The Torah talks about four different types of watchmen. Some as a favor will watch something for a friend. Another type will get paid for watching an article. A third type is someone who rents an item to use and is responsible to watch it from any harm. A fourth type is one who borrows an object from his neighbor and is liable for any damage that befalls it.
In every case there is a different responsibility for damage that occurs. Nevertheless, in each case where the caretaker is exempt from reimbursing the owner, he must go to court and verify that he was not negligent in watching the item.
The language the Torah uses to express this obligation is: וְנִקְרַב בַּעַל הַבַּיִת אֶל הָאֱלֹהִים, and the ‘watchman’ shall approach the court…”, that he has not laid his hand upon his fellow’s property. (Ex. 22,7)
A Rabbi once used this passage to express a different notion. Explaining the passage literally, he said if a person wants to approach or come close to Hashem, he must demonstrate that he has not injured his fellow man either materially or mentally. We often do things and unintentionally hurt someone either financially or emotionally. To be a righteous individual we must ever be mindful not to harm someone, even unintentionally.
After Moshe relates to Yitro all the happenings and all the miracles that Hashem had performed for the Jewish people, Yitro’s reaction was to say: בָּרוּךְ יְקֹוָק אֲשֶׁר הִצִּיל אֶתְכֶם מִיַּד מִצְרַיִם, “…Blessed is Hashem, Who has rescued you from the hand of Egypt…”. (Ex. 18,10)
Chazal make a very strange observation regarding this statement of Yitro. They say: “It was a disgrace for Moshe and the six hundred thousand (the Israelites who left Egypt) that they did not bless (Hashem) until Yitro came and did so.” (Sanh. 94a)
This is strange, for after the miraculous crossing of the sea they offered a beautiful song of thanks to Hashem for all He did in saving them from the Egyptians. Was this great song of lesser significance than the few words uttered by Yitro? What then did Chazal mean?
The answer may be that the Jews had offered their thanks and appreciation to Hashem for all the favors he bestowed on them. Thanking Him for the blessings He showers on others, this is what Yitro demonstrated. Yitro thanked Hashem, not for what he had been granted, but for what Hashem did to others. This was the great lesson that he taught.
We should be grateful, not only for our blessings, but also for blessings that other people receive.
Before leaving Egypt Hashem tells Moshe to speak to the Israelites:
וְיִשְׁאֲלוּ אִישׁ מֵאֵת רֵעֵהוּ “…let each man request of his neighbor…silver vessels and gold vessels.” (Ex. 11,2) It is interesting that non-Jewish translations of this Biblical verse translate the word וְיִשְׁאֲלוּ as borrow. Hence many people ask the question, “How could the Jews borrow vessels when they never had intention to return them?”
The Jewish Biblical translations explain the word as “request” or “ask”. Actually the Hebrew word can be interpreted in both ways. The Jewish translation in this instance, however, is more accurate because the Israelites would never have been told by Hashem to borrow with the intention not to return the items.
In the Book of Psalms the word שאל appears in a passage we recite during the month of Elul. אַחַת שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת יְקֹוָק, “One thing have I asked of Hashem”. (Ps. 27,4) Here the word certainly does not mean borrow.
This emphasizes the fact that one cannot rely on translations but must go straight to the original Hebrew to get the true meaning.
CHECK OUT SOME FASCINATING HEBREW / ENGLISH SIMILARITIES
In the first Sidra of the Book of Shemot we read about the birth of Moshe. Nowhere in the Sidra is the name of his parents mentioned. In this week’s Sidra we are first told that his parents were Amram and Yocheved. וַיִּקַּח עַמְרָם אֶת יוֹכֶבֶד, “Amram took his aunt Yocheved as a wife and she bore him Aharon and Moshe…” (Ex. 6,20)
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein gives a very interesting explanation for this. He says that their names were not mentioned until Moshe had been chosen to be the redeemer of the Jews. This is a lesson for parents who are privileged to have exceptionally gifted children.
Even if their children are brilliant and display potential abilities, the parents cannot be certain that they will automatically turn out to be successful. They must invest in them much energy and guidance to direct them in the proper road to success. It is only after the children have succeeded and reached their potential that the parents can take credit for their success.
Moshe’s parents were not named until the Torah reveals the position Moshe had attained. Only then were Amram and Yocheved mentioned.
Moshe went to see how his brethren were faring and he noticed that an Egyptian was striking a Hebrew man. He killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand. וַיִּשְׁמַע פַּרְעֹה אֶת הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה “Pharaoh heard about this matter…”. (Ex. 2,15) The Torah tells us that when Pharaoh heard this he wanted to kill Moshe and Moshe had to flee to Midian.
