by Zvi Akiva Fleisher
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SEDRAH SELECTIONS PARSHAS VO'ES'CHANAN 5761 BS"D
Ch. 5, v. 6,7 : "Onochi Hashem Elo'kecho, Lo y'h'yeh l'cho elohim acheirim" - When the bnei Yisroel sinned with the golden calf Moshe spoke in their defense. The M.R. Shmos 47:9 says that Moshe said that since our two verses which command that the bnei Yisoel believe only in Hashem and not in false gods is expressed in the singular form, "Elo'keCHO" and "Lo y'h'yeh L'CHO," perhaps the command was only given to Moshe and not to them. In his essays on Shovuos, Rabbi Yoseif Nechemioh Kornitzer asks in the name of his ancestor, the Chasam Sofer, "How is it possible for Moshe to use such a defense? Did he not tell the bnei Yisroel that in the merit of accepting the Torah after their deliverance from Egypt, they would be allowed to leave Egypt. Were they not told to prepare numerous days for the giving of the Torah? It is therefore impossible to say that all their preparation was only for being relegated spectator status!" He answers in the name of the Chasam Sofer that indeed we find that Moshe made no attempt to provide a defense for those who actually sinned by worshipping the golden calf. To the contrary, he preceded to assemble a small army of those who would kill the guilty people, and those who were not warned by witnesses were punished by Heavenly intervention and were killed by a plague. Finally, those who were not known to have sinned were tested by being given a brew of golden calf dust to drink, which brought about the death of those who were guilty (see Rashi on Shmos 32:20 d.h. "va'yashk"). We do not find that Moshe prayed or did anything else to stop this from happening. Moshe's defense, he posits, was to avoid having the bnei Yisroel being held responsible as "a'reivim," guarantors that others would not sin. Indeed, we find that the Torah was given only on the condition that the bnei Yisroel take responsibility one for another, as mentioned in the M.R. Shmos 27:9. He quotes a Medrash Tanchuma that the singular form used in the first two Commandments teaches that each person would take responsibility for the acts of his fellow ben Yisroel. However, Moshe claimed that only he was responsible for "arvus," "li tziviso v'lo lo'hem," understanding that the singular terms were directly only to him. This is why he said "m'cheini noh misif'r'cho" (Shmos 32:32). (I have found a Medrash Tanchuma in parshas Nitzovim ch. #2 that says that the leader has a unique "arvus" responsibility for the acts of all of the bnei Yisroel.) To this Hashem responded that even Moshe was not held responsible, as "arvus" would only begin later as mentioned in Rashi on parshas Nitzovim (29:28). Thus Hashem tells Moshe, "leich n'chei es ho'om el asher di'barti loch." Lead the nation to the place that I have told you, i.e. Eretz Yisroel, because only there would "arvus" come into effect.
Possibly another explanation of this most enigmatic medrash can be given based on the words of the N'tzi"v. I feel it is appropriate to mention that the words of the N'tzi"v are most crucial to understand why the Torah oft-times tells us a ruling in a very direct forward manner, "pshuto shel mikro," and sometimes it is necessary to derive an understanding of the intention of the verse through one of the thirteen exegetical rules through which the Torah is explained, known as the "Breisa of Rebbi Yishmoel" at the beginning of the medrash on Vayikroh. In Vayikroh 21:5 the verse deals with three prohibitions for Kohanim. The first is against ripping out hair as a form of mourning. The N'tzi"v points out that the way it is expressed in this verse, "b'roshom," which when wearing a head covering is a hidden place, is stricter than the expression in Dvorim 14:1, the prohibition for all bnei Yisroel, "bein ei'neichem," indicating a restriction only in a prominent location. Similarly, regarding the prohibition against cutting one's beard with a razor which is mentioned next in the verse, it says "lo y'ga'leichu," even a minimal shaving, while by bnei Yisroel it says "v'lo sash'chis" (Vayikroh 19:28), not to destroy by shaving, again a stricter expression by Kohanim. As well, regarding the prohibition against scraping one's flesh as an act of mourning, the final prohibition in the verse, he also points out in Vayikroh 19:28 that it is expressed more stringently by Kohanim, not mentioning "lo'nefesh," as it does by bnei Yisroel. He says that by way of "droshoh," exegetical rules, all that applies to a Kohein applies to the rest of bnei Yisroel as well, so their halochos are exactly the same. On Vayikroh 19:27 d.h. "lo sakifu" he says that although the halochos are the same for all, by virtue of the fact that the Torah OPENLY expresses stricter terms by Kohanim, they are liable to greater punishments that are meted out by the Heavenly court. His words: "D'b'mokome hamforosh baTorah ho'onesh bi'dei shomayim chomur mi'ma shenilmad b'kaboloh bigzeiroh shovoh u'chdomeh." He refers us to the words of Tosfos on the gemara Yoma 44a d.h. "mai lav," who ask why the Rabbis instituted a restriction as a safeguard against transgressing a Torah prohibition in one situation, and did not do so in another case that seems to have the same concern. Tosfos answers that the Rabbis were more concerned when the Torah prohibition is clearly spelled out in the Torah, as in the former case, than by the latter case, although also a Torah prohibition, because that prohibition is derived and not clearly stated. According to the words of the N'tzi"v, the seemingly enigmatic words of the Tosfos are readily understood.
