought a proof that the belief in the Creator is a positive commandment. It says (Makot 23b): "Six hundred and thirteen commandments were said to Mosheh. How do we know? 'Torah,' in gematria, is six hundred and eleven. 'I am' and 'You shall not have' were heard from the Almighty." Together this is six hundred thirteen. From here, we see that the belief in the Creator is one of the six hundred thirteen commandments, the first of the Ten Commandments: "I am Hashem, your G-d." We are fortunate, and our portion is a fortunate one, we are believers, the children of believers, and every moment and every hour we fulfill a positive commandment from the Torah! Do we have any idea how great our reward must be!

But we must ask this: Since the first commandment deals with the issue of belief, would it not have been enough to say," I am Hashem, your G-d, " and no more! Why does it conclude with, "who took you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of servitude"? What is the connection between remembering the exodus from Egypt and the commandment of belief? Was there, before the exodus from Egypt, some lack in our forefathers belief, Heaven forfend!

This seems to be the reason why Rabbeinu Mosheh from Kussi zs"l understood this commandment differently, in his Sefer Missvot Hagadol. "The first commandment is a positive commandment to believe that G-d, who gave us the Torah on Mount Sinai through Mosheh Rabbeinu, is the same G-d who took us out of Egypt. This is why it says at the time when He gave the Torah: I am Hashem, your G-d, who took you out of the land of Egypt." Now we must ask: Isn't this obvious? What else would we have thought? Would it even occur to one to think otherwise, do we need to be warned about this, as an eternal positive commandment?

The answer to this is given by the midrash, which is brought down by Rashi. Since at the time of the splitting of the Red Sea, G-d was revealed as a warrior, victorious in battle, as they sang: "G-d is a man of war," and at the giving of the Torah, He was revealed to them as an elder, teaching Torah, he told them that: I am the one at the sea, I am the one at Sinai.

But the confusion still remains: Let us remember that this generation is one of wisdom, in which the lowest of their women was greater then Yehezkel in prophecy! And also: If they needed this clarification, why was it given as a commandment for all generations, as the essence of the commandment of belief?

The answer is deep. The difference between the exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah was not in the way that G-d was revealed. This was only the result. The difference was in the level of the nation. In Egypt, they were in the 49 gates of impurity. Their status was that of a fetus in an animal's womb (Soher Tov 164) whose whole sustenance comes from its mother (Nidah 30b). The attribute of justice would never have allowed them to be redeemed from Egypt (Vayikra Rabah 23: 2). Accusations had risen against them at the time of the splitting of the sea: "And the water was angry about them." For the ministering angels were confused: People who worship idolatry are walking on dry land through the sea? (Mechilta Beshalah, 6). To save them, the Divine Providence had to gird itself with the strength of battle, to shut the mouths of the accusers and to save them with a strong hand and an outstretched forearm. However, as the fifty days of counting passed, they traveled in repentance and arrived at repentance (Rashi 19:2). They were purified by the three days of separation. They said, "We will do and we will listen," as one person with one heart, and they said: "We wish to see our King" (Rashi 19:9). They rose to such a level that the evil inclination was uprooted from their hearts (Shir Hashirim Rabah 1:15). At this level, the revelation was that of an elder, teaching his students Torah.

We are likely to think: When are we told "I am Hashem, your G-d," your leader? When we reach this lofty level, noble and exalted. But if we come down from that level, if we fall in our understanding, if our hands weaken from the Torah and commandments. If, halilah, we turn our backs, He will turn His back to us as well, He will abandon and forsake us. Therefore, our Creator has informed us for all generations: "I am Hashem, your G-d," in every situation and under any condition. "Who took you out of the land of Egypt," I was revealed to you with great awe, this is the revelation of the Divine Presence when they were on the border of the fiftieth gate of the gates of impurity. "From the house of servitude" - I took you out of spiritual servitude, as a warrior and a man of war. "Know that I am He," no matter what you are still called my children!

This lesson is eternal, in every generation and for every person. No matter who he is, no matter where he is, as far as he may be, G-d is with him. He dwells with us no matter what our impurity, and as a warrior and a man of war, He will extricate us, and will exalt us to the level of "We will do and we will listen!"

Words From the Editor
Why was the Torah Given on Shabbat?

