Yitro - One Master

I am Hashem Your G-d, Who took you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall not have the gods of others in My presence. You shall not make for yourself a graven image or any likeness...
אָֽנֹכִ֨י ה' קלקיך אֲשֶׁ֣ר הֽוֹצֵאתִ֩יךָ֩ מֵאֶ֨רֶץ מִצְרַ֜יִם מִבֵּ֣ית עֲבָדִ֗ים
לא יִֽהְיֶ֣ה־לְךָ֩ אֱלֹהִ֨ים אֲחֵרִ֜ים עַל־פָּנַ֗י
לא תַֽעֲשֶׂה־לְּךָ֣ פֶ֣סֶל | וְכָל־תְּמוּנָ֡ה
Shmot 20:2-4

In the beginning of the Eseret HaDibarot, the Slonimer Rebbe asks some questions:
  1. Why does it start with mentioning that Hashem took us out of Egypt, and not something seemingly greater that Hashem created the world?
  2. Why does the pasuk seemingly repeat itself by saying, "out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage" - isn't it implicitly understood that Egypt was the place of bondage?
  3. (the famous question) why is this first commandment written in a statement form, rather than as a command?

Two Masters
Explains the Slonimer Rebbe, it says in the Yerushalmi (Brechot 3: 3), slaves are exempt from kriat shma. For it says, "Here O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One", we have no other master but Hakodosh Baruch Hu. While the slave, actually has another master, the slave serves two masters.

This is the significance of the pasuk "אָֽנֹכִ֨י ה' קלקיך" that Hakadosh Baruch Hu is our G-d, our one and special master.

And that the pasuk "לא יִֽהְיֶ֣ה־לְךָ֩ אֱלֹהִ֨ים אֲחֵרִ֜ים עַל־פָּנַ֗י", this is the reality for any us. We don’t serve two masters - both our creator and our own inclination - rather we have no other master but Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

From this, the opening verse continues with "out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage", that as Jews we must work on the power to overcome being drawn towards our inclinations. We’ve risen out of a ‘house of bondage’, so also  we need to pull away from the bondage of our drives and inclinations. A power was ingrained in us by Hashem when He took us out of Egypt, that he seemingly took us "out of them" into a free world.

We need to be a slave in our service to Hashem and be free from the influence of our own inclinations. Even when we stumble and even sin, we are still neither a slave unto slaves nor enslaved to that state forever, but we can always rise back up, no matter how much our inclinations pull and try to influence us.

The Eternality of Leaving Egypt
Departing Egypt is an eternal concept.
As it says in the Haggadah, had Hashem not taken us out of Egypt, then we would still be slaves in Egypt...to this day. And with this in mind, says Chazal, that everyone is obligated to see himself as if he went out of Egypt, meaning that not just our forefathers were brought out of Egypt but us as well. That had we not left Egypt we would still be slaves to slaves! Thus Hashem is not just proud of our forefathers for heeding the call and leaving Egypt, but likewise, even for us it is as if He redeemed from Egypt. Every one of us has the power to "leave Egypt" to not be a slave to "two masters" - to not be under the influence of our own inclinations.

A New Reality
This is the meaning of the opening words:
אָֽנֹכִ֨י ה' קלקיך אֲשֶׁ֣ר הֽוֹצֵאתִ֩יךָ֩ מֵאֶ֨רֶץ מִצְרַ֜יִם מִבֵּ֣ית עֲבָדִ֗ים
That from the power of “leaving Egypt” thus “I am Hashem Your G-d” - your only master. And “You shall not have the gods of others in My presence”  This is less a command and more a discovery of a new reality. After leaving Egypt, Hashem instilled in us the power to not serve two masters - serving Hashem and our inclinations.

In One Statement
We learn the pasuk could have been stated in one statement “I am Hashem Your G-d, You shall not have the gods of others” - showing that one part is dependent on the other. That if we keep the first statement then we will obviously not have other gods - that we are pure.

So it says in between, “I am Hashem Your G-d, Who took you out of the land of Egypt” just as we achieve the level of leaving Egypt, at the same time we merit a connection with Hashem.

#4 Not a Commandment
Just as “I will take you out of Egypt” was not a commandment, but more of a wake up call, not based on the people’s merit, so also FAITH is a present that Hashem gives to the Jewish people regardless - faith is etched into the foundations of being  Jew.

This is all dependent upon the second verse “not have the gods of others”, for at the very least if we don’t contaminate ourselves with other beliefs, then we preserve the faith within us.

