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FEBRUARY 1-2, 2002 20 SHEBAT 5762

Pop Quiz: For how long did B'nei Yisrael prepare themselves to receive the Torah?


"Remember the Shabbat day to sanctify it" (Shemot 20:8)

Our perashah contains the greatest event in history, the giving of the Ten Commandments. One of the commandments is to observe the Shabbat. As we know, the event at Har Sinai occurred only once. However, it is written twice in the Torah, once in our perashah of Yitro and repeated in Parashat Vaet'hanan. In our version it says, "zachor, remember, the Shabbat." In Vaet'hanan it says "shamor, watch over, the Shabbat." Which did Hashem really say? Rashi says that both words, shamor and zachor, were said simultaneously by Hashem. This was a miracle all of its own, that Hashem said two words at the same time, something which no human being can do. One might ask, "This is really a neat trick, but why was it necessary?" Rabbi Yosef Salant explains that both were said together to show us that they are inseparable. Zachor means to remember the Shabbat to keep it holy. You must observe the Shabbat yourself. Shamor, to watch over, means you should see to it that the Shabbat is observed and not desecrated by others. Be a watchman, a shomer, over the Shabbat, as much as you can, so that the Shabbat is holy. But these two words were said together to teach us that if one is not a watchman and only observes himself, it is as if he didn't observe himself; they go together.

Why is this so? What is so different about Shabbat that it requires our extended supervision of others? The answer reveals to us the importance of Shabbat. When one observes Shabbat he is a witness, testifying that Hashem created the world in six days. However, if a Jew violates the Shabbat, he is a witness that, G-d forbid, Hashem didn't create the world. In a Jewish court, if two sets of witnesses contradict each other they are both neutralized. If our testimony is to stand it must not be contradicted by other witnesses. Hashem asks and requests from us to testify that He created the world. Therefore, He also placed upon us the responsibility that others should also observe.

We have learned that because we love Hashem and because we love all of our fellow Jews, we look forward to the day when we all stand and testify to the glory of Hashem. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah

"And Yitro heard." (Shemot 18:1)

This is the perashah which tells us about the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai, perhaps the greatest event that ever took place in the world. Wouldn't it be proper to have the entire perashah devoted to that special occurrence, rather than begin with Yitro joining the Jewish? What was so important about Yitro that this had to precede Matan Torah?

The answer is the first word - "vayishma" - and he heard! The Torah is teaching us that if we don't hear, we will not be able to receive the Torah. Hearing means being able to concentrate and focus on someone else and not only on ourselves. It means to accept that we're not perfect and we can hear advice and criticism. The whole world was aware that the Jews came out of Egypt with great miracles but did nothing about it. Yitro, however, heard and came. Because he was willing to truly hear and understand, he changed his own life and ultimately gave some very useful advice to Moshe. That is why the giving of the Torah must be preceded by the story of Yitro, to teach us what hearing can bring.

We often ask others how they are, but do we really hear their answers? Our kids are constantly talking to us, but are we truly listening? Even if we do allow the words of others to enter our ears, do we hear "between the lines"? Let us learn from Yitro to truly hear and listen to what's around us and this will make our lives a little bit better.

Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

The third of the Asesret Hadibrot (the Ten Commandments) states: "Do not swear in Hashem's name in vain."

The Ibn Ezra tells us that our Rabbis say that swearing in vain is more severe than Abodah Zarah (idolatry) or murder. The question is: how can a few spoken words be worse than Abodah Zarah. The Ibn Ezra answers that a murderer cannot murder all the time (even if he were so inclined) because he is afraid of getting caught. However someone who is in the habit of swearing in vain can (and will) swear countless times during the course of the day without giving second thought. Even if asked, "Why did you just swear?" he would swear to you that he didn't swear.

Our Rabbis have repeatedly stressed the importance of this misvah and its severity. Our great Rabbis were extremely careful not to swear even for the truth. A person who is careful to sanctify his tongue, and talk only permitted speech, will merit that his prayers will be accepted quickly by Hashem. May all our tefilot be speedily answered.

Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Raymond Haber


"Yitro, the High Priest of Midyan, the father-in-law of Moshe, heard" (Shemot 18:1)

Why does the Torah now cite Yitro's already-mentioned relationship to Moshe, and his position?

In the times of Kings David and Shelomo, the Jews did not accept converts because the Jewish people were then at the height of their glory.

Therefore, it was suspected that the motivation of the would-be convert was not Torah and misvot, but the prosperity and glory of the Jewish people.

If so, why did King Shelomo accept the daughter of Pharaoh as a convert and then marry her? The answer is that she was an exception to the rule. As the daughter of a king, she already had no lack of glory, and therefore her only intent in converting was her love for Torah and misvot.

When the Jews left Egypt and the sea split, the entire world witnessed the greatness of the Jewish people. From all over, people wanted to convert and become a part of the Jewish nation. Since their intent was to share the glory of the Jewish people and not sincere love for Judaism, they were rejected.

However, when Yitro decided to convert, he was accepted because, as the famous High Priest of Midyan, he could not be suspected as a seeker of glory. In addition, it was not likely that he was converting out of fear of the Jewish people, because nobody would harm the father-in-law of Moshe. (Vedibarta Bam)


This week's Haftarah: Yeshayahu 6:1-13.

In the perashah, B'nei Yisrael experienced the greatest revelation of Hashem in history, the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai. In the haftarah, the prophet Yeshayahu describes his greatest and most fearful vision. In that vision, he was shown the throne of Hashem, and observed the heavenly angels paying homage to Hashem. Yeshayahu feared that he would die after seeing this vision but Hashem assured him that he would live. Similarly, at Har Sinai, the souls of B'nei Yisrael actually left them, but Hashem revived them.

Answer to pop quiz: Three days.

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