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Parshat Yitro - Questions for Self Study

Questions for the Shabbat Table
Questions for Shiur Preparation
Questions on Parshanut

Part I - Questions for the 'Shabbat Table'

The Ten 'Commandments
1. For some reason, what we call in Hebrew "aseret ha'dibrot", we refer to in English as 'the ten commandments'. Is this translation correct? Explain why (yes or no)?
How many "dibrot" are there in the 'Ten Commandments'? Accordingly, how would you translate "dibrot"- as: statements? commandments? parshiot? commandments?
Explain each possibility.
Are there ten according to each?
What is the difference between "mitzvot" & "dibrot"?

2. What are the first two dibrot? [In other words, what precisely is the first one, and what is the second one?]
What different possibilities are raised by the commentators?
Relate to your answer to the question above.
How does your answer relate to the division of the "dibrot" into "parshiot"?
Are the first two "dibrot" included in the first "parshia"? From a grammar perspective, what else is special about the first two "dibrot" (i.e. the first 'parshia')?
[See Ibn Ezra on 20:2. See also Rambam Sefer ha'Mitzvot Asey #1, and Hasagot ha'Ramban Lo Taaseh #5.]

3. Note in your Chumash that there are two versions for how to read the "dibrot" - "taam elyon" and "taam tachton".
Note how each method divides the psukim in a very different manner! See if you can determine the underlying logic of each division and how it relates to the above questions.

4. How do we know that there were ten "dibrot"?
Does it say anywhere in Chumash that there were ten?
[In case you 'give up,' see Shmot 34:28 and Devarim 4:11-13.Relate this as well to your answer to the above questions.]

5. You probably also remember that God gave the "dibrot" to Moshe Rabeinu written on TWO "luchot" [tablets]. Can you recall how we know that there were indeed two "luchot"?
[When you give up, try Shmot 31:18 and 32:15; compare with Shmot 24:12 and 25:21!]
In your opinion, what does this mean? [i.e. two copies, or half written on each?]
If 'half & half', how would they be divided, and would this relate to their content?
[If 'two copies'; why would one set not be sufficient?]
See the concluding paragraph of Ramban's commentary on the "dibrot" (on 20:12-13) where he discusses this topic.

6. In your opinion, are the mitzvot of the dibrot 'qualitatively' different than the remaining mitzvot of the Torah?
If yes, what is special about them?
If not, why were these specific mitzvot given at Ma'amad Har Sinai, in contrast to all the other mitzvot that were given at a different setting?
[See an amazing Rashbam on 20:15-16 /"daber ata iymanu..."]

7. Review 20:14-19. In your opinion, had Bnei Yisrael not become fearful during Ma'amad Har Sinai, when they requested that Moshe receive them instead (see 20:15-18 and/or Devarim 5:20-28), would Bnei Yisrael have received more than the first ten dibrot directly from God at Ma'amad Har Sinai? If so, how many more mitzvot? [All 613,or only a certain group?]

8. How does the first mitzvah that Bnei Yisrael receive after the Dibrot - "lo taasun iti elokei kesef..." (see 20:19-20) relate to their request not to hear the remaining mitzvot directly from God?
How is this mitzvah different than the commandment not to worship "avodah zara" in the second Dibur?
Can you explain how this relates to the next mitzvah: "mizbayach adamah ta'aseh li" (20:21-22) as well?

Part II - Questions for Preparation (for weekly shiur)

Ma'amad Har Sinai

Chapter 19 describes Bnei Yisrael's preparation for Matan Torah, and hence, we should expect its detail to be significant.
Even though you have probably read this chapter numerous times, you most probably never studied it carefully. To help you understand its importance, and the major controversy among the commentators regarding when (and how) these events take place, it is important to first review it carefully, and attempt to divide it into sections (by topic).
As usual, to help your organize your thoughts, attempt to make an outline that divides the chapter into its most basic topics. Try to give a precise title for each section. Also attempt to explain the logic behind the flow of topic within this narrative. Should you encounter any major difficulty, be sure to see how (and try to understand why) Rashi, Ibn Ezra & Ramban (etc.) deal with those questions.
Don't continue with these questions until you have finished your outline. When you finish, see if your outline matches our outline below; then answer the questions that follow:

