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And He declared unto you His covenant... And He wrote them upon two tablets of stone. (4:13)
The Aseres Hadibros, Ten Commandments, are supreme among the Torah's precepts. This is the result of two factors. Primary is their fundamental and overwhelming importance. Second is the awe-inspiring, majestic manner in which Hashem revealed them to the entire nation of Klal Yisrael. The Revelation was undeniably the most incredible event in the history of the world. It gave birth to Klal Yisrael as a nation - a Torah nation, whose license to nationhood consists of its acceptance of, and adherence to, the Torah. The Torah is a Divine synopsis of our duties toward Hashem and our fellowman. The two work cooperatively. One cannot be a good Jew without maintaining his Torah-dictated relationship with Hashem and his fellowman. The Ten Commandments are all-encompassing. They are unequaled in their simplicity, comprehensiveness and solemnity. They were Divinely engraved on two tablets of stone, which seems anti-climactic. One would think that such an unparalleled charge to Klal Yisrael be transmitted on a more impressive medium.
Horav Moshe Swift, zl, cites a beautiful Midrash that reveals the origin of these stones. They were stones of special origin, not chosen arbitrarily for their task. One tablet was the stone upon which Yaakov Avinu lay down his head. Yaakov gathered stones upon which to lay his head. When they vied with each other to serve as his pillow, Hashem miraculously melded them all into one. It was on that unified stone that Yaakov lay his head, and it was upon that stone, representing harmony, that half of the Ten Commandments was written. The other stone was the one upon which Moshe Rabbeinu sat with his hands held high as Klal Yisrael defended itself against its archenemy, Amalek. This stone, too, represents unity, a harmony of all Klal Yisrael focusing their hearts and minds towards their Father in Heaven. By doing this, they were able to triumph over their enemy.
These two stones symbolize the two types of conflicts which we confront: as individuals and as a nation. The first stone, the stone of Yaakov, originally consisted of twelve stones, reflecting the diversity in Klal Yisrael. Twelve tribes, twelve unique approaches to the Divine - but all focused towards one goal - to serve the Almighty. Only such stones - such conflict - such diversity, can be transformed into one stone, can serve as the parchment upon which the commandments can be inscribed. Unity in diversity - not unity in adversity. They must share a common goal, a common mission, a common objective.
The other stone represents our external conflict, our never-ending challenge from the nations of the world, who have one intention - to do away with us. While some have openly declared their animus, seeking to destroy us, to forever be rid of the Jew, others are more subtle; they only desire to thwart the growth of our religion, to put an end to the Jew's message to the world. In any event, these challenges demand a response. We must not yield; we must go forward and fight our battles, but the Torah must be inscribed upon the stone. Hashem's' word must guide and inspire our every move. Both stones, both conflicts, the one from within and the one from without, must have at their beginning the words and profound message, "Anochi Hashem Elokecha", "I am Hashem your G-d."
And this is the law which Moshe set/placed before the Bnei Yisrael. (4:44)
Chapel suggest that the word, "sam", "placed," with the Hebrew letter "sin" alludes to another Hebrew word with a similar sound, whose meaning is completely different. Sam ha'maves and sam ha'chaim, a potion whose effects are either therapeutic or deadly in nature. That is like Torah. To the one who is zocheh, merits, it is a potion that can engender life, that can have far-reaching benefits. For the one who is not zocheh, an encounter with Torah can be fatal. Moreover, Chapel say that it is the actual Torah which is "naasis lo," becomes for him a deadly potion. Imagine, the Torah itself is transformed into a pollutant that will destroy his system.
Horav Refael Hakohen, zl, m'Hamburg explains that there are three levels of Torah study: The zenith of study is manifest by the individual who studies Torah lishma, for its sake. His love of Torah permeates every moment of his devotion to it. The other extreme is displayed by the who studies l'kanter, to dispute, disdain and find areas that he can question and ridicule. The middle level is demonstrated by the one who studies Torah as a medium for achieving honor and fame. His goals are personal, his intentions are self-gratifying. He realizes that one receives true esteem for Torah scholarship; distinction is what one achieves for Torah erudition. He is willing to work for that kavod, honor. That is what is referred to as shelo lishmah.
