Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Yisro

(Thursday, January 31st, 2013)

Vayishma Yisro (18:1)

After the miracles that Hashem performed for the Jewish people at the Red Sea and in the battle against Amalek, Yisro came to join them and convert. However, the Torah seems to stress that there was something unique about Yisro hearing about these miracles. What was so significant about Yisro’s hearing?

The Alshich HaKadosh explains that while the entire world heard about the miracles and were filled with fear of the Jews, only Yisro did something about it: he came to convert. Proper hearing doesn’t merely connote the ability to process sound waves. It requires a deeper understanding of the message being conveyed.

Rav Shalom Schwadron compares this to two people walking down the train tracks. When the conductor of an oncoming train sees them, he sounds a shrill warning whistle. Both men hear the whistle, but one is a simple farmer who has never seen a train. He continues walking while enjoying the view and the sounds of the whistle, while the other person understands the warning being conveyed and immediately flees from the oncoming danger.

While both men physically “heard” the sound of the whistle, only the latter properly understood the message. Similarly, although the nations of the world heard about Hashem’s miracles, the information failed to change them. Only Yisro internalized the message, understanding what was required of him and acting accordingly.

An inspiring story illustrates this point. During World War I, many of the Jews of war-torn Poland took refuge in Austria. One year on Shabbos Chanuka, Rav Moshe Flesch, a Rav in Vienna, spoke about Yehudis’s determination in the story of Chanuka to stand up for what was right. He continued by noting that although yeshivos had spread throughout Europe and a proper Jewish education was available to boys, there was unfortunately no comparable option for Jewish girls. They were forced to attend public schools and received only a rudimentary religious education at Sunday schools.

Lacking a solid Jewish background, the girls were frequently swept up in the anti-religious movements of the time, often corrupting other family members with them. Rav Flesch stressed the need for a modern-day Yehudis to step forward and establish a system of formal education for Jewish girls. This would ensure that they would remain religious and that the yeshiva students would be able to find G-d-fearing women to marry.

Everybody in the packed synagogue heard Rav Flesch’s inspiring words on that fateful day. However, only one of them truly “heard” the message. Her name was Sarah Schenirer. She was inspired by his address to establish the modern Bais Yaakov movement to give Jewish girls the opportunity to receive a proper Jewish education.

Many times in life Hashem sends us messages. Although we hear the information, we often ignore the call to action which is required. At those times, let us “hear” the lesson of Yisro and properly understand the changes that we are required to undertake.

Vayavo Yisro chosein Moshe u’vanav v’ishto el Moshe (18:5)

After hearing about the miracles that Hashem performed for the Jewish people at the Red Sea and in the battle against Amalek, Yisro came to convert and join the Jewish people, bringing Moshe’s wife Tzipporah and two children together with him. Why did Moshe wait for Yisro and his family to come on their own to rejoin him instead of sending a messenger inviting and encouraging them to come?

The Alter of Novhardok explains that when it comes to “kiruv” (Jewish outreach), a person will only be successful if the other party is open and prepared to hearing what he has to say. Before miraculously humiliating the false prophets of the Baal at Har HaCarmel, Eliyahu HaNavi first rebuked the Jews (Melochim 1 18:21), “How much longer will you continue straddling both sides of the fence?”

The Alter explains that even though Eliyahu was about to perform open miracles which would result in a tremendous Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of Hashem’s name), he understood that if the people weren’t in the right mindset, his efforts would be in vain. He therefore prepared the people to be swayed and influenced by delivering words of chastisement and rebuke.

Similarly, Moshe was aware that the entire world heard of the miraculous events surrounding the Exodus from Egypt. He recognized that if Yisro wasn’t inspired to come on his own, that would be an indication that he wasn’t open and prepared to be influenced, and there would unfortunately be no purpose in sending for him.

Vayichan sham Yisroel neged ha’har (19:2)

Rashi notes that when the Jewish people arrived at Mount Sinai, they encamped k’ish echad b’lev echad – like one person with one heart in a beautiful demonstration of national achdus (unity). The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh adds that this was a necessary prerequisite for receiving the Torah. However, it is difficult to understand what makes this so unique, as Rashi himself writes in last week’s parsha (14:10) that the Egyptians pursued the Jews to the Red Sea with a similar display of harmony – b’lev echad k’ish echad.

Rav Yitzchok Hutner explains that there is a fundamental difference between the achdus of the Jews and that of other nations, which is subtly hinted to by Rashi. The Jewish people are intrinsically connected as part of one large entity, whereas the members of other nations are fundamentally disassociated and out for their own personal interests. Only when their individual desires coincide do they team up in pursuit of a common goal, but not because of any deep bond. As soon as their goals inevitably diverge, they will go their separate ways.

A close reading of Rashi reveals that while he used the same expression to describe the Jews at Mount Sinai and the Egyptians at the Red Sea, he carefully reversed the order to make this very point. The Egyptians didn’t have any true unity. For a brief moment, they were united with one heart (b’lev echad) in a common desire to recapture their fleeing slaves, and they therefore pursued them as one (k’ish echad). The Jewish people, on the other hand, are intrinsically bound together as one person (k’ish echad), and one person automatically has only one heart (b’lev echad).

Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
To receive the full version with answers email the author at oalport@optonline.net.

Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) Yisro blessed Hashem for the miracles that He performed in saving the Jews from the Egyptians (18:10). The Gemora in Berachos (54a) derives from here that a person who sees a place where a miracle was performed for Jews says a blessing. As this blessing is said only when seeing the actual place where the miracle occurred, why did Yisro recite it in the middle of the wilderness? (Sefer HaEshkol, Meiri and Maharsha Berachos 54a, Shaar HaTzion 218:17)

2) In the Pesach Haggadah, we say that if Hashem had brought us to Har Sinai, but not given us the Torah, it would have been enough for us. What would be the benefit of coming there if we didn’t get the Torah? (HaSeder HaAruch Vol. 3 pg. 414-415, Nesivos Rabboseinu)

3) The Gemora in Shabbos (88a) teaches that when the Jews were encamped at the foot of Sinai, Hashem lifted the mountain above them like a barrel and threatened them that if they don’t accept the Torah, sham te’hei kevuraschem – there will be your burial place. Wouldn’t it be more grammatically correct to say ôä – here – you will be buried? (Peninim MiShulchan Gevoha)

4) At what time of the day were the Aseres HaDibros spoken, and how long did it last? (Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer 46, Ayeles HaShachar 20:1)

5) The Gemora in Kesuvos (103a) derives from an extra letter in 20:12 that a person is required to honor his older brother. Does this obligation also apply to one’s older sister? (Bereishis Rabbah 74:4, Shu”t Shevus Yaakov 3:76, Torah Temimah, Morah Horim U’Kevodam pg. 100)

© 2012 by Oizer Alport.

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