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Yisro: Feeling Another Person's Pain

ויקח יתרו חותן משה את צפורה אשת משה אחר שלוחיה.

“And Yisro, Moshe’s father-in-law, took Tzipporah, Moshe’s wife, after he sent her off.”

Rashi explains: “He sent her off– when Hashem told him in Midyan to return to Egypt, Moshe took his wife and children… and Aharon came to greet him and asked him who they were, so he told him: ‘She is my wife whom I married in Midyan and these are my sons.’  Aharon  asked him: ‘Where are you taking them?’   So he said, ‘To Egypt.’   Aharon said:  ‘On those who are already there we are pained, and you are coming to add on more people?’ So Moshe told her, ‘Go back to your father’s house.’”

My son Rabbi Chaim Dovid asked:  Moshe was among the Levites who were not required to work in Egypt, and most probably their wives were also exempt from slave labor. If so, why did Aharon urge him to send back Tzipporah? Her arrival would not increase the amount of people who were suffering, because she would not be required to work.

This question was posed by the Maskil l’Dovid, and he answers that while it was true that the Levites were not required to work along with the rest of the Jewish people, they were still enslaved to Pharaoh. They could not leave Egypt and were not free men. This was what Aharon meant when he said that he was anguished due to those who were already enslaved in Egypt.  Even though Aharon knew that Moshe was coming to redeem the Jewish people and their suffering would soon end, he felt that Moshe’s family should not be in Egypt even if only for a short time.

We can further explain this issue on a deeper level.  Every person should feel along with his friend’s pain. Just as we rejoice when another person celebrates a happy occasion, so too we should feel the pain of others who are going through a hard time. The Torah tells us about Moshe: “And Moshe grew up and he went out to his brothers and saw their suffering.”  Rashi points out that Moshe applied his “eyes and heart to feel the pain together with them.” If Tzipporah would have come to Egypt, she too would suffer, even if she personally would be exempt from slave labor.  She would feel the pain of the people and suffer along with them.

This can be seen from Aharon’s words.  He said: “On those who are already there we are pained.”  The choice of words indicates that although he personally wasn’t working, he was pained about what the other Jews were going through.  If Tzipporah would come to Egypt, she would experience the same type of pain.

This is the proper way for a person to act – to feel along with his friends and neighbors in times of joy and in times of sorrow.  When someone celebrates a joyous occasion, he should sincerely rejoice with him, and when someone is going through a difficult time, he should sincerely sympathize with him and seek ways to help him. This form of unity enables us to accept the Torah, as it says:  “And the Jews rested there near the mountain, as one person with one heart.” Due to the achdus (unity) of Klal Yisroel, they were deemed worthy of receiving the Torah.

We say in our daily prayers:  “Enlighten our eyes in Your Torah… and unite our hearts to love and fear Your Name.” These words can be interpreted to mean that we can enlighten our eyes in Torah by uniting our hearts in love to feel along with our friends as if we were one person.  Ahavas Yisroel (loving our fellow man) is a conduit for understanding Torah.

We say in our Shabbos zemiros:  “Remember the Torah of Moshe with the mitzvah of Shabbos that is being learned, engraved with teachings for the seventh day as a bride who sits adorned among her friends.”   Why does the composer call the Torah in Moshe’s name, and not Toras Hashem (Hashem’s Torah)?  Hashem called it Toras Moshe in Moshe’s honor, but why is this connection being used here?  Furthermore, why does he say that the Torah should be remembered through Shabbos, when there are 613 mitzvos by which to remember the Torah?

We can understand this phrase as follows: In the year that the Torah was given, the sixth day of Sivan was on Friday.  Hashem wanted to give the Torah on that day, on a weekday. On weekdays, the impure forces in heaven have more power, and by giving the Torah on such a day, Hashem wanted to demonstrate that the Torah is a powerful antidote to those forces. Someone who learns Torah can overcome the evil forces in the world.

However, Moshe felt otherwise.  He feared that times would come when the Jewish people would submit to the yetzer hara (evil inclination) and thereby lose their connection to the Torah.  He delayed Matan Torah (the giving of the Torah) for another day, so that it should be given on Shabbos.  On Shabbos, the forces of evil have no power at all. By giving the Torah on Shabbos, he reasoned, the yetzer hara will have no power over the Torah and the Jewish people will be able to continue learning Torah even if they sometimes fall prey to the yetzer hara.  And indeed, if not for the affair with the Golden Calf, we would have been able to learn and understand the Torah perfectly as Moshe intended.

The Midrash tells us that after Matan Torah, Satan demanded to know:  “Where is the Torah?”  How could Satan not have known where the Torah was, when the entire universe was witness to the awesome event of Matan Torah?   This is because the Torah was given on Shabbos, when Satan has no power.   He wasn’t there, and he didn’t know about it.

This is why we say: “Remember the Torah of Moshe with the mitzvah of Shabbos that is being learned.”   The Torah is called Toras Moshe because he intervened that the Torah should be given on Shabbos, and by doing so he ensured that the entire Torah, not just the mitzvah of Shabbos, would always be remembered.  Shabbos is compared to a bride who is well accompanied and surrounded by friends and well-wishers, because we make many preparations before Shabbos arrives and we still feel the spiritual energy of Shabbos on Sunday.

Another reason why Moshe postponed the giving of the Torah until Shabbos, is because he wanted the Jewish people to be on a more elevated spiritual level when accepting the Torah.  On Shabbos, every person receives an additional soul, a soul that is pure of blemishes and elevates the person to a higher level.  By receiving the Torah on Shabbos, the Jewish people were able to accept the Torah on a higher level than if they would have received it on a weekday.

According to this, we can understand why Hashem already presented the mitzvah of Shabbos to the Jewish people when they were still in the Marah Desert, before they arrived at Sinai.  Why couldn’t Hashem wait to give this mitzvah together with the rest of the Torah?  He did this because the Jewish people needed the mitzvah of Shabbos in order to receive the Torah properly.  By keeping Shabbos, they received the additional soul on the day of Matan Torah and were infused with a spiritual energy that enabled them to accept the entire Torah on a deeper level.   Because of this, we are able to keep our connection to the Torah throughout the ages, in all circumstances.

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