Parashas Yisro

The beginning of this week’s parashah recounts the meeting between Yisro and Moshe. The Torah relates (Shemos 18:8): “And Moshe told his father-in-law all that Hashem had done … for Yisrael’s sake.” The Midrash remarks (Yalkut Shimoni I:268): “That He gave Torah to His People Yisrael.” The Torah continues (Shemos 18:9): “And Yisro rejoiced over all the good that Hashem did for Yisrael.” The Midrash remarks (again Yalkut Shimoni I:268): “R. Yehoshua said: ‘The Torah is speaking of the blessing of the mann (manna). Moshe had told him: “This mann that the All-Present gave us, we can taste in it the taste of bread, the taste of meat, the taste of fish … the taste of all the delicacies of the world.” This Maggid raises two questions about these Midrashim. First, how can the term “all” be used in connection one specific act (the giving of the Torah) or one specific blessing (the mann)? Second, why were Moshe and Yisro so elated over the mann, a mere physical blessing? Why did Moshe praise the mann so profusely, dwelling on the different tastes it provided in a way that seems out of character for someone so spiritually lofty?”
The Maggid develops an answer based on a well-known teaching (Avos 6:1): “Whoever involves himself in Torah for its own sake merits many things ….” We need, he points out, to analyze the meaning of the phrase “many things” –  to determine what this phrase adds beyond the specific things that the teaching enumerates immediately afterward. He explains the matter as follows. Everything in this world draws its sustaining force from its root in the celestial realm. Accordingly, everything must be connected to its celestial root. The Torah operates as the conduit providing the connection between Hashem and the creations He placed in this world. It is like the ladder in Yaakov’s dream, standing on the ground and reaching up to heaven. Every creation is linked to the Torah through the mitzvos pertaining to it. The produce of the land is connected to the Torah through the agricultural mitzvos such as leket and shichichah (leaving dropped stalks and forgotten sheaves for the poor) and the like. Clothing is connected to the Torah through the mitzvah of tzitzis and the berachah we make on this mitzvah. We complete the connection between heaven and earth by performing the mitzvos, obeying the commands Hashem issued us.
When our Sages say that “whoever involves himself in Torah for its own sake merits many things,” the underlying idea is that the Torah is the root of all creations, and the source of all blessings. The same idea underlies the first of the two Midrashim that we quoted. Moshe was telling Yisro that Hashem gave us a gift – the Torah – that embodies all good. A similar idea underlies the second Midrash. Mann is the food of heaven. It necessarily embodies all tastes, because it is the celestial source of all nourishment.  This is why Moshe and Yisro were so elated over it.
Now, the effect of the mann depended on what the person eating it had in mind. If a person ate the mann with an a priori desire to experience the taste of a specific food – meat, for example – then the mann would reflect just that specific taste. If, however, a person ate the mann without anything particular in mind, he would taste in it all types of delicacies.  It is the same with the Torah. If a person involves himself in Torah in order to satisfy some particular desire, be it riches or honor or whatever, then he is granted the particular blessing that he wished for, but no more. But if a person involves himself in Torah purely for its own sake, without desiring to attain any material benefit, then it provides him with all the blessings in the world. This is what the Mishnah means when it says that “whoever involves himself in Torah for its own sake merits many things.”
In Bereishis 24:1, 27:33, and 33:11, respectively, the Torah indicates that Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov were blessed with everything (בכל, מכל, כל). The Torah is saying that the forefathers, on account of their righteousness, were granted the source of all blessing.
The Maggid draws a link between the above discussion and a Gemara passage in Shabbos 30a on a different topic. At the conclusion of the account of Shlomo HaMelech’s building the Beis HaMikdash, it is written (Melachim Alef 8:66): “On the eighth day he sent the people forth, and they blessed the king, and they went back to their tents joyful and glad of heart over all the good that Hashem did for His servant David and His people Yisrael.” The Gemara expounds: “Over all the good that Hashem did for His servant David – that He pardoned him for the sin [with Batsheva].” What led the Sages interpret to the verse as referring to this matter? The Maggid explains as follows. Our Sages teach elsewhere that whenever Hashem has a special merit to bestow, He bestows it upon a meritorious person (מגלגלין זכות על ידי זכאי, see, e.g., Shabbos 32a). Thus, whenever we see someone gain a special merit, we know that the person is meritorious. Now, David was granted the merit of being the one who made the preparations for the building of the Beis HaMikdash, which is the source point on earth for all the good that Hashem dispenses, as is hinted at in the verse’s use of the phrase “all the good.” Since Hashem granted David this exceptional merit, it is evident that Hashem judged him to be an exceptionally meritorious person, and it thus follows necessarily that Hashem had cleared him of his sin.
In respectful memory of Elazar ben Yaakov Dov Levy, the father of two good friends of mine, who passed away last week shortly before Shabbos after a lifetime of devotion to Torah and mitzvos.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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