Yisro – Belief in Hashem and Believing in Yourself

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In this week’s Torah portion of Yisro, Hashem gave the Torah to the Jewish people at Har Sinai. The entire Torah was embodied in what’s called the Ten Commandments written on the tablets. The first of the mitzvos written on the tablets is: “I am Hashem Your G-d who took you out of the land of Egypt from the house of bondage” (Shemos 20:2).
The medrish, Tanna Dvei Eliyahu (Eliyahu Rabba, perek 26) dissects each phrase of this mitzvah and teaches us a very novel teaching, which is more than just belief in Hashem but an application of belief in Hashem emboldening us to make a positive impact on the world.: “’G-d spoke all these words, to respond: I am Hashem, your God, Who took you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.’ Blessed is The Place Blessed is He who chose the Jews over all the non-Jews and acquired them completely and called them children and servants for His sake. Sometimes He speaks with them in plural form and at other times in singular form and he does this because He loves the Jews and is happy about them. This is what Hashem told the Jews, ‘I was sitting around 974 generations before the world was created whence I carefully thought, deliberated, formed and checked these words of the Torah and from the day the world was created until this time I sit on My Throne of Glory, the third of the day learning Torah, a third of the day I judge the world, and a third of the day I do tzedakah (righteousness) by feeding, supporting and sustaining the entire world. Of all My creations I am the one who put aside the 70 nations in this world and came and clung to you and called you Elohim (powerful being) and associated your name with My Great Name, and I called you My brother My Friend. I was before the world was created, and I am the same One from when the world was created. I am in this world and I am in the World to Come. I will kill and I will make alive, I wounded, and I will heal,’ as it says ‘in order that you know and believe Me, and understand that I am He; before Me no god was formed and after Me none shall be.  I am the Lord, and besides Me there is no Savior’ (Yeshayahu 43: 10, 11). It also says, ‘Behold I am Hashem and there is no other god besides Me, a G-d who is righteous and a savior there is no one like Me’ (Yeshayahu 42). It also says, ‘that I am God and there is no other; I am God and there is none like Me’ (Yeshayau 46:9).”

The Meorei Eish (a great grandson of the Tosfos Yom tov) shows how this ties into the first mitzvah of the Ten Commandments. He says that the point of this medrish is to explain each word of the pasuk: “I am Hashem;” that with the light of His Holy Name He simply creates, lets live and sustains the entire creation from nothing. “Your G-D” who watches over and sustains each individual; we know this because He took us out of Egypt. He created the Celestial Torah before the world was created and through it he created them and now sustains the world with it through His logic of Torah. He feeds the world, which is a general maintenance of everything alive, and supports and sustains everything. This is all derived from the name “Hashem.” Indeed, in explaining “Your G-D,” when the medrish said “I am the one who set aside the 70 nations” Hashem was informing the Jews that he kept special attention and specific maintenance upon them through prophesy, demonstrating for them very lofty and spiritual heights through prophesy. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
When the medrish says, “and called you Elohim (powerful being)” this means we were appointed to control nature, for it to be subjugated by our good actions. Furthermore, the name of G-D as Elokim refers to the fact that G-D is All Powerful, so too within man there are celestial and earthly powers included within us, and man is the pillar of creation, for which the entire world was intended. “And associated your name with My Great Name” refers to the pure soul from on high, that was imbued into every human being. Lastly, “I called you My brother My Friend.” Because through their good deeds they have the power to add the shefa (abundance of holiness), that it will increase in this world, though everything is in the Hand of Hashem nevertheless Hashem decreed that through Mankind’s deeds it will increase. Hashem was the one who said “I am Hashem your G-D” in the Ten Commandments; there were no intermediaries. He is your savior, not an angel, all powerful, who took you out of Egypt.

According to the medrish, why does Hashem let us know that we are also called Elohim, that He imbued us with a soul, a godly element within us, and that He refers to as “My Brother and My Friend?” Wouldn’t this actually detract from Hashem’s greatness and almighty, all powerful existence, which Hashem seems to want to enumerate to us in the first commandment as a complete and true picture of belief and trust in Him?

It would seem that in fact Hashem is charging us with a responsibility to the world which is the purpose and basis for our existence. Hashem has charged us with being “His partner” in sustaining and molding the world for its ultimate good. By knowing and recognizing who we work for, who entrusted us with His precious world to add onto it and mold it into a better place, and that He gave us the power and ability to do so, should empower us to want to live up to the will of our Father in Heaven, our Master, who shares with us His powers and treats us as His brother and friend, a partner in creation. What a responsibility! What an opportunity we have! This is the greatness of man that was specifically charged to the Jewish people when we accepted Hashem’s Torah.

