Yeser was one of the seven names of Yisro. Rashi brings at the beginning of the parsha that the reason why he was called this name is because he “added” a parsha in the Torah, that of ואתה תחזה his advice to Moshe to create a system of judges to deal with the law cases that come up between people. If we look closely at the pessukim dealing with this advice, we will discover that there were two parts to Yisro’s plan. The first part was the complaint of Yisro over the negative situation that existed with just Moshe being the sole judge over Am Yisrael without any assistants (18,14). Only after eight pessukim of describing the disaster of the present unworkable platform, did the advice from Yisro come forth with ואתה תחזה to seek out reputable and capable individuals to assist him. Yet when Rashi says he added on to the Torah the parsha of assistant judges to alleviate Moshe’s load of being overworked, there is no mention of the complaints that brought about this new system. Rather, only the solution of ואתה תחזה is the parsha that merited him the name of Yeser.
Rabbi Menachem Zemba ztl explained that many people like to complain about a present difficult situation and how it needs change, yet they offer no solution. And even if they do suggest an alternative plan, they are not willing to be part of it, investing time and energy to make it happen. The Torah doesn’t appreciate or value complaints without solutions. But rather it desires the complainer to roll up his sleeves and help bring light where there dwells darkness, to bring tikkun where there is failure, to arouse hope where there permeates despair, and to undergo teshuvah where there is chait.
This same concept we find later on in the parsha with the second commandment of the Ten Commandments which also teaches that one must not dwell on his negative behavior but rather focus on fixing the problem and removing it from his being through teshuvah. The Second Dibbur says לא יהיה לך אלהים אחרים על פני You shall not possess an idol of any other deities so long as I exist. לא תעשה לך פסל וכל תמונה אשר בשמים ממעל ואשר בארץ מתחת וכול’ You should not make for yourself a sculptured image of any pictures which are in the heavens above, which is on the earth below, or which is in the lower water beneath the earth. Rashi says that both pessukim are necessary to state. For if I had only the prohibition of making a sculptured image I would permit in my possession that which was already made. Therefore the passuk had to add לא יהיה לך אלהים אחרים that one is not allowed to possess even an idol that was already made.
The question on Rashi is that if the passuk would have first stated that it is forbidden to make a form or image of a deity and then afterwards the passuk would have said don’t even possess one, then the necessity to add the second passuk to include merely possession of an idol would be understandable. However, since the Second Commandment begins with the prohibition to possess an idol then it seems totally unnecessary to state that you are not allowed to make and form an idol which is clearly an act of greater sin?
The Taam Hatzvi explains that the issur of לא יהיה לך אלהים אחרים על פני is not referring to the prohibition of not allowing the idol to come into your possession. Rather, it is referring to an individual who has transgressed the prohibition of already making the idol yet he does not rid of it from his possession. He still clings on to the aveirah and does not do teshuvah on it even after transgressing it. This Second Commandment is the foundation of all לא תעשה in the Torah. For every transgression is listed under the category of worshipping other deities and forces other than Hashem. Therefore it is stated that once you transgress, don’t keep the aveirah in your possession but rather do teshuvah immediately. The Rebbe Rav Bunim would say that the essential punishment given to the sinner is not for the aveirah he transgressed but rather for not doing the necessary teshuvah on it. Shamayim can understand that you were overcome by your yetzer hara and that you really unwillingly sinned. But after the sin was finished, what can be your excuse for not doing teshuvah and ridding yourself from the aveirah?
The Rabbeinu Bachya interprets the explanation of Chazal (Yuma 29) that say הרהורי עבירה קשין מעבירה that thoughts of an aveirah is worse than the aveirahin a novel way. That is referring to thoughts after one already did the aveirah. Before the aveirah there are impure thoughts that are produced by the yetzerharah to lure one into doing the aveirah. However, once you already did the aveirah you must retake control of your life and do teshuvah and totally remove one’s thoughts from the aveirah. If you feel that this removal of thoughts cannot be achieved and you therefore do not even attempt to do so, then these thoughts are worse than the aveirah itself. What is your excuse for not having yourself released from these thoughts after the aveirah has already expired.
With this we can understand the order of the pessukim in the Second Commandment. It is true that the prohibition of making an avodah zarah precedes the issur of merely possessing one. However, we are interpreting the issur of לא יהיה לך אלהים אחרים as once the aveirah is done then one must not delay his teshuvah and immediately rid himself from the clutches of his yetzer harah and accept upon himself never to do it again. The reason being that the essential punishment is not because he did the aveirah but rather his tardiness into doing teshvuah which is now easier for him to achieve. This is the reason why it is listed first in the Second Commandment for this conduct of teshuvahis expected from him after the aveirah. One should not focus so much on the aveirah and the negative state which was created through it but rather priority must be given to focus on the tikkun and ridding oneself from the aveirah. That is the reason why לא יהיה לך אלהים אחרים precedes the making of an idol.
This could be the interpretation of Chazal that the ones who ירא מעבירות בידם are those people who are afraid of the aveiros in their hands should return home instead of going to the battlefield for they will endanger the welfare of others (Devarim 20.8 Rashi). What is the meaning of the expression they are afraid of aveiros in their hands? Yidden naturally uses the display of hand movements during the learning of the gemarah as an aid to one’s expression of logical thinking while transmitting their thoughts and interpretations in the gemarah process. A person can do aveiros and yet afterwards not do teshuvahas we mentioned above. What is stopping him from doing teshvuah now after the passion of the aveirah already ended? His thought process and logical thinking must be perverted by convincing him not to do teshuvah as expected. Overtime, because he did let go of the aveirah even though he might have not actually repeated it, the non fulfillment of teshuvah still lies by him. Such a person is given the title that his aveiros are “in his hand”. It means to say he has somehow legitimized the lack of his teshuvah with what he thinks is a logical reasonable thought process symbolized by the movement of hands when one wants to get a sevarah across to his chavrusah. Sometimes the hands work in explaining a good sevarah, but not when his sevarah persuades him saying teshuvah was not necessary in my case. Therefore, such a person who did not do teshuvah because the aveiros that he still possesses came under his hands with illogical rationalizations from his yetzer harah, and therefore he must return from the battlefield because he is endangering of his fellow brethren by not doing teshuvah when he is obligated to do so after the aveirah.
At the end of the parsha we find the mitzvah of building an altar with a ramp instead of stairs. The significance of the ramp is to send the message that in Avodas Hashem if one is not ascending he is automatically descending. On stairs, one can fix himself to stand still for quite some time which is in contrast to a ramp where one must choose to either go up or down. Saying stationary on a slant is very challenging. One must realize that by not doing teshuva even if he doesn’t repeat the aveirah and he even made safeguards to protect himself from slipping once again, he nevertheless is going down because of his omission of teshuvah. Sooner than later “his nakedness will be revealed” together with his self-deception which will become manifest by the shortcomings that will stem from not loosening his grip on the past aveirah.