The Aseres HaDibros, the Ten Commandments, comprise the cornerstone of our edifice of life. Every clear-thinking individual is cognizant of the fact that a home built on a shaky foundation is in danger of crumbling. Absent the divinely communicated belief system that forms the basis of our day-to-day existence, our humanity would be diminished and we would become malleable, essentially physical creatures – much like a heartless and soulless golem.
God Himself relayed the Aseres HaDibros, disseminating them to us all at once. According to a midrash, the bulk of the people gathered at Mt. Sinai in anticipation of receiving God’s word discerned only the first two commandments before losing consciousness. The remaining eight were delineated in suspended words of fire that hung in the atmosphere surrounding the mountain.
When the Torah complained to Hashem that it was to be granted to living and breathing entities, God availed Himself of the dew reserved for the resurrection of the dead to resuscitate those whose soulshad left them. The Sefas Emes suggests that the reason the masses were thus affected was to teach all forthcoming generations that only through self-sacrifice could one hope to draw near to the Torah.
How is it that not all Torah scholars beget children who go on to become talmidei chachamim? One reason stated is that some fathers preoccupy themselves with learning to the point of neglecting to say the blessings recited each morning over the mitzvah of studying Torah. A sincere and heartfelt rendering of the blessings, which includes a plea for success in sweetening the words of Torah for us and our offspring, is indispensable if one is to merit children who will follow in their father’s footsteps. – Nedarim 81
In reaction to the heavenly enunciation of “Ani Hashem Elokecha” – I am Hashem your God – the nations rolled their eyes and scoffed, “Is there then a king who does not crave recognition?”
Equally unimpressed with the injunction of “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” they sneered, “Which god is interested in sharing his glory? They all want to be the only one!”
Of the commandment to keep the Shabbos day holy, they declared, “Every king wants his special day, like his birthday, to be remembered and celebrated.”
But upon hearing the words “Honor thy father and thy mother,” the nations stood at attention and began to praise God, readily admitting that were any of them to be elevated to the highest station in the land, they would cease to heed their parents altogether, let alone pay tribute to them.
At the giving of the Torah, the envious nations wanted to know why they could not be the recipients of the Torah. Hashem responded by demanding that they produce a letter of yichus(privileged ancestry). The Yalkut Shimoni asks why yichus would figure as a requisite for learning Torah – should not a desire and willingness to learn suffice? The Ramban posits that belief in the Torah is only sustainable when earlier generations transmit their knowledge and traditions to later generations.
Our elders validate the true meaning of acceptance of the Torah by illustrating their own reverence and adherence to the belief system. A nation whose children regard themselves as being more perceptive and intelligent than their forebears lacks that laudable lineage essential to receiving the Torah.
On one of Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky’s flights back to America from the Holy Land, he was seated next to a prominent secular Jew. From time to time, a man accompanied by a young woman would approach Reb Yaakov to inquire about his state of comfort.
Rav Kaminetsky’s seatmate was intrigued by such absorption in the rabbi’s welfare, so Reb Yaakov explained that the man was his son and the young lady his granddaughter.
“Really?” exclaimed the secular gentleman, who then related that he seldom got to see his children, who didn’t show much interest in their father, and that his grandchildren hardly ever stopped by to visit their grandfather.
Reb Yaakov responded, “We believe God created the world and gave us the Torah on Har Sinai. As such, a father is closer to the generation that stood at Har Sinai and one’s grandfather even closer to his forbears of that significant time. In fact, the farther back one goes, the higher esteemed the ancestor.
“You, on the other hand, believe you evolved from the family of apes. Stands to reason that your son would consider himself to be of greater stature than his father or grandfather who are closer descendents of the animal and subsequently less refined as humans – and therefore less deserving of any respect.”
The Chasam Sofer lost his father as a child and his mother remarried. Renowned as a scholar and tzaddik, the Chasam Sofer was a sought-after prospect by affluent members of the community eager to gain him as a son-in-law. Even his stepfather wished to win his wife’s worthy son for his own daughter from a previous marriage. The Chasam Sofer’s brother was against this shidduch for he felt his acclaimed brother ought to marry a girl from a well-to-do family, an arrangement that would enable him to continue learning with ease.
In the interest of kibud eim – to spare his mother any shalom bayis upheaval – the Chasam Sofer turned down all the offers he received from wealthy families and married his stepsister. He later attributed his success in Torah learning to his wife, who never made any demands on him and allowed him a peaceful existence – whereas had he married into wealth, his wife would have expected to be supported in the lavish style in which she was raised, stifling his lofty ambition and holy works.
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“… ushnei tzmidim al yadeha asarah zahav mishkalam …” When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold nose ring, weighing half a shekel, and two bracelets for her arms, weighing ten gold shekel (Bereishis 24:22). These words describe the gifts Eliezer bestowed on Rivkah, the virtuous maiden.
Rashi connects this gift that Eliezer gave Rivkah – two bracelets for her arms, each weighing in at 10-gold shekel – to the two tablets etched with the Ten Commandments.
The Talmud (Yerushalmi Nedarim) discusses the issue of whether a man can be mekadesh a woman with a Sefer Torah. The idea is subsequently negated since the Torah could not belong exclusively to her, as many others would have a share in it.
Yet the two gold bracelets alluded to Yitzchak’s being a living Torah and to his and Rivkah’s union resulting in the birth of Klal Yisrael who would, by virtue of accepting the Torah, be made a holy nation unto God. The bracelets were thus symbolic of the living Torah – by which Eliezer, Yitzchak’s messenger, was mekadesh Rivkah.
