Parshat Yitro Vol.10 No.20

Date of issue: 24 Shevat 5761 -- February 17, 2001

This week's issue has been sponsored by
Dr. and Mrs. Ralph E. Marcus
in honor of the engagement of their son Yigal
to Miss Caryn Mell.

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This week's featured writers:

Dr. Joel M. Berman
Moshe Glasser
Zev Feigenbaum
Shuky Gross
Rabbi Howard Jachter
-*Can We Offer Korbanot Today?*
Halacha of the Week
Food For Thought
-by *David Gertler*

Are You Listening???
by Dr. Joel M. Berman

Vayishma Yitro, "And Yitro heard" (18:1).

The Midrash teaches us that as Bnai Yisrael crossed the Red Sea, not only did the Red Sea split, but all waters around the world split. We also learn that the sounds generated during the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai were so awesome that they were not only heard but were also seen throughout the world. The nations asked their prophet Bilam to explain these frightening phenomena. He told them that Bnai Yisrael were receiving Hashem's Torah. Every person around the world knew what was transpiring, yet how many converted to Judaism? One. Vayishma Yitro, "And Yitro heard." How could this be? Everyone knew! No one was skeptical!

Many years ago, I was soldier in the Israeli mechanized infantry. We often had reservists, usually medics, join our unit for a few weeks at a time. One such reservist told me the following story:
Around 1969, during the War of Attrition, he was serving in an artillery unit close to the Suez Canal. One night the unit received orders to shell Egyptian targets on the other side of the canal. They carried out their orders. Soon afterwards, intelligence informed them that all targets were hit, and their unit was off alert for the remainder of the night. Seizing this opportunity, our hero grabbed his sleeping bag and ran to sleep in a nearby abandoned chicken coop. He told me how he was filthy, exhausted, and quite fed up with the primitive living conditions. He had only a few days of reserve duty left, and all he wanted to do now was to be left alone and sleep uninterrupted.

He woke up the next morning to a lunar landscape. There were giant craters everywhere. Vehicles were destroyed. Artillery pieces were strewn about on their sides. His base was in shambles. As he emerged from the chicken coop, his friends ran over to him hugging and kissing him. "We thought you died," they told him. (Soon after he went to sleep, the Egyptians shelled the Israelis. It was a murderous barrage that lasted for some time.) "How could you have slept through that?!" his friends asked him.
Learn from this that if a person does not want to hear something, no matter how important, obvious, or loud it is, he will not hear it.

It is quite possible to sleep through life. How many of us hear but do not listen? How many of us listen but fail to act? As a result, how many of us stand for nothing and fall for everything? Vayishma Yitro, Yitro heard, Yitro listened, and Yitro acted. Yitro finally stood for something after falling for every form of idol worship. Students' years in high school are among the most formative. Their Rabbeim teach them how to evaluate the world and integrate appropriate parts into their lives. You too can learn to listen so that when the time comes, you too will be properly prepared to stand and act.

Yitro's Place
by Moshe Glasser

The arrival of Yitro in the camp of Bnai Yisrael is a bright spot in Moshe's otherwise challenging day. The leader of the new nation had an extremely difficult job: he had to mediate disputes among the population, keep them happy, and prepare them for receiving the Torah. Yitro brought Moshe's wife and children, about whom Moshe had worried. Yitro told Bnai Yisrael that their fame had spread at least as far as Midyan, and he had come to see how they were doing.

Once Yitro saw how Moshe was solving the difficulties of Bnai Yisrael, however, he was overcome with sympathy for Moshe; the leader sat all day and all night mediating disputes and answering the questions of millions of people. Yitro suggested a more efficient method of mediation: Moshe should appoint a hierarchy of judges, with himself at its head, to ease the burden on himself. Moshe related the solution to Hashem, Who approved of Yitro's plan.

The question is clear: didn't Hashem notice Moshe's problem? How could He have expected this reluctant leader to bear a burden so great?

The answer is twofold. The first part involves Hashem's sensitivity to Moshe's feelings: At this early point in his career, Moshe was still nervous about his position as leader of Bnai Yisrael. This is evidenced by his reluctance to go through with Yitro's plan without Hashem's approval - Moshe was nervous about giving responsibility to people who, until recently, were slaves. If Hashem had suggested this Himself, Moshe might have understood the suggestion as a lack of faith in his abilities.

The other answer involves Yitro's own initiative: When Yitro arrived in the camp, he was an outsider. He had not been with the rest of Bnai Yisrael during the plagues or the splitting of the sea, experiences that bonded Bnai Yisrael together into one whole. In fact, Yitro's discomfort with the close-knit tribal structure (of which Yitro, like all converts, was not a part) is evidenced by his intentions to depart in Parshat Beha'alotcha (see Bemidbar Sinai 10:29-32). Also, as with all converts, Yitro's home was outside the camp, making it difficult to bond with the rest of Bnai Yisrael even if his status as a convert could be overcome. It was therefore important for Yitro to show Bnai Yisrael that even an outsider has something valuable to contribute - Hashem Himself said his was a good idea. Yitro, as the ultimate Gair Tzedek, was the living example of the Mishna in Pirkei Avot: "Who is wise? He who can learn from everyone."

