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Parshat Yitro (5763)

This week's Torah reading tells us of the most important and earthshaking single event in the history of the entire world: the Creator of the Universe actually appeared 'face to face' (Deut. 5:4) to an entire nation and spoke to them.

Unlike all the other existing religions that are based on the testimony of one or a few men, here over three million people actually experienced the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai.

The Talmud tells us (Shabat 88b) that the revelation of G-d there was so intense that everyone had to be kept alive by the 'dew' that will enliven the dead and no one, save Moses, was able to bear more than the first two commands:

1) I AM YOUR G-D THAT TOOK YOU FROM EGYPT. (Believe in G-d)

2) YOU SHOULD HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE ME. (Don't worship anything else).

But despite all this, the other religions have billions of faithful followers while the Jews, just forty days after they heard the prohibition of idolatry DIRECTLY from G-d, worshiped the Golden Calf!!

How could this happen? Why does the Torah tell us it happened? If the Jews after experiencing the miraculous exodus, splitting the sea, manna from heaven and water from a rock and G-d at Sinai couldn't stop themselves from sinning how have we got a chance?

What is Idolatry? Why was it so appealing? Why is it forbidden?

To understand this… here is a story.

Rabbi Yonatan Eibashets was the chief rabbi of Prague some 300 years ago and a champion of the Jewish people.

This was not an easy task in those days; all of Europe was either Catholic or Protestant and, as someone once said; they worshiped a suffering Jew and tried to make as many Jews suffer as possible.

One day the Bishop of Prague stopped Rabbi Yonatan in the street and asked him a question.

"Rabbi, I have just been thinking. In fact I've been thinking of this for several days…. You Jews certainly believe what it says in the Old Testament that we must go after the majority; (Ex. 23:2) correct? Well then, why do you not comply with your own rules and follow the vast majority who follow the Gospels? Why, I would estimate that you are outnumbered over a hundred to one!"

The Rabbi knew he was in trouble; if he didn't give an answer it would be interpreted as defeat and forced conversions could result. But if he angered the Bishop by saying one wrong word against their religion it could bring a wholesale massacre.

He pretended to ponder over the question as he prayed to G-d for help. Suddenly he had an idea! He took a deep breath and replied.

"Your highness, action speaks louder than words. You have asked a very wise question and I will try to give a befitting answer. Please let us go to the town square."

They walked together until they were standing in the middle of the open market place. Only a few people were there when the Rabbi turned to the Bishop and said quietly, "Now, your Excellency, please do as I do; look up and don't stop pointing to the sky".

The Bishop did so and in a short time people, seeing these two honorable men pointing to the clouds began to gather around and look up as well. "What do you see, your highness?" One of the braver members of the crowd asked.

"The arch-angel Michael" whispered the Rabbi in feigned awe, "There he is in the clouds."

"The Angel Michael!!" Whispered the man in reply as he crossed his heart, squinted even harder on high and fell to his knees in trepidation.

In seconds the word spread and thousands of people were crowded in the square in various poses of submission. Women were weeping; grown men stood transfixed, hands raised in supplication. All were pointing above and echoing the words, "The Angel Michael!! The Angel Michael.

"Now" said the Rabbi to the Bishop, "let us leave them and move to the Jewish sector".

The Rabbi led the way through the twisting streets into the Jewish ghetto and soon they were again standing in the middle of the much smaller Jewish marketplace.

This time the Rabbi pointed heavenward until a small group of people gathered around. "What is your honor pointing at? Someone asked the Rabbi politely.

"The Archangel Michael" he answered. "There he is in the clouds!"

In no time a crowd of Jews had gathered with heads craned upward. "What is it?" someone asked. "What are we looking at?" "Dunno" someone else answered, "The Rabbi says he sees an angel up there. Do you see anything? All I see is clouds." "Maybe he just has a stiff neck" someone whispered jokingly.

