"כה תאמר לבית יעקב ותגיד לבני ישראל"
“So shall you say to the House of Jacob and tell to the Children of Israel.” (Shemot 19:3)

QUESTION: It would be sufficient to say only Beit Yaakov or only “B’nei Yisrael.” Why the redundancy?

ANSWER: “Beit Yaakov” refers to women and “B’nei Yisrael” means the men. Though women are not obligated to study Torah, the Gemara (Sotah 21a) says that for seeing to it that their children go to yeshivah and encouraging their husbands to study Torah, they receive merit from the study of their husbands and children.

Hashem told Moshe to speak to the women and tell them that, “vetageid livnei Yisrael” — every woman should tell her sons to study Torah. In addition, every woman should tell her husband that the spiritual aspects of life are more important to her than the material and thus encourage him to set aside time for Torah study.

(מהרש"א על מס' סוטה דף כ"א)

"כה תאמר לבית יעקב ותגיד לבני ישראל"
“So shall you say to the House of Jacob and tell to the Children of Israel.” (19:3)

QUESTION: Why did Hashem tell Moshe to speak to the women first?

ANSWER: This was done because of a halachic concern. The Gemara (Gittin 55b) says that if one bought a field from the husband that he owned and which was assigned to the wife’s ketubah, even if afterwards he bought [the lien] from the woman, the sale is void. But if he bought [the lien] from the wife and then acquired [the land itself] from the husband, the acquisition is valid. The reason is that she could claim “I did this [consented to the sale] only to please my husband.”

Thus, if the men would commit themselves to Torah, perhaps even if the woman followed after them and made a commitment, they would be able to claim “I consented only to please my husband.” Therefore, Hashem instructed Moshe to speak first to the Beit Yaakov — women — and get their commitment.


"אתם ראיתם אשר עשיתי למצרים ואשא אתכם על כנפי נשרים ואביא אתכם אלי"
“You have seen what I did to Egypt and that I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Me.” (19:4)

QUESTION: Why did Hashem single out the eagle as an example of His connection with the Jewish people?

ANSWER: In Hebrew an eagle is known as “nesher,” whichmeans “falling off.” The eagle’s feathers are constantly falling off and being replaced (Psalms 103:5, Rashi). Therefore, the choice of the eagle to symbolize Hashem’s relationship with the Jewish people alludes to the fact that even if a Jew should, G‑d forbid, “lose his feathers” — fail in his observance of Torah and mitzvot — his case is not hopeless. He can always do teshuvah and grow “new feathers.”

(ר' לוי יצחק זצ"ל מברדיטשוב)

"ויהי קלת וברקים וענן כבד על ההר...ויחרד כל העם אשר במחנה"
“There was thunder and lightning and a thick cloud on the mountain...and the people trembled.” (19:16)

QUESTION: Why didn’t Hashem give the Torah on a calm, serene day?

ANSWER: When Hashem offered the Torah to the Jewish people, they accepted it without hesitation. Some Jews responded eagerly, thinking that Torah would make life pleasant and effortless.

To dispel this theory, Hashem brought thunder and lightning, hinting that in the years to come, there would be difficult periods. Jews would suffer and be tortured for their adherence to Torah. He cautioned them, however, not to think that they can exist without Torah, and that forsaking it, G‑d forbid, would make life easier for them. On the contrary, only absolute adherence to Torah would help the Jewish people endure the most difficult times and ensure the perpetual existence of the Jewish people. (This was evidenced in the days of Mordechai and Esther, when Haman sought to annihilate the Jewish people.)

(פרי לבנון מר' שמואל צבי ז"ל ויס, ירושלים תש"ט)

"וירד ה' על הר סיני"
“And G‑d descended upon Mount Sinai.” (19:20)

QUESTION: In the Haggadah of Pesach we say “Had He brought us before Mount Sinai and not given us the Torah, dayeinu — It would have sufficed for us.” Of what value would Mount Sinai be without the Torah?

ANSWER: When the Jews encamped at Mount Sinai, the Torah tells us “Vayichan sham Yisrael neged hahar” — “Israel encamped there opposite the mountain” (Shemot 19:2). It says “vayichan” in the singular, and not “vayachanu” in the plural to emphasize that they were united like one person with one heart (Rashi). The unparalleled unity and ahavat Yisrael which prevailed at Mount Sinai would have sufficed, even if it were not followed by the giving of the Torah.

(הגדה של פסח צוף אמרים)

Alternatively, The Torah contains 613 mitzvot. The word Torah (תורה) has the numerical value of 611 to indicate that the first two commandments were uttered by Hashem Himself and the rest of the Torah was given through Moshe (Makkot 23b). Thus, we proclaim, “If He had brought us before Mount Sinai only to hear the first two commandments directly from Hashem and not given us the Torah, i.e. the other 611 mitzvot, it would have sufficed us.”

