"וישמע יתרו"
“And Yitro heard.” (18:1)

QUESTION: Rashi writes, “Yitro had seven names; one was ‘Yeter’ because he ‘added’ a parshah in the Torah: “ve’atah techezeh” — “and you shall seek out” (18:21).

When Yitro saw how hard Moshe was working, the first thing he said was, “Lo tov hadavar asher atah oseh” — “What you are doing is not good” (18:17). The pasuk “ve’atah techezeh” occurs four pesukim later. Why isn’t the parshah Yitro added called, “Lo tov hadavar”?

ANSWER: Some people are quite critical and ready to say “what you are doing is not good.” It is easy to criticize, so Yitro is not entitled to credit for finding fault with Moshe’s judicial procedure. He receives credit, rather, for his constructive suggestion.

(ליקוטי יהושע)

"וישמע יתרו כהן מדין חתן משה"
“Yitro the High Priest of Midian, the father-in-law of Moshe, heard.” (18:1)

QUESTION: Why does the Torah now cite Yitro’s already-mentioned relationship to Moshe and his position?

ANSWER: In the times of King David and King Shlomo the Jews did not accept converts because the Jewish people were then at the height of their glory, and it was suspected that the motivation of the would-be convert was not Torah and mitzvot, but rather to share in the prosperity and glory of the Jewish people.

If so, why did King Shlomo accept the daughter of Pharaoh as a convert and then marry her? The answer is that she was an exception to the rule. As the daughter of a King, she did not lack glory, and therefore her only interest in converting was her love for Torah and mitzvot (Yevamot 24b, see Tosafot).

When the Jews left Egypt and the sea split, the entire world witnessed the greatness of the Jewish people. From all over people wanted to convert and become part of the Jewish nation. They were motivated by the glory of the Jewish people rather than by sincere love for Yiddishkeit, and so were rejected.

However, when Yitro decided to convert, he was accepted because, as the famous High Priest of Midian, he could not be suspected as a seeker of glory. In addition, it was not likely that he was converting out of fear of the Jewish people, because nobody would harm the father-in-law of Moshe.

(ילקוט האורים)

"וישמע יתרו את כל אשר עשה אלקים למשה...ויקח יתרו את צפרה אשת משה אחר שלוחיה"
“Yitro heard what G‑d had done to Moshe...and Yitro took with him Tzipporah, Moshe’s wife, after he had sent her away.” (18:1-2)

QUESTION: What had Yitro heard that Hashem had done to Moshe that prompted him to come with Tzipporah?

ANSWER: When Hashem appeared to Moshe for the first time and asked him to be his messenger to Pharaoh and redeem the Jews from Egypt, Moshe was reluctant. Hashem became angry and told Moshe, “Originally I had planned for you to be a Kohen; now that you are refusing your mission, Aharon will be the Kohen in your stead” (Zevachim 102a).

When Moshe finally agreed, he divorced his wife Tzipporah before going to Egypt, dedicating himself completely to the mission of redeeming the Jewish people. The word “shiluchehah” can mean, “after he divorced her,” as in the term “veshilchah” in connection with divorce (Devarim 24:1).

After Yitro heard what Hashem had done to Moshe, he decided to bring back Tzipporah. Now that Moshe was no longer a Kohen, it was permissible for him to marry a divorcee and he could, thus, remarry Tzipporah.

(נחל קדומים)

"ויאמר אל משה אני חתנך יתרו בא אליך ואשתך"
“And he said to Moshe, ‘I, your father-in-law Yitro, am coming to you along with your wife.’” (18:6)

QUESTION: He should have merely said, “chotencha ba eilecha” — “your father-in-law is coming to you”; the words “ani” — I — and “Yitro” are superfluous?

ANSWER: According to the Arizal, Yitro was originally Kayin and Moshe was Hevel. Tzipporah, the wife of Moshe, was originally Hevel’s twin sister and Kayin killed Hevel to obtain her for himself. (See Midrash Rabbah Bereishit 22:7.)

The first letters of the words "אני חתנך יתרו" are an acronym for “achi” (אחי) — “my brother.” Yitro informed Moshe that he was the gilgul — reincarnation — of Kayin, and that since Moshe was the reincarnation of Hevel, they were brothers. To atone for the crime that he committed by killing him and taking away his twin sister, he was bringing back to him Tzipporah, who was the reincarnation of that sister.

