Parshat Yitro - From The Wilderness To Sinai

  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times

As the parashah opens, Moshe’s father-in-law, Yitro, arrives at the Israelites’ encampment in the Sinai Desert. This is a very important episode, although we will not dwell on it here. Then, the parashah continues with a detailed description of the greatest event in the history of Jewish People, and, in fact, of all mankind: the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

“And they departed from Refidim, and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness, and Israel camped there opposite the mountain” (Shemos 19:2).

It is interesting to note that regarding all the travels of the Jews in the wilderness, the Torah uses the plural form of the verb: “They journeyed …”

But when they reached the foot of Mount Sinai, the Torah uses a singular verb: “And Israel encamped there.” This is the sole instance of a singular verb being used in connection with the nation’s travels in the wilderness.

This unusual wording connotes the sublime unity of the entire nation in their anticipation of their imminent meeting with the Creator of the world. They were united as never before, and therefore G-d considered them worthy of receiving the Torah. G-d was about to bestow upon the nation of former slaves the most valuable gift, the Torah, a divine “User’s Manual,” so to speak, replete with the Manufacturer’s instructions: How to Live an Optimal Life on this Earth.”

The Torah contains 613 commandments that are binding on the Jewish people for all time.

I was once asked the following question:

It is a Torah commandment to return a lost object to the rightful owner. Likewise, if someone has taken the property of another, whether by mistake or by design, he must return it to the rightful owner, as the verse says: “…and it shall be, when he has sinned and is guilty, that he shall return the article which he had stolen, or the funds which he had withheld, or the item which had been deposited with him, or the article which he had found…” (Vayikra 5:23).

But the inquirer wanted to know, how can one fulfill this commandment if he has never stolen anything from anyone?

I replied: “In order to fulfill all the commandments of the Torah, you must be a swindler (so you can pay back what you stole), and a king (not to acquire many wives, money, or horses), and a Kohain Gadol (not to marry a widow). But obviously, that is impossible! How can anyone ever hope to fulfill all 613 Commandments? It seems impossible! “However,” I continued, “There is a way that we can share in fulfilling these precepts as well, even though they do not apply to us directly. How so? G-d commands us to ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Vayikra 18:18).”

While fulfilling this precept, we may also be fulfilling another commandment, indirectly.

For example, the Torah tells us that if a husband wants to separate from his wife, he must write her a Get, a Jewish bill of divorce.

How can someone who completely uninterested in divorcing his wife fulfill this commandment, nonetheless?

Let’s say that Yoel abandoned his wife, Rivkah. Because of the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves, we search for Yoel and compel him to grant Rivkah a valid divorce according to Torah law.

Anyone who helps the abandoned wife finally receive a bill of divorce is considered to have fulfilled this commandment, even though he himself remains happily married to his dear wife.

Another possibility: Say a Jew named David has appropriated other people’s possessions for his own use. If Avraham then persuades David to return the stolen goods to the owner, he has participated in fulfilling the commandment “…that he shall return the article…” even though he himself never stole a thing.

We know that G-d commanded us to study the Torah each day: “Hear, Israel, statutes and laws that I speak for your hearing today; study them and try to fulfill them (Devarim 5:1).” Also, “May this book of the Torah not depart from your lips, and study it day and night, in order to exactly fulfill everything written in it, then you will be successful on your way and you will succeed (Yehoshua 1:8).”

Every Jew is obliged to devote some time to Torah study during the day and during the night.

When he uses this time to delve into a commandment that he personally cannot fulfill, Heaven regards him as having performed the commandment.

Perhaps, one day he himself will have the opportunity to fulfill the commandment, and, thanks to his hours of study, he now knows how to carry it out. Alternatively, he might be called upon to teach a friend how to perform this commandment.

No one Jew can fulfill all 613 commandments of the Torah. It is only when we are united as a nation that the populace, taken as a whole, can carry out all the commandments of the Torah.

By Rabbi Yitzchok Zilber ztk”l,
Founder, Toldot Yeshurun