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Parshas Yisro


It is always very inspiring to read this week’s parsha which contains the story of what makes us the Jewish People – the Sinai Revelation. For one singular time in history, G-d revealed Himself clearly to the entire nation, gave them the Aseres HaDibros and told them that Moshe is the True Prophet. This national revelation was displayed in front of millions of Jews, the only time that a revelation was not merely the testimony of one or a handful of people who claim that G-d spoke to them.

The theme of this week’s haftarah is also one of clear revelation, one of the most supreme and sublime revelations that any prophet received – Yeshaya’s vision of the workings of Hashem’s Chariot and of the malachim surrounding it singing Kedusha, announcing to all that Hashem is Kadosh.

Reading the pesukim, we find the malachim described as having six wings (Yeshaya 6:2):

“The Seraphim stand above him with six wings for each one, it covered its face with two, it covered its feet with two, and it would fly with two.”

In Novardak it was asked why it is that the angels are described as covering their feet. We can understand why they would cover their faces when standing before G-d. They feel a powerful awe before Hashem and need to cover their faces almost in shame, similar to when we hide and cover our faces when we say tachanun. But why would they be covering their feet? What is shameful about their feet?

Rav Yaakov Emden, in his sefer Sulam Beis Kel (found in the beginning of his siddur), cites an opinion that one should not sway back and forth during davening, we should not shuckel. The Rema MiPano (siman 113) says that one should not shuckel when davening; and that it is not an honorable way to stand before Hashem. He recommends standing straight while davening as in the pasuk (1:7) in Yechezkel’s description of the malachim standing “with a single straight leg.” This is why we keep our feet together during Shemoneh Esrei. However, Rav Emden says that this reasoning is not necessarily true and that we find earlier sources that encourage shuckeling, such as the Maharil.

According to the Vilna Gaon, standing with legs straight has a negative connotation. “And I will place before you movers (mehalchim) between these stationary ones (ha’omdim)” (Zecharia 3:7). The Gaon explains that the “movers” refer to human beings and the stationary ones malachim. They are stationary and can never grow as they lack free will and are essentially spiritual robots. Only man can grow spiritually and that is why he is called a mover.

We now understand why the malachim cover their feet when standing before G-d. They know that true service of Hashem can only come from free will, tests and challenges. They “serve” Hashem but only as the programmed beings that they are. They are omdim; they stand in one place. However they were created, that’s what they are and that’s what they always will be. They can never be holchim, movers in their service of Hashem and they are ashamed of that. Hence, they cover their feet from this shame.

Rav Eytan Feiner utilizes this theme to explain why the malach of Eisav attacked and injured part of Yaakov’s leg.  Perhaps he was trying to remove the spiritual greatness Yaakov had achieved as a “holeich,” someone growing in spirituality. To defeat Yaakov, the malach dealt a blow specifically to his leg. This symbolizes that Yaakov would become an omed, unable to walk well and forced to stand in one place, and/or limp. Converting his antagonist from a “holeich” to an “omed” would thereby provide Esav’s malach with a possible victory.

Rav Feiner continues to explain a mystical practice. Rav Chaim Pelagi, in Kaf HaChaim (288:66), cites a practice mentioned in the Rabbeinu Ephraim and the Rokeach, both commenting on Vayishlach (32:25), who say that one should be careful not to place one’s hand on the gid hanashe, the sinew on the hip-socket, while sleeping. They write that such an action allows the “ba’alei chalomos,” those angels in charge of dreams, to frighten the sleeper with horrifying nightmares. Apparently, these angels can only hurt someone when he is sleeping and not growing, while he is being an “omed” and not a “holeich.”

Rav Yitzchak Hutner, in Pachad Yitzchak on Purim (maamar 28), also cited by Rabbi Feiner, gives a fascinating explanation for why Purim should be a day of dancing. Eisav’s malach was able to damage Yaakov in his leg. On Purim, we succeeded in overcoming Amalek, Eisav’s grandson, and returned our leg to its original state of perfection. We specifically use our legs to celebrate to demonstrate our new completeness, thus showing that we continue to be “holchim,” moving up in our service of Hashem.

However, we now need to deal with the following question. If we are saying that it is not good to be like the malachim and that even they are ashamed of their standing feet which is why they cover them, why then do we stand with our feet together for Shemoneh Esrei?

Rav Feiner quotes Rav Shimon Schwab (Siddur Commentary, page 411) who quotes Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, who says that when we put our feet together, we are expressing the desire to be like the malachim and not have free will. We would rather not sin as often as we do. While it is true that we can grow spiritually and the malachim can’t, we tell Hashem during our tefillos that having free will is not worth it if we don’t utilize it properly.

This is what we say in the last bracha of Birchas HaShachar, “Vechof es yitzreinee l’hishtabed Lach” – we ask Hashem to force our evil inclination, our yetzer hara, to submit to His will. We know that Hashem gave us free will for a great purpose; however, we wish that we would never sin. In a sense, we are offering our very selves as a sacrifice before Him and, in so doing, performing the single greatest act of our free choice – that of willingly surrendering that choice to Hashem Yisbarach.

And these are some of the happenings in this week’s haftarah.

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