Jews were being beaten and killed daily. This Pharaoh did not hear. When one Egyptian was killed Pharaoh heard of it. This is the story of generations. When Jews are slaughtered all over the world no one takes heed. When a Holocaust occurs no one is concerned. When one Egyptian is killed it makes an impression.
Thousands of Jews have been killed in Israel by terrorists and no one in the world lifted their voice in protest. When Israel protects itself and kills a terrorist the world is up in arms. This started with Pharaoh and continued throughout the centuries down to our own days.
In this week’s Portion we read a selection that is recited every Shabbat in the Musaf Amida. The selection starts with וְשָׁמְרוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת הַשַּׁבָּת “The Children of Israel shall observe the Shabbat…” (Ex. 31,16) The Torah then gives the reason for this observance. “Between me and the Children of Israel it is a sign forever: כִּי שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים עָשָׂה יְקֹוָק אֶת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת הָאָרֶץ that in six days Hashem made heaven and earth…”
This statement appears a number of times in the Torah. It simply says that in order to testify our belief that Hashem created the world we have a week of seven days and we rest on the last day to affirm this conviction.
It is an amazing thing that all over the world, with no exception, everyone operates on the basis of a seven day week. Unbeknownst to others, by keeping a seven day weekly schedule they are in effect testifying to this principle, that Hashem, indeed, created the world in six days and ‘rested’ on the seventh.
There is talk from time to time to change the length of the week but these attempts have never taken hold and never even gotten to first base. The truth is that all mankind recognizes this truth whether they openly acknowledge it or not. Most people today also celebrate a Sabbath indicating this fact. This Sabbath may not coincide with the Jewish Shabbat because they would never admit that it originated with the Jews. Nevertheless, by respecting a Sabbath day they do inadvertently recognize that Hashem created heaven and earth.
The saying is, “Be careful what you wish for. You might get it”. This is true, not only for wishes but one should be careful about everything he says.
Since Moshe Rabbenu was born his name appears in every Sidra except in this week’s Portion. (Excluding the Book of Deuteronomy where it is missing from four Portions,) The Bal HaTurim, a commentary on the Torah gives a unique reason.
When the Children of Israel sinned in the Wilderness, Hashem said to Moshe He will exterminate them all and build a new nation from Moshe’s descendants. (See Ex.32,10) Moshe pleaded that Hashem should forgive the people, or else,: מְחֵנִי נָא מִסִּפְרְךָ אֲשֶׁר כָּתָבְתָּ, “…erase me now from this book that You have written”. (Ex. 32,32) Chazal tell us, words that come out of the mouths of great people are carried out under all conditions. This, says the Bal HaTurim, was carried out by omitting mentioning Moshe’s name in this week’s Portion.
The Gaon of Vilna asks why Moshe’s name was omitted particularly in this week’s Portion and not in any other. He answers because this Portion is always read in the week when Adar 7 falls out and that is the date that Moshe died.
The theme of this week’s Sidra is the construction of the משכן or Tabernacle in the Wilderness. This was later to serve as the model for the בית המקדש or the Temple in Yerushalayim. In the משכן there were two rooms, one of which was called קודש or Holy and one was called קודש הקדשים or Holy of Holies. Certain functions by the Kohanim were carried out in the room called Holy. The Holy of Holies was reserved only for the High Priest to enter once a year on Yom Kippur. There was a partition separating these two rooms.
Among the items in the Holy room were a table that contained the “Show Bread” which was replaced every week and the Menorah which was lit every day. Harav Kook, the first chief Rabbi of Israel, points out that these two items represent the blessings of prosperity in the world. The table represented the material and physical blessings. The Menorah represented the spiritual blessings of the world.
The Rabbi indicated that there was no partition between them. This suggested that both the material and spiritual matters in the world need not be relegated to different parts of our lives. They can exist with each other simultaneously without conflict. That is why there was no partition between them.
This room was separated, however, from the Holy of Holies with a curtain. The Holy of Holies contained the Torah. It was separated from everything else because it was sacrosanct and stood above all else. It was the word of Hashem and was not to be on a level with our material needs nor even with our spiritual requirements.
Many people question the need for studying the Talmud. Isn’t it sufficient to study the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law, to learn the commandments that constitute our religious practices and we can then live a true religious Jewish life? Why are we required to spend years of study when all we have to know is what we are obliged to perform?
The answer lies in the explanation of the first verse in this Sidra. The Torah starts with the words: “And these are the laws, אֲשֶׁר תָּשִׂים לִפְנֵיהֶם which you shall place before them.” (Ex. 21,1) Rashi expounds on these words and says: Hashem said to Moshe, “It should not enter your mind to say ‘I shall teach them a section of the Torah or a single Halachah twice or three times until it becomes clear in their minds … but I shall not take the trouble to make them understand the reasons of each thing and its significance’… therefore the Torah says אֲשֶׁר תָּשִׂים לִפְנֵיהֶם which thou shall set before them like a table fully laid before a person with everything ready for eating.”