People were scratching their heads, shrugging their shoulders and squinting at the sky until finally someone got up the courage to go up to the Rabbi and ask,

"Excuse me Rabbi but are we supposed to see something up there? I mean, is the Rabbi sure he sees an angel? Is the Rabbi feeling all right?"

The Rabbi stopped looking up, apologized for the error and, motioning to the Bishop, walked away toward the nearest synagogue with the Bishop following at his heels.

"Please try to understand, your highness, I'm not trying to be rude but," he turned to the Bishop as they reached the door of the Shul, "But I'll have to ask you to hide that cross around your neck before we enter."

The congregation was just about to begin the reading of the Torah. (The Torah is read publicly four times a week) and when everyone saw the Rabbi enter they stood in honor, although they were surprised to see him accompanied by the Bishop.

The Rabbi asked if he could read from the Torah. Of course no one objected, indeed they were honored. He walked to the podium, the first man was called up, made the blessing, (The reading was 'Yisro', just like this week and it begins with the words 'Vayishma YISRO'..) the Rabbi opened the scroll and began to read in the ancient melody:

"Vayishma MISRO.."

Immediately the entire crowd yelled out in unison to correct the obvious mistake. "YISRO! YISRO!"

When things quieted down the Rabbi again began:

"VaYishma FISRO…"

And again the crowd yelled "YISRO!!, RABBI, IT'S YISRO!! NOT FISRO!!" Three people ran up to look into the Torah scroll for a spelling error and when they saw that there was none they politely asked the Rabbi if he would please let someone else read.

The Rabbi stepped down, excused himself and motioned for the Bishop to follow him outside.

"You see, your Excellency" he said to the Bishop, "This is why we don't follow your 'majority'.

These people are for the most part simple folk and they revere me as their Rabbi and leader. But when I tried to make them see an imaginary angel or made just one small mistake in the Torah reading, they refused to accept it.

"But as you see, your followers don't care so much about the truth. Just as they just now bowed to a non-existent angel so they believe that a person can be G-d and can alter the meaning of the entire Torah. So how can we leave the Torah which we have been reading publically four times a week for three thousand years for ideas that have no basis in truth?

So that is why we can't follow your majority."

That answers our questions about idolatry at Sinai.

When G-d gave the Torah He essentially gave the Jews responsibility. From then on the fate of the entire world was in their hands.

But along with the Torah He also gave Himself to the Jews so they would have the power and joy to succeed (See Tanya chapt. 47)

But after this revelation was gone (and after they thought Moses wouldn't be around to inspire them) they got scared and realized that, as we saw in our story, it's easier to believe in an object, even an imaginary one, than to be responsible to the infinite Creator,

But the antidote to this to understand and feel the meaning and power hidden in The Ten Commandments; their deeper, personal importance rather than just their superficial meaning.

For example:

The first, second and fourth commandments are "I am G-d that took you from Egypt. Don't worship other gods. And G-d created the heavens (the spiritual) and the earth (the physical):

Superficially it refers to events that occurred thousands of years ago when G-d created the world and later took the Jews from Egypt.

But below the surface it means that G-d is with us and helps us constantly (takes us out of our personal 'Egypt'), G-d cares and will help us turn from evil. And finally G-d creates us from love and provides for us constantly from love. (the message of Shabbat)

That is why, just before giving the Ten Commandments, G-d calls the Jews "a Nation of priests and a Holy people" (19:6).

In other words the Jewish people are here to bless and sanctify the world. And when we remember this it will make idolatry impossible (as we saw in our story).

And this will be accomplished by Moshiach as we remind ourselves thrice daily in the 'Alenu' prayer: That Moshiach will destroy all idolatry and convince all the idolaters to serve only the Creator.

Then G-d's presence will fill not just Mount Sinai, or just the Holy of Holies (where the Ten Commandments were kept) but will fill the ENTIRE world. Then there will be no war or strife and the world will be filled with peace, meaning, joy and harmony. (See Maimonides, Laws of Kings Chapt 11) And the Lubavitcher Rebbe says it's all up to us! Even one more good deed can bring…….