Thus, we see that one who studies for personal gain stands at a dangerous crossroads. He cannot vacillate back and forth. He must decide either to go to the right and work on his Torah study, so that it becomes lishmah, or go to the left where he will have the opportunity to scorn and disdain. Regarding him, Chazal say, "If he merits and decides to ascend to the level of lishmah, then Torah is therapeutic. If he does not merit, and instead chooses to go left to disparage Torah, then that actual Torah which he has studied until now becomes a sam ha'maves, deadly potion. We see that the Torah that he has studied until now, the Torah that was seemingly studied simply shelo lishmah, with intent only for personal gain, was actually motivated by the wrong reason. The end result reveals the true motive behind his Torah study. Better had he not studied, for he might not have fallen to such a nadir.
Horav Boruch Ber Leibowitz, zl, suggested Chazal's statement as an explanation for Acher, the famous scholar turned apostate, following that path. After all, why didn't the Torah that he had studied protect him? Chazal explain that when he would get up, sifrei minim, books expounding heresy, would fall down from his lap. In other words, he was studying Torah while simultaneously reading heresy. Yet, we may wonder why the Torah that he studied did not protect him. He was a scholar - so obviously he must have studied quite a bit. Where was the Torah to which he so diligently applied himself? The answer, claims Rav Boruch Ber, is that Torah study that goes hand and hand with heresy is not limud haTorah. On the contrary, he is in a worse situation because he had studied, for now he is manipulating that which he learned to support his distortion of Torah. The Torah has become his fatal potion in more ways than one.
You shall love Hashem your G-d with all your heart. (6:5)
"With all your heart" is a strong term, but one cannot serve Hashem in any lesser manner. Rashi cites Chazal who interpret "b'chol levavecha" as "bishnei yitzrecha," with your two inclinations, your yetzer tov, good inclination, as well as your yetzer hora, evil inclination. We must endeavor to understand the meaning of loving Hashem with one's good inclination. Certainly, there is nothing challenging about the yetzer tov. It encourages mitzvah observance and good deeds. What quality of the good inclination might be considered a challenge to overcome?
Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, explains that at times, by following the intimations of his good inclination, an individual can be doing the wrong thing. Let us take the mitzvah of tzedakah, for instance. One feels compelled to contribute to a certain charity - but this charity is not considered halachically charitable. It would be better that he does not lend assistance to this organization. How often do we feel a desire to show compassion to someone who not only does not deserve our help, but help might even be detrimental to him. This applies to every good deed and every good character trait. Just because one's heart tells him that it is "right," he does not have license to act. That is the job of gedolei Yisrael, our Torah leadership. They determine what is correct and what just "seems" to be correct based upon their supreme and unbiased knowledge of Torah. Thus, we see that it might conceivably be more difficult to overcome our yetzer tov than our yetzer hora.
And you shall teach them diligently unto your children. (6:7)
In a departure from the literal translation, Rashi defines "banecha," which is usually translated as "your children, " to mean "talmidecha," your students. Why is this? We are taught that the respect for a rebbe, Torah teacher, takes precedence over respecting one's father. One is obligated to show a greater degree of respect towards his rebbe than towards his father. Why would the Torah analogize a rebbe's Torah-teaching to a father and son relationship? Moreover, we find that Elisha referred to his rebbe, Eliyahu Hanavi, as "Avi, Avi," "My father, My father." If a rebbe is to be held in greater esteem, he should have called Eliyahu, "rebbe, rebbe."
Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, explains that just as a father bequeaths his natural physical and emotional characteristics to his son, so, too, should a rebbe inspire and influence his students to be like him - naturally. His personality and character, his middos tovos, positive character traits, devotion to and love for Torah and virtue should be innately imbued in his students. The rebbe should be like a father, not only in his love for his students, but also in his influence on them.
