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Yisro: Big Decisions

By Rabbi Yitzchok D. Frankel

Agudath Israel of the Five Towns

The Gemara tells us in Shabbos 87a that Moshe Rabbeinu made three decisions on his own, to which Hashem later agreed. The first was when they came to Mount Sinai. Hashem told Moshe Rabbeinu to set three days as preparation for Matan Torah, but Moshe decided on his own to add a fourth day of preparation. The Gemara says he found an allusion in Scripture for this addition.

Moshe Rabbeinu’s second decision was to separate from his wife. Since the Shechinah would regularly speak to him without prior warning, he needed to be ready at all times. We know that Hashem agreed to Moshe’s decision because after Matan Torah He told the rest of K’lal Yisrael to return to their homes (i.e., their wives): “You may all return to your tents” (Sh’mos 5:25). After the abstention from marital life, which was part of preparing for Matan Torah, everyone was permitted to go back to life as normal. Not Moshe: “But as for you, stay here with Me.” (ibid.)

Moshe’s third decision was to break the Luchos HaBris. As with his other decisions, the Gemara explains that he had a source from the Torah.

What is this Gemara saying? Did Moshe make these decisions on his own, or rather were they based on relevant pesukim?

Let’s say Reuven claims that he “decided on his own” to fulfill a certain mitzvah. We ask him: “What motivated you to take such a step?” He replies: “The Gemara clearly derives the obligation of this mitzvah from a Torah pasuk.” Reuven’s answer makes no sense. If the Gemara derived it from a pasuk, it must have employed the 13 hermeneutical principles of Scriptural exposition. This means that the Torah instructed Reuven what to do! Thus he did not make an independent decision but faithfully obeyed the Divine instructions.

How are we to understand the Gemara’s statement that Moshe Rabbeinu decided to do these things on his own?

The answer lies in the uniqueness of Moshe Rabbeinu’s prophecy. It was qualitatively different from that of all other prophets, as Hashem spoke “mitoch gerono shel Moshe.” When Moshe opened his mouth to speak, it was Hashem’s voice that came out. Thus Moshe was the conduit of Hashem’s word to the world, in the most direct manner possible. This was known as Aspeklaria Hame’irah. This unique way of receiving Hashem’s word and transmitting it to Am Yisrael is called Toras Moshe. The Rambam explains in Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah, ch. 8, that this level of prophecy was exclusive to Moshe Rabbeinu so that all would know and realize that the Torah, both Written and Oral, was given to the world only once. It is not a repeatable experience.

Anything that Moshe taught us, he heard directly, in the clearest fashion, from Hakadosh Boruch Hu. The truth of any Torah idea that we would expound over the course of the generations is ultimately derived from the fact that Hashem taught every detail of the Torah to Moshe Rabbeinu at Mount Sinai, as Rashi states in the beginning of parashas Behar. This implies, as brought in Vayikra Rabbah 22:1, that any true chiddush ever to be said was already transmitted to Moshe Rabbeinu.

Hashem transmitted the Torah to Moshe in a manner more comprehensive than anyone could have ever imagined. Yet, there was one facet of Torah that Moshe could not possess. The Gemara says in Kiddushin 32b:

When a talmid chacham derives the truths of the Torah using one of the principles of Scriptural exegesis, it is called toraso, “his Torah.” The talmid chacham has what is known as a kinyan Torah. But Moshe Rabbeinu did not possess that attribute. Though he received the Torah directly from Hashem and obviously acquired it on the highest of levels, he did not have the kinyan Torah of the type of derashos Chazal. Moshe did not have chiddushim derived from a pasuk, through a hekeish or a kal vachomer, and for good reason: That type of Torah learning would have contradicted the very purpose of Moshe Rabbeinu’s mission in conveying the Torah!

Moshe Rabbeinu’s transmission could not be through making derashos. It had to be the clearest, direct communication that came wholly from Hashem. Hence, Hashem gave Moshe Rabbeinu three places where he could derive the mitzvah through Scriptural interpretation, as Chazal did. “Moshe Rabbeinu made three decisions on his own.” Relative to the way Moshe knew everything else in the Torah, these three were considered his own decisions. Moshe used a hekeish to derive the extra day of preparation for Matan Torah, expounded a kal vachomer to learn that he should separate from his wife, and smashed the Luchos HaBris based on another kal vachomer.

And Hakadosh Boruch Hu agreed to his derashos! Those derashos were Hashem’s intention from the outset. Yet they were not expressly taught to Moshe, which afforded him the opportunity to achieve this unique form of kinyan Torah. v

Rabbi Frankel can be reached at At local stores: Machat shel Yad Bereishis, Sh’mos, and Vayikra.

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Posted by on January 18, 2014. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.