Weekly Story: Hearing the Aseres Hadibros

The following is a story that the Chassidim of the Shpoleh Zeide would relate every Shavuos during the milchige meal on the first day.

One of the villages close to Shpoleh belonged to a Poritz who relished his ability to make the lives of his subjects, and especially the Jewish ones, difficult. During the winter months he lived in the capital city, but at the onset of spring he would reside in his mansion. The Jews dreaded his return, because they became the source of his entertainment. 

Quite often, when he entertained his fellow noblemen, he demanded that a Jew should come in wearing his tallis and tefillin to sing and dance for his friends. They would join him in laughing and mocking the Jew. Other times, he would throw a Jewish family, who fell behind in their rent payment, into a cellar and watch them suffer until the Jewish community could put together the money due and bail them out.

Each year he figured out a new way to harass them, and one year he decided to really get them. He decreed that all the taverns must be open for business on Shabbos, and there should be a statue of the Christian religion in every establishment. These and similar harsh decrees were too much for the Jews to accept, and they came to the Zeide, beseeching him to arouse Hashem’s compassion upon them.

The Zeide heard their cry and felt their pain and exclaimed, “I waited long enough for him to treat the Jews properly, it is time to show him how to behave. He will listen to the Ten Commandments.” He then said to the villagers, “Go to the Poritz and inform him that this year, instead of us going to the large city for the holiday of Shavuos, we will celebrate it in your village. Therefore, we are inviting the Honorable Poritz and his friends, the other noblemen and their families, to see a Jewish prayer service. I will come,” the Zeide added, “and arrange for a chazzan and someone to read the Torah. Additionally, just as the Jewish people purified themselves for three days before receiving the Torah, you all should also purify yourselves for three days,” 

When the Poritz heard this, he thought of how entertaining it was for all of them to watch an individual Jew sing and dance while wrapped up in his shawl, so he figured it would really delight them to watch the entire community pray, and he invited all of the nobility for this festivity.

The Zeide arrived in the village before Shavuos, and seeing how many carriages were there, he told the villagers to inform the Poritz that in order to accommodate everyone, the services will take place on top of the hill. He also gave them a canopy and instructed them to erect it on the hilltop, as that is where they will read the Torah. 

The Poritz entertained his guests in his mansion and then announced: “Now comes the highlight of today’s festivities, we will be entertained by the entire Jewish community’s prayers and singing.

Arriving at the hill, they smiled with mirth as the Zeide, wrapped in his Tallis that reached the floor, walked to the lectern and began the prayers. They were surprised and mesmerized at how powerful and pleasant the old man’s voice was; it was indeed a pleasure to hear. When he said the words of Shema Yisroel, his voice thundered like a lion and the smirks were erased off their faces. They all began trembling in awe and fear. When he began repeating the Shemoneh Esrei out loud, their fear became so powerful that they began feeling faint. Nevertheless, some of the noblemen put on a brave face as if they weren’t affected.

The Zeide then honored one of the people who had come with him to read the Torah. One of the members of the community stood next to the Poritz and explained what was being said in the prayers and the Torah. Although it was a beautiful summer day with a pleasant breeze, when he began saying the Aseres Hadibros, thunder and lightning peeled from the heavens, and they were overcome with fright.

Hearing the first two commandments and its translation, the Poritz was overcome with fear and remorse. How could I have decreed that the Jews place a statue in their houses? Similarly, when he heard the fourth commandment to keep the Shabbos, he regretted decreeing that all businesses remain open on Shabbos. He felt as if he was gasping for air.

These thoughts of remorse kept on repeating with each of the ten commandments, as its meaning and message penetrated their minds, and they realized the ugliness of their decrees against the Jews. At the same time, they were baffled; while it was being said in a foreign language, they felt it was unnecessary to listen to the Jew’s translation, for somehow, they understood it on their own. When he concluded reading the Torah, many of the noblemen fainted, and all of them resolved to treat their Jewish subjects with respect and dignity. They were ashamed of their previous actions and respectfully left.

At the conclusion of davening, there was a large meal for the entire community and people noticed that the person who had read the Torah wasn’t present. Seeing their bewilderment, the Zeide explained that the Torah reader was really exceptional. “I requested Moshe Rabbeinu himself to read it.”

After Yom Tov, the Poritz requested that the Zeide come to him, and they had a few-hours private discussion. He changed his attitude completely and instructed the Jews to build a synagogue on the hilltop, saying that he will pay the entire expenses to build it. 

Shortly afterwards, the Poritz disappeared. The Zeide then said that the Poritz was a reincarnation of Yisro, and he had to rectify something. He had gone to a distant country, converted, and when he passed away, the only thing written on his tombstone was that he was a righteous convert.

Last week I wrote about how everything in the Torah is exact, and in the comments on CrownHeights.info there was a debate about it. Normally I respond to those who write to me directly, but since I don’t know who posted the comments, I will answer here.

Firstly, please read Malka’s reply.

Now my reply: This week I learned a Maamar that the Rebbe said Shavuous 5729. There he discusses the famous midrash that the angels argued to Hashem, “Give your glory to the heavens,” meaning give us the Torah and Hashem instructed Moshe to reply to them. Moshe asked them, “Did you go to Mitzrayim? Do you have an evil inclination etc.?”

I am not going to write the entire explanation, but one of the points the Rebbe states is that every word in the midrash is exact. The angels argued, “Give your glory…” Chassidus explains that glory is not the same thing as the essence.

So Moshe’s rebuttal to them was that if the Torah would be given to the angels, that would only draw Hashem’s glory into this world/universe. However, now that Hashem is giving the Torah to humans living in the physical and material world, through learning the Torah and fulfilling its mitzvos, they are drawing down Hashem’s essence.

The angels realized then that they too are benefitting much more if the Torah would be given to humans and granted Moshe presents.

This explanation only works if we realize the exactness of each word. Once you say it can be just a rounded off number or a random word you are going on a slippery slope.

Concerning your proofs, here is not the place for a debate, that I do one on one.  

Rabbi Avtzon is a veteran Mechanech and the author of numerous books on the Rebbeim and their Chassidim. He can be contacted at avtzonbooks@gmail.com

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