Moshiach NOW!!This week's Torah reading tells us of the most important and earthshaking single event in the history of the entire world: the Creator of the Universe actually appeared 'face to face' (Deut. 5:4) to an entire nation and spoke to them.

Unlike all the other existing religions that are based on the testimony of one or a few men, here over three million people actually experienced the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai.

The Talmud tells us (Shabat 88b) that the revelation of G-d there was so intense that everyone had to be kept alive by the 'dew' that will enliven the dead and no one, save Moses, was able to bear more than the first two commands:

1) I AM YOUR G-D THAT TOOK YOU FROM EGYPT. (Believe in G-d)

2) YOU SHOULD HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE ME. (Don't worship anything else).

But despite all this, the other religions have billions of faithful followers while the Jews, just forty days after they heard the prohibition of idolatry DIRECTLY from G-d, worshiped the Golden Calf!!

How could this happen? Why does the Torah tell us it happened? If the Jews after experiencing the miraculous exodus, splitting the sea, manna from heaven and water from a rock and G-d at Sinai couldn't stop themselves from sinning how have we got a chance?

What is Idolatry? Why was it so appealing? Why is it forbidden?

To understand this… here is a story.

Rabbi Yonatan Eibashets was the chief rabbi of Prague some 300 years ago and a champion of the Jewish people.

This was not an easy task in those days; all of Europe was either Catholic or Protestant and, as someone once said; they worshiped a suffering Jew and tried to make as many Jews suffer as possible.

One day the Bishop of Prague stopped Rabbi Yonatan in the street and asked him a question.

"Rabbi, I have just been thinking. In fact I've been thinking of this for several days…. You Jews certainly believe what it says in the Old Testament that we must go after the majority; (Ex. 23:2) correct? Well then, why do you not comply with your own rules and follow the vast majority who follow the Gospels? Why, I would estimate that you are outnumbered over a hundred to one!"

The Rabbi knew he was in trouble; if he didn't give an answer it would be interpreted as defeat and forced conversions could result. But if he angered the Bishop by saying one wrong word against their religion it could bring a wholesale massacre.

He pretended to ponder over the question as he prayed to G-d for help. Suddenly he had an idea! He took a deep breath and replied.

"Your highness, action speaks louder than words. You have asked a very wise question and I will try to give a befitting answer. Please let us go to the town square."

They walked together until they were standing in the middle of the open market place. Only a few people were there when the Rabbi turned to the Bishop and said quietly, "Now, your Excellency, please do as I do; look up and don't stop pointing to the sky".

The Bishop did so and in a short time people, seeing these two honorable men pointing to the clouds began to gather around and look up as well. "What do you see, your highness?" One of the braver members of the crowd asked.

"The arch-angel Michael" whispered the Rabbi in feigned awe, "There he is in the clouds."

"The Angel Michael!!" Whispered the man in reply as he crossed his heart, squinted even harder on high and fell to his knees in trepidation.

In seconds the word spread and thousands of people were crowded in the square in various poses of submission. Women were weeping; grown men stood transfixed, hands raised in supplication. All were pointing above and echoing the words, "The Angel Michael!! The Angel Michael.

"Now" said the Rabbi to the Bishop, "let us leave them and move to the Jewish sector".

The Rabbi led the way through the twisting streets into the Jewish ghetto and soon they were again standing in the middle of the much smaller Jewish marketplace.

This time the Rabbi pointed heavenward until a small group of people gathered around. "What is your honor pointing at? Someone asked the Rabbi politely.

"The Archangel Michael" he answered. "There he is in the clouds!"

In no time a crowd of Jews had gathered with heads craned upward. "What is it?" someone asked. "What are we looking at?" "Dunno" someone else answered, "The Rabbi says he sees an angel up there. Do you see anything? All I see is clouds." "Maybe he just has a stiff neck" someone whispered jokingly.

