Illuminations #20, Shevat 5775, Parshat Yitro

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Illuminations #20, Shevat 5775, Parshat Yitro

Torah Gems

The Jewish people stood at the foot of Mount Sinai. They had just vigorously prepared themselves for this truly awesome moment. They were waiting to receive the Torah from the Divine Himself. They had already gallantly proclaimed, “We shall do what it says.” Even before they heard what the Torah required from them, the fledgling nation was prepared to make the stalwart commitment to serve Hashem by following His Torah.

In light of this impassioned ascension to become the chosen people, we should expect to find that Hashem graciously welcomes them with open arms. Nonetheless, the Gemara describes a completely different scenario.

In Masechet Shabbat (88b) the Gemara relates that Hashem uprooted Har Sinai and suspended it over the assembled people, as if to say, “If you don’t accept the Torah, this mountain will bury you.”

Why would Hashem need to threaten them after they had just said, “We will do and we will listen?” Was it not enough that they fervently initiated their commitment to Torah? Their proud proclamation of “ונשמע נעשה” even earned the privilege of receiving two crowns: one for נעשה, and one for נשמע. The Midrash says Hashem dispatched special angels to adorn them with those crowns. If the Jewish People’s undertaking endeared them to Hashem to such a great degree, why do we find Hashem responding to them in an seemingly threatening manner?

The Maharal in Gur Aryeh offers an illuminating insight. The message of the suspended mountain was not an immediate threat to their lives. It was to inform them: Do you realize what this Torah means to the world? The world is unsustainable without it! Do you think you just proclaimed subservience to the great G-d that delivered you from the bondage of Egypt in appreciation of your newfound freedom? No! The Torah is the power plant of the universe. If not for the Torah, the creation could not have begun.

The message to them was that the Torah is not dispensable, to the point that if not for our acceptance of it, we have no use for life.

Through the perspective of the Maharal, we not only gained a new understanding in the Gemara, but a new awareness of our heritage.

Parsha Pearls

In conclusion to Kabalat Hatorah, Hashem spoke to Moshe Rabeinu charging him with the mission of completing the monumental revelation at Har Sinai. Moshe was commanded to reflect with the Jewish nation on their prophetic experience.

The Ramban explains that Hashem told Moshe, “After having seen Me speak to you from the Heavens, don’t let yourselves stoop to idol worship. And when you build your sacrificial Altars, build them for my service.”

The last verse in the Parsha reads, “Do not ascend to the Altar on steps, in order not to expose yourself on it.” The Midrash, quoted by Rashi, explains that in order to ascend using steps, one must take large strides, which is akin to revealing the erva, which is a degradation to the honor of the mizbeach. Based on this, the Midrash concludes if one must be considerate to the stones of the Altar, how much more so one must be considerate to another human being.

Although we can easily understand the importance of this concept, we must ask ourselves what is added with this derivation to what we know previously. We have numerous mitzvos that seem to express this concept. For example: pay a worker on time, love your fellow Jew like you love yourself, don’t speak gossip, and several more. Why does the Midrash deem it necessary to point this idea out here specifically?

The Be’er Yosef clarifies the Midrash with a startling insight. The Midrash is telling us that even at the height of religious service, one may not lose sight of consideration to the world around us. Even as the Kohen ascends the Altar to sacrifice to G-d, he must keep in mind we do not live in a vacuum. Be mindful even to the stones beneath your feet.

The Midrash is telling us we must not sacrifice humanity on the altar of religion. Take care not to disregard one another when walking up to an Aliyah. When we go to kiss the Torah, don’t run over the person in front of you.

There are many times in our lives when we can justify certain actions due to the important nature of our endeavor. What is more important than bringing a sacrifice to Hashem himself? Yet it is incumbent on all of us to take a look around and make sure we don’t slight anyone.

Glimpses of Greatness

The city of Atlanta was privileged to be graced with the presence of Harav Shmuel Kamenetzky, one of the venerated leaders of the Torah community. In the short time he was here, he succeeded in inspiring many people and his presence will still be felt for some time.

The sensitivity Harav Shmuel displayed to fellow human beings was remarkable. After the event Tuesday night, Harav Shmuel made his way to the Ezrat Nashim personally to be mechazek the woman involved in the kollel. His personal attention and gentle words of encouragement went far in driving home his moral support for all his listeners.

Upon leaving the event, Harav Shmuel approached the security guard on duty for the night and shook his hand and told him, “Thank you for your help this evening, I see there are very nice people in Atlanta.” The gentleman was no doubt touched by this gesture.

Later in the evening, at the home of his hosts, Harav Shmuel began to inspect a basket of refreshments prepared for him. He carefully looked through the different foods in the basket and commented on each one. He clearly did not consider eating so late at night, but nevertheless wanted to show his hostess he was touched by her thoughtfulness.

Unfortunately, Harav Shmuel returned to his home region just in time to speak at the funeral of his friend and colleague, a Gadol in his own right, Harav Chaim Leib Epstein zt”l. The eulogy Harav Shmuel gave emphasized the nature of the niftar as “one who truly cared about the individual.”

It takes one to know one.

Halacha Weekly

Q: Is one allowed to take on a very strict diet?

A: Halachah tells us that one is not allowed to hurt oneself in any form or shape. Furthermore, one is not allowed to put oneself in danger, to embarrass others, or to hit themselves. In addition, (in the first place) one may not inflict oneself by limiting themselves in a strict way: for example, by saying, “I’m not going to get married,” or, “I’m not going to eat meat/drink wine,” or, “I’m not going to wear nice clothing,” etc. The question is, if one has already taken on a strict diet, what is the purpose? If it is only in order to look good, then one should not do it. However, if the idea is for health reasons then the diet would be permissible. According to Harav Auerbach ZT”L, even if one is doing it for the sake of beauty, if they are enjoying their diet (and not suffering because of it ) then it is permissible.

לעלוי נשמת ישראל בן יפה ז”ל
By Boris Bababekov