(בית יעקב ר' יעקב הכהן ז"ל טראב – מסלתון ראב"ד ביירות)

"ויחד יתרו על כל הטובה אשר עשה ה' לישראל אשר הצילו מיד מצרים"
“Yitro was happy for all the good that G‑d did for the Jews for saving him from the hand of the Egyptians.” (18:9)

QUESTION: Why did Yitro use the singular expression “hitzilo” — saving him — and not the plural “hitzilam” — “saving them”?

ANSWER: Pharaoh had three advisors, Job, Yitro and Bilam. Considering the Jewish people a serious threat to him and the land of Egypt, he called his advisors and consulted with them. At the conference, Bilam suggested the idea of drowning all newborn Jewish boys. Job was silent. Not wanting to be present when plans were being made against the Jewish people, Yitro ran away. In the end, Bilam was killed, Job endured his famous sufferings, and Yitro was rewarded to have Moshe as his son-in-law and his descendants as members of the Sanhedrin (Sotah 11a).

When Yitro heard of the rescue through the drowning of Egyptians, he was happy for the good Hashem did for the Jewish people. In addition, he was happy and grateful that Hashem had given him the idea to run away from Pharaoh. Thanks to this, he was prevented from suffering or perishing with the Egyptians.

(באר מים חיים)

"עתה ידעתי כי גדול ה' מכל האלהים"
“Now I know that G‑d is the greatest of all deities.” (18:11)

QUESTION: Why did Yitro now come to this realization?

ANSWER: When Hashem told Moshe about the coming plague of the killing of the firstborn, He also said, “and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment” (12:12). Ultimately, all the idols were destroyed except for one — Ba’al Tzefon (see Rashi 14:2).

Yitro was a theologian and very familiar with all the deities. Upon learning the fate of the idols, he was convinced of their worthlessness. However, he remained with some doubts in regard to Hashem’s supremacy due to the survival of Ba’al Tzefon.

Actually, Hashem permitted Ba’al Tzefon to remain in order to mislead the Egyptians. When they chased after the Jews and found them camping at the shores of the Red Sea, they were certain that the power of the Ba’al Tzefon was aiding them. Consequently, they thought, they would conquer and retrieve the gold and silver the Jews had taken from them. Eventually, the Egyptians were drowned in the sea and Ba’al Tzefon, too, was destroyed.

The miraculous splitting of the sea encouraged Yitro to join the Jewish people. He declared, “Now that all the gods of the Egyptians, including Ba’al Tzefon, have been destroyed, I no longer have any doubts and am totally convinced that your G‑d is the true and only one.”

(מלא העומר)

"עתה ידעתי כי גדול ה' מכל האלהים"
“Now I know that G‑d is the greatest of all deities.” (18:11)

QUESTION: To say that Hashem is the greatest of all the gods is heresy because it implies that other gods have some kind of greatness too. Why would Yitro say such a thing?

ANSWER: This statement is not one of relative comparison, but of total rejection. Yitro was the High Priest of Midian and a prominent theologian. He was familiar with all the gods the pagan world worshipped. After learning of the miracles Hashem performed, he was convinced of the worthlessness of all the other deities and that Hashem is the one and only G‑d of the world.

Hence, he proudly proclaimed, “Now I know that G‑d is great! I have reached this conclusion, ‘mikol ha’elohim’ — through realizing the falsehood of all the gods of the pagan world. I know that they are indeed nothing and that Hashem is omnipotent.”


"ויקח יתרו חתן משה עלה וזבחים לאלקים ויבא אהרן וכל זקני ישראל לאכל לחם עם חתן משה"
“Yitro brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to G‑d. Aharon and all the elders of Israel came to eat bread with the father-in-law of Moshe.” (18:12)

QUESTION: Yitro was the guest. Why did Aharon and the elders not make the meal and invite him?

ANSWER: Yitro came to visit Moshe because he wanted to convert and become a member of the Jewish people. A convert must be circumcised, and Yitro was so overjoyed at his conversion that he made a seudat mitzvah similar to the one usually given when a Jewish child has his brit milah — circumcision. Aharon, together with all the elders of Israel, participated in the seudat mitzvah.

* * *

A hint for the making of a festive meal at the time of a brit is found in the word “milah” (מילה). It is an acronym for "משתה יעשה לכל הקהל" — “a meal should be made for all assembled.”