People were scratching their heads, shrugging their shoulders and squinting at the sky until finally someone got up the courage to go up to the Rabbi and ask,

"Excuse me Rabbi but are we supposed to see something up there? I mean, is the Rabbi sure he sees an angel? Is the Rabbi feeling all right?"

The Rabbi stopped looking up, apologized for the error and, motioning to the Bishop, walked away toward the nearest synagogue with the Bishop following at his heels.

"Please try to understand, your highness, I'm not trying to be rude but," he turned to the Bishop as they reached the door of the Shul, "But I'll have to ask you to hide that cross around your neck before we enter."

The congregation was just about to begin the reading of the Torah. (The Torah is read publicly four times a week) and when everyone saw the Rabbi enter they stood in honor, although they were surprised to see him accompanied by the Bishop.

The Rabbi asked if he could read from the Torah. Of course no one objected, indeed they were honored. He walked to the podium, the first man was called up, made the blessing, (The reading was 'Yisro', just like this week and it begins with the words 'Vayishma YISRO'..) the Rabbi opened the scroll and began to read in the ancient melody:

"Vayishma MISRO.."

Immediately the entire crowd yelled out in unison to correct the obvious mistake. "YISRO! YISRO!"

When things quieted down the Rabbi again began:

"VaYishma FISRO…"

And again the crowd yelled "YISRO!!, RABBI, IT'S YISRO!! NOT FISRO!!" Three people ran up to look into the Torah scroll for a spelling error and when they saw that there was none they politely asked the Rabbi if he would please let someone else read.

The Rabbi stepped down, excused himself and motioned for the Bishop to follow him outside.

"You see, your Excellency" he said to the Bishop, "This is why we don't follow your 'majority'.

These people are for the most part simple folk and they revere me as their Rabbi and leader. But when I tried to make them see an imaginary angel or made just one small mistake in the Torah reading, they refused to accept it.

"But as you see, your followers don't care so much about the truth. Just as they just now bowed to a non-existent angel so they believe that a person can be G-d and can alter the meaning of the entire Torah. So how can we leave the Torah which we have been reading publically four times a week for three thousand years for ideas that have no basis in truth?

So that is why we can't follow your majority."

That answers our questions about idolatry at Sinai.

When G-d gave the Torah He essentially gave the Jews responsibility. From then on the fate of the entire world was in their hands.

But along with the Torah He also gave Himself to the Jews so they would have the power and joy to succeed (See Tanya chapt. 47)

But after this revelation was gone (and after they thought Moses wouldn't be around to inspire them) they got scared and realized that, as we saw in our story, it's easier to believe in an object, even an imaginary one, than to be responsible to the infinite Creator,

But the antidote to this to understand and feel the meaning and power hidden in The Ten Commandments; their deeper, personal importance rather than just their superficial meaning.

For example:

The first, second and fourth commandments are "I am G-d that took you from Egypt. Don't worship other gods. And G-d created the heavens (the spiritual) and the earth (the physical):

Superficially it refers to events that occurred thousands of years ago when G-d created the world and later took the Jews from Egypt.

But below the surface it means that G-d is with us and helps us constantly (takes us out of our personal 'Egypt'), G-d cares and will help us turn from evil. And finally G-d creates us from love and provides for us constantly from love. (the message of Shabbat)

That is why, just before giving the Ten Commandments, G-d calls the Jews "a Nation of priests and a Holy people" (19:6).

In other words the Jewish people are here to bless and sanctify the world. And when we remember this it will make idolatry impossible (as we saw in our story).

And this will be accomplished by Moshiach as we remind ourselves thrice daily in the 'Alenu' prayer: That Moshiach will destroy all idolatry and convince all the idolaters to serve only the Creator.

Then G-d's presence will fill not just Mount Sinai, or just the Holy of Holies (where the Ten Commandments were kept) but will fill the ENTIRE world. Then there will be no war or strife and the world will be filled with peace, meaning, joy and harmony. (See Maimonides, Laws of Kings Chapt 11) And the Lubavitcher Rebbe says it's all up to us! Even one more good deed can bring…….

Moshiach NOW!!

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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