True, if one studies the Code of Jewish Laws he will know what is required of him but he will not understand the meaning and significance of it. That is what the study of the Talmud will give him. There the laws are expounded, discussed, analyzed and made meaningful. It is tragic that not all people have devoted time to the study of the Talmud.
We read this week about מתן תורה the giving or the receiving of the Torah. There is a very strange Midrash concerning this episode. The Torah tells us that the people stood at Mt. Sinai בְּתַחְתִּית הָהָר at the bottom of the mountain. (Ex. 19,17) Oddly enough the literal translation of these words means “under the mountain”.
Because of this wording Chazal tell us that Hashem lifted up the mountain and placed it over the heads of the people and said:אם אתם מקבלים התורה – מוטב, “if you accept the Torah, fine. If not you will be destroyed here.” (Shab. 88a) Obviously, He was forcing them to accept the Torah.
What happened? We shall read next week that the people were so ready to accept the Torah that they proclaimed: נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע “we will do and we will obey”. (Ex. 24,7) According to Chazal this passage preceded receiving the Torah and they were willing to accept it readily without even knowing what was in it. Why did Hashem have to force it on them now? The commentary of the Tosafot (Shab. 88a) explains that there was thunder and lightning and the mountain was engulfed in flame. This frightened the Israelites.
Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik explains that when they were first told that they would be a Chosen People they were delighted. When they stood close to the mountain and they were close to Hashem they developed exceptional prophetic vision. They saw that being a Chosen People entails major tragedies because of the hatred that would develop against them among the nations of the world. Of that, the fiery mountain was an omen. It was then that they wanted to back out of the agreement with Hashem and did not want to accept the Torah. Throughout history the Jews have seen the result of being a Chosen People.
Bnei Israel have finally left Egypt and are on their way to the land promised to them by their forefathers. The journey should have taken eleven days as we learn in the opening verses of Deuteronomy. (Deut. 1,2) That was not to be. Instead we read in this week’s Portion that Hashem led them on a long journey through the Wilderness. Why so?
The Torah gives us the answer to this question. The opening verse in this Portion states that Hashem did not lead them through the short route:
כִּי קָרוֹב הוּא, “…because it was near, for Hashem said, ‘Perhaps the people will reconsider when they see a war, and they will return to Egypt’.” (Ex. 13,17)
The “Sefat Emet”, written in the early 19th century, has a unique interpretation of this passage. The usual understanding of its meaning is that since it was near and if they would encounter a war they will want to return to Egypt. He explains that the fact that it is near is the reason Hashem did not want them to go in that direction. If they would have gone straight to the Promised Land they would not have been prepared to live there.
Living in Israel is not easy. Chazal said: Eretz Israel is acquired through hardship. Anyone who has made Aliya knows that while it is great coming and living in Israel, one must be prepared to undergo numerous unpleasant experiences.
While this is true for individuals it is also true for the nation as a whole. Since its founding Israel has had to contend with its neighbors and also now with the world at large. Hashem led the Jews through the Wilderness to prepare them for what was needed to obtain and to live in the Promised Land.
In last week’s Sidra, Moshe and Aharon appeared before Pharaoh as Hashem had commanded them to do. Moshe asked with the now famous word, “Let my people go”. Instead of complying with this request, Pharaoh toughened the burden of the people.
Moshe’s reaction was surprising. He spoke harshly to Hashem and complained: “Why have You done evil to this people? From the time I came to Pharaoh …he did evil to this people.”(Ex. 5,22)
Rashi in this week’s Portion (Ex. 6,9) refers us to the Rabbinic passage in Sanhedrin in which Hashem bemoans the fact that our forefathers are gone. “Alas for those who are gone and are no more to be found. I said to Avraham: Walk through the land…I will give it to you. Yet when he sought a place to bury Sarah, he did not find one but had to purchase it. Nevertheless, he did not question me.
“I said to Yitzchak: Dwell in this land and I will be with you. Yet when his servants dug wells they were disputed. Nevertheless, he did not question me.
“I said to Yaakov: The land upon which you lie I will give to your seed. Yet when (he returned to the land of his father and ) he had to pitch his tent he did not find a place until he purchased it. Nevertheless, he did not question me.
“Yet you say to me: You have not delivered Thy people.”
The question is: Did Moshe fall below the stature of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov?
The answer is that the trials and tribulations of our forefathers were all for private matters that affected them personally. With Moshe the situation was different. Here the matter affected the Jewish people. It affected the well-being of all the Jews living and slaving in Egypt. Under such conditions a good leader cannot keep still. A true leader must speak up and take action. Moshe, being the ultimate leader, had to act.