When your son will ask you tomorrow saying, "What is the meaning of the testimonies, and the statutes, and the ordinances which Hashem, our G-d has commanded you?" (6:20)
Chazal suggest that this question is asked by the "wise" son of the "four" sons of the Haggadah. We are taught that the Torah "speaks" to each of the four sons, representing four perspectives or types of Jews. Each one has his own focus, each one has his own perspective, analogous with his chosen way of life. What is the distinction of having four sons? It would seem that Chazal are lauding the fact that these "four sons" truly exist.
Horav Chaim Soloveitchik, zl, distinguishes between secular studies -- in which the text is divided according to one's age or level of skill and aptitude - and Torah studies. As one progresses in his knowledge and ability, the text changes and a more challenging, definitive text is used. Torah is different. The same text, the same Torah, the identical Chumash and Rashi studied by the young child will also be used by the Torah scholar. Each person will delve into the same material. In accordance with his level of erudition, each will discover profundities unknown and unattainable to one of lesser ability and knowledge. "Blessed be Hashem, blessed be Him," corresponding to four sons the Torah speaks. The same Torah is studied by various levels of students, each one according to his individual level of learning.
Go say to them: "Return you to your tents." (5:27)
Prior to the Giving of the Torah, the prohibiton against intimacy between husband and wife was emphatically expressed: "Do not go near to a woman" (Shemos 19:15). Now, however, when they are permitted to resume their family relationship, it is alluded to with the words, "Return to your tents." Ostensibly, if one applies himself to the statement, the message that the Torah is conveying is apparent. We may wonder why the message is clear and emphatic when the goal is to prohibit, while only hints are provided when the purpose is to give permission. Horav Zalmen Sorotzkin, zl, explains that the Torah is addressing human nature. People tend to listen better to a heter, permission/dispensation. We look for heteirim, opportunities that permit us to perform activities that heretofore have not been allowed. Our ears are finely tuned to any form of heter. When it comes to issurim, prohibitions, we suddenly become hard-of-hearing. The prohibition must be spelled out, clearly placing emphasis on every aspect. It must give a reason for the prohibition, not allowing for any excuse or dispensation that will allow one to escape the issue. Would it only be that people would listen to issurim that are clearly articulated the way they acquiesce to heteirim that are only hinted.
Not because you were more in number than any other people did Hashem set his love upon you, nor choose you (but) because you were the fewest of all peoples. (7:7)
There is something special about being Jewish. There is a uniqueness about our People which Hashem sought and for which He selected us as His nation. It certainly was not because of our size. Chazal add something in their interpretation of the pasuk that sheds light on this uniqueness. In the Talmud Chullin 89a, they say, "You are the fewest; you are the smallest in numbers" - "You are the ones who hold yourselves small." Avraham Avinu said, "I am but dust and ashes." Moshe and Aharon asked, "What are we?" Our People have long realized that the material assets we amass, the riches we possess, are transitory. They have no lasting value unless they are put to good use. We are a people with an attitude - an attitude that declares, "We are nothing by ourselves. Our greatness lies in our relationship with the Almighty."
Our greatest tzaddikim rose from obscurity, from humble beginnings, from roots that some would scorn. But as Horav Moshe Swift, zl, says, "Is not gold extracted from the earth - not from the skies; do not trees grow from the soil - not from the heavens?" Our distinctiveness lies in our ability to negate ourselves and sublimate ourselves to the Almighty. The greatness of the Jew is not in what he possesses, but in who he is. It is not about size, but about attitude.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
1) The Bais Hamikdash is referred to by a different term in this parsha. What is it?
2) No. He was afraid that he would be punished because of Klal Yisrael, as his rebbe, Moshe, was punished.
3) a) 850 years.
4) It indicated his overwhelming desire to perform a mitzvah, since they did not take effect until many years later.
5) a) Marah.
6) a) With all your money.
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