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Parshas Yisro - The Mosaic of Am Yisrael      23 Shvat 5781

02/05/2021 09:39:45 AM


Parshas B’Shalach completed eleven years of writing a weekly message. As I sat down to write the first message of the twelfth cycle, I recall writing about how the Jewish people can be viewed as a single large, vibrant orchestra, each Jew playing an instrument that contributes singular dimension to the overall concert of life. Recently, however, I took notice of the Jewish people from a different angle, let me explain.

A nation is a group of people who share the same culture, history, language, or ethnicity. A nation can also be described as a group of people living in the same country under the same government. The word nation, a derivative of the Latin word natio, means "birth" or "place of birth”. Although up until 1948 the Jewish people did not share the same country as far as living together is concerned, we did maintain from the time of our father Abraham continuously to the present day, our identity and commitment to the Land of Israel. In terms of population numbers, we are a small nation made up of a diverse people committed to one eternal homeland. However, in terms of commitment to each other, to Israel, and to world-wide contribution, we are, in fact, Big.  I by no means define this group of people by how much money they have, how famous they may be, or even how big a Tzadik they may be. Rather, the ‘bigness’, indeed, the largess of this diverse group refers to the multi-faceted  ways in which they contribute to our existence. Contributions have been continuously made for the past, present and future of our people. What I am about to say and the examples I am about to use may seem trivial, but I think all of these contributions are important to deeply appreciate  yet another angle of who we are.

Someone in the community sent me a link to a recent program of ’60 Minutes’ that featured a story of how a Holocaust foundation began a project to record survivors’ stories to be used with technology so that future generations will be able to hear directly from the survivors. Another example is someone who comes to davening at the Shul spends considerable time researching and applying the original Hebrew pronunciation of our tefillos. The rise of anti-Semitism on college campuses and disturbing antisemitic language that is being injected into mainstream American education is appalling. While most of us go on with our daily lives, there are individuals and organizations who rally vehemently to protect Jews from the way we are portrayed in the media, emphasizing the need to educate the next generation to the dangers of such verbal hate. And, of course, none of us should ever ignore the thousands of individuals studying Torah throughout the world. There are groups of Jews who refuse to dress in the contemporary style of the mainstream of Americans, adhering instead to a style that clearly identifies them as proud Jews.  They, too, should make everyone else proud of their commitment.  There are Jews throughout the world, particularly in Israel, who risk their lives by defending the country of Israel and its borders as well as Israel’s security throughout the world. We have individuals who single-handedly started organizations dedicated to helping Jews through crises, illness, death, and, yes, even simchas - all aspects of need throughout life ranging from the cradle to the wedding canopy. I scroll down my e-mail list and literally every other email is from an organization that is not only looking for a donation but also offering help in their respective line of work. Of course, it goes without saying how per capita the Jewish people have contributed far greater than any other nation in the arts, science, mathematics, technology, health, education and more.

We are not a one-sport team. While we are a tiny nation regarding our numbers, we are the largest nation in the world with regard to unremitting commitment to doing good, to protecting our Land and each other. Indeed, we play in every arena and stadium with people leading in every direction. But aside from the leading role we present to the world, we are internally preserving the Jewish people. This is not a new phenomenon; this has been the core recipe for success in the continuity of the Jewish people throughout the millennia. There are Jews teaching students of all ages about the past through to the present to preserve us all as we look towards the future. But we the Jewish people are still so much more than this. These listed examples are only the main headings.  Indeed,  each Jew is connected to one of these items. Therefore, our people are, indeed, a big nation – each of us representing a facet of the collective effort put forth by everyone together. The examples mentioned are only the general categories that every one of us  connects to.

The is, indeed the mosaic of our people, a concept found not only in our daily lives; it is a principle of the Torah as well.  In this week’s Parshas Yisro Moshe ascends Har Sinai to retrieve the Torah and give it to Klal Israel. Prior to Moshe coming down with the Torah, God began to announce what we refer to as the “Ten Commandments”. We know there are 613 mitzvos in the Torah, so why make a big deal about ten of them? The Aseres HaDibros were not just any ten commandments. We know that in the period of the Second Temple, the Ten Commandments formed an important part of Jewish liturgy. According to the Mishna Tamid 5:1, they were recited twice daily before the reading of the Shema Yisrael, Judaism’s central statement of faith. There is some evidence that the Ten Commandments were also among the texts included in the tefillin. Chaza”l in Gemara Brachos 12a argued against giving the Ten Commandments special prominence so as not to give ammunition to heretics who claimed that only the revealed law was important, and the man-made amendments were not. To this day, some communities stand during the reading of the commandments and some do not. However, the Chachamim won out in that we no longer read the Ten Commandments as part of the Shema or give them any other special liturgical prominence. Nevertheless, in many siddurim the Ten Commandments are included among other prayers to be recited after the davening is completed.  At a deeper level, several of the most famous commentaries explain that all of the Mitzvos are actually included within these ten.

The Torah states in Shmos 24:12 "ויאמר ה' אל משה עלה אלי ההרה והיה שם, ואתנה לך את לחת האבן והתורה והמצוה אשר כתבתי להורתם"   “Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Come up to Me, to the mountain, and remain there. I will give you the stone tablets, the Torah and the commandments that I have written for [the people’s] instruction.” The Targum Yonason Ben Uziel explains that Hashem told Moshe to go up upon the mountain to receive the tablets of stone that within them are hinted everything about the Torah and the 613 commandments that I wrote for you to teach to them. Rashi says it out right! He explains that all six hundred and thirteen commandments are included in the Ten Commandments. In addition, Rav Saadia Gaon specified within the liturgical poetry which he composed for each one of the Ten Commandments, all the 613  commandments  are dependent upon the Ten Commandments. Rebbi Ezriel, a student of the son of the Raava”d, in his commentary to Shir HaShirim indicates how many Mitzvos of the 613 are in each one of the Ten. Rabbeinu Bachya as well as Rav Saadia Gaon all figured out the connections of the 613 within the Ten!

The Aseres HaDibros is not only the blueprint for the entire Torah;  it also sends a subtle message to every Jew in the world. No matter who or where a Jew is on the religious spectrum or even on an affiliated level, each one of us make up the beautiful, eternal mosaic of the Jewish people. Every Jew from his or her place and space adds to the dimension of our people. Yes, there are the major leaders in all categories, just as the Ten Commandments are the blueprint of the entire Torah. Every Jew is that ‘mitzva of the 613 that is included within those top Ten. The most important lesson is not only that each person should recognize his or her vital piece to the greater puzzle, we should all recognize each other’s place within this magnificent masterpiece – the mosaic which is the Jewish people. AM YISRAEL CHAI!            

Sun, September 26 2021 20 Tishrei 5782