And so the mitzvah of Faith is not like all the mitzvot. For with all the other mitzvot, they are inherently doing something, connected to an action. Faith is more about preserving a quality that we already have, and we do that by keeping the verse “not have the gods of others

In Summary
This is why the ten commandments starts with mentioning that Hashem took us out of Egypt, and not, for example, that Hashem created the world, that taking us out of Egypt established the power and foundations of our faith.
The pasuk is not repeating itself by saying, "out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage" - but emphasizing two sides of this concept - taking us out of Egypt gave us an eternal power and the house of bondage represents the other side that we are striving to free ourselves from, the inclination that seeks to influence our decisions.
Finally this is not stated as a commandment, rather a statement, this is an internal feeling rather an action, a idea to continually to work on and enrich our faith.

In light of us, we are reminded of a story with the Rizhiner, the Rebbe of Rizhin.

Once a hasid came to him and said, “Rebbe,” he asked, “how is one to worship G-d without lying to oneself?”
“I’ll tell you how,” said the Rebbe, “Make believe that you’re an acrobat walking a tightrope high above. What can you do to keep your balance? Whenever your body pulls you to one side , YOU must pull to the other.”

Beshalach - Intimate Connection

Hashem said to Moses, Behold! I am going to rain down for you bread from heaven, and the people shall go out and gather what is needed for the day, so that I can test them, whether or not they will follow My teaching.
וַיֹּ֤אמֶר ה' אל־משֶׁ֔ה הִֽנְנִ֨י מַמְטִ֥יר לָכֶ֛ם לֶ֖חֶם מִן־הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם וְיָצָ֨א הָעָ֤ם וְלָֽקְטוּ֙ דְּבַר־י֣וֹם בְּיוֹמ֔וֹ לְמַ֧עַן אֲנַסֶּ֛נּוּ הֲיֵלֵ֥ךְ בְּתֽוֹרָתִ֖י אִם־לֹֽא
Shmot 16:4
The Slonimer Rebbe raises several questions around this pasuk: 
  • Why is this mitzvah (mannah) the only mitzvah in the Torah to explicitly be used as a test to the Jewish people's commitment to Torah
  • With this being presented as a test, why is the test not presented immediately adjacent to the mitzvah ( I am going to rain down for you bread from heaven so that I can test them, whether or not they will follow My teaching), rather another phrase interrupts - "the people shall go out and gather what is needed for the day"
Eternal Provisioning
Says the Slonimer Rebbe,  this idea comes to underscore the eternal nature of the Torah  and that it doesn't just address events in the past, but  remains relevant to Jews always. He brings insights from the works of the Baal Shem Tov, saying that this Parsha provides a foundation regarding faith and trust about one's livelihood.

Bringing Noam Elimelech, the Slonimer Rebbe explains this concept, saying that the word "מַמְטִ֥יר" (rain down) is written in the present tense, further supporting the eternal nature of these concepts. Just as Hashem brings down rain from heaven, so also does he bring down bread, and always has impact on our livelihood.

It is the responsibility of every Jew to prepare a vessel to receive all this goodness from heaven - this vessel is the trait of trust.

Thus "וְיָצָ֨א הָעָ֤ם" (the people shall go out) comes to show that when we go out and venture beyond the boundary of trust, then we left to toil everyday to find our own livlihood.

The story of mannah comes to set the foundations for faith and trust in Hashem, and that He ultimately is responsible for our livlihood.

A Parable
The Slonimer Rebbe brings a Gemarrah in Yoma (76A):
R. Simon b. Yohai was asked by his disciples: Why did not the manna come down unto Israel once annually? He replied: I shall give a parable: This thing may be compared to a king of flesh and blood who had one son, whom he provided with maintenance once a year, so that he would visit his father once a year only. Thereupon he provided for his maintenance every day, so that he called on him every day. The same with Israel. One who had four or five children would worry, saying:
Perhaps no manna will come down to-morrow, and all will die of hunger. Thus they were found to turn their attention to their Father in Heaven.
This is the lesson of Mannah, that for a Jew everyday there is a need for a direct line to Hashem to request a livelihood. Everyday a Jew has to turn towards heaven, and with heavy eyes, request help in getting livelihood.

This is why it says "לְמַ֧עַן אֲנַסֶּ֛נּוּ הֲיֵלֵ֥ךְ בְּתֽוֹרָתִ֖י אִם־לֹֽא" (so that I can test them, whether or not they will follow My teaching). That is the purpose of a Jew, for like the parable in Yoma, a Jew has to turn to Hashem and come to Him everyday. This is what Hashem wants, pleasing Him. Likewise we see this similarly by the curse brought up on the snake, that he had all the sustenance that he needed, since the snake is unwelcome before Hashem so he can always find his sustenance everywhere and never has to turn to Hashem for help.