(שער בת רבים)

Another hint is in the pasuk “Umaltah oto az yochal bo” — “You shall circumcise him; then he shall eat of it” (12:44). The word “az” (אז) has the numerical value of 8, alluding to the custom that, following a brit on the eighth day, there should be a meal.

(שו"ת חות יאיר סי' ע', וע' שערי תשובה סי' תקנ"א ס"ק ל"ג)

"ויבא אהרן וכל זקני ישראל לאכל לחם עם חתן משה"
“Aharon and all the elders of Israel came to eat bread with the father-in-law of Moshe.” (18:12)

QUESTION: Why didn’t Moshe participate in the festive meal?

ANSWER: After receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai, Moshe went up to Heaven three times and came back the last time on Yom Kippur (see Shemot 33:11, Rashi). On the following day, he sat in judgment and also transmitted the Torah to the people (see Rashi). Since Moshe already knew about fasting on Yom Kippur, he did not participate in the meal. However, all the other Jews, who first learned the Torah on the following day, were able to eat because they did not yet know the laws of fasting on Yom Kippur.

(לקוטי בתר לקוטי בשם השר שלום מבעלז זצ"ל)

"מה הדבר הזה אשר אתה עשה לעם מדוע אתה יושב לבדך וכל העם נצב עליך מן בקר עד ערב"
“What is this thing you are doing to the people? Why do you sit alone and all the people stand about you from morning until evening?” (18:14)

QUESTION: It was well known that Moshe was the judge before whom all matters were brought for decision. Why did Yitro ask Moshe, “What are you doing?”

ANSWER: There are two approaches that a Beit Din can use in deciding a Din-Torah. One is pesharah — compromise — and the other is “din” — a decision according to the letter of the law. A compromise can be made even by a Beit Din consisting of one judge. In addition, the defendant and plaintiff do not have to stand while they are discussing the issues. When the Beit Din is using the approach of absolute din, there should be three judges and the defendant and plaintiff must stand while the Din-Torah is taking place.

Yitro knew that Moshe was conducting a Beit Din and handling Din-Torahs. However, he was somewhat puzzled by the procedure. Therefore, he asked Moshe, “I notice that while you conduct Din-Torahs the defendant and plaintiff are standing, which seems to indicate that your approach is absolute din and not compromise. If so, why do you conduct the Din-Torah alone without two additional judges?”

Moshe explained to Yitro that even when the approach is din and not compromise, if the judge is a mumcheh — an outstanding expert — he is permitted to handle the Din-Torah alone: “Since I was in heaven and personally taught by Hashem, I am considered an expert. Consequently, the people must stand.”

(פרדס יוסף - שארית יעקב)

"ויאמר משה לחתנו...כי יהיה להם דבר בא אלי ושפטתי בין איש ובין רעהו"
“Moshe said to his father-in-law, ‘When they have a matter, it comes to me, and I judge between a man and his friend.’” (18:15-16)

QUESTION: The pasuk begins in the plural: “When they have a matter”; why does it not continue, “ba’im eilai”“ ‘they’ come to me”?

ANSWER: Often questions or Din-Torahs come before a Rabbi which seem very similar to those he has previously handled. It is improper for a judge to compare one case to another and not go again through all the details. Although, superficially the two cases appear identical, in each issue there may be slight differences which can lead to an entirely different outcome (see Choshen Mishpat 10:2).

Yitro asked Moshe why he was so involved from morning to evening deciding questions and not quick to issue answers based on previous decisions. Moshe replied, “When they have a matter of dispute, even if ‘ba eilai’ — a matter similar to this has already come before me and I rendered a decision — I do not rely on that. I judge anew and go through all the details. Therefore, it takes much time to come up with fair and just decisions.”

(עיטורי תורה)

"כי יהיה להם דבר בא אלי ושפטתי בין איש ובין רעהו"
“When they have a matter, it comes to me, and I judge between a man and his friend.” (18:16)

QUESTION: 1) In the midbar — the wilderness — all the needs of the Jewish people were provided for by the A-mighty. Their clothing grew with them and their food came from heaven. Why were there so many Din-Torahs? 2) Yitro’s plan to appoint judges was logical and simple. Why didn’t Moshe think of it himself?

