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You shall not ascend with steps upon My Altar. (20:23)

This simply means that when we build the ramp leading up to the Altar, it must be made smooth and inclined – not with ascending levels (Rashi). Otherwise, the Kohen would be compelled to take wide steps, which might lead to his humiliation. The word maalos has another meaning: qualities, attributes, aspects concerning an individual which, so to speak, elevate him, make him stand out. The Chafetz Chaim, zl, applied this other definition to a homiletic rendering of the pasuk. When the Kenessiah Gedolah took place in Vienna in 1923, the Chafetz Chaim made a great effort to attend. Frail, and…

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You shall not take the Name of Hashem, your G-d, in vain. (20:7)

The Talmud Shavuos 39a relates that when Hashem said the words of Lo sisa…,“You shall not take the Name of Hashem, your G-d, in vain,” the entire world shook. We wonder why this particular commandment had such a frightening effect on people, more so than Lo signov, “Do not steal,” Lo sirtzach, “Do not murder,” or any of the other commandments for that matter. The Kotzker Rebbe, zl, explains that, regrettably, some people convince themselves and others that under certain circumstances, for the “greater good,” one can find a dispensation to steal – even to murder! It is all done in…

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I am Hashem, your G-d, Who took you out of the land of Egypt. (20:2)

Yashem identified Himself to Klal Yisrael as the One Who performed the miracles of the Exodus. It would have been logical for Hashem to have identified Himself as the Creator of the Universe, which is clearly a more encompassing title than the Liberator Who freed them from bondage. While it is true that his liberation involved many miracles which attested to Hashem’s awesome powers, they still pale in comparison with the creation of the Universe. In the Kuzari, Rabbi Yehudah Halevi, zl, explains that Hashem spoke of the Exodus because it was a phenomenon that was seen, as the entire…

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Hashem descended upon Har Sinai…; Hashem summoned Moshe to the top of the mountain, and Moshe ascended. (19:20)

Elevating Klal Yisrael to the level of Kabbolas HaTorah, receiving the Torah, was not an overnight task. The Jewish People had been enslaved in Egypt for two-hundred and ten years, suffering persecution and degradation, misery and emotional pain, until they cried out to Hashem. This catalyzed their return to Him, effecting their spiritual development, and preparing them for the seminal movement in Jewish history: the Giving of the Torah. Egypt was the crucible that tempered their spirit. The era of Egyptian bondage served as their incubation period, during which they evolved from the Hebrew people to Bnei Yisrael, endowed with the…

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“Whoever touches the mountain shall surely die.” (19:12)

The mountain represents a sphere of holiness that is beyond the reach of the average person. To penetrate the boundaries around it is intensely dangerous to the welfare of the individual. The Chafetz Chaim, zl, derives an important lesson concerning the reverence we must accord to a talmid chacham, Torah scholar. A mountain has no intelligence and no feelings. Yet, simply because it was the place from which the Torah was given, it attained such an element of kedushah, holiness, that the people were admonished not to touch it. How much more so should we revere the Torah scholar who…

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Yisro said, “Blessed is Hashem, Who has rescued you from the hand of Egypt.” (18:10)

The Talmud Sanhedrin 94 notes that it was embarrassing for Moshe Rabbeinu and 600,000 Jews that Yisro was the first one to bless Hashem for saving them. This reality comprises a powerful critique of the Jewish People and their leadership. Imagine, no one had been moved to bless Hashem for all the incredible miracles which He had wrought for them until Yisro expressed his feelings of gratitude and praise. It almost does not make sense. But what about the Shirah, “the Song by the Sea” – a Song of Praise and gratitude, which Moshe and Klal Yisrael sang immediately after…

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