Torah Weekly

For the week ending 26 January 2008 / 19 Shevat 5768

Parshat Yitro

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Hearing of the miracles G-d performed for Bnei Yisrael, Moshe's father-in-law Yitro arrives with Moshe's wife and sons, reuniting the family in the wilderness. Yitro is so impressed by Moshe's detailing of the Exodus from Egypt that he converts to Judaism. Seeing that the only judicial authority for the entire Jewish nation is Moshe himself, Yitro suggests that subsidiary judges be appointed to adjudicate smaller matters, leaving Moshe free to attend to larger issues. Moshe accepts his advice. Bnei Yisrael arrive at Mt. Sinai where G-d offers them the Torah. After they accept, G-d charges Moshe to instruct the people not to approach the mountain and to prepare for three days. On the third day, amidst thunder and lightning, G-d's voice emanates from the smoke-enshrouded mountain and He speaks to the Jewish People, giving them the Ten Commandments:

  1. Believe in G-d
  2. Don't worship other "gods"
  3. Don't use G-d's name in vain
  4. Observe Shabbat
  5. Honor your parents
  6. Don't murder
  7. Don't commit adultery
  8. Don't kidnap
  9. Don't testify falsely
  10. Don't covet.

After receiving the first two commandments, the Jewish People, overwhelmed by this experience of the Divine, request that Moshe relay G-d's word to them. G-d instructs Moshe to caution the Jewish People regarding their responsibility to be faithful to the One who spoke to them.


Of Mice And Men

“You shall not murder.” (20:13)

Some ten years ago, high-school student David Merrell conducted an interesting experiment to examine the influence of various kinds of music.

He built a maze and put some mice through it. The time it took for the mice to complete the maze was about ten minutes. He then divided the mice into three groups, and started to play music to two of the three groups for ten hours a day. To one group he played classical music, to the other, hard rock. Then, at the end of three weeks he put all the mice through the maze three times a week for three weeks.

The control group who had heard no music, managed to cut five minutes off their original time. The classical mice reduced their time by eight and a half minutes; and the hard rock mice took twenty minutes longer to find their way through the maze.

Unfortunately the project had to be cut short because, as David said, “all the hard rock mice killed each other. None of the classical mice did that at all.” (Washington Times, July 2, 1997)

We live in a world of increasingly mindless violence. The irritability threshold of the average person has dropped to alarming levels. As early as 1997, therapists in the United States were working to certify road rage as a medical condition. It is already an official mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. According to an article published by the Associated Press in June 2006, the behaviors typically associated with road rage are the result of intermittent explosive disorder. This conclusion was drawn from surveys of some 9,200 adults in the United States between 2001 and 2003, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.

The cause of intermittent explosive disorder has not been described to date.

Turn on the radio and listen to some of the latest Jewish music. It sounds about as Jewish as Led Zeppelin wearing tefillin.

There is an ongoing debate about to what extent Jewish music should be allowed to ape (pun intended) its secular counterpart. In fact, this debate goes back to the achronim (later commentators).

At one end of the scale is the Krach shel Romi, an Italian commentator, who describes how Roman Jews would stand behind the Cathedral and copy down the latest Catholic liturgical hits to be used during the prayers on High Holidays. At the other end of the scale, there are those who say that even the influence of classical music can contain the negative spiritual genes of its composers. However, it is well known that many of the great Chassidic nigunim (tunes) bear more than a passing resemblance to Russian and Polish marching songs.

Rabbi Nachman Bulman, zatzal, the great Mashgiach (spiritual counselor) of Ohr Somayach, founder and rabbi of numerous Torah communities and institutions, once told me that in every generation we have had composers who were able to extract the pri, the "fruit" from the klippa, the "shell" of impurity. However, the last songwriter who managed to do this died in October 1994. I understood him to mean that the Jewish music that followed afterwards was unredeemed secular plagiarism; the klippa had devoured the fruit completely.

There is a mystical concept that there are many gates to Heaven. The one that is closest to the Kissei HaKavod, the “throne” of G-d, is the gate of music.

Music is one of the holiest channels from above. Why would we want to block it up with the dross of the world? Worse still, why would we want to risk the mice becoming men?

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