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Parshat Yitro (5760)

This week's section tells of 'Matan Torah' the giving of the Torah.

I hate to say it, but it's probably one of the most anti-climactic chapters to be found in the Torah, or in any other book, for that matter.


Just think of it: G-d took an entire nation of several million slaves, out of all-powerful, mysterious Egypt with an astounding array of miracles; ten plagues, splitting the sea, bread from heaven, water from a rock, clouds of glory, and a guiding pillar of fire, to a mountain in the middle of an immense barren desert.


Suddenly the mountain began to smoke, fire and lightning filled the heavens, thunder and trumpets shook the universe and then G-d let them have it: THE TEN COMMANDMENTS!!!


And what are these earthshaking commandments?

DON'T KILL…DON'T STEAL; things that even your average Eskimo or Aborigine knows!

Why didn't G-d, instead of these Ten mundane Commandments, give the Jews ten, spectacular, coded mysteries or ten impressive, esoteric prophesies?

Why all this build-up for such a simple message?

In fact why couldn't G-d just give the commandments privately and quietly to Moses, like in all the other (lehavdil) religions? (Which have, incidentally, held up pretty well without public revelations). Why did G-d have to tell ALL the Jewish people?

To answer this I want to tell a story.


The previous Lubavitch Rebbe O.B.M. once had to travel to another town and stopped at a hotel. The word of his arrival quickly spread, and within hours there was a line of people waiting at his door for advice and blessing.


One woman arrived together with her thirty year old son and begged the Rebbe to make him return to a Torah observant life.

It seems that the young man had become a successful lecturer in some German university and had thrown away all trace of Judaism. He stood haughtily before the Rebbe with a condescending look written all over his face. "Well Rebbe" he smiled as he sat in the chair facing him " My mother tells me that you are a very wise man, not like all those other Rabbis that are steeped in superstitions and nonsense. So do tell me something wise, Rebbe".


"Do you put on Tefillin?" asked the Rebbe.
"Certainly not!" answered the young man.
"What about Shabbos or Kosher food?" The Rebbe continued.
"Well I see that we've just about finished our little conversation, haven't we Rebbe? I see you are no different from the others, living in your dark dream world. When will you wake up to the real world and see what is happening around you?"


"May I tell you a story?" asked the Rebbe.


"Alright" Said the visitor in a disgusted tone " I have already wasted an entire morning, what difference does it make if I lose a few more minutes. Who knows, maybe now my mother will leave me alone with her foolishness"

The Rebbe began his story:


"Once there was a mathematics professor that suddenly got a brilliant idea in the middle of one of his lectures. He went home that night and thought about the idea until morning without sleeping or eating. The next day he was pleased, he made a rough sketch of his work and showed it, first to some of his colleagues and then to the head of the math department and everyone was enthusiastic.

They all agreed that if his theory was as correct, as it seemed to be, he had really stumbled on a revolutionary breakthrough.

He obtained a leave of absence from his lectures and threw himself completely into developing his new discovery. At first he proceeded cautiously, consulting with others, but after a few months he became inflamed with ideas of genius and visions of greatness, and worked alone as a man possessed.


One year later his work was finished; a two hundred page masterpiece of mathematical prodigy.


He'd been over each stage of his essay, tens, nay, hundreds of times, writing and rewriting each idea so that future generations would see that he was not only a genius in deep thinking but a perfectionist in expression as well."


The Rebbe looked at his guest and the young man had forgotten his haste and was listening. The Rebbe continued.


"The professor carefully stacked the finished manuscript on his desk and decided to step outside into the beautiful summer afternoon for a short walk before taking his paper to the printers.


It was over a year since he had taken a stroll outdoors and this time he felt like a new man at the dawn of a new era. Yes, he would be famous, there was no doubt in his mind, but he wouldn't let it go to his head, no not him, he would continue working at his little university and still be his same humble, albeit genius, self until the pressure from Princeton or Harvard became so great etc. etc.


After several minutes he returned to his apartment, opened the door and was horrified by what met his eyes. His manuscript was strewn all over the floor and on each page was… a thick line… a line of cancellation!


Obviously someone had entered the house (he probably forgot to lock the door), checked his essay and found a mistake! Why else would anyone make a slash through each page!? His mind was reeling 'Where did I go wrong? How can it be?"


The next-door neighbors heard a loud thud and a crash as he fell to the floor in a faint and broke a glass or something. They ran next door just in time to see him try to get on his feet again and then suddenly look around, put his hands over his eyes and yell 'Ohhh my masterpiece!!' and fall once more unconscious to the floor'.


It was about ten minutes later that the doctor arrived and he immediately understood that the problem was serious. Every time that he woke the professor with smelling salts, the he would again look around, give a moan and pass out. The doctor began to look about him. He stood up and began to examine the room until suddenly a smile formed on his face. He returned and bent down over the unconscious professor and spoke quietly into his ear, 'Professor, it was only a cat, only a cat. A cat put those lines through your paper'


'Eh', said the professor as he opened one eye 'A cat, only a cat? What do you mean?'


