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This Issue's Halacha Article

Parshat Yitro

20 Shevat 5769

Febuary 14, 2009

Vol.18 No.19

In This Issue:

The Importance of Hearing

by Rabbi Joel Grossman

This week’s Parashah begins with the phrase “VaYishma Yitro,” “And Yitro heard” (Shemot 18:1). What specifically did Yitro hear? Rