Giving of the Torah
Parshat Yitro, there appears an account of what was without question the
most important event in the history of the world; namely, the Giving of the
Torah by HaShem directly to the Jewish People and indirectly, to all of
This was the event that gave significance and meaning to world history. Without it, if such a thing could be imagined, morality could not exist. For who could say with authority that any behavior was better or worse than any other behavior? Without the Torah, holiness could not exist. For the Torah is HaShem’s “User Guide” to Life for the human being, and holiness is the “object of the game,” and it means coming closer to, and emulating, the behavior of HaShem.
Laws of Nature were set up “on condition” that the people of Israel
accept the Torah. As it is
written in Yirmiyahu (33:25), “Were it not for My covenant (that is, the
Torah – author), neither Day nor Night, nor the Laws of Heaven and Earth,
would I have established.”
our prayers include the poetic description of the event – “You were
revealed in Your Cloud of Glory to Your holy people to speak with them.
From the heavens You allowed them to hear Your voice, and revealed
Yourself in thick clouds of purity. The
entire universe shuddered before You and the creatures You created trembled
before You at Your Revelation, our King, on Mount Sinai to teach Your people
Torah and Commandments. You
allowed them to hear the majesty of Your voice, and Your holy utterances
from fiery flames....”
Ten Utterances, also known as the Ten Commandments, that appear in Parshat
Yitro, to an extent summarize the entire Torah, in the sense that someone
who has internalized these ten Commands, and obeys them fully, is well on
his or her way to observing all six hundred thirteen.
questions arise from contemplation of this grand Parshah.
One is How did
HaShem, Eternal and Almighty, communicate with Man, mortal and frail?
Chassidut has answered this, to an extent, with the word and concept
of “Tzimtzum,” Contraction, whereby HaShem contracted Himself in all of
His “dimensions,” so to speak, to speak with Man, and to allow human
beings to communicate with Him, via Prayer.
major philosophical question is “Why
did HaShem, “Who ruled before any creature was created” (as per the
prayer-poem “Adon Olam,” “Master of the Universe”), choose to give
the Torah to human beings in general, with the Jewish People to act as
teachers of an unruly class?”
respect to the ultimate “Why,” we have no access (although we
might suggest that it was the overflowing kindness of His “Nature” that
required the creation of human beings, in order to give them the Torah).
Rather, we must fall back on answering that question with a question
that Jews have used from time immemorial to analyze human history; namely,
“Is it good for the Jews?”
this question, the answer is “good and bad.”
To start with the “bad,” it certainly has not made us popular
among the nations. As Rabbi
Shimon bar Yochai says (cited in the Sifri to Beha’alotecha) and cited by RASHI
on the verse in Parshat VaYishlach where Esav embraced Yaakov (Bereshit
33:4) (Phew!), Esav didn’t really mean it.
Rather, “It is a ‘Law’ clearly known and taught by Moshe from
Sinai, that Esav hates Yaakov!”
from another perspective, it has been infinitely good!
As Rabbi Akiva says in Pirkei Avot 3:18,
are the people Israel, for they are described as children of the
Omnipresent; it is indicative of a greater love that it was made known to
them that they are described as children of the Omnipresent, as it is
said (Devarim 14:1), ‘You are children of HaShem your G-d.’
Beloved are the people Israel, for a cherished instrument was given
to them; it is indicative of a greater love that it was made known to
them that they were given a cherished instrument, as it is said (Mishlei
4:2), ‘For I have given you a good teaching; do not forsake My Torah.’
respect to the “motivation” of HaShem in giving us the Torah, we can
only fall back on the words of our Rabbis, “Blessed is our L-rd, Who
Created us for His Glory, and separated us from those who are
in error, and gave us a Torah of Truth, and planted within us Eternal
which we respond, using the immortal words of King David (Tehilim 30), with
a reference to our Glory, granted us as a gift by HaSHem, “You have
changed for me my lament into dancing;
You undid my sackcloth and girded me with happiness.
So that my Glory (my Divine soul) might make
music to You and not be stilled; HaShem
my G-d, forever will I thank you.”
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel