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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Moshe went out to meet his father-in-law, and he prostrated himself and kissed him, and each inquired about the welfare of his friend." (18:7)

Rashi, citing Chazal, makes it clear that it was Moshe Rabbeinu who bowed down to Yisro. Chazal substantiate this from the Torah's use of the word ish, man, as it says (literally translated) "and the man inquired about his friend." The only person referred to by the Torah as ish is Moshe, as it says in Bamidbar 12:3, "And the man Moshe." The Mechilta adds that not only did Moshe bow down to Yisro, he was also the one who kissed him. What is the significance of this kiss, and the fact that it was Moshe who did the kissing?

Initially, it was Yisro who asked Moshe to come out and greet him. Indeed, as Chazal see it, Yisro wanted Moshe, followed by the elders and all of Klal Yisrael, to come greet him. How does this all fit in - the kiss and Moshe, followed by his entourage, all coming to greet Yisro? Is this really what Yisro wanted, some form of blatant honor?

The Shem Mishmuel explains that Yisro's request of Moshe was certainly not for any honor. Instead, it was Yisro's request that Moshe lower himself sufficiently so that Yisro would be able to connect with him. Moshe lived on a level far above that of any other person; his essence was unknowable, and his deeds, qualities and virtues were concealed from humanity. Yisro felt incapable of relating to Moshe and, thus, unable to draw near to him spiritually. Could Moshe please lower himself for a while, long enough for Yisro to cleave to Moshe and be elevated with him when he would return to his usual level? Yisro's request that Moshe come out to meet him was metaphorical. He sought to meet him on his own spiritual level. Moshe obliged and came out to greet him. This indicated Moshe's lowering himself to facilitate, and bow down to, Yisro's request.

In addition to the prostration, Moshe Rabbeinu immediately followed with a kiss, an act which denotes a very close meeting of the parties concerned, at a spiritual, as well as a physical level. After Yisro and Moshe met and Moshe bowed to Yisro, they could now join on an equal plane. This was expressed by a kiss. Notably, it was Moshe who kissed Yisro, indicating that he drew his father-in-law close to him and elevated him to his exalted level.

Another example of this phenomenon may be found in the beginning of Sefer Rus, when Naomi instructed her daughters-in-law Rus and Orpah to return to their homes. Naomi blessed and kissed them. Once again, Naomi's kiss was, in effect, a way of bonding with them in a very profound manner, similar to Moshe and Yisro. She hoped that through her kiss she would draw Rus and Orpah to her, allowing her holy spirit to connect with their souls, elevating them spiritually. As we know, the reactions of the two women were different. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Rus clung to her. Basically, Orpah returned the kiss - thanks, but no thanks, the reactions of a spiritually flawed person who gravitated back to her old haunts. She did not want to be spiritually elevated by Naomi, so she kissed her and rejected her positive influence. Rus, on the other hand, was moved by Naomi's spirit and drawn to her.

With this principle in mind we can now better understand the ensuing Torah's description of the encounter between Moshe and Yisro. When Moshe kissed Yisro, Yisro immediately gravitated towards Moshe's elevated spirituality. Directly following their encounter, we note that each man "inquired after the welfare of his friend." The word rei'eihu, which means his friend, is a term to describe an individual who is rei'eihu b'mitzvos, one who is his friend in mitzvos, or, a Jew. How could this word be applied to Yisro, who, at that time, had still not converted? How could he be referred to as rei'eihu? This teaches us that Yisro's connection with Moshe was so exalted, that it elevated him to the level of rei'eihu, even though he had not yet formally converted to Judaism.

A similar phenomenon occurred with Rus, who, once she declared her intention to remain with Naomi, was considered her equal. Even prior to Rus' conversion, the kiss that Naomi bestowed on her elevated her spiritual standing so that they were considered as equals.