However a Jew has been blessed, that he has to turn to Hashem everyday, as it says in Tehillim:
Everyone's eyes look to You with hope, and You give them their food in its time. You open Your hand and satisfy every living thing [with] its desire
עֵ֣ינֵי כֹ֖ל אֵלֶ֣יךָ יְשַׂבֵּ֑רוּ וְאַתָּ֚ה נוֹתֵֽן־לָהֶ֖ם אֶת־אָכְלָ֣ם בְּעִתּֽוֹ פּוֹתֵ֥חַ אֶת־יָדֶ֑ךָ וּמַשְׂבִּ֖יעַ לְכָל־חַ֣י רָצֽוֹן
Tehillim 145: 15-16

Vayelech - Seeing Through the Illusion

I will surely hide My face in that day for all the evil which they shall have wrought
הַסְתֵּר אַסְתִּיר פָּנַי בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, עַל כָּל-הָרָעָה, אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה

Devarim 31:18
What does the verse mean "I will surely hide My face"? Doesn't that undermine the sense of connection and relationship we hold with Hashem? There is no worse punishment that a Jew can face than not feel the closeness of Hashem.

Dwells In Our Impurity
The Slonimer Rebbe explains that this is not a dire warning, but more of a test, that a Jew must believe that EVEN a wall of iron does not stand between us and our father in heaven, for HaKadosh Baruch Hu evens dwells in our impurity.

A Jew is elevating and there is no power that can disconnect us from our father in heaven, as long as we don't want to disconnect. Rather all these mentions of 'hiding' they are only metaphorical, like the father that sometimes distances himself from his son, but never abandons him even for a moment, and constantly watches over him.

This is only to test his son, that without thinking, his son may believe that his father has abandoned him. Rather the smart son knows that there's no way that his father would abandon him, and truly knows that his father will always watch over him.

This is the essence of the idea that a Jew who has even committing the most dire prohibition, should he not be able to open his heart and pour out his thoughts and prayers to Hashem? A Jew must always believe that HaKadosh Baruch Hu always is accepting of us.

The Slonimer Rebbe brings an allegory from the Baal Shem Tov to help explain this concept.

The King's Illusion Walls
"A king, by magic, surrounded his palace with many walls. Then he hid himself within the palace. The formidable walls were arranged in concentric circles, one inside the other, and they grew increasingly larger-- higher and thicker-- as one approached the center. They had fortified battlements and were manned by fierce soldiers who guarded from above; wild animals-- lions and bears-- ran loose below. All this was so that people would have proper awe and fear of the king and not all who desired to approach would be allowed to do as they pleased.

"The king then had proclamations sent throughout the kingdom saying that whoever came to see him in his palace would be richly rewarded and given a rank second to none in the king's service. Who would not desire this? But when many came and saw the outer wall's awesome size and the terrifying soldiers and animals, most were afraid and turned back. There were some, however, who succeeded in scaling that wall and fighting past the soldiers and animals, but then the second wall loomed before their eyes, even more imposing than the first, and its guards even more terrible. Seeing that, many others turned back.

"Moreover, the king had appointed servants to stand behind the walls to give money and precious stones to whoever got beyond each wall. Those who had crossed one or a few walls soon found themselves very rich and satisfied with what they had gained from their efforts; so they too turned back. For one reason or another, either from fear at the increasing obstacles or satisfaction with the accumulated rewards, none reached the king ...

"Except for the king's son. He had only one desire: to see the face of his beloved father. When he came and saw the walls, soldiers, and wild animals, he was astonished. He could not understand how his dear father could hide himself behind all these terrifying barriers and obstacles. 'How can I ever reach him?' he thought. Then he began to weep and cried out, 'Father, Father, have compassion on me; don't keep me away from you!' His longing was so intense that he had no interest in any rewards. Indeed, he was willing to risk his life to attain his goal. By the courage of his broken heart, which burned to see his father, he ran forward with reckless abandon and self-sacrifice. He scaled one wall and then another, fought past soldiers and wild animals. After crossing the walls, he was offered money and jewels, but he threw them down in disgust. His only desire was to see his father. Again and again he called out to him.