In the gemara (Shabbat 86b) it says: According to all opinions, the Torah was given to Israel on Shabbat. Therefore, our sages instituted that one should say in the prayer of Shabbat: "Let Mosheh be happy with the gift of his inheritance," which was given on this day. (Tur, Orah Hayim, 222, Rabbeinu Behaye in our parashah). Why on Shabbat? The holy Shelah wrote that Shabbat is the day of declaration of belief in the Creator, and this belief is the foundation of the Torah. In the Sefer Ha'ikarim (2:11), it is written that it was necessary that the Torah be taught in holiness, and the holiness of the Shabbat enabled its teaching. The Maharal (in his introduction to Derech Hayim) explains that Shabbat is the day of the perfection of creation, and it is appropriate that on that day, the Children of Israel should reach their perfection through the acceptance of the Torah.

These are some explanations, and there are many more. But there is another explanation: that every day, with the dawn, they would go out and collect the manna, before it would be heated up by the sun and would melt. If the Torah were given on a weekday, they would have gone out to receive the Torah in the morning, they would have heard its words, but they would have been distracted. Oh, what will happen to the manna, will it wait for us, won't it melt, are we going to have to fast today... Since the acceptance of the Torah demands complete concentration, it was given specifically of Shabbat, on which day the manna did not fall… The lesson for us: Absolute concentration during learning, and the removal of all distractions when praying. It is not enough to turn off the cellphones, but rather we must not think about them at all!

The Golden Column
Rabbeinu Shelomoh Ibn Gevirol zs"L

The wondrous fig tree caused much excitement in the city of Saragosa. This was not the fruit's season, but the tree was crowned with many ripe fruits. Curious people stopped to look, and their number grew and grew. The rumor spread until it reached the palace of the king. The masses cleared the road for the king's carriage. The king was amazed by the sight, and asked the Arab, who owned the tree to explain it. The Arab began to stammer, and the king warned him to tell the truth. The Arab told that he had killed a Jewish wise man and had hid his body under the fig tree. The king gave the command to dig, and they found the body of Rabbi Shelomoh Ibn Gevirol zs"l. may G-d avenge his blood. The king commanded that he be buried in the graves of his forefathers, and he commanded to hand the Arab on the fig tree. They hanged him, and the figs withered and dried…

Rabbeinu Shelomoh Ibn Gevirol was born in the city of Malaga in Spain, in the year 4800 (1040 C.E.). He was the student of Rabbi Nisim of Keruan zs"l. His most famous work is his poem, the "Warnings" about the 613 commandments. Rabbeinu Saadyah Gaon zs"l wrote that they had the custom to recite it on the holiday of the giving of the Torah. There were communities in which they instituted to recite in the repetition of the musaf prayer, as is written by Rabbeinu, the Abudraham zs"l. This poem was written by Rabbeinu Shelomoh when he was only sixteen years old, and many of our great Rabbis, the rishonim, wrote commentaries on it.

Additionally, he wrote the book "Tikun Hamidot," which is built around the book, "Hovot Halevavot," with many additions. He wrote a book of musar: "Mivhar Hapeninim," a book of philosophy: "Mekoy Hayim Behochmah" and a book about grammar: "Sefer Ha'anak." He also wrote much poetry, including a song of over 400 rhyming verses, about which the Ibn Ezra testified that there is no comparable work. He also wrote the famous poem, "Keter Malchut," and many of his poems have been set into the prayers of the High Holy Days.

From the Wellsprings of the Parashah

"And G-d spoke all of these words, saying"

Rashi brings the words of the Mechilta: "all of these words" in one speech, that which a person does not have the power to do, and then he explained each one on its own. Rabbeinu Eliyahu Mizrahi zs"l explained that at first, they heard all ten commandments at once, and then afterwards, G-d said the first two separately, "I am Hashem, your G-d," and "You shall not have other gods before Me." The Children of Israel feared lest they be burnt from the great fire, and they requested that Mosheh Rabbeinu tell them the other eight commandments.

The opinion of Rabbeinu, the Ramban zs"l, and of the holy Or Hahayim zs"l, is that the Creator told the Children of Israel all ten commandments at once, but they did not comprehend or understand them at all, except for the first two, which they understood as Mosheh had understood. However, they did not understand the other eight commandments, and Mosheh had to explain them, one by one.

Rabbeinu, the holy Ari zs"l, explained what it said: "One spoke G-d, Two I heard" (Tehilim 62:12), as saying that the Creator told them all then commandments at one time, but we only understood two out of them.

"And G-d spoke all of these words, saying"

Rabbeinu Eliezer ben Rabbi Eliyahu Harofeh zs"l, a student of the Bet Yosef and the holy Alshich zs"l, wrote in his book, "Maaseh Hashem," that they also heard the other eight commandments from the Almighty, but not as they heard the first two. He explained this with a parable: When a great and awesome king commands his servant, saying: Do this and this, there is no doubt that the servant will tremble and step backwards out of tremendous fear. But if the servant hears from outside the great hall how the king commands his minister: Tell my servant to do this and this, even though he hears the voice of the king and knows that he is commanding him, he will not be as afraid, since the king is not talking to him directly.