A. 19:1-8 / The 'Proposal'
1. As you read these psukim, note how Moshe acts as God's 'messenger' to offer a certain 'proposal' to Am Yisrael. Try to explain what this 'proposal' [or 'deal'] is all about, and its purpose. Be sure that you understand its 'two sides', as detailed in 19:5-6. What are the 'conditions' and what are the 'rewards' and/or 'consequences' implicit in these psukim?

2. Note the word "brit" in 19:5. In your opinion, does it refer to something 'old' or something 'new'? According to each possibility, what "brit" is being referred to? How does this "brit" relate to the proposal?
[See Ramban on this pasuk, note the different possibilities that are raised!]

3. In 19:6, how do you understand the phrases "mamlechet Kohanim" & "goy kadosh"? Do they describe two different concepts or the same concept? Can you relate this concept(s) to a primary theme of Sefer Breishit? [Relate to Breishit 17:1-8?]

4. In your opinion, what would have happened had Bnei Yisrael answered 'no' to this proposal? [You are probably familiar with a Midrash that entertains this possibility.]
Once Bnei Yisrael do answer 'yes' to this proposal (see 19:7- 8), what should happen next? In other words, how will Bnei Yisrael find out the more specific details of this "brit"? Relate your answer to what happens in chapters 19 & 20.

B. 19:1-8 /Preparation for Matan Torah
1. Carefully read 19:9, how does the first half of this pasuk relates to 'proposition' discussed in 19:4-8? Does this pasuk include any type of a 'plan' for how Matan Torah will take place? If so, explain what this plan is, and the relationship between Moshe and the rest of the nation.

2. Review now the final phrase of 19:9: "and Moshe told the people's answer to God". What is the obvious problem with this part of the pasuk? How does it relate to the first half - and what 'answer' of the people is this talking about?
See Rashi on 19:9 - "et divrei ha'am...". How does Rashi answer this 'obvious question'? What is his answer?
[Note that Rashi is quoting the Mechiltah.]

3. Review 19:10-11. How does these psukim relate to 19:9? Does 19:11 include a 'plan' as well? Is it the same or different as the plan in 19:9? Attempt to relate the apparent contradiction between psukim 9 and 11 to explain Rashi's interpretation to 19:9.

4. Note the three-day preparation described in 19:11. In your opinion, why is this necessary?
Attempt to relate this to Rashi's pirush to 19:9.
List the different types of preparation, as described in 19:10-15. What is the purpose of each?

5. In relation to "bim'shoch ha'yovel..." (see 19:13), in your opinion, is this long blow of the shofar supposed to be a sign that Matan Torah is over, or that it is about to BEGIN? [Relate to 19:19!/ see also Devarim 5:4-5 and Yehoshua 6:4-6.]

C. 19:16-19 / the "Hitgalut" (revelation)
1. Based on 19:10-15, where should the people have been on the third day in the morning - at Har Sinai, or in the camp?
Relate this to what transpires in 19:16-17!
Why does Moshe have to 'take them out' from the camp and bring them to Har Sinai? Would they have not come on their own?

2.Based on 19:18-19, according to which 'plan' (discussed above re: 19:9-11) does Matan Torah take place? [Do the people hearor 'see' God directly, or does Moshe act as the intermediary?
Where is Moshe supposed to be during Matan Torah, on the mountain, or with the people? [Why is it difficult to answer this question?]

3. Review 19:19 and the phrase: "Moshe y'daber, v'ha'Elokim ya'anenu b'kol", in its context.
Who is Moshe speaking to: to the people or to God?
What was Moshe 'saying'? [See Parshanut section.]
[Note Rashi. Did you ever realize before that this pasuk may be describing what transpires during the dibrot?]
Where are Bnei Yisrael standing at this time?

