Fulfilling G-d's commandments is the essence of Torah. "If not for my covenant, day and night, the laws of heaven and earth, I would not have established" (Yirmiyahu 33:25). Rashi begins his commentary on Chumash asking why the Torah begins with the story of creation. Being a book of mitzvot, one might posit that it should have begun with the first mitzvah given to the Jewish people, namely, the sanctification of the new moon.
Vayedaber Hashem el Moshe lei'mor is the most commonly occurring verse of the Bible. While it is usually translated as, “G-d spoke to Moshe, saying”, our rabbis saw additional meaning in the word lei'mor. If it only meant “saying”, then it would be superfluous; if the Torah tells us that G-d spoke to Moshe, then surely something was said.
The command to respect our parents, kibud av v'eim, is one that needs little explanation. It is the most rational and logical of mitzvoth, one that we would observe even were we not commanded by the Torah to do so, and one that we expect all human beings to perform. Unlike Shabbat, which precedes it in the aseret hadibrot, no rationale is given for this mitzvah; none is needed.
"And Yitro, the priest of Midian, the father-in-law of Moshe, heard all that G-d did for Moshe and to Israel his people, that G-d had taken the Israel out of Egypt" (Shemot 18:1). Of course, Yitro was not the only one who heard all that G-d had done. Yet he was the only one who was listening; the only one who cared enough and was moved enough to actually do something. While others likely were impressed to hear that a slave nation took on the worlds superpower, such lasted the 30 seconds or so they spoke about it. They then moved on with their daily activities.
The aseret hadibrot present two very different reasons why we are to keep Shabbat. In parshat Yitro, it is “because in six days, G-d made the heaven and the earth, the sea and all that is in it; and He rested on the seventh day” (Shemot 20:11). Forty years later, when Moshe recounts them to the children of those who were at Sinai, we keep Shabbat so that “you shall remember that you were slaves in the land of Egypt, and G-d took you out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm” (Devarim 5:15). The Jew leaving Egypt needed no reminder of his days in slavery.
This week's d’var Torah is sponsored by Dr. Charles and Nathalie Piwko in observance of the yahrzeit of Charlie's mother, ob”m, and in celebration of the bar mitzvah of their children, Jeremy and Imanuel. Mazal tov to the extended family.