Parshas Yisro speech from Rabbi Jacob J. HechtYISRO
G-d – Don’t You Speak to Us!
By Rabbi Jacob J. Hecht
In the portion of this week, we find that after G-d revealed Himself on M. Sinai, the people of Israel saw the sounds and the flames, the blasts of the Shofar and the mountains smoking. The people trembled and stood afar. They said unto Moses, “Speak thou with us, we will harken, but let not G-d speak with us, lest we die.” Moses answered the people, “Fear not, for G-d hath come in this manner in order to test you and in order that the fear of Him may remain before you so that you do not sin.” Actually, what the Torah is telling us here is that the people turned to Moses as an intermediary because they were afraid they were going to die. They would rather have Moses speak to them because they would not fear as much and the consequences would not be as serious.
The question comes to mind, what kind of chutzpah is this anyway? First of all, how does one tell the King of Kings, the A-mighty, Blessed be He, who lowers Himself down to this earth to speak to His people get the nerve to show such a disrespect to the A-mighty?! Then again, what would happen if one were to die upon hearing the voice of G-d? After all, it is G-d who gives him life, and if G-d would want in a split second he would be dead. What is the big deal if he listens to the voice of G-d and because of that he has to die? If he has to die he will die anyway so why should he try to think that by not listening he will not die?
It is also important to ponder the answer Moses gives to the people. In essence he is saying to them that the reason they shouldn’t fear is that G-d is testing them. What kind of an answer is this to the statement that they have just made? What has this got to do with the fact that if they listen to G-d they will die and, therefore, they wanted Moses to speak to them instead? The fact that G-d is doing this for a certain reason or purpose is a side issue. What has that got to do with the actual situation that is taking place here?
The answer may be as follows: We find there are two ways of serving G-d. We can serve G-d out of love or we can serve G-d out of fear. The difference between the two is that when we serve G-d out of love, we are not concerned with whether or not we are going to be punished for that which we do wrong. Even if we do everything right, we serve G-d because we want to serve Him; we love Him and want to be subservient to Him. On the other hand, if a person serves G-d only because he fears Him, the only thing that will keep him in line will be the fear of punishment otherwise he might run away with himself and sin as much as possible.
When G-d approached the children of Israel to give them the Torah, they felt they were ready to receive the Torah and accept His rulership out of love for Him. They felt they had already ascended to the heights of perfection and that they were ready to serve G-d out of love. The A-mighty, however, knew that they were far from this position. There was a great deal more they had to do before they could serve Him out of love. G-d understood that before they could reach that height they would have to serve Him first out of fear of punishment. Once they would start climbing the ladder of spiritual heights, they could reach the top, but at this point, it was an impossibility. The children of Israel, on the other hand felt that they knew better; they thought they were ready to accept G-d from the point of perfection. Therefore, when they came before G-d they said, “Moses you speak unto us and we will listen and let not G-d speak unto us because we may die.” In other words, G-d is speaking to us and giving us the Torah from the standpoint of punishment, therefore, out of fear we will serve Him. However, we don’t want to receive the Torah on that kind of a basis. You speak to us and let not G-d speak from a basis that we will die and therefore we must serve Him.
To this Moses answered, “Have no fear, for the reason g-d speaks to you this way is because He has come to test you and because He wants His fear to be upon you, so that when His fear will be upon you, you will not sin.” Moses told the people – you are not ready yet for that position. You aren’t that great yet, therefore, G-d understands and wants you to understand this. He wants you to have this fear so you will not sin. This is the way to begin serving G-d. Then you will be able to elevate yourselves to a much higher position in life.
This teaches us a tremendous lesson in our daily lives. It is easy to fool oneself, but as a wise man once said, is it a trick to fool a fool? The greatness of an individual is if he knows exactly where he stands – who he is and what he is. It’s a tragedy when a person doesn’t really know himself thoroughly and fools himself thinking he’s much greater than he is. A person must always realize exactly what position he holds and at what point he is. If, for any reason, he thinks he’s “it” and has already reached the heights of greatness and therefore could match even the greatest of the generation, it is, indeed, a very great pity. A person like that will ultimately be a total failure because he is heading for self-destruction. Torah demands of us that we be genuine; that we should not try to fool others, but even more than that, we should not fool ourselves.
This sounds a lot easier than it is in actual life. It’s very easy for a person to fool himself. Especially one who receives compliments if he is talented or excels in a certain thing in life. These things have a tendency to swell a man’s head and make him think he is great, outstanding, and the epitome of everything good and wonderful in the world. However, one must know for himself, who he is and what he is.
It is interesting that at the end of the portion of Ki Siso we read that Moses’ face shone and he wore a mask. Torah points out that when Moses came before G-d to speak with Him, he took off his mask, but when he spoke unto the children of Israel he wore a mask to cover his face because his face shone.
Some of our great commentaries tell us that here we have the true Moses. When he went out to the people, he disguised himself. He came out as a powerful leader. He came out as a man who was, indeed, very strong and very demanding. However, when he stood before G-d, he took off this mask which was only a cover-up for people on the outside. The true Moses goes without the mask. This is the way he appeared before G-d. Inwardly, he knew who he was – the most modest man in the entire world. Before the people he had to show leadership, therefore, he appeared masked and let them think that he is not the meek, modest, withdrawn, unpretentious Moses, but a great leader with the power and ability to rule a people and to lead them to great glory.