In Shir Hashirim Rabbah, Chazal analogize the words that Hashem spoke to Klal Yisrael at Har Sinai, to parallel kisses. Moshe's ability to receive the Torah directly from Hashem is questioned by Chazal in the Talmud Yevamos 105b. Ostensibly, it is reasonable to assume that the average Jew was less equipped for this experience. So, how did they do it? How were they able to accept the Torah directly from Hashem? We can now appreciate why the words of Hashem are compared to kisses - for, by "kissing" Klal Yisrael, Hashem elevated them to such an exalted position that they were now able, albeit temporarily, to receive the Holy Torah.

By extension, we derive from here the powerful experience and the incredible benefit to be derived from bonding with a tzaddik. Any opportunity that is availed to us to come in contact with an individual of exalted spirituality, we should grab. It could change our lives.

And they stood at the foot of the mountain. (19:17)

The legacy of Maamad Har Sinai, the Revelation at Sinai, is an event unparalleled in the history of mankind. This was an unprecedented cosmic event in which Hashem, in His infinite glory, revealed Himself to Klal Yisrael as He gave them His most precious gift. Since this event is of such prime importance to us as a nation, and to the world in general, Chazal attempt to recapture the feelings of our ancestors as they stood there in awe, prepared to accept the Torah.

Clearly, most of the sources depict Klal Yisrael favorably, as being willing to accept the Torah of their own free-will. They responded with a resounding Na'ase v'nishma, "We will do, and we will listen" (Shemos 24:7). In this parshah, however, there seems to be a bit of negative connotation alluded to by Chazal in regards to their acceptance.

"And they stood at the foot of the mountain," Chazal say this teaches us that the Holy One, Blessed be He, held the mountain over them as a cask, and said to them, "If you accept the Torah, fine, and if not, there will be your burial." The above statement does not come across as being very positive. In fact, it sounds as if Klal Yisrael were compelled to accept the Torah. How are we to reconcile the opposing statements of Chazal? Did they realize at the last minute what accepting the Torah really means? Were they concerned with the implication of being Jewish and the consequences of being the Chosen People and its ensuing responsibilities; or, perhaps, they rose to the occasion and exhibited their extraordinary character and greatness which was so quickly achieved because of their close proximity to Hashem? Was their "Naase v'nishma" real?

Moreover, upon perusing the words of Chazal we note an incongruity. Why does Hashem say to them, "there will be your burial!" If the mountain is being held above their heads, would it not have been more appropriate to say "here will be your burial?" Where is the "there"?

Horav Aharon Soloveitchik, zl, cites a Midrash in Shir Hashirim that sheds light on the anomalies surrounding the acceptance of the Torah. Chazal teach us that, prior to giving us the Torah, Hashem asked for guarantees that the Torah would be observed and that it would be the benchmark of our national existence. They first offered the Avos, Patriarchs, and then the Neviim, Prophets, as guarantors on their behalf. Hashem rejected both proposals. It was only after they said, "Our children will be our sureties", that He accepted their offer. Continuity was the key word that Hashem was waiting to hear. A commitment that future generations will uphold the Torah was needed. The Torah was too precious, too dear, to be given to only one generation. It had to be a legacy to be transmitted throughout the millennia, to every generation of Jews.

We now return to the paradoxical comments of Chazal. Veritably, Chazal's statements are congruous, because they refer to two disparate circumstances. Indeed, Klal Yisrael willingly accepted the Torah with a resounding Naase' v'nishma. Those who stood at the foot of Har Sinai needed no coercion. Their proximity to the Almighty motivated them so, that they felt adapted to the principles of the Torah to the point that they accepted it eagerly and enthusiastically. This was in regard to the ones who stood at Revelation. They felt, however, that they could not speak for the millions of unborn Jews, the future generations who did not have the privilege of standing at the foot of the mountain and experiencing the incredible Revelation. How could they, the people who experienced the miracles of Egypt, the splitting of the Red Sea, pledge that future generations who did not share in these experiences and who would be confronted with yet stronger temptations, would keep Hashem's dictates? This is when Hashem, so to speak, coerced Klal Yisrael. He forced the Jewish People standing at Sinai to commit that the future generations would also be devoted to upholding the Torah.