This is the difference between the first two commandments and the others. At the beginning, He spoke to them directly: "I am Hashem, your G-d" and "You shall not have any other gods before Me." They trembled and feared and asked Mosheh: "Speak you to us, and we will listen, and let G-d not speak to us, lest we die" (Shemot 20:16). Then the Holy One, blessed be He, told Mosheh the other eight commandments, and all of Israel heard, as it says: "So that the nation should hear when I speak to you" (Shemot 19:9). But they were not as afraid because G-d did not speak to them directly, but rather, "I stood between G-d and you" (Devarim 8:8).

"And G-d spoke all of these words, saying"

Before hand, it says: "And G-d came down onto Mount Sinai," and here it says, "And Elokim spoke," with the attribute of justice. We also must understand why it begins with "spoke," a harsh language, and at the end it says "saying," with soft language. The holy Or Hahayim zs"l explains that at first, they heard the words of the Torah with great fear, so much so that their souls left them. They then heard all Ten Commandments at once, with a power and strength that they could not absorb, and the great fire in the Heaven, the aspect of harsh language and the attribute of justice. Afterwards, the whole world was filled with the Heavens, and the dew of resurrection revived their souls, and the ministering angels returned them to their bodies. They heard the other commandments with soft language, and the attribute of love. We must recognize that this is the order of receiving the Torah at all times, and for all people. "All beginnings are difficult," and afterwards it all works out pleasantly and happily!

According to the Order of the Shulchan Aruch, Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
By Rav David Yossef shlit"a

Chapter 109 Preference of "Devarim Shebikedushah" over Prayer with a Congregation
One who comes late to prayer with a congregation

  • If one suspects that he will miss saying "kedushah" with the congregation, he must wait until he says kedushah and only then pray, even though he will miss praying with a congregation. So too, if he suspects that he will miss answering "kadish" with the congregation, he must wait until he answers with the congregation, "amen yehei shemei rabah…" and only then pray the shemoneh esrei. In terms of this, he need only wait until he says "amen yehei shemei rabah" with the congregation, and he need not wait for the rest of kadish. Therefore, if he can complete his shemoneh esrei before the hazan reaches the saying of "amen yehei shemei rabah," he must do so.

    Just as he must wait until he answers kadish and kedushah with the congregation before praying, so too he must wait to say "barechu" with the congregation, before praying the shemoneh esrei, even though he will not be able to pray with the congregation because of this.

  • According to some of our Rabbis, the rishonim, just as if one suspects that he will miss the saying of kedushah or modim with the congregation, he must refrain from praying the shemoneh esrei until he answers kedushah and modim, so too if he suspects that he will not answer "amen" after the blessings of "hakel hakadosh" and "shomea tefilah," he must wait until he answers amen, before praying. This is the custom of Ashkenzi Jews.

    However, the Sefardim have accepted the ruling of the Shulhan Aruch who decided that there is no need to wait for these amens, and that they have the same law as the other amens in shemoneh esrei. Therefore, it is better to pray with a congregation than to answer these amens with the congregation.

  • All of the above laws are only relevant in the situation when one will not miss the time of prayer by waiting to say the "devarim shebikedushah" with the congregation, but will only miss praying the shemoneh esrei with the congregation. However, if he suspects that the time for prayer may pass, he should not wait at all, but he should rather pray the shemoneh esrei immediately.

  • If he has already heard kedushah and barechu with another congregation, or if he will hear kedushah and barechu with another congregation in the future, and now he enters a synagogue and finds that the congregation has already begun the shemoneh esrei, he may pray with them even though he will miss the answering of the devarim shebikedushah with that congregation. But in terms of modim, even if he already heard, or will hear modim with another congregation, he must wait to say modim with this congregation. There are some who say that even in terms of kadish, even if he already heard or will hear all the kadishim that we say in the prayer, he should not pray until he answers "amen yehei shemei rabah" with that congregation with which he wishes to pray. Some disagree with this.

