The Overall Message of Matan Torah

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Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik

by R. Aharon Ziegler

It is not incidental that the event of Amalek [Shemot 17:8] and the story of Yitro [Shemot 18:1] are featured as a prologue to the Aseret HaDibrot [Shemot 20:1]

Rav Soloveitchik suggested that the juxtaposition of these three events renders a great lesson for all of us today. Yitro was a prominent gentile; he was the Archbishop of Midian. He came to the Jewish camp with an open mind. He wanted to observe for himself what the Jews had accomplished and were about to engage in. He was so overwhelmed by their conduct that he renounced paganism and embraced Judaism. He is never described as a saintly gentile, rather, he is portrayed as a decent person, whose positive reaction should have been emulated by other gentiles who witnessed the exhibition of Matan Torah.

The Amaleikites were also impressed with the Jews, but their reaction differed from that of Yitro. They believed that a nation who follows different laws from those which prevailed all over the world, is a menace to society and should be eradicated. Amalek came and attacked the Jews. The Jews had not threatened Amalek in any manner, yet Amalek attacked them anyway. This was their reaction to Matan Torah.

In the Torah, the presentation of the first set of Luchot given to Israel at Mt. Sinai, was with tremendous fanfare. In the Machzor of Rosh HaShana, we read in the section of Shofarot, “With voices and thunder You revealed Yourself to them and through the sound of a Shofar did You appear to them”. GD wanted the entire world to know that the Jews had received the Torah, and that the Torah contained a new moral code, a new outlook, and a new set of laws. It was not necessary for all the other nations to accept this code. It was however, curcial that they be aware of it. Why? So that GD could eventually convert the entire universe to become the residence of HaShem. All will accept the reign of GD. The time will come when the whole world must realize that the Torah given to the Jews contain the truth, and it is worthwhile to accept them-just as the Jews accepted them so many years ago. The purpose of Matan Torah was not for the individual, but to convert the entire universe into a divine residence. The Torah was offered to everyone, and must eventually be accepted by all.

The Torah, however, also wants us to know that there are certain people who will never be converted. They understand that the Jew represents something unique, but their response to that is vicious hatred and a desire to destroy. Amalek attacked us without provocation and for no reason, other than that we are a unique and separate entity. Amalek and their descendants will continue to react this way throughout history.

The gentiles will react to us in one of two ways, either as Yitro or as Amalek, and we must be prepared for both reactions.

About Aharon Ziegler

Rabbi Aharon Ziegler is the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Agudath Achim of Boro Park and the Dean and Rosh Kollel of Kollel Agudath Achim. He is the author of six volumes of Halakhic Positions of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.

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