Sincere Conversion
by Zev Feigenbaum

Vayishma Yitro Kohen Midyan Chotain Moshe, "Yitro, the priest of Midyan, the father in law of Moshe, heard" (18:1).

Why does the Torah tell us about the relationship between Yitro and Moshe: we already know that they are related! Also, why does the Torah tell us of Yitro's being priest of Midyan?

In the time of Kings David and Shlomo, the Jews did not accept converts or treat them well. At the height of their glory, the Jews disliked converts. Most of the nation believed that people converted not because they loved Torah and Mitzvot but rather because they wanted to join the great nation of Bnai Yisrael. We can ask, then, why king Shlomo accepted the daughter of Paroh (a convert) as his wife? The answer is that she was different than the rest because as the daughter of the ruler of Egypt she did not lack glory before converting and therefore converted for Torah and Mitzvot (see Tosafot to Yevamot 24b).

When the Jewish People left Egypt and the whole world heard of the splitting of the sea, many wanted to convert and join this great nation. But their reasons for converting were all wrong: these people could not care less about Hashem and his Torah: all they wanted was glory. Anyone who wanted to join for glory and not for Torah and Mitzvot was turned away and not allowed to join the Jewish People.

When Yitro decided to convert, he was accepted by the nation. Because he was the high priest of Midyan, he did not need any glory. His conversion was sincere, and therefore he was accepted with open arms. In addition, while many others wished to convert out of fear of the power of Bnai Yisrael, Yitro knew that he was safe, as he was Moshe's father-in-law. Bnai Yisrael were therefore convinced that Yitro's conversion was sincere.

Editor's Note: The Jewish People have recently been blessed with the arrival of many fine converts. If he or she was converted by a universally recognized Bait Din it is forbidden to question his or her sincerity. It is a Biblical commandment to extend special affection to converts.

The Gift of Intelligence
by Shuky Gross

In this week's Parsha, the Torah says, Vayetze Moshe Likrat Chotno Vayishtachu Vayishak Lo BVayishalu Ish Lere'aihu Leshalom Vayavo'u Haohela, "Moshe went out to greet his father-in-law, and he bowed down and kissed him, and they asked of each other's well-being" (18:7). Rashi comments that it is unclear who bowed to whom. Rashi goes on to say that when the Pasuk says Ish Lere'aihu, we can infer that it is Moshe who bowed because Bemidbar Sinai 12:3 refers to Moshe as Ha'ish. Therefore, according to Rashi, it was Moshe who kissed and bowed, and then he and Yitro began to speak.

However, another question arises. Once Moshe bowed down to Yitro why did Yitro not bow in return? The answer given by the Meforshim is that Yitro was relying on his prior experiences with idolatry. When idolatry began, the first idolaters knew that Hashem existed, that He was the Creator of the world, and all they were doing was praising His creations, the sun and the moon, as intermediaries. That idea soon led to worshipping other things, which eventually led to completely forgetting Hashem. Yitro knew this, and he was also well aware of Moshe's greatness. He felt that if he bowed down to Moshe it would have seemed as if he was bowing down to him out of worship and not out of respect. Therefore Yitro refrained from bowing, since he felt that doing so would be a sin, and instead he remained standing.

We see from here how great Yitro was, even after he worshipped idols for so many years. We also see that even after going down the wrong path, Hashem enabled Yitro to repent for his sins and follow the proper path, serving Hashem.

Food for Thought
by David Gertler

1) What is the symbolism inherit in three days of preparation? (Consider the countless other times that the Tanach mentions a three day period.)
2) The Chumash tells us that Bnai Yisrael were permitted to ascend Har Sinai after the Shofar sounded. What does this show about the Kedusha of Har Sinai?
3) Some hold that Anochi Hashem is not one of the Aseret Hadibrot, just an introduction. Most then break up the "second" commandment into two separate Mitzvot. What argument can be used to propose that this too is incorrect, according to the way it is written in the Chumash? What alternate possibilities exist, and what are their ramifications?
4) Why does the Chumash retell the reasons for Moshe's son's names? Weren't the reasons given to us in Parshat Shemot?

If you have a response to these questions, please contact us at Responses may be published upon agreement of the provider.

Staff at time of publication:
Editors-in-Chief: Avi-Gil Chaitovsky, Dani Gross
Managing Editor: Moshe Glasser
Publication Editor: Daniel Wenger
Business Manager: Ilan Tokayer
Staff: Josh Dubin, Zev Feigenbaum, Shuky Gross, Michael Humphrey, Yair Manas, Uriel Schechter
Consultant: David Gertler
Faculty Advisor: Rabbi Howard Jachter

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