The Wonders of Creation
The Pearl and Us

One can not dive for pearl oysters everywhere. Great effort is exerted until one finds bays where these oysters are present. Specifically in the Persian Gulf, but also in Southern California, off the shores of Japan, in Northern Australia, and off the shores of many islands. In order to find them, one must dive down to depths of four to forty meters, and to collect as many oysters as possible into a basket as quickly as possible before one's air runs out. An attack, or two, or three, until one's energy gives out, or until one spots the fin of a shark. Then from the sea to the shore, where the shells are set out to dry. They are washed out in the seawater and opened - and one knows from the start, that most of the oysters are empty, worthless oysters. Occasionally, one will find a pearl. Most of the time, it will be deformed or cracked. Very rarely, a large round pearl will be found, shining and clear with a regal appearance. Therefore it says, "Wisdom is better than pearls" (Mishlei 8:11). For it is not as difficult to achieve it, and the treasure is certain: In every book of wisdom that you open, you will find some new piece of information, precious and wonderful!

How is a pearl created? Inside the shell lives a mollusk, a soft creature, one of the Holy One, blessed be He's creations, which is sustains by the sifting of microscopic creatures from the seawater in which it lives. Sometimes it swallows a grain of dust, which irritates it. To dull the irritation, it wraps the dust in mucus, which becomes as hard as a rock. Another layer and another, until a beautiful, round pearl is created, amazing in its beauty and extremely valuable.

It has already been noted that the tests and difficulties of life are like this. Like that irritating dust, they cause strengthening and shielding, which are secured by the striving, the lessons and the life experience. These solidify the personality and turn into a valuable treasure!

The Power of Man (16)
From the Book, "And Mosheh Was a Shepherd"

Summary: Rabbi Mosheh Pardo, a textile merchant from Tel Aviv, accepted the responsibility for a dormitory of fourteen girls and turned it into an educational campus of more than a thousand. But even so, he did not say "Enough."

A new situation began to arise. Every year, hundreds of girls graduated and reached the age of matrimony. They wished to marry men devoted to Torah, and to build homes of Torah. But there were not enough yeshivah students for them! What could Rabbi Mosheh do, with such a difficulty that touched his heart? He saw the future, with his institution educating huge classes and he realized that the matter would become even more severe. Rabbi Mosheh bought a plot of land, not far from "Or Hahayim" and he founded there the Yeshiva "Or Hatorah." Hundreds of yeshivah students began to learn there and they built their homes with the graduates of "Or Hahayim." Rabbi Mosheh established for the married Torah scholars, the kollel "Torah Vehayim," under the leadership of the Gaon, Rabbi Shimon Ba'adani shelita. "Torah Vehayim," named after the yeshivah "Or Hatorah," and the institution of "Or Hahayim!"

But he was not satisfied with that, and he helped to found and strengthen every Torah institution for Sefardim. He was touched by a lecture by the Gaon Rabbi Daniel Zar shelita, and he decided that he must found a yeshivah. He chose the plot, took bids on the work and decided where the yeshivah would be established. He contacted one of the donors to "Or Hahayim," and convinced him to donate the building of the yeshivah. He heard that the Gaon Rabbi Zechariah Shalom was building a building for his yeshivah, and he went down to see. He went down to the digging of the foundation, and left dancing, " here will be built a home for the Divine Presence! Here will be done the will of the Creator!" He took out his checkbook and signed for a large sum, so that the work would move forward!

Not only did he build yeshivot. His "daughters" married his "sons" and they gave birth to his "grandchildren." How happy and joyful he was! He set aside a plot in the corner of the educational campus that he had built, and convinced a donor to establish a glorious Talmud Torah - elementary school. And now, when there was a Talmud Torah and a yeshivah gedolah, a yeshivah ketanah - high school needed to be built. He established the yeshivah "Tiferet Mosheh," under the leadership of the Gaon Rabbi Amnon Sabag shelita, one of the graduates of "Or Hatorah." But this was not enough and he founded another yeshivah ketanah near the yeshivah "Or Hatorah." He had, then, his "own" yeshivot, which he had founded and which he managed, but even then he did not say "Enough." When he heard about a Talmud Torah in a neighboring city that was about to close because of its large debts, he visited and was moved. That very day he found a building that was for sale. He convinced a donor that he knew, and on that very day, a contract was signed. He collected the sum needed to pull the institution out from under its debts, and in his merit, they are learning there from then until now, hundreds of boys, may there number increase!

To be continued next week, G-d willing…

A Summary of the Shiur Delivered on Mossa'ei Shabbat by Rav Ovadia Yossef shelit"a

The Laws of Blessings

1. Our sages instituted the blessing of "borei peri haeiss" to be said before eating the fruit of the seven species, and the blessing "me'ein shalosh" of "al ha'eiss ve'al peri ha'eiss" to be said afterwards. For fruit from outside of Israel, one completes the blessing "al ha'aress ve'al peri haeiss." For fruit from within Israel, one completes the blessing "al ha'aress ve'al peiroteha." For all other fruit, one makes the blessing of "borei nefashot" afterwards. One can not say the blessing of "borei nefashot" after a fruit of the seven species, for "borei nefashot" is not a default blessing, like "shehakol."

