VOLUME 54 NUMBER 5
January 22nd, 2011
17 Shevat, 5771
By Rabbi Raphael Leban
These days, the most important section in the bookstore is the self-help section. Who doesn’t keep a copy of Chicken Soup for the Goldfish Soul or Character Improvement for Dummies on the coffee table? And this week’s parsha is the king of them all. In Parshas Yisro the Jewish People stood at the foot of Mount Sinai and received the Ten Suggestions.
The Parsha is named for Yisro, Moshe’s father-in-law and a former priest of the idolatrous Midianite people. Our Sages explain that the name Yisro, which comes from a word meaning ‘additional,’ was given to him because there is an additional parsha in the Torah due to him. When Moshe stood from morning to night to adjudicate legal issues for the thousands of people that waited to see him, it was Yisro that suggested to devise a tiered legal network of sub-judges and lawgivers. In the merit of his advice, which Moshe acted upon, he had a parsha named for him.
It’s a pretty big reward for a pretty obvious piece of advice, if you ask me. Does it take so much brilliance to tell Moshe to delegate? Get some assistance? Take it easy? What’s the greatness of Yisro’s advice?
Furthermore, of all the parshas for the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai to be in, why Yisro’s? How about in a parsha named ‘Moshe,’ or ‘Mount Sinai,’ or at least ‘Hear O’ Israel’? Why ‘Yisro’ of all parshas?
I heard a beautiful explanation from Rabbi Isaac Wasserman. Why hadn’t Moshe independently realized that subordinate judges would be effective? Surely the need was evident. The answer is that Moshe understood that delegation of the dissemination of Torah was less than ideal. Moshe was the one that received the Torah directly from G-d – he should be the one to teach it to the people.
What Yisro successfully argued is that the process of transmission of the Torah from teacher to student and from father to son was the preferable method of teaching. In a word – ‘mesora,’ meaning ‘transmission’ or ‘giving over.’ Moshe would transmit the Torah and pass on the responsibility of its teaching to Joshua, and it would pass from Joshua to the elders, and from them to the prophets and so on.
Mesora is nothing less than the foundation upon which the eternity of Torah is guaranteed. Every piece of our Torah knowledge, from kabbalah, which literally means ‘received knowledge,’ to the seemingly fundamental knowledge of the existence of G-d, is only known to us via our people’s mesora. No generation that didn’t themselves stand at Mount Sinai knows about the giving of the Ten Commandments directly from the ‘mouth’ of G-d except from having been told so by the previous generation.
Thus a parsha was named for Yisro’s critically important suggestion – and not just any parsha, but precisely the parsha in which the Ten Commandments were given. And to this very day, when we want guidance, knowledge about the world in which we live, and most importantly, insight into how we should approach our Creator, we know where to go. Not to the self-help section, but to the unbroken chains of transmitted Torah knowledge in every generation.
The Chosen People
By Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum
Everyone is familiar with the concept of the Chosen People. What does it mean to be chosen? Why does the Torah mention it right before the Ten Commandments are given on Mt. Sinai?
Before the Torah was given to our nation there are many verses in which Hashem discusses our relationship to him and our privilege to receive the Torah. One of the statements made was that we are His treasured people amongst all the nations of the world. Rashi explains that this means that we are valuable to Hashem like precious stones are to kings that amass such items for their coffers. Nachmonides deepens our understanding of this by stating that we are priceless to Hashem such that He would never relinquish us to anyone else. Whereas the verse concludes that ‘the entire world belongs to Hashem,’ but we are not entrusted to an angel or any other power to take care of us. Hashem himself constantly monitors and supplies our needs. Obviously, we must be worthy if this is the kind of attention that we receive. However, the question remains, why are we entitled to such care and devotion from Hashem?
Malbim explains that we are His treasured people, even though we have done absolutely nothing to earn this special position. How could we have attained such a favored nation status if we didn’t actually do anything that deserves the title?
The unmistakable conclusion that we must make is that we are intrinsically qualified to be Hashem’s treasured and prized possession. Just as a diamond or emerald is inherently valuable, we are also essentially valuable. This special identity stems from our lineage, from the Patriarchs who instilled wonderful and important character traits within our inner national character.
It is this connection which endows us with the potential to study Torah and imbibe its lessons, because our essence connects with the Torah and its essence. Although we can become distracted and influenced by the culture which surrounds us, as we delve into Torah study we have the potential to escape from it. Immersion in the wellsprings of our heritage can release us from the bonds of assimilation which we too often find ourselves ensnared by. Therefore, it is apropos that the Torah mentions this distinction before our reception of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments embody the entire Torah, and it is important for each and every one of us to realize the potential we have to imbibe the brilliance of Torah.
Byte for Shabbos
The Children of Israel were warned not to climb Mt. Sinai while the Torah was being given, because of its tremendous sanctity. The mountain was inanimate and yet it became sanctified due to the Torah which was given on it. How much more so must we show respect for pious Torah scholars who truly embody the sanctity of Torah.