(הגש"פ ברכת השיר)

Alternatively, the Gemara (Shabbat 146a) says that when the serpent seduced Chavah to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, they also had marital relations, and he cast impurity into her which she then passed on to future generations. When the Jews stood at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, their impurity was removed and they were returned to their original uncontaminated state as at the time of creation. (The souls of all Jews were present at Mount Sinai, including those of converts — ibid.) The impurity of the idolaters, however, who did not stand at Mount Sinai, was not removed and it thus persists to this day.

Hence, Hashem’s deed of bringing us to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah was of great benefit to us even without the giving of the Torah.

(יבין שמועה מהרשב"ץ, שו"ת הראב"ד סי' י"א)

וכל העם רואים את הקולות
All the people could see the sounds. (20:15)

QUESTION: Rashi explains this to mean that “They were able to see that which is audible, which is impossible to see elsewhere.” What lesson did Hashem want to impart with this seemingly unnecessary miracle?

ANSWER: From the way Hashem gave the Torah to the Jewish people, we learn how to conduct ourselves when we teach others (see Chagigah7a).

With this miracle Hashem was conveying an important message for posterity. For a teacher or Rabbi to be sure that their messages are being heard and accepted or for a parent to inspire children, it is imperative that the listeners “see” that the voice they hear from the lecturer is not just verbal exercises, rather it is something that the lecturer himself actually lives and practices. When the listener sees that the lecturer practices what he preaches and provides a living example, it inspires and convinces the listeners to follow suite.

(דרש משה – הרב משה ז"ל פיינשטיין)

* * *

A non-observant father once sent his child to a Hebrew school. As the child’s Bar-Mitzvah was approaching, he took his son to the Hebrew book store and asked the salesman for a Bar-Mitzvah set. The salesman opened the box and the boy saw in it a siddur, pair of tefillin and a tallit (prayer-shawl). Having no knowledge of these strange items, he asked his father with a puzzled expression on his face, “What are these?” The father told him, “My son, this is what every Jew must have when he becomes Bar-Mitzvah.” The young boy looked up to his father and inquisitively asked, “So father, when are you becoming Bar-Mitzvah?”

וכל העם רואים את הקולות
And all the people could see the sounds (20:15)

QUESTION: To be able to see that which is audible is a great miracle; why was the miracle necessary?

ANSWER: The word “lo” can be written with an alef (לא) and with a vav (לו). The sound is the same but there is a great difference in the meaning. With an alef it means “no” and with a vav it means “for him.”

In the Ten Commandments it says “Lo tirtzach” — “You shall not kill,” and “Lo tignov” — “You shall not steal.” These statements could be interpreted in a positive way, that is, to read the word lo with a vav (לו) so that it may mean “lo” — “for him” — i.e. if it is for your benefit, tirtzach — you may kill, or “lo” — “for him” i.e. if it is for your benefit, (one needs it for himself)” tignov — “you may steal.” It was therefore necessary to show the people the words so that they would not be misinterpreted.

(חידושי הרי"ם)

"ולא תעלה במעלת על מזבחי"
You shall not ascend my altar on steps. (20:23)

QUESTION: The Gemara (Menachot 29a) states that in front of the menorah was a stone having three steps upon which the Kohen would ascend when lighting the menorah. Why was it forbidden to have steps to ascend the altar?

ANSWER: The altar represents the concept of teshuvah. The offerings brought on it effected atonement for sins. The menorah exemplifies Torah. Its purpose was to give off light, and Torah is light, as it is written; “A mitzvah is a candle and Torah is light” (Proverbs 6:23). The twenty two decorative cups represented the twenty letters of the alef-beit with which the Torah is written (see Rabbeinu Bachya).

A step is for gradual ascent and a ramp is for rapid movement. Consequently, in the study of Torah, one needs to progress gradually, step by step. However, teshuvah can be accomplished instantly, moving from one level to another in a single moment. Thus, one can become a ba’al teshuvah instantaneously, while it requires many laborious years to reach the level of talmid chacham — Torah scholar.

* * *

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk once said to his students, “We say of Al-mighty G‑d [that thanks to our teshuvah] ‘as far as east from west, has He distanced our transgressions from us’ (Psalms 103:12). Perhaps one of you can tell me how far east is from west?”

The students grappled with this problem. Each one came up with a different astronomical figure. Suddenly, the Kotzker Rebbe interrupted them and declared, “You are all in error! From east to west is only one turn. When one stands facing east and turns around, instantly, he faces west. This is the immediacy of teshuvah.

(שמעתי מאחי הרב שמואל פסח שי' באגאמילסקי)