Torah Fax

Friday, February 17, 2006 - 19 Shevat, 5766

Torah Reading: Yitro (Exodus 18:1 - 20:23)
Candle Lighting Time:  5:14 PM
Shabbat Ends: 6:16 PM
Lost in the Details?
The Ten Commandments are featured in this week's parsha.
There is a dispute among the authorities about the custom to stand while the Ten Commandments are read in public. The Rambam, Maimonides, was queried about this question and he strongly discouraged this practice. He based himself on the statement in the Talmud that the Sages sought to include the recitation of the Ten Commandments as part of the daily liturgy alongside the recitation of the Shema. The rabbis negated this practice because of the fear that the heretics would use the highlighting of the Ten Commandments as a suggestion that Judaism consists of only these ten statements, to the exclusion of all the other teachings of Judaism.
To have everyone stand for the reading of this section only, Maimonides reasoned, would lend support to the erroneous belief that only these Ten Commandments are important within the framework of Judaism.
Other authorities take issue with the Rambam's comparison and make the distinction between including only the Ten Commandments in the daily liturgy and standing for the reading of the Ten Commandments. In the latter situation, since the entire Torah portion is read aloud, everyone will realize that the Ten Commandments, notwithstanding their singular importance, do not preclude the other parts of the Torah.
To this day there are variant customs on this matter of sitting or standing while the Ten Commandments are read in Shul.
 A humorous story is told of a young rabbi who assumed his position in a new synagogue during the week when the Ten Commandments were read in the synagogue. No sooner did they reach the Ten Commandments when pandemonium broke loose. Half of the crowd stood while the other half defiantly remained seated; each side shouting and hurling insults at the other side.
The young rabbi decided to seek out the retired rabbi of the synagogue to determine its original custom. He described the chaotic situation and the arguing that prevailed in the shul to this senior rabbi, and asked him, what the original custom of the Shul was. The rabbi's answer was: "That was precisely the custom of our synagogue; half would stand and the other half would sit and they would all proceed to shout at each other."
It is interesting to note that the Rambam was the one who formulated the Thirteen Principles of Faith, known as Ani Ma'amin. Not unlike many of the Rambam's works, he received a certain amount of criticism for summarizing the fundamentals of Judaism this way, though it was subsequently incorporated into virtually every Jewish prayer book. (It was also summarized in the famous song and poem, Yigdal.) One of the criticisms was that he had singled out certain beliefs from Jewish thought, while apparently de-emphasizing others. This was akin to promoting the Ten Commandments at the expense of the rest of the commandments.
Isn't it ironic that Maimonides, who took such a strong stance against standing for the reading of the Ten Commandments, was the one who formulated these 13 fundamental principles? Why wasn't the Rambam concerned that the people might consider these 13 principles as exclusionary as he was with the Ten Commandments?
Two explanations come to mind.
First, among the thirteen principles, one finds two that speak of the Divine origin of the entire Torah-Written and Oral-and that the Torah can never be abrogated. No sane person after reading this list of principles would then go out and declare that one does not have to follow the rest of the Torah!
Second, Maimonides' formulation of Thirteen Principles of Faith was intended to provide us with a foundation for Judaism. While Judaism is a religion primarily of action, one cannot expect these actions to have meaning and endure if they are not based on a firm footing. It is like a person who builds a home, but tells the contractor that in the interest of speed he should skimp on the foundation. Such a building will certainly not last very long. The slightest seismic event will undermine the structure.
Conversely, if we were to build only a foundation without a structure, it would defeat the entire purpose of building the structure in the first place.
Thus, Maimonides wanted us to have both a solid foundation as well as an appreciation for the integrity of the structure of Judaism itself. To this end Maimonides strongly criticized any attempt to accord more importance to any one collection of teachings, including the Ten Commandments. On the other hand, Maimonides wanted us to understand that Judaism consists of an elaborate edifice that was built on solid foundations. And when one closely examines these foundations, one sees how they encompass the totality of Judaism.
One of the Thirteen Principle (the 12 th one) is the belief in the imminent coming of Moshiach.
When one examines the belief in Moshiach one sees how it leads to the acceptance of and appreciation for all of Judaism. In Maimonides' own words in his Mishneh Torah, Moshiach's task is to usher in a world that will facilitate the observance of all of the Commandments without any impediments or distractions.
Not only is this knowledge not suggestive of a belief that excludes other tenets and practices of Judaism, but, on the contrary, the very definition of a Messianic Age is one where the integrity of the entire Torah is ensured and enhanced.
Moshiach Matters
When the Third Holy Temple is built, in the Sanctuary itself the seven-branched menora will be lit each day as commanded in the Torah. In addition, on Chanuka, the eight Chanuka candles will be lit in the courtyard of the Holy Temple. There is an intrinsic connection between the Chanuka lights and the Third Holy Temple. The Third Holy Temple will be an eternal structure, "the Sanctuary of G‑d, established by Your hands." Similarly, there is an eternal dimension to the Chanuka candles, as our Sages declared, "The Chanuka lights will never be nullified."

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