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Shabbat Parashat Yitro | 5770

Parashat Hashavuah: A Multi-Leveled Ten Fold

Harav Yosef Carmel

At the center of Parashat Yitro is the story of the giving of the Torah, which changed the history of the world and transformed Bnei Yisrael into the am segula (roughly, the chosen nation). “If you listen to My voice and guard My covenant, you shall be for Me a segula from all of the nations, for all the land is Mine” (Shemot 19:5).

We will try to understand this great transformation based on the ideas of the first Rebbes of Ger, the Chidushei Harim, as relayed by his grandson, the Sefat Emet. Their thesis is that the Ten Sayings with which Hashem created the world were fixed by the Ten Plagues He later would inflict upon the Egyptians and enabled the great advance that came about through the Ten Commandments. The Chidushei Harim claims that this is not a mere semantic connection. Rather, it represents a fundamental spiritual process in the development of human history.

The Ten Commandments correspond to the Ten Sayings. This has to with the idea that a person first receives a yetzer hara (evil inclination), and later the yetzer hatov (good inclination) enters. First there was a world of tohu vavohu (lack of order), and the Ten Sayings were close to nature. The Ten Commandments had to come to renew the world and restore its lifeline so that it would be clear that life flows only through Hashem, through the power of Torah. This is what Chazal meant by saying that "Bereishit" hints that the world was created because of reishit (the Torah).    

The first period of the world’s existence was known as the era of tohu (void), in view of the prevalent spiritual level at the time, even after the world was created with the Ten Sayings. This is parallel to the period in a person’s life before his bar mitzva, when he has only a yetzer hara, which brings him to do childish things. The yetzer hatov is still not influential, and his life follows the rules of nature without the Torah’s influence. In the realm of world history, it was premature to have tikun olam (fixing the world) by means of true free will, in which one has to work to stay away from evil and do good. Before the giving of the Torah, which is called a “potion of herbs,” physical powers ruled over mankind. The Egyptians under Pharaoh reached the nadir of spiritual levels, which we call the 49th level of impurity. According to this approach, the fact that Pharaoh had no free choice to decide what to do with Israel was not a punishment but was a natural outcome of the state of affairs before the Torah was given.  

To rectify the situation, Bnei Yisrael had to be taken out of Egypt to freedom in order to elevate themselves during the 49 days of sefira from the 49 levels of impurity, and then receive the Torah on the 50th day. The Ten Plagues showed the Israelites, the Egyptians, and the world that there is a leader Who instituted the laws of nature and that one can break away from those laws of nature that keep us down.

The Torah lets us know that we have two inclinations, including a good one, which we must use to choose good. Our nation was chosen to teach the world that mankind has this power. We must use our freedom from slavery to choose properly. This is accomplished through the Ten Commandments, which show that which is good and that one must cling to Hashem.  

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Dedication

Hemdat Yamim is dedicated in memory of
HaRav Professor Reuben M. Rudman o.b.m

 

This week’s Hemdat Yamim is dedicated in loving memory of
R' Meir ben
Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld
o.b.m 

Hemdat Yamim is endowed by
Les & Ethel Sutker of Chicago, Illinois in loving memory of
Max and Mary Sutker and
Louis and Lillian Klein, z”l.

 

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