"His father the king, hearing his son's pathetic cries and seeing his total self-sacrifice, suddenly, instantaneously, removed the walls and other obstacles. In a moment they vanished as if they had never existed. Then his son saw that there were no walls, soldiers, or animals. His father the king was right before him, sitting on his majestic throne, while multitudes of servants stood near to serve him and heavenly choirs sang his praises. Gardens and orchards surrounded the palace on all sides. And the whole earth shone from the king's glory. Everything was tranquil, and there was nothing bad or terrible at all. Then the son realized that the walls and obstacles were a magical illusion and that his father the king had never really been hidden or concealed, but was with him all the time. It was all just a test to see who truly loved the king.

Walls of This World
This allegory comes to describe the world we live in, that everything we encounter is like a wall - all the distractions of this world standing between a Jew and Hashem. Yet none of these walls are as strong as the wall that is formed in the heart of Jew that feels far from Hashem. 

When the Yetzer Hara acts to seduce a Jew, the Yetzer Hara is not interested in the Jew committing the specific indiscretion, but rather bringing the Jew to a state of feeling hopeless. This is worse than the sin itself, for there is a way to recover from the action, but the state of hopeless leaves one disconnected from Hashem, without a feeling that there is a way back.

Day of Judgement
This is the main preparation for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. For not only does a Jew need to recognize his sins, and how large they are, but also to truly believe that even an iron wall can not stand between him and Hashem. For a Jew is never lost, for we are Hashem's children.

Ki Teitzei - Keeping Quiet

And you shall keep a stake in addition to your weapons; and it shall be, when you sit down outside [to relieve yourself], you shall dig with it, and you shall return and cover your excrement.
וְיָתֵ֛ד תִּֽהְיֶ֥ה לְךָ֖ עַל־אֲזֵנֶ֑ךָ וְהָיָה֙ בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ֣ ח֔וּץ וְחָֽפַרְתָּ֣ה בָ֔הּ וְשַׁבְתָּ֖ וְכִסִּ֥יתָ אֶת־צֵֽאָתֶֽךָ
Devarim 23:14
The Gemarah in Ketubot explains this verse.

Talmudic Source for The Rabbi and the 29 Witches

All who are stoned are [afterwards] hanged: this is r. Eliezer's view, the sages say: only the blasphemer and the idolater are hanged. A man is hanged with his face towards the spectators, but a woman with her face towards the gallows: this is the view of R. Eliezer. But the sages say: a man is hanged, but not a woman. Whereupon R. Eliezer said to them: but did not Simeon b. Shetah hang women at Ashkelon?  They retorted: [on that occasion] he hanged eighty women, notwithstanding that two [malefactors] must not be tried on the same day
Sanhedrin 45A

This week in daf yomi the story of Rabbi Shimon Ben Shetach appeared and his encounter with the 80 witches of Ashkelon.

Shoftim - Preparing for the New Year

When you go out to war against your enemies, and you see horse and chariot, a people more numerous than you, you shall not be afraid of them, for HaShem, your G-d is with you Who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
כִּי תֵצֵא לַמִּלְחָמָה עַל אֹיְבֶיךָ וְרָאִיתָ סוּס וָרֶכֶב עַם רַב מִמְּךָ לֹא תִירָא מֵהֶם כִּי ה קלקיך  עִמָּךְ הַמַּעַלְךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם
Devarim 20:1
The Slonimer Rebbe raises two questions on this verse: 
  • Why does it say 'תצא' (go out) when talking about war, shouldn't it say 'תלחם' (go to fight)?
  • Why does it say 'תצא' (go out) in the singular, shouldn't it say 'תצאו' (go out) in the plural?

Re'eh - Midot

Keep and listen to all these words that I command you, that it may benefit you and your children after you, forever, when you do what is good and proper in the eyes of the L-rd, your G-d
שְׁמֹ֣ר וְשָֽׁמַעְתָּ֗ אֵ֚ת כָּל־הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה אֲשֶׁ֥ר אָֽנֹכִ֖י מְצַוֶּ֑ךָּ לְמַ֩עַן֩ יִיטַ֨ב לְךָ֜ וּלְבָנֶ֤יךָ אַֽחֲרֶ֨יךָ֙ עַד־עוֹלָ֔ם כִּ֤י תַֽעֲשֶׂה֙ הַטּ֣וֹב וְהַיָּשָׁ֔ר בְּעֵינֵ֖י ה' קלקיך
Devarim 12:28
The Slonimer brings a question by the Or HaChaim Hakadosh, asking why does 'keep' (שמר) precede 'listen' (שמעת). Shouldn't one have to listen first in order to know what they need to keep?