Yisro 3

D'var Torah by Rabbi Jay Spero


Remember & Safeguard

Parshas Yisro

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The story line of this week’s portion is the "becoming" of the Jewish nation. From Avraham and all of his trials and tribulations, through Yitzchok and Yaakov, the twelve tribes, and the 210 years in Egypt — all lead to this moment: The receiving of the Torah. 

When we received the Torah, we became more than an indigenous group of people who shared a similar background and culture. We were transformed  into sharers of a common destiny. It is a destiny that relies on striving and growing to have a relationship with Hashem, and in its highest form, in fact, to imitate Hashem.  To imitate His lovingkindness and His justice. This is done through keeping the commandments of the Torah. 

The Ten Commandments, which Hashem proclaimed to the Jews at Sinai, contain in them the foundations of all the 613 commandments. In fact, the Maharal (16th century sage from Czechoslovakia) explains that Hashem uttered the Ten Commandments at one time to show the unity of the commandments of the Torah. Let us focus on one of these Ten Commandments as a microcosm of mitzvos (commandments) in general. 

The fourth commandment is: "Remember the Shabbos day to sanctify it" (Shemos 20:8). When the Ten Commandments are repeated in Deuteronomy chapter five, there is one discrepancy. There it states: "Safeguard the Shabbos day." 

Why in one place does it say "remember", and in the other "safeguard"? The sages teach us that when Hashem gave over this commandment, He said remember and safeguard at the same time (Mechilta, Shevuos 20a). 

There are two basic components of every person’s soul: the physical aspect, and the spiritual aspect. 

There are two types of mitzvos to correspond to these two parts of the soul. Positive mitzvos, such as eating kosher and lovingkindness to people, elevate our spiritual soul. Negative mitzvos are mitzvos of omission, such as not eating certain things, not mistreating people etc.  These mitzvos enable us to learn self-control and to let our mind control our bodies and not vice versa. Although our physical side is important and plays a key role in our relationship with Hashem, as we have seen so many times, if left unchecked it can lead to lustful, gluttonous and greedy behavior which can only hurt ourselves and others. "Remember the Shabbos" is telling us to keep the positive aspects of Shabbos, to make kiddush, light candles and spend time with the family. "Safeguard the Shabbos" is telling us not to violate the Shabbos by doing any of the forbidden labors. Positive and negative — the spiritual and the physical — are both needed to remember and safeguard the Torah. 

Rabbi Jay Spero is the rabbi of the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo.

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