Divrei Torah

PARSHAS YISRO 5778

In this week’s parsha we read about the most significant event ever in world history – G-d gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai. Without the Torah, there is no Jewish people. The Torah is what distinguishes the Jewish people from everybody else. We find a statement in the Talmud, “Rabbi Yosef said, if it weren’t for the Torah, there would be many Yosef’s in the market.”

Rav Yosef meant to say, that he is no different than anybody else, except for one major factor – the Torah. It is the Torah that made him special. As Rabbeinu Saadya Gaon writes, “Our nation is not a nation without the Torah.” Therefore, by simple deduction, living according to the laws of the Torah must be a priority for the Jewish people.

We do Mitzvos because we realize that G-d is the Master and we are the servants and this is what G-d wants. We do Mitzvos because we know and accept G-d’s commandments. Judaism isn’t about doing Mitzvos because I want to do them. We don’t do Mitzvos because they seem like the right thing to do . . . they seem ethical . . . they seem moral. At times, Mitzvos are inconvenient. But, we still have to do them, and with the same feeling that we want to do G-d’s will.

On a Shabbos late in January of 1986, I was in another shul. Mincha at that time of the year should be about 4:45 P.M. and Ma’ariv about 5:05 P.M. However, when announcing the times for davening during the coming week, the president said that tomorrow, Sunday, Mincha will be at 4:00 P.M. and Ma’ariv at 9:00 P.M., in order to enable people to watch the Bears play in the Super Bowl. One of the more prominent members of that shul got up and said angrily, “That’s outrageous!” And he was 100% correct. Just because the Mitzva is at an inconvenient time means that I should or can adjust it? Purim on Friday is a bad day, so I will observe it on Sunday. Can I do that? The idea is not to adjust the Torah to meet the needs of our lifestyle. Rather, it is to adjust our lifestyle to meet the needs of the Torah. That is part of realizing that G-d is the Master and we are the servants.

We also see this idea, doing Mitzvos as the will of G-d and not of our own volition, in the Ten Commandments. The Torah states, “And G-d spoke all of these words.” Rashi comments that G-d said all 10 Commandments simultaneously, which is impossible for a human being to hear or comprehend. Then, He repeated each one individually. But, what was G-d’s purpose in doing it this way, if nobody could understand it?

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt”l explained, that it was to show that all of the commandments are from G-d. People accept “I am the L-rd your G-d” and “Don’t take G-d’s name in vain” as Divine decrees. However, some people don’t consider of Divine origin, “Don’t murder. . . Don’t commit adultery. . .  Don’t steal” After all, they are very obvious. What society could survive with murder, adultery and stealing? We don’t need G-d to tell us those commandments.

Therefore, G-d said all 10 Commandments at the same time to indicate that the G-d Who tells us “Don’t take My name in vain” is the same G-d Who says, “Don’t steal”. We must know that we listen to the Torah not because we have tried other ways and it makes the most sense . . . not because it is the moral thing to do. Rather, we listen to the Torah for only one reason – G-d instructed us to do it and we are His servants. And we must do the Mitzvos as the Torah and Rabbis instruct us. We can’t just make it up on our own.

The Torah gives us rules by which we live and we must do our best to follow those rules. We all make mistakes because we are human. But, we cannot adjust the rules to our liking just because it makes us feel better. We can’t adjust the Torah to fit every fad.  That is not Torah. You can call it what you want but you cannot call it Judaism! Rather, we must adjust our lives to the Torah.

G-d gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai. It is our guiding light. We must do our best to follow it in fulfillment of our national destiny to be a light unto the nations.