In the First of the Ten Commandments Hashem actually is not just charging us to believe in Him but to believe in ourselves, as an impetus to increase the quality of the world He has created, “though everything is in the Hand of Hashem nevertheless Hashem decreed that through mankind’s deeds the world will upsurge.” This is a very noteworthy introduction and very apropos to our responsibility towards fulfilling and observing the rest of the Torah.

Yisro – Gadlus Haadam: Really Realizing Why Humankind is So Great

For Food for Thought in Spanish: Haga clic aquí para leer en español. Please share this with your Jewish Spanish speaking family, friends, and associates.
You probably never thought about why it is inappropriate to shame someone, meaning to do something that would cause someone to feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, or even disgraced. It’s obvious why, because it is not nice. But why is it not nice and on the contrary it’s very easy to make up excuses like sometimes it could be fun if done in jest and it could feel good if done to make yourself look good or to bring  attention to yourself?!

The last pasuk of this week’s Torah portion of Yisro states, “And you shall not ascend with steps upon My altar, so that your nakedness shall not be exposed upon it'” (Shemos 20:23). Rashi observes on the last part of the pasuk, “אשר לא תגלה ערותך THAT THY NAKEDNESS BE NOT UNCOVERED — because on account of these steps you will have to take large paces and so spread the legs. Now, although this would not be an actual uncovering of one’s nakedness (of the parts usually kept covered), since it is written, (Exodus 28:42) ‘And thou shalt make for them (the priests) linen breeches [to cover the flesh of their nakedness]’, still the taking of large paces is near enough to uncovering one’s nakedness that it may be described as such, and you would then be treating them (the stones of the altar) in a manner that implies disrespect.”

The last Medrish Tanchuma on this Torah portion learns a lesson from here, “for this can be a kal vechomer, (a fortiori), for just as stones that don’t have knowledge to differentiate between good and bad, Hashem still warns you to not treat them in a disrespectful manner, all the more so, your friend, who is created in the likeness of Hashem.” The Etz Yosef adds, “’Your friend who is created in the likeness of Hashem’ as it is written ‘in the likeness of G-D He made him,’ all the more so do you have to be careful not to disrespect him in any possible shameful manner even if you don’t intend to disrespect him, because if you disrespect him you will be disrespecting his likeness of Hashem, and who is honored (or respected) those that honor (or respect) humanity.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
We must analyze this medrish very carefully. The medrish is comparing every single human being to the stones of the ramp that was used to walk up towards the alter which was in turn used to forge a relationship between man and his Father in Heaven, The Almighty King of all Kings. It was a very holy place where sins were forgiven, thanksgiving was offered on the alter and peace offerings were also sacrificed. It is understandable that it must be treated with the utmost respect for what it represents and does for our connection On High. Still in all the medrish says that it is only an inanimate object that doesn’t have any thought process to be able to choose between good and bad, to have emotions, make choices, to feel insulted, but nevertheless it would be inappropriate to show disrespect towards it, even in a slight indirect manner, which was not intentional as Rashi and the Etz Yosef point out. All the more so a human being, your fellow man who was endowed with a sense of free will, who is able to make deep intellectual, and philosophical choices, and can strive for perfection, and a close relationship with the Almighty, Our Father In Heaven; Mankind who was purposefully given the ability to choose between good and bad in order to be put into situations where he could choose to emulate Hashem, who is all good and complete truth, which is what defines us as being created in G-D’s likeness, all the more so must be treated with the utmost respect and not shamed in any way intentionally or unintentionally.

In a similar vein, I was once in Ottawa, Canada, for the changing of the guards which still has connections with the Royal family of England. Every morning there is a long and elaborate ceremony with hundreds of marching soldiers towards the parliament in order to switch the soldiers who are in charge of guarding the royal keys of the Parliament building, such sovereignty and significance was given towards the keys of a building connected to the royal family, all the more so one can imagine the respect and elegance demonstrated to the majesty herself and her family! (Click here for more information about this ceremony.)

If we only realized who we are, beloved princes and princesses, dukes and duchesses of The King Of All Kings as it says in Pirkey Avos (3:14),  “He (Rebbe Akiva) would also say: Beloved is man, for he was created in the image [of G‑d]; it is a sign of even greater love that it has been made known to him that he was created in the image, as it is says, “For in the image of G‑d, He made man” (Genesis 9:6).” Then we would be more cognizant and at the forefront of awareness to ensure we treat each other with proper respect.

The special fortune that every single human being is created in the image of Hashem is THE reason why it is not nice to cause any disgrace to each other. If we truly realized the greatness of mankind, where we ourselves come from, how and why we were created and the potential for perfection and purity that each one of us was endowed with, the world would be a much better place!