2. From he we learn that one who eats half of an olive-sized amount of fruit from the seven species, and half of an olive-sized amount of fruit not from the seven species, one does not make a blessing afterwards at all, for neither one's blessing is appropriate for the other.

3. There is a question in the gemara whether one who answers "amen" to his own blessings is praiseworthy or disgusting. The gemara concludes that one is only praiseworthy if one says amen to the blessing of "boneh yerushalayim" within birkat hamazon, but not otherwise.

The Tosfot holds that the answering of amen to ones own blessing is only proper in that one specific case. The Rambam disagrees and holds that it is proper whenever there are several blessings that are said one after the other. However, this is only when the amen would not constitute a prohibited pause between the blessing and what comes afterwards, such as after the blessing on the performance of a commandment.

The Shulhan Aruch decides according to the Rambam, and therefore our custom is to also say amen to our own blessing, after "yishtabah," after the final blessing of Hallel, and after the blessings following the reading of the haftarah.

We do not say amen to our own blessing after the blessing following the reading of the Torah, because that blessing is not absolutely linked to the reading of the Torah. This is seen by the fact that under certain conditions, one may speak between the reading and that blessing.

4. If a non-Jew who does not worship idolatry, such as a Muslim, who makes one of the blessings instituted by our sages, one may answer amen to it. However, if an idolatrous non-Jew makes such a blessing, we suspect that he may have had idolatrous intentions, and thus we are forbidden to answer amen to his blessing.

Sha'agat Aryeh
The Event at Mount Sinai

Dear brothers,

On this very Shabbat, our nation reached its peak. A month ago, we read in the Torah the parashot that described the exile and suffering in Egypt, the plagues and the redemption, the splitting of the Red Sea and the song. This was all leading to a destiny and a goal: "When you shall take the nation from Egypt, you shall worship G-d upon this mountain." There you shall receive the Torah, there you shall become the nation of G-d. And the Children of Israel are anxious, waiting and looking forward, "We wish to see our king." They cry out: "All that G-d says, we will do and we will listen." They prepare during the three days of limitation. Finally, they reach this glorious event. And there, what? "He placed the mountain above them like a barrel. He said to them: If you accept the torah, fine. If not, here will be your grave." Didn't they want, desire and look forward to this? Why the need for this coercion? The Tosfot writes (Shabbat 88a): "Even though they had already preceded 'We will do' to 'We will listen,' lest they go back on this when they will see the great fire, when their souls left them from fright and panic." These are the words of the eternal G-d, but we still do not understand. Didn't this strong desire, the saying of "We will do and we will listen" give them the merit of spiritual crowns? How embarrassed they would be if they changed their minds, if they were forced to accept the Torah against their will! But what, the great fire? Let G-d reduce the level of the flames, to lessen the fire, and everything would have worked out fine!

We are forced to say that it was necessary to have such a great fire, necessary to have such tremendous panic and fear, to such an extent that it was worth it to give up the level of "We will do and we will listen" and to accept the Torah by force! To such an extent! But why?

The answer is simple, and so pointed. Let us contemplate ourselves. We have accepted the Torah and we are aware of our obligation to fulfill its commandments. We are believers, the sons of believers, who keep the Torah and its commandments. One moment - oh, really? Certainly! Shabbat, kashrut, family purity, with no compromise. But what about guarding our tongues? What about being careful about the honor of our fellow man, that terrible prohibition, of fire until complete consumption of embarrassing someone? Oh, that. Well, we are not perfect yet. But why not? Do we not recognize this prohibition? Yes, so why not?

What is the answer? An absence of fear! We do not see the great fire! Our sages said (Hagigah 13b) that the river of Dinor, a river of fire, comes down from the sweat of the angels upon the heads of the wicked in Gehinnom. Certainly, this is a parable. The wicked see and are burnt: angels sweat from the fear of the Creator. How did we not tremble, how did we sin with such equanimity? If they tremble, how much more so ought we to have shaken and sweat!

If so, this is the most important lesson of the parashah of the giving of the torah. The great fire, the tremendous fear. May it be that we should achieve it, for it is the key to keeping the whole Torah!

Gamliel Ben Nizha and Yosef Ben Hanom

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