The doctor helped the professor to his feet and showed him that a cat must have entered the room through the window, dipped his tail inadvertently into the inkbottle and put slashes through the papers as he knocked the manuscript to the floor. 'Ha! A cat! It was only a cat! And the professor began to laugh and laugh."


"That is the end of the story", announced the Rebbe, "did you understand it?"


"That's the end?!" Yelled the young man "that was a stupid, infantile story and a complete waste of time!"


" No," Said the Rebbe "The point of the story is that the professor laughed when he realized that only a cat had cancelled his theory, because what comparison has a cat's intelligence to that of a professor". "Well", continued the Rebbe "that is only a fraction of how ludicrous your attempt to cancel the Torah is to me. Your understanding of the Creator's infinite wisdom is much less than a cat's understanding of mathematics!"


The young man became silent and for several minutes sat before the Rebbe lost in thought.


"Thank you, for the story" he quietly said as he stood and shook the Rebbe's hand before leaving the room, the Rebbe had planted the seed of change.

The essence of the Torah is not so much what G-d said but the fact that G-d said, and that is wondrous above all understanding.

That is why G-d gave the Torah PERSONALLY to every Jew, so that every Jew for all time would be connected from the depth of his being to this wondrous, infinite aspect of G-d.

I heard from the famed (in Chabad circles) Rabbi Mendel Futerfass that fifty years ago in Russia he had a friend that didn't have money to buy any books, (and there weren't that many books to buy because of the oppressive government), so he took pages and half-pages from 'shaimos' (unusable holy books are not thrown away but rather kept in a special bin until they are buried) bound them together and would spend hours reading. When Rav Mendel saw this, he asked his friend how could he read pieces of a page with out knowing what was written before and afterward. His friend answered "There are three dimensions in Torah; learning Torah, understanding Torah, and the Holiness (Kedusha) of Torah. The letters, without meaning, are the Holiness of the Torah, and that's what I feel when I read my 'books'"


The true holiness of the Torah is found in the letters of the Torah.
Yes, the physical letters. The fact that G-d could 'contract' His Infinite Will into material letters, this is the Holy of Holies of Judaism (that is why the main feature in the actual Holy-of- Holies was the Ten Commandments) and from the holiness of the letters comes the holiness of the Talmud, and all the other understandable writings.

That is why we have many questions about Matan Torah, because the essence of the Torah is that it is G-d's Will and Wisdom, it cannot be understood by man.


(This is also the reason that in the Talmud we can have opposing opinions, i.e. Shammi v.s. Hillel, and, both are called 'The word of The Living G-d". although the law is only like one of them)
This also helps to explain another paradox. The first of the Ten Commandments is "I am G-d" i.e. to believe in The Infinite One. This complete fulfillment of this deep and difficult command demands much self-purification and pureness of intention, obviously only for the righteous.


Yet only a few commandments later we find "Don't KILL or STEAL" G-d is speaking to killers and robbers!


And conversely, if the one being commanded is such a defiled soul that he must control his urge to murder, how can it be expected of him to fulfill the first commandment?

But in light of the above we now can understand, the Torah of G-d is above all opposites, and it can unite, all opposites. The highest and most spiritual can, through the Torah, now descend to the lowest levels, and even the lowest sinner can now become a pure G-dly creature.


The Rebbe points out that this is the meaning of what it says in the Haggada of Pesech about the evil son ('Echaud Rasha') "If he were back there in Egypt, he would not have gotten out". The Rebbe explains that BACK THERE, before Matan Torah, he would not have been redeemed, but now that we have the Torah the Moshiach can redeem and transform even the most evil sinner and the whole world to the highest spiritual levels.

Here is also a very interesting thing, when the Torah was given G-d chose the Jewish people as His Holy Nation (see Shmot 19:15).
Over one thousand years later came Xianity that claimed to have a new torah and to be the new chosen people.


A few hundred years later came Islam, which made the same claim.
Interestingly enough, although they claimed to replace Judaism, they didn't bother to claim that G-d Himself spoke to their entire nation as He did to the Jews.


Why? Why didn't they just make up the story?


We can't say that it was because it would be too easy to disprove, because as it is their religions are full of holes and stupid mistakes and it doesn't seem to bother them.

I think that the reason is that a non-Jew doesn't want a G-d that comes down and talks to everybody, he wants a spiritual far-away G-d that talks only to spiritual far-away people.


That is what happened at Mount Sinai; G-d came 'down' and the world went up.


When the Moshiach is revealed we will see again, just as then, that G-d, His people, and His Torah are One and then His great love for all His creations will be revealed for all to see.

Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

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