Yitro-IPO of all times

Rav Yoseph, who commented in the Talmud (Pesachim 68B) that “if it weren’t for this day and what it brought, a lot of “Yoseph’s” would still be in the marketplace,” was blind. It wasn’t clear that he was obligated in the commandments of the Torah, because some opinions exempt (Baba Kama 87A) the blind from the mitzvoth of the Torah. Nevertheless, he still felt that the day of giving the Torah was a big day, an important day, and he celebrated.

Rav Yoseph’s statement demands explanation. If what he meant to say was that because he learned a lot of Torah, he was different from others who hadn’t learned, then why did he credit “this day?” He could have simply said, “If it weren’t for the Torah.” And why does he add “this day and what it brought?” If it was the day that was the cause for celebration, why did he add the words “what it brought?”

Before the Torah was given, one who did a mitzvah could be described as “not commanded, and yet he performed.” After the Torah was given, he would be described as both “commanded and performed.” The difference is that one who has not been commanded but nevertheless performs a mitzvah receives personal reward, but his performance has no effect on the object with which he did the mitzvah. However, one who has been commanded does have an effect on the world when he does a mitzvah. His performance of the mitzvah elevates and separates the object (making it holy). Since his performance is not merely of his own initiative but also due to a command from Above, the mitzvah has an effect upon the entire world, as well. After the giving of the Torah, when a Jew does a mitzvah, he involves not only himself, but the object of the mitzvah (the tefillin, or matzah, or etrog, etc) and with it the entire world. He lifts it out of the realm of the marketplace – the public arena – and deposits it in the realm of kedusha, or holiness.

And now, Rav Yoseph’s curious statement becomes clear. The name “Yoseph” is from the Hebrew word lehoseef, meaning “to add.” If it weren’t for this day of the giving of the Torah, then people would still learn Torah and do mitzvoth. Torah is always a matter of adding, and increasing spirituality. However, the question is to what were they adding and increasing holiness before the Torah was given. And the answer is – to the market place.  Mitzvoth did not transform the world before the world was given – the world remained a market place – a public forum in which anyone can do what they want. The potential for man to transform the inner nature of creation and elevate it to a new spiritual level emerged only when the Torah was given.

However, after “this day” of the giving of the Torah, man has the ability to not only add and increase, but to transform the world as well. Matan Torah,  the giving of the Torah (which takes place in our Torah portion – Yitro), was a huge IPO. It took the Torah from the private domain into the public arena. Since then, by doing a mitzvah, a Jew changes not only himself, but also market place, transforming it into an arena of holiness. That’s why Rashi comments on Rav Yoseph by saying that he “became elevated.” At first glance, Rav Yoseph meant only to say that he was different than others in the “marketplace” who didn’t learn Torah. So, why did Rashi comment that Rav Yoseph became “elevated?” But from the above it becomes apparent; before the giving of the Torah, man learned Torah, did mitzvoth – and received the reward. But, after the Torah was given as a command from Above, placing it in the public arena, Jews learned and fulfilled mitzvoth – and thereby transformed the world, elevating it to a higher level.

That’s why Rav Yoseph referred not only to “this day,” but also to “all that it brought.” Wouldn’t it be sufficient just to acknowledge the day? In answer, though, the results of the giving of the Torah do not come directly from the day, but from what it brought, the giving of the Torah.

For a longer more detailed version, go to www.jerusalemconnection.org

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol. 16, pp 211-222

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