Moreover, there are exactly 613 Torah verses from the beginning of Bereishis to the particular verse that speaks of the bracelets, backing up Rashi’s contention and essentially corroborating that promise that the shidduch of Yitzchak and Rivkah would result in a people who would keep the Torah holy and observe its 613 commandments.
The two tablets of the Ten Commandments are reflective of one another. The commandment of Kabed es Avicha v’es Imecha (honoring one’s parents) thereby relates to the commandment of Lo Sachmod (do not covet). What possible connection is there between the two?
Regarding the latter, it is written that one who covets that which belongs to another will have a son who will curse him. How does such punishment fit the crime? According to Shimon HaGadol, the only possession one can unequivocally claim as his own is his children (literally a part of him). When one covets that which does not belong to him, his own son – his true possession – will, in turn, display behavior in a contradicting nature.
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When the Sochatchover Rebbe, later to become the Baal Avnei Nezer, was a young child, he studied with his father, the Rav of Biala. The Rav once posed a difficult question to his son who was by then already an outstanding student. The son proceeded to explain it without hesitation, but the elder dismissed the hasty commentary and additionally admonished his son with a light slap on the cheek to teach him to refrain from hurried elucidations.
The child remained calm and continued learning as though nothing extraordinary had transpired.
Many years later, when the youngster had grown to become a gadol hador, he paid his aged and ailing father a visit. The Biala Rav recalled the incident of long ago and revealed how he had shortly thereafter discovered that his son had accurately interpreted the Gemara. However, he had held back from telling him so for fear of imbuing the child with an air of self-importance and smugness. Now he wanted to ask his son’s forgiveness for having chastised him without justification.
The Avnei Nezer replied that he had known at the time that his answer was correct and the slap unwarranted – and, he added, he’d forgiven his father on the spot. He nevertheless abstained from deliberately pointing out that his father had erred because of his deference to the mitzvah of kibud av (according a father respect and honor).
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“Honor your father and mother so that your days will be lengthened.” Various sources in the Torah indicate that Hashem regards the honoring of one’s parents to be on par with honoring our Father above.
The creation of a human being occurs through the three-way partnership of Hashem and the biological father and mother. The child derives his bones, nails, brawn, brain and the white of his eyes from his father; skin, flesh, blood, hair and the black of his eyes from his mother; endowment of eyesight, hearing, speech, movement of limbs, understanding, spirit, soul and physical appeal by his heavenly Father. – Niddah 31
When the Brisker Rav, Reb Yehoshua Leib Diskin, was to become the Rav of Jerusalem, he moved to a new home. Among his instructions to the mover was the stipulation that two specific oversized cases stacked one upon the other were to remain in that same order during transport and delivery.
Despite the issuance of his strict order not to reposition the cases, Reb Yehoshua Leib accompanied them all the way.
The mover’s curiosity was aroused. What could the cases possibly contain to warrant such care and vigilance? And what could possibly occur if their order were reversed?
The Rav explained that the container that lay on top carried all of his father’s holy writings while the bottom case held all of his own. And it wouldn’t be right for his own to be placed atop his father’s – even for just the briefest of time.
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Rabbi Tarfon, the renowned Mishnah sage, was said to revere his elderly mother to such a degree that he would stoop low to the ground so that she could use him as her stepping stool whenever she had need to ascend to or descend from her bed. When he reached the Bais Hamidrash and discussed the great honor he gives his mother, he was told that he was still far from fulfilling the mitzvah. Were he to keep silent and not embarrass his mother if she took his wallet filled with money and tossed it into the river, he would then be on his way to discharging the commandment properly.
The eldest of many children of a prominent family in Jerusalem was an accomplished young lady, well rounded in both character and intellectual capacity, and was expected to find a shidduch with relative ease. To everyone’s surprise, she rejected countless match proposals by invoking every excuse in the book: He was not compatible; she did not feel anything; she was not ready; she still needed to further her education; etc., etc. The pleas of her parents and rabbonim were duly ignored; regardless of how illustrious or well-suited the potential match proffered, the girl did not bend or break.
Soon, the second in line came of age, and the oldest daughter granted her categorical consent and approval for her younger sister to proceed. This pattern repeated itself down the line with all her siblings as their time of maturity approached, until they all were married.
When the still-single daughter turned 32, her mother initiated a heart-to-heart dialogue with her firstborn. “Do you recall when many years back I suffered a terrible illness and doctors just about gave up every hope for my recovery? I visited a tzaddik who granted me a blessing that I would regain my health and would merit to see all my children to the chupah. Your incomprehensible delay has been causing me so much grief that I would sooner prefer death over continuing to live with this heartache.”
When the daughter heard her mother’s words, she agreed immediately to be receptive to any offer that would come her way. Before long, a suitable 34 year old was suggested, and, true to her word, the match was concluded.
At the wedding, everyone’s joy was boundless – save for the bride, who emanated an unmistakable aura of underlying sadness. Her mother, escorting her daughter to the chupah, remarked that this day was the happiest of her lifetime. These were the last words she would utter, for shortly thereafter she collapsed and departed this world. The week of Sheva Brachos was transformed into a week of mourning.
The daughter finally revealed the secret behind her refusal to marry – she had hoped to prolong her mother’s life on earth, as the tzaddik whom her mother had seen had verbalized that she would live long enough to see all her children marry. With her mother’s expressed desire to die rather than watch her daughter become an aged single, the daughter’s noble objective lost its purpose and she found herself with no alternative but to honor her mother one last time.
(This essay is dedicated l’ilui nishmas Sara bas Bentzion, z”l, my wonderful mother, who was an exceptional human being and my greatest inspiration. May her memory be a blessing in the life of the World to Come.)
Rachel Weiss is a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press.