In this week's Torah portion Moses reviews the Ten Commandments with the Children of Israel, repeating those unforgettable words which comprise the foundation of Judaism.
In this week's Torah portion Moses reviews the Ten Commandments with the Children of Israel, repeating those unforgettable words which comprise the foundation of Judaism. The Talmud (Tractate Kiddushin 31a) teaches how the gentiles reacted when they heard the Ten Commandments which Hashem had given to the Jewish people. When told about the first few commandments (I am Hashem your G-d. . .You shall not have any gods besides me. . .You shall not take the Name of Hashem in vain. . .Safeguard the Shabbat day to sanctify it) their initial reaction was that Hashem was only concerned with His own honor, and they therefore dismissed the Torah as being irrelevant. However, upon hearing the fifth commandment, "Honor your father and your mother," they realized their mistake and acknowledged the importance of the Ten Commandments. Rashi, the fundamental 11th century commentator on the Torah, explains what caused them to change their perspective. When they came to the fifth commandment they reasoned, "If we are commanded to honor our parents, how much more so must we honor Hashem, for He was the one who brought us into being, and our life and death are in His hands."
It is obvious from their response that the nations of the world knew of and believed in Hashem, because otherwise they could not have spoken about Hashem being the one in charge of life and death as described by Rashi. How then could it be that they rejected the commandments in the first place? How could they have possibly believed that it was Hashem who created them and is responsible for their well-being, while at the same time reject His laws?
We see from here the catastrophic effects of having a negiah -- a bias or preconceived idea. The evil inclination within them convinced the nations of the world to reject the commandments. Because of the negiah embodied deep within their souls that wanted to have freedom from outside demands and responsibilities, they were able to pervert the true understanding of Hashem's laws, and in the process perceive Hashem as giving the commandments for His own honor and glory.
What was it about the fifth commandment, though, that allowed them to see the truth through their debilitating biases and twisted logic?
Honoring one's parents is a logical mitzvah. All of the nations of the world appreciated the importance of it. Once they had heard that law, one which they could easily understand, they were able to expand upon its value and gain a greater belief in Hashem. Because of this, they were able to overcome their previous biases, and through the logic described by Rashi, comprehend the concept expressed by the first few commandments.
The Talmud is teaching us a very valuable insight into how we can gain a better recognition of Hashem and of His mitzvot. When we are faced with circumstances which test our emunah (faith), or by a mitzvah which we don't quite understand, the best thing we can do is to try to think about a similar situation or an easier more practical and understandable mitzvah. By applying the knowledge of that more intelligible mitzvah or situation to a difficult and enigmatic incident, we can gain a greater belief and trust in Hashem. Through this, we will be able to gain a better insight into the more difficult concepts and puzzling mitzvot, and thereby reach our utmost potential in developing our faith in Hashem.
This article was adapted from the talks of Rabbi A. Henoch Leibowitz, Rosh Yeshiva (dean) of Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim in Forest Hills, New York.
Yaacov Cohen, who hails from Atlanta, is a student at the Wisconsin Institute of Torah Study (WITS) in Milwaukee.
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