We now understand the underlying meaning of Chazal's usage of the phrase "there will be your burial." It is indeed a most accurate and suitable term, for Hashem was alluding that whenever and wherever Jewish People throughout the millennia would reject the Torah's teachings, there they would meet their tragic end as Jews.

How true is this statement. It is only the Torah that has sustained us throughout the generations. Those Jews who have acculturated and assimilated have done so because they lacked a bond to their past, a link in the chain that stretches back to Har Sinai. I recently attended a wedding where the chosson was the only member of his family to have seen the light and returned to his heritage. After the wedding, which had traditional lebedikeit, liveliness and festive joy that only a simchah shel mitzvah, Torah-oriented occasion, has, the chosson's brother, who was intermarried, asked his parents, "Why did you not provide me the opportunity to experience the vibrancy of Judaism? I never knew that such a life, or such people, ever existed! Is it any wonder that I turned to something else?"

This tragedy regrettably repeats itself constantly, and, truthfully, I am not convinced that the parents who were themselves probably innocent bystanders did not know any better. The ones that should be blamed are the "spiritual" leadership, who, for personal gain and power, mislead the unknowing and unassuming. If our acculturated brethren would be provided with meaningful opportunities for experiencing Torah Judaism, quite possibly they would not turn to the shallow and insipid way of life they lead. It is easy to lay blame. The question that should challenge us is: what are we going to do about it?

Honor your father and your mother. (20:12)

Kibud Av v'Eim, honoring parents, is an all-important mitzvah, one that many people accept as a code of humanity. Parents raise us and we reciprocate with respect. The Torah's concept goes much deeper. We respect our parents because Hashem commands us to do so. They are shutfim, partners, with Hashem in our creation. We thus owe them respect. I would like to divert from the usual and focus on another form of respect, one which I feel is lacking in our society: respect for children. We are all busy. Whether it is a wedding, Bar-Mitzvah, or organizational function; a chavrusa, shiur, or lecture, we make time for every mitzvah and chesed, but what about our children? If we do not find the time for them - they will find someone else who will, and I am quite certain that the alternative will not be acceptable. Our children are craving for one thing: us.

This idea is poignantly demonstrated by Rabbi Pesach Krohn in Echos of the Maggid. It is a story about a troubled young woman who had been seeing a prominent psychologist for help with her personal problems. After a number of sessions, the therapist noticed a pattern: She hardly ever spoke about her parents. This was unusual. One day, when the woman made an indirect comment about her father, the doctor grabbed the opportunity, and commented, "You know, you have not said much about your father in our discussions."

The woman lowered her head to the floor and was silent. After a few moments, she began to cry softly. The doctor waited as she slowly composed herself and began to speak. "I just remembered a painful incident that occurred in my youth. It happened many years ago when I was a child. We were sitting at the Pesach Seder table and I had taken the Afikoman. My father was fully aware that I had it, and after the meal he turned to me and asked, "What do you want in return for the Afikoman?"

The young woman waited a moment as she gathered up her resolve to continue. "I remember looking straight into my father's eyes and responding, "I want a conversation with you."

This is what our children crave, parents with whom they can talk, parents who will listen, parents who will empathize. The toys, gifts and trips with which some of us try to bribe our children, are meaningless. All they really want is our attention, and recognition.

There is one more thing that I may add. As Torah Jews we seek every opportunity to study Torah, attend a shiur, pair up with a chavrusa, but do we also find the time to learn with our children? Indeed, there are many programs that provide the opportunity for once a week learning, but is this sufficient? Our children need us. It is an investment that will ultimately pay out in dividends that are inestimable.