Given this most basic understanding of the difference between that which is derived and that which is explicitly spelled out by the Torah, perhaps we can say that Moshe's defense was that although it is well understood that the first two Commandments were directed to all the bnei Yisroel, nevertheless, they were not expressed as such, with the simple words seeming to be aimed at Moshe. If so, the bnei Yisroel do not deserve to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Ch. 5, v. 12: "Shomor es yom haShabbos l'kadsho kaasher tzivcho Hashem Elo'kecho" - Rashi says that "kaasher tzivcho Hashem Elo'kecho" refers to before the giving of the Torah, at Moroh. Similarly, in verse 16, where we find the command to honour one's parents, we find the same words "kaasher tzivcho Hashem Elo'kecho," and once again Rashi says that this refers to Moroh. (On the verse discussing the mitzvos given in Moroh (Shmos 15:25) Rashi mentions Shabbos but does not mention honouring one's parents. The Ramban in Shmos deals with this.) Although Rashi's explanation is found in the gemara Sanhedrin 56b, nevertheless, the Ibn Ezra, Rashbam, and Chizkuni say that the simple understanding of the verse is "as Hashem commanded you in the Ten Commandments at the time of the giving of the Torah." According to Rashi it is well understood why only by Shabbos and honouring one's parents this phrase is used, but according to the other commentators, why mention this phrase only by Shabbos and honouring one's parents, since all Ten Commandments were already given by Hashem? If we were to say that the term "tzivuy" is to be used regarding positive mitzvos then this question is answered. All of the Ten Commandments save honouring one's parents and remembering the Shabbos are negative mitzvos, while these two are positive mitzvos.
Ch. 5, v. 14,15: "V'shorcho vachamorcho v'chol b'hemtecho .., V'zocharto ki evved hoyiso b'eretz Mitzrayim" - In the version of the Ten Commandments in Shmos, when the command of remembering Shabbos is mentioned (20:10), there is no mention of refraining from having one's ox and donkey work. The MESHECH CHOCHMOH explains that in the earlier version the Torah gives the reason for keeping Shabbos as a remembrance of the creation of the world (verse 21). Since all animals were included in the creation, a ben Yisroel is commanded to have his animals refrain from working, and there is no reason to point out any particular species. However, in our verse the Torah gives a second reason for keeping Shabbos, as a remembrance of our having been enslaved to Egypt and being redeemed by Hashem. This is of such great importance that Hashem has given us the mitzvos of tefillin (Shmos 13:16) as a remembrance on one's body, tzitzis (Bmidbar 15:41) on one's garments, and Shabbos and the Yom Tov of Pesach in the realm of time, as continual, repetitive reminders of the central event of the exodus from Egypt. Since the first-born of an ox and of a donkey have been sanctified as a remembrance of what transpired in Egypt and upon the bnei Yisroel's exodus (Shmos 13:12,13), one might think that there is no further need to exemplify this with an ox or a donkey. Therefore there is a need to specifically mention these two species as still falling under the rule of refraining from work on Shabbos.
I don't fully understand the words of the MESHECH CHOCHMOH. Although it is understood why the verse would not mention species whose first-born require no redemption, i.e. a horse, but there are others that do, such as a goat or a sheep. If so, why does the Torah specifically mention an ox?
Ch. 5, v. 16: "Ka'beid es ovicho v'es i'mecho kaasher tzivcho Hashem Elo'kecho" - The Kedushas Levi explains why we find the expression "kaasher tzivcho Hashem Elo'kecho" here, but not in Shmos 20:12. The gemara Y'vomos 6a and B.M. 32a says that although one must honour his parents by doing their bidding, this is only true when they do not request their child to contravene the laws of the Torah. This is the meaning of "kaasher tzivcho Hashem Elo'kecho." One is required to do as his parent requests when it is in keeping with "that which Hashem has commanded." Since at the time of the giving of the Torah in parshas Yisro there were no other commandments, as they were just being given, the Torah could not say, "as I have commanded you."
I have a bit of difficulty in understanding this, as there were a number of mitzvos that Hashem had already given all of mankind. It is unlikely that at the moment of receiving the mitzvoh to honour one's parents if a parent would command his child to kill someone, that the child would be required to do so, as the logic of "you and your father are both required to honour Me" mentioned in the above gemoros would surely apply.
Perhaps the insight of the Kedushas Levi can be extended to "kaasher tzivcho Hashem Elo'kecho" in verse 12 by Shabbos, as well. The Ramban explains that the term ACH found by Shabbos (Shmos 31:13) limits the guarding of Shabbos to indicate that there are exceptions when one is required to transgress the laws of Shabbos. A number of examples are, circumcision on the eighth day since a child's birth, sacrifices that have a set time, i.e. tomid, daily incense, musof of Shabbos, musof of Yom Tov, korban Pesach, and cutting of the grain for the "omer" offering. Before the Torah was given there was no ruling that permitted one to transgress the Shabbos, hence no "kaasher tzivcho Hashem Elo'kecho" in the Ten Commandments in parshas Yisro.
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See also Oroh V'Simchoh - Meshech Chochmoh on the Weekly Parsha
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