Parshas Yisro

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By Rabbi Shloimie Lindenbaum

כה תאמר לבית יעקב ותגיד לבני ישראל (פרק יט פסוק ג)

In the first proclamation preparing בני ישראל for the monumental giving of the תורה at הר סיני, Hashem delineates two groups- בית יעקב and בני ישראל. Rashi tells us that the first group is the women of כלל ישראל and the second group is the men. R’ Moshe Feinstein asks, we know that men have more מצוות than women do, if so, why are the women mentioned first in the command to relay the מצוות? R’ Moshe explains that the תורה must be continued throughout the generations and yet the incredible מעמד הר סיני would only be done once. Therefore, it was essential that כלל ישראל understand that they will need to fulfill the תורה in a way that will ensure it’s transfer to their children. This מסורה must begin when they are still young children. At that time, they must already be imbued with an importance and love for תורה. This is something that can only be accomplished by the mother, the one who is primarily raising the child in all physical aspects when they are young. Only the mother can lay the necessary foundation at that young age for the children to continue on in the ways of Hashem for the rest of their lives. Therefore, as a prerequisite to מתן תורה Hashem placed the women first, because they will be the ones to ensure the continuation of תורה in all future generations.

וכל העם רואים את הקולת  (פרק כ פסוק טו)

The תורה tells us that at מתן תורה everyone was able to see the “voice” of Hashem. Why was this needed? The Brisker Rov explained based on a statement of R’ Chaim Volozhiner. R’ Chaim had said that his brother, R’ Zalman, knows the whole Torah as well as the average Jew knows אשרי. They asked him that R’ Chaim’s Rebbe, the Vilna Gaon, is certainly a bigger תלמיד חכם, how is it possible that he knows anything better than אשרי? R’ Chaim answered that the Gaon knows the תורה backwards and forwards, for even an average Jew who knows אשרי, couldn’t say it backwards! The Gaon knows the תורה even better than the average Jew knows אשרי.  What is the significance of knowing the תורה backwards? The Brisker Rov explained that when someone is reading from a paper then it makes no difference if they are reading backwards or forwards. The Gaon was on such a level that it was as if the תורה was written in front of him- he knew it with absolute clarity and understanding. The Rov said that this was also the point in seeing the voice of Hashem- it gave כלל ישראל the ability to know the תורה backwards and forwards- that is, with such clarity that it was as if they were reading the written word.

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