And when you will make an Altar of stones for Me, do not build them hewn, for you will have raised your sword over it and desecrated it. (20:22)

Rashi quotes Chazal's statement regarding the word im, if. Every example of the word im in the Torah is a reference to an optional endeavor, except for three times when the word means, "when". One of those instances is the above pasuk. In other words, when the pasuk says, "And if you will make an Altar of stones," it actually means, when you will make an Altar of stones, for indeed, it is incumbent upon us to erect an altar of stones. The question is clear: if the Torah meant "when", why did it use a word that implies "if"? Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, responds with a practical explanation based upon the nature of the Altar to which the Torah is referring.

When one erects an altar, it may not be made of one stone. Rather, it must be composed of many stones. An altar composed of one stone is a monolith, something that Hashem dislikes. Rav Moshe explains the reason for this distinction. A monolith is an edifice that is complete; it is finite and nothing can be added to it. It represents static existence, a life of no spiritual growth whatsoever. This type of existence goes against everything Hashem desires for us. He demands that we constantly grow and achieve greater heights in our spiritual ascension. This concept is represented by the altar of many stones. Such an altar can always have stones added to it, making it larger.

It is in reference to this idea that the Torah uses the word im. Growth is not something that can be engendered through the use of positive or negative precepts. Rather, it is a lesson that must be comprehended and digested by the person so that he seeks spiritual growth on a daily basis, both in his knowledge and understanding of Torah, as well as the quality and quantity of his maasim tovim, good deeds. This is alluded to by the double meaning of the word im. For while one will certainly erect an altar to Hashem, but will he heed the lesson of the Altar of stones? This lesson is in the hand of the individual.

The pasuk continues with the prohibition against using hewn stones for the Altar. Chazal explain the rationale behind this law. The Altar is there to lengthen and strengthen the life of a person; the steel blade, which cuts the stone, was created to shorten life. Hence, it is inappropriate to use an object whose function is to cut, to shorten life, over something whose primary goal is to lengthen life.

This law, however, never applied to a monolith. Indeed, prior to giving of the Torah, this type of altar was permissible and the use of a steel blade in its preparation was also allowed. The reason for this is simple: the Altar of many stones with its lesson of continual growth, has the capacity for prolonging life. The monolith's lesson of static growth is deadly. Status quo is a danger for a Jew. The lesson conveyed by the altar concept is incongruous with the lesson derived from the monolith. Why should Hashem prolong the life of he who is not using his G-d-given gift of life for the purpose that it was given: to grow spiritually?

Va'ani Tefillah

Ribon Kol haOlamim - Master of all time periods.

The word olamim presents difficulties in its translation. One might translate it as worlds; Hashem being the Master of all worlds. If this would be the case, the plural of olam, world, is olamos. Hence, suggests Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, that the word olam here means forever, or eternity. Hashem is therefore referred to as the Master of all eternities, conveying the idea that He lives forever; He is not bound by the restrictions of time. Likewise, we refer to Hashem as Chai Ha'Olamim, living forever.

Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, introduces a new definition for this term. He explains that the word olam is being derived from the word elem, from which we get the word ne'elam, hidden. Hashem is hidden from us "from the beginning to the end of time;" Min ha'olam v'ad ha'olam (Tehillim 106:48). The origin of creation is hidden as well as the end of time. We have no clue as to what will occur in the future, nor do we have any idea what was before time, or when it was. Not only is the distant future concealed from us, we have no idea what will be in the next minute. We are only aware of the recorded past, and the present. Hashem is the only one who is the Master of all unknown time periods.

In memory of
Meir Bedziner
R' Meir ben Betzalel HaLevi z'l
niftar 24 Shevat 5764
on his first yahrzeit.
Reb Meir loved people and was beloved by all.
His sterling character and pleasant demeanor were the hallmarks of his personality.
He sought every opportunity to increase the study of Torah and that it be accessible to all.
Yehi Zichru Baruch

Peninim on the Torah is in its 14th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

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