ANSWER: When the Jews left Egypt, a group of Egyptians known as the “eirev rav — “the mixed multitude” — joined them. When the Egyptians drowned in the sea, their jewelry washed up on the shore and the Jews took it. The people of the eirev rav fought with the Jews, arguing that the drowned people were their relatives and that they were their heirs. Therefore, many Din-Torahs took place over this issue. (The term “rei’eihu” can refer to an Egyptian, see Shemot 11:2).

A judge is qualified to preside over a Din-Torah only if he has no personal interest in the matter. All the Jews except Moshe took the wealth of the Egyptians. Therefore, he was the only judge qualified to handle all the Din-Torahs.

(בנין אריאל)

"כי יהיה להם דבר בא אלי ושפטתי בין איש ובין רעהו והודעתי את חקי האלקים ואת תורתיו"
“When they have a matter, it comes to me, and I judge between man and his friend and I make them know the statutes of G‑d and His laws.” (18:16)

QUESTION: Would it not have been sufficient just to say, “I judge between man and his neighbor.” What is the reason for the additional statement “I make them know the statutes of G‑d and His laws”?

ANSWER: Approximately 250 years ago, in the city of Frankfurt, a member of the Jewish community opened his business on Shabbat. Reb Avraham Abish, the Rabbi of Frankfurt, was very upset and sent for him to appear at his office. When the man refused to appear, the Rabbi called the President of the community and instructed him to purchase a large amount of goods on credit from the Shabbat desecrator and refuse to pay when payment became due unless he came to a Din-Torah.

When the two appeared before the Rabbi, Reb Avraham Abish told the Shabbat desecrator, “It was my idea that he not pay you because I wanted to discuss with you the holiness of Shabbat.” The storekeeper became upset and said, “This is trickery; I am surprised that a Rabbi uses such tactics.”

The Rabbi opened the Chumash and showed him this pasuk, saying, “From here we can learn that when people come to a Rabbi for their personal matters, the Rabbi should use the opportunity to ‘make them know the statutes of G‑d and his laws’ — discuss with them how to further their Torah study and observance of mitzvot. In order for me to enlighten you about Shabbat observance, I was compelled to create a situation which would bring you before me for a Din-Torah.”

(וישמע משה)

"ושפטו את העם בכל עת את הדבר הקשה יביאון אל משה וכל הדבר הקטן ישפוטו הם"
“They administered justice on a regular basis, bringing the difficult cases to Moshe and judging the easy cases by themselves.” (18:26)

QUESTION: Yitro advised Moshe to judge “kal hadavar hagadol” — “every big case” — and to let the judges consider “kal hadaver hakatan” — “the small cases” (18:12). Why did Moshe speak of “hadavar hakashah” — “difficult cases” — and “hadavar hakatan” — “easy cases” — (in contrast to ‘difficult’) while Yitro spoke of big and small ones?

ANSWER: In many countries the importance of a litigation is decided by how much money it involves. There is a small claims court for disputes regarding small amounts of money and a civil court which handles cases involving larger amounts. Yitro advised Moshe to personally handle the “big cases” — the ones involving large sums of money — and to let the newly appointed judges deal with the “small cases” — the ones involving small amounts of money.

According to Jewish law, a case involving a penny and a case concerning hundreds of dollars are both to be approached with the same seriousness (Sanhedrin 8a). Therefore, Moshe instructed that he would handle the difficult cases, regardless of the amount of money involved, and the easier cases would be under the jurisdiction of the judges.

(פרדס יוסף)

"ומשה עלה אל האלקים"
“And Moshe went up to G‑d.” (19:3)

QUESTION: According to the Gemara (Shabbat 86b), when Moshe came up to heaven to take the Torah, the angels objected: “Tenah hodecha al hashamayim” — “Set your glory (Torah) above the heavens.” Hashem told Moshe to inform them why Torah was not for them. Moshe said, “The Torah says, ‘I am G‑d, your G‑d, who brought you out of Egypt’ — were you ever in Egypt? It says, ‘You shall not murder’ — Do you have a yeitzer hara?” The angels conceded, but why did they think the Torah was for them to begin with?

ANSWER: Once a great Torah scholar assumed the position of Rabbi in a large city. After a short while, he realized that the position would not leave him sufficient time for his own Torah study. He therefore decided to resign his position and look for a small city. He approached a nearby small city and, as soon as the residents were convinced that he was serious, he was hired. Concerned that his townspeople might object to his leaving, he returned home to seek their permission. Realizing that he was adamant about dedicating more of his time to Torah study, they reluctantly agreed to let him go.