4. Review Devarim 5:1-6, especially 5:4-5. Relate these psukim to the questions above!

D. 19:20-25 / Limitation
1.What happens in these psukim? Technically speaking, what makes them a 'distinct' unit? How do they relate to the psukim that precede them? [According to those commentators who explain that 19:19 describes the Dibrot, when did psukim 20-25 take place?]

2.Note the use of "rosh ha'har" (the TOP of the mountain) in these psukim, as opposed to the use of only "Har Sinai" up until this point. What is the significance of this? Has something changed? [Be sure to explain 19:24.]

3.Why does God (at this time) repeat his warning 'not to approach the mountain'? Does Moshe himself understand why?

4.Who are the "kohanim" that are described in 19:21-24? How are they 'different' than the rest of the nation, and where are they standing? [Relate to Shmot 24:1-11!].

5.Review 19:25, noting the final phrase "va'yomer aleihem". What specifically does Moshe 'say to them' when he came down from the mountain: the "Dibrot" or the "mitzvat hagbala" in 19:21-22?
What did you think that this phrase meant the first time you read this pasuk? Why?

E. 20:1-14 / The Dibrot
1. Note the difference in 'person' between the first two dibrot and the last eight. What famous Midrash regarding HOW the dibrot were given relates to this 'change in person'?
Can there be any other explanation?
[See Ramban on 20:6, in the middle of his pirush.]

2. Relate this to the two 'plans' discussed in the questions above. Which 'plan' is reflected (respectively) by the 'first person' and 'third person' tense in these two sections of the dibrot?

F. 20:15-18 /The People's Fear of the Hitgalut
1. Read these psukim carefully. In your opinion, when did this story take place? [before, after, or during the Dibrot]
Carefully compare the details of this story to 19:16-19, and to the 'two plans' described in 19:9-11.
Attempt to relate this story to the 'change in person' found between the first two Dibrot and the last eight.

2. In 20:15 we are told how Bnei Yisrael are so fearful that they 'stand at a distance', while in 20:16 Moshe urges them 'not to fear. At the end of the story, we are told how Bnei Yisrael stand at a distance while Moshe enters the cloud (20:17-18). In your opinion, did Bnei Yisrael listen to Moshe's encouragement or not? [In other words, was Moshe encouraging them to stand even closer, or was he insisting that they not move away any farther?]

3. Next, read [what appears to be] the parallel account of this story in Devarim 5:20-30. In your opinion, is this the same story as described in Shmot 20:15-18. Explain your answer, noting the parallels and the differences.

    * If Shmot 20:15-18 is indeed a different event, then: When did it take place? [Before, after, or during the Dibrot?] If you answered 'before' or 'during', can you explain why the Torah may have recorded it here instead?
    * If these parallel stories describe the same event, then: How can one explain the discrepancies between these two accounts?
Note that "machloket rishonim" [Ibn Ezra/Ramban] on this topic. Ibn Ezra claims that they took place Matan Torah, while Ramban claims that they took place before Matan Torah. Furthermore, Chizkuni quotes Chazal's opinion that they happened during Matan Torah!
[If you have time to study these Rishonim, be sure to follow their logic. Most all of the sources are found in Ramban on 20:14 (i.e. the first pasuk of "shvii"/ so it could be 20:15, there is difference of opinion concerning how to number the psukim in this perek.]

4. Read Shmot 20:19, and then quickly scan the psukim that follow. In your opinion, is this a continuation from 20:18? If yes, how do these mitzvot relate to 20:15-18. If not, when was this commandment (in 20:19) given to Moshe?
[Note Rashi on 31:18 - "l'daber ito...". See also Ramban on 24:1.]

G.20:19->21:1 & onward / The Mitzvot and the Mishpatim
When, where, and to whom are these mitzvot being given?
Why didn't the people hear these mitzvot directly from God, (like the dibrot)? When did they hear them from Moshe?
In your opinion, why are specifically these mitzvot given at this time, as opposed to the remaining mitzvot that were given to Moshe during his forty days on Har Sinai?
Relate all your answers to 24:3-7!
[This topic will be continued in next week's questions.]

