Sign In Forgot Password

Parshas Yisro - Exposing the Covered                16 Shvat 5778

02/01/18 15:04:51


Every morning I try to be as cheerful as possible, saying good morning to people with a smile. Recently, I encountered someone (a regular) and as usual, said, “Good morning,” but didn’t have that pearly white smile on my face. Surprisingly, the person said to me, “No smile today?” To which I quickly replied, “The smile is there; it is just covered by my mouth and lips.”

There was a famous line by Alan Alda, an actor who portrayed an emergency mobile army hospital surgeon during the Korean War. When necessary, the surgeons would work round the clock, sometimes for thirty-six hours straight as the flow of wounded soldiers seemed to never cease. Sometimes there was a lull in the fighting, giving ample time to rest, but once again, after a long shift, they would be inundated with more casualties. One time, being completely exhausted, he lay down to catch some sleep only to be awakened by the corporal who, questioning the exhausted surgeon with, “Why are you sleeping?” replied, “I’m not sleeping, I’m just checking the inside of my eyelids. ”In other words, our eyes are always open, but the lids cover them up!

There is a prayer we recite once a month call “Birkas HaChodesh”, the blessing of the incoming new month. However, the very same term, “Birkas HaChodesh,” is used in the Talmud to designate a very different ritual – a blessing praising God for the new moon, recited outdoors while gazing at the waxing moon at the beginning of the month. This ritual, with which many Jews, even those who attend synagogue services regularly, are unfamiliar, is known as ‘Kiddush Levana’ - an actual rabbinic commandment required by the Talmud. ‘Kiddush Levana’ is loosely translated as sanctification of the moon. The source of Kiddush Levana is in the Talmud, Sanhedrin 42. It is not one the 613 Mitzvot, but it is a Rabbinical Mitzvah that was instituted to help us realize the greatness of Hashem through His wondrous creation. Men are required to recite Kiddush Levana, but because this is a time-bound commandment, women are exempt.

In certain locations weather poses a great challenge with regard to fulfilling this Mitzvah. Nevertheless, to recite the blessing, one must see the moon at night for at least one second. Prior to the time there is at least one if not more than one person in any given Shul throughout the world who goes outside to see if the moon is visible. Invariably, they come back and will either say the “There is a beautiful moon that can be seen,” or “There is no moon. ”Now what do they really intend to say about the moon, that it disappeared? We all know that just because we can’t see the moon does not mean that it is not there. To the contrary, despite the fact that we can’t see the moon we still know it is there, usually just covered by clouds, an integral part of the Jewish camp when they traveled through the desert. Perhaps the first time we are introduced to the cloud was when Moshe literally entered it. A cloud typically obscures something, creates a blur, creates a sense of vagueness, making things unclear. What exactly was the purpose of the cloud that covered Har Sinai?

In this week’s parshas Yisro, the Torah describes the giving of the Torah in great detail. Not only do we read about the actual commandments but the incredible lasting impressions of the awesomeness and excitement through which the commandments were given. The aftermath was just as critical as the events leading up to and including the giving of the Ten Commandments. The Torah states in Shmos 20:18, “VaYaamode Ha’Am MeiRachok, U’Moshe Nigash El HaArafel, Asher Sham Elokim”: “The people kept their distance while Moshe entered the Arafel where the Divine was revealed”. Rashi describes the Arafel as a mist while Hirsch, based upon the Radak, explains it to be a heavy cloud. According to other opinions, namely Rabbeinu Bachya and Meam Loez, it was a ‘glowing light’. The HaKesav V’Hakkabalah called it a ‘blinding light’. On this verse the Mechilta says Moshe went through three partitions to reach God. The three partitions were darkness, a cloud, and the Arafel. The first partition was darkness, this was the outer layer. The cloud was inside of that and the Arafel was within the inside. The verse says Moshe approached the Arafel, an image paralleling the Kohein Gadol entering the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur. As Moshe and or the Kohein Gadol entered and went in deeper, the got closer to Hashem he got, a greater light was revealed, both in the Beis HaMikdash and into the Arafel on top of Har Sinai.

The Malbim explains that darkness prevents the light from shining at all. Darkness can completely shut out any light. In the cloud there is a degree of light, but the cloud can create a separation between Moshe and the great light. The cloud gathers all the light and holds it together preventing the access to this light. The Arafel is in an area that spreads the light that was being held back. As Moshe infiltrated the series of partitions, he was able to get closer to Hashem, reaching a level of understanding God more than any other man. With this understanding we see why the verse concludes with the words “Where Hashem was there and revealed.” Moshe reached a level of understanding Hashem’s presence and place in the world because Hashem’s presence fills the world.

We live in a world of darkness because we are not able to access the light. Moshe worked on himself to reach a level where he could gain access to the light and see clearly God’s presence in the world. We must realize the light that provides clarity and reality to the world. The trouble is due to the physical components of the world, darkness blocks out the light. If we are able to get beyond the physical, then we, too, would also enjoy the brightness and truth of the world as Moshe did. We strive on a daily basis to get a glimpse past the cloud that obscures the light in order to see and feel the Shechina - God’s presence. Even if we are unable to reach the level of Moshe, Hashem will nevertheless one day remove the cloud that covers the light. Not only will the Jewish people merit to see this light but other select individuals will be able to see it as well. In particular, we are recognizing the greatness of Yisro who we read about in the beginning of this parsha which describes his acute awareness of God. This is reflected in Avos d’Rebbi Nosson in 35:4 who says, When the Holy One, blessed is He, reveals His Presence, He will reward Yisro and his children well.

We should all be blessed with the strength of removing the darkness and display the light through a good eye, a big smile and seeing through the clouds!

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


סנהדרין מב. ובשו"ע או"ח סימן תכו, ושם בערוה"ש סעיפים א-ב, וע"ע מ"ב סימן קו ס"ק ד*

Sun, May 24 2020 1 Sivan 5780