When the small community received word that their new Rabbi was ready to come, they sent an entourage of the most prominent people to bring him to the city. Upon arrival in the large city, the townspeople met them with sticks and stones and assaulted them for having the audacity to take away their Rabbi. In amazement, the Rabbi asked, “Why are you hitting them? Did I not discuss my leaving with you and receive your consent?!”

The townspeople told their Rabbi, “If we did not show our opposition to your leaving, they might think us dissatisfied with you and happy to see you leave. Consequently, they would not hold you in the high regard you deserve. When however, they notice that we are fighting over you and not wanting to let you go, they will regard you in high esteem.

The angels really knew that Torah was appropriate for human beings and not for them. However, to ensure that man keep Torah in the highest regard and dignity, they fought over it so that when a man acquires Torah, he will cherish it dearly.

(מצאתי בכתבי אבי הרב שמואל פסח ז"ל באגאמילסקי)

"ומשה עלה אל האלקים"
“And Moshe went up to G‑d.” (19:3)

QUESTION: What took place in heaven when Moshe appeared?

ANSWER: According to the Midrash Rabbah (28:1), the angels wanted to attack Moshe for coming to take the Torah down to earth. Hashem altered his face to resemble Avraham’s and said to them, “Aren’t you ashamed to attack the person from whose hospitality you benefited?” Consequently, thanks to the food that Avraham gave the angels, we were able to receive the Torah.

This is alluded to in Pirkei Avot (3:17), “Im ein kemach, ein Torah” — Were it not for the food that Avraham had given to the angels, we would not have been able to take the Torah away from them. “Im ein Torah, ein kemach” — Were it not for Avraham’s desire that his children should learn Torah, he would not have offered food to his heavenly guests.

(מהר"ם שי"ף)

* * *

In the Gemara (Pesachim 68b) there is a dispute whether on Yom Tov one should dedicate himself entirely to Torah study and worship, or whether one must also set aside time for the physical enjoyment of eating and drinking. All the sages agree, however, that on the festival of Shavuot one must have a meal because it commemorates the day that the Torah was given.

However, this is enigmatic. Since Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah, shouldn’t it be celebrated entirely with study of Torah and G‑dly matters?

In view of the above, that the Jews received the Torah thanks to Avraham’s feeding the angels, it is easily understood why a festive meal is obligatory on Shavuot.

(שער בת רבים)

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

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

ANSWER: Women are usually in the home. They see to it that their children go to yeshivah and encourage their husbands to study Torah, so they receive merit from the study of their husbands and children (Sotah 21a).

“Beit Yaakov” refers to women who are akeret habayit — the foundation of the home. 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.


"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,” because the word “nesher” means “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 always has the opportunity to do teshuvah and grow “new feathers.”

(ר' לוי יצחק זצ"ל מברדיטשוב)

"ויענו כל העם יחדו ויאמרו כל אשר דבר ה' נעשה"
“And all the people answered together and said, ‘All that G‑d has spoken we will do.’” (19:8)

QUESTION: Each individual Jew should have responded “e’eseh”“I will do.” Why did they all answer in the plural, “na’aseh”?

ANSWER: When the Jews heard about the Torah and realized its beauty and importance, each individual took upon himself not only to observe it, but also to be responsible for all other Jews doing so. Each one responded in the plural “na’aseh,” meaning “I will do, and also see to it that other Jews will do.”

This may be an additional source for the Talmudic dictum “kol Yisrael areivin zeh lazeh” — “Each Jew is a guarantor for his fellow” (Shavuot 39a).

(חידושי הרי"ם)

"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 day of Mordechai and Esther, when Haman sought to annihilate the Jewish people.)

(פרי לבנון)

"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: The Torah consists of 613 mitzvot, and the word Torah (תורה) has the numerical value of 611. The first two commandments were uttered by Hashem Himself, unlike the rest of the Torah, which was given through Moshe. Thus, we proclaim, “Had He brought us before Mount Sinai only to hear from G‑d Himself the two commandments and not given us the Torah (the other 611 mitzvot), it would have sufficed for us.”

(הגש"פ ברכת השיר)

"וידבר אלקים את כל הדברים האלה"
“And G‑d spoke all these words.” (20:1)

QUESTION: Why is the giving of the Torah recorded in Parshat Yitro?