H. 24:1-11 / The Brit at Har Sinai
1. Read these psukim. Even though they are in Parshat Mishpatim, many commentators claim that this event took place before Matan Torah. [See Rashi 24:1.]
Compare these psukim to chapter 19 and see if you can find any similarities. Do any of these psukim help explain any of the difficulties that you encountered when you studied chapter 19?
[Note, that anyone who claims that Bnei Yisrael proclaimed "na'aseh v'nishma" at Matan Torah must understand that this covenant took place at the same time as chapter 19.] Note machloket Rashi/ Ramban on 24:1!

2. According to Rashi, where in chapter 19 do the events in chapter 24:1-10 take place? How does this affect how Rashi explains "divrei Hashem" & the "mishpatim" in 24:3-4?
How does this explain who the "kohanim" are in 19:21-24, and how does it explain the need for the warning in 19:20-25?

Now that you've prepared, go to the shiur.

Part III - Parshanut

1. See Rambam's explanation of Ma'amad Har Sinai in Moreh Nevuchim: Section II/ chapter 33!
[See also the end of chapter 32 where he introduces chapter 33.]

2. Review 19:3, noting how God instructs Moshe to relay his 'proposal' to both "beit Yaakov" and "Bnei Yisrael"?
What is the obvious difficulty in this pasuk?
Are these two different groups, or two names for the same group? According to each possibility, explain who each group is and why the respective verb ["tomar" & "tageyd"] is used.
Then, see how Rashi understands these two groups, and the use of the respective verbs.
[You probably have heard of a famous school name based on this Rashi!]
Next, see Ibn Ezra [first the "aroch"]. Note how he answers the above questions, and how his answer is quite different than Rashi's. Note also how explains the respective use of the verbs.
Then see Ibn Ezra "ha'katzar", noting how he first quotes Rashi, and one other opinion, and then 'smashes' them!
Note the psukim in Tehillim that he quotes to prove his point! Notice also how this commentary reflects Ibn Ezra's approach to "pshat".
Finally, see Chizkuni. Note how his pirush is quite different, and how he relates the two verbs to 19:4-6, i.e. one relating to a command, and the other to telling over a story.

3. Review 19:19 once again, and the phrase: "Moshe y'daber, v'ha'Elokim ya'anenu b'kol", in its context. Who is Moshe speaking to: to the people or to God, and what is Moshe 'saying'?
First, see how Rashbam and Ibn Ezra answer this question.
Then, see Chizkuni. In what manner is Chizkuni similar, and how is different, than Rashbam? [Note how 'creative' Chizkuni's pirush is!]
Then, see Rashi's interpretation. How and why is his approach different than Rashbam, Chizkuni, and Ibn Ezra? Based on Part II above, what leads Rashi to his conclusion that this pasuk describes how the last eight dibrot are given by God via Moshe to Bnei Yisrael?
Finally, see Ramban, noting how he first quotes Rashi, and then disagrees. Again, based on the questions in Part II above, what leads Ramban to his conclusion. Explain how his pirush to 19:19 is based on his understanding of 19:20-25.

When Did Yitro Come?
4. A "machloket" [controversy] exists concerning when Yitro actually came to Har Sinai, before or after Matan Torah.
Before seeing the commentators inside, go through perek 18 and as you read through the psukim, identify which psukim support each opinion.
Review as well the story re: Yitro at the end of Bamidbar chapter 10 and the story of how Moshe appointed judges when Bnei Yisrael prepared to leave Har Sinai, as recorded in Devarim 1:6- 13.
Then, see Ibn Ezra and Ramban inside (18:1). How do they relate to each of the psukim which you had noted.
Now, see Rashi on 18:13 - "va'yhi m'macharat". Based on his explanation, how does Rashi form a compromise between these two opinions? Would you consider this the 'best' solution?
If so, why yes,
If not, why not?
How does Ibn Ezra explain why this story is written out of chronological order?
How does Rashi explain why part of this story is written out of chronological order?
What different basic assumption does each commentator begin with that causes this three way "machloket"?