ANSWER: Regarding the Torah it is stated: “Ein tov ela Torah — The true good is only Torah. As it is written, ‘Ki lekach tov natati lachem’ — ‘I have given you a good teaching — the Torah.’ ” (Pirkei Avot 6:3). The word “tov” (טוב) has the numerical value of 17. Counting from the first parshah of the Torah (Bereishit), Yitro is the 17th parshah. Thus, it is most appropriate that the ultimate good be expounded in the 17th parshah.

"וידבר אלקים את כל הדברים האלה לאמר"
“And G‑d spoke all these words, saying.” (20:1)

QUESTION: The sages in the Gemara (Shabbat 86b) maintain that the Torah was given on the 6th day of the month of Sivan. Rabbi Yossi, however, claims that it was given on the 7th of Sivan.

The Torah is precise in listing the exact dates of all yamim tovim. Why does it not specify exactly the day on which the Torah was given?

ANSWER: By not stating the exact date of the giving of the Torah, Hashem conveys to us the message that Torah is not restricted to, or connected with any specific time. Twenty four hours a day, every day of the year, a Jew must live in accordance with the Torah.

(כ"ק אדמו"ר)

"וידבר אלקים את כל הדברים האלה לאמר אנכי..."
“And G‑d spoke all these words, saying, I am...” (20:1,2)

QUESTION: The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 2b) relates that before giving the Torah to the Jewish people, Hashem offered it to the nations of the world, who refused it because some of its laws did not please them.

Why did Hashem reveal to the Jewish people that He offered the Torah to the nations of the world and that they refused to accept it? Doesn’t this cast the Jewish people in a bad light?

ANSWER: Hashem actually intended to convey a very important message regarding the sanctity of Torah.

The people of Yishmael refused to accept the Torah because it contained the commandment, “You shall not steal,” and the character trait of Yishmael was, “His hand will be extended against all people” (Bereishit 16:12). The people of Eisav declined the Torah because it included the commandment, “You shall not kill,” and Eisav was told by Yitzchak, “You will live by your sword” (Bereishit 27:40).

Apparently, the entire Torah suited these nations, except for one commandment. If so, should they not have accepted the Torah and disregarded the single law which they could not contend with?

Hashem was thus emphasizing that the other nations realized that the Torah is comprised of 613 totally unified mitzvot, and the slightest omission takes away from the Torah in its totality: A Torah of 612 mitzvot is not an abbreviated Torah, but no Torah at all! After this introduction Hashem’s question to the Jewish people concerned their willingness to accept the whole Torah of 613 mitzvot, to which they unequivocally responded, “We will do and we will listen — we accept the Torah in its entirety.”

(הרב פנחס מ. ז"ל טייץ)

"אנכי ה' אלקיך אשר הוצאתיך מארץ מצרים"
“I am G‑d your G‑d, who brought you out of the land Mitzraim.” (20:2)

QUESTION: Why didn’t Hashem introduce Himself as the One who created heavens and earth?

ANSWER: The redemption from Egyptian bondage is something which the Jews had just experienced and it had a personal meaning to each and every one of them.

Moreover, the word Mitzraim” can also be read as “meitzarim” — boundaries and limitations. Torah gives a person the capability to elevate himself over all physical limitations. Hashem is telling the Jews that He is the One who is giving them the Torah, which gives them the ability to go out of Mitzraimmeitzarim — spiritually and physically. Through the study of Torah and observance of mitzvot, a Jew can control the nature of heaven and earth, instead of being subject to its control.

(חסידות חב"ד)

"אנכי ה' אלקיך...לא יהיה לך אלהים אחרים..."
“I am G‑d your G‑d...You shall not have any other gods...” (20:2-3)

QUESTION: Why did Hashem personally say only the first two commandments and convey the others through Moshe?

ANSWER: Though it is incumbent upon every Jew to observe all the precepts of the Torah, a prophet is permitted to tell the community to sometimes temporarily violate a Torah precept. Idolatry is, however exempted from this rule. No one has the authority to tell any Jew at any time to transgress this prohibition (Sanhedrin 90a).

The way Torah was given to the Jewish people may give insight into the reason for the above-mentioned rule. The entire Torah was given through Moshe, who was the greatest of all prophets. Since he, as a prophet, was imbued with the power to transmit the Torah, Hashem vested in Moshe and his successors the strength to temporarily supersede a mitzvah of the Torah. However, the first two commandments, which forbid idolatry, were given directly from Hashem. Hence, these laws are eternal and totally unchangeable.

(אמרי רש"ד, הרב שמעון דובער אנאליק ז"ל)

"כבד את אביך"
“Honor your father.” (20:12)

QUESTION: The verse could have stated “kabeid avicha” — “honor your father”; the word “et” (את) is superfluous?

ANSWER: According to halachah, a person is obligated to honor his father at all times. However, the father cannot order his child to violate a law of the Torah. The first letters of the words "כבד את אביך" have the numerical value of 22. This suggests that one should only honor his father when his requests are in accordance to the Torah, written with the twenty two letters of the alef-beit.

Moreover, the last letters of the words "כבד את אביך"— spell the word “kedat” (כדת). This comes to further emphasize that one must honor his father when the request is “kedat” — in harmony with halachah.

(בית יעקב ר' יעקב הכהן ז"ל טראב – מסלתון ראב"ד ביירות)

"כבד את אביך ואת אמך"
“Honor your father and your mother.” (20:12)

QUESTION: The Gemara (Kiddushin 30b) states, “There are three partners in the forming of man: Hashem, his father, and his mother. When one honors his father and mother, Hashem considers it as though He abided in their midst and they rendered honor to Him.” What allusion is there in our pasuk to this?

ANSWER: The word "אביך" in mispar katan (single numerals, disregarding the zero in the numerical value of the Hebrew letter so that "כ"=2, "ל"=3, etc.) has the numerical value of six. The word "אמך" in single numerals has the numerical value of seven. Together they add up to 13, which is the numerical value of ",אחד" which alludes to the One and Only — Hashem. When a person honors his father and mother, he merits echad — Hashem’s presence.

(שפתי כהן)

"כבד את אביך ואת אמך למען יארכון ימיך על האדמה אשר ה' אלקיך נתן לך"
“Honor your father and your mother so that your days will be lengthened upon the land that G‑d your G‑d gives you.” (20:12)

QUESTION: In the Gemara (Kiddushin 31a) Rabbi Eliezer is asked, “To what extent is the mitzvah of honoring parents obligatory?” He answers, “Take a lesson from a gentile named Dama ben Netina. Once there was a need to purchase stones for the eifod (the apron worn by the Kohen Gadol). It was an opportunity for him to earn a vast sum of money, but he refused to make the sale because the key to the safe was under his father’s pillow and he did not want to awaken him. A year later G‑d rewarded him: A red heifer was born to a cow in his herd, and the sages offered to buy it. He replied, ‘I know that you will gladly give whatever price I ask for the heifer. However, I only request that you pay me the amount of money I lost through honoring my father.’ ”

Couldn’t Rabbi Eliezer have found a Jew to emulate who extended himself to honor his father?

ANSWER: Rabbi Eliezer was conveying to his students a profound message on the subject of honoring parents.

Many are under the impression that honoring parents is something which our human comprehension dictates: Since our parents struggle to raise us and give us the best of everything, it is our obligation to reciprocate by honoring and respecting them.

According to Rabbi Eliezer this is an erroneous approach, and he was using the story of Dama ben Netina to discredit this attitude. He was not telling his students to emulate him and learn from him the extent of honoring parents, but rather to learn from the reward he received, the profundity of the mitzvah.

If Hashem wanted to help him recover his loss, why was it necessarily in the form of red heifer?

The Torah is divided into three categories eidot (testimonies) mishpatim (civil laws) and chukim (statutes, laws with no apparent rationale). The ultimate statute is the law of the red heifer. It is totally incomprehensible according to our limited intellect, and we obey it only because it is G‑d’s will.

Likewise, the message to be learned from Dama ben Netina’s reward is that honoring parents is obligatory even if our thinking cannot find a rationale for it. The mitzvah of honoring parents is a super-rational law; we must do it because it is G‑d’s will.

"למען יארכון ימיך על האדמה אשר ה' אלקיך נתן לך"
“So that your days will be lengthened upon the land that G‑d your G‑d gives you.” (20:12)

QUESTION: The word “lema’an” — “in order that” — seems superfluous. Could it not have just said, “veya’arichun yamecha”?

ANSWER: The Jewish people is eagerly awaiting Mashiach’s coming, which is referred to as the keitz (קץ). The word “lema’an” (למען) is numerically equivalent to 190, which is also the numerical value of the word “keitz.” This teaches us that through honoring our parents we will hasten the coming of Mashiach and live a long life.

The last letters of the words "כבד את אביך" have the numerical value of 424, which is the same numerical value as Mashiach Ben David (משיח בן דוד), who will speedily be revealed through the great mitzvah of honoring parents.

(בית יעקב)

"לא תרצח"
“You shall not murder.” (20:13)

QUESTION: Why is it that, when reading the Aseret Hadibrot in private, “lo tirtzach” is read with a patach, and when it is read in public — in shul — it is pronounced with a kamatz (“lo tirtzawch” in the Ashkenazi pronunciation)?

ANSWER: The act of murder can be performed in two ways:

1) Actual murder by shedding of blood.

2) Shaming a person in public. This is considered as murdering him because the person’s blood drains from his face, leaving him pale as a corpse (Bava Metzia 58b).

The two pronunciations of “lo tirtzach” of the Aseret Hadibrot allude to these two forms of murder. The patach, (literally “open”) which is pronounced with an open mouth, represents the type of murder in which a wound is opened in the victim and blood is shed. This is forbidden even in private. The kamatz (literally “close”) is pronounced with the mouth closed, and it alludes to the form of murder that is committed by embarassing a person. Although the person is “closed up” — there are no open wounds and blood is not gushing out — yet he is like a dead man. Such an act of murder takes place only in public.

(שי לחגים ומועדים בשם הרב י. צירלסאן ז"ל מקעשינוב)

"אנכי...אשר לרעך"
“I am...which belongs to your friends.” (20:2-14)

QUESTION: Why are there 620 letters in the Aseret Hadibrot?

ANSWER: In the Torah there are 613 mitzvot. In addition to this, there are seven mitzvot which were added by our sages. Each letter in the Aseret Hadibrot corresponds to one of the mitzvot.

The last two words, ",אשר לרעך" have seven letters, representing the seven mitzvot instituted by Rabbinic ordinance:

א = אבילות, the laws of mourning.

ש = שמחת חתן וכלה , the seven days of celebration for a groom and bride.

ר = רחיצה, the laws of nitilat yadayim — washing of hands before a meal.

ל = לחם, the laws of saying a berachah before eating food and also that breads and foods baked or cooked by Gentiles are forbidden to us, even if there is no problem about the kashrut of the ingredients.

ר = רשויות, the laws added by the Rabbis regarding domains where it is forbidden to carry on Shabbat, and also the distance permissible to walk out of residential area.

ע =עמלק , the laws pertaining to reading the Megillah on Purim, and the other mitzvot of Purim — Haman was a descendant of Amalek, and Purim commemorates the victory over him.

ך = כהנים, the miracle of Chanukah, which was brought about through the Kohanim of the family of Mattityahu.

(חתם סופר)

"וכל העם ראים את הקולת"
“The entire people saw the thunder [that issued from the mouth of Hashem — Rashi].” (20:15)

QUESTION: The Midrash Rabbah (28:5) states that the voice was unique in that it had no echo. Usually, the stronger the voice, the stronger the echo. Isn’t the lack of echo from the voice of Hashem a sign of weakness?

ANSWER: The distance the voice can travel depends on the person’s strength. When the voice reaches a wall, it rebounds, producing an echo. The Midrash is implying that the voice of Hashem was so powerful that it penetrated and permeated every person and every physical part of the universe so that there was no echo.

(לקוטי שיחות חלק ה')

"אלהי כסף ואלהי זהב לא תעשו לכם"
“Idols of silver and idols of gold you shall not make for yourselves.” (20:20)

QUESTION: This prohibition also includes a warning that, making the keruvim which stood on the Ark from silver rather than gold, is tantamount to making idols (Rashi).

In time of need it is permissible to make the vessels of the Mishkan with other metals (Rambam, Beit Habechirah 1:19). Why is it forbidden to make keruvim of anything else other than gold?

ANSWER: The keruvim had the faces of children. Placing them on the Ark, which housed the Torah, alludes to the fact that Jewish children must receive a Torah education.

The law that keruvim can be made only from gold teaches us a very important lesson. Although it is generally permissible to use a cheaper metal, we must give our children the best Jewish education (gold). Anything inferior is forbidden.

(הרב מאיר ז"ל שפירא מלובלין)

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

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

ANSWER: The altar represents the concept of teshuvah. On it were brought offerings through which one’s sins would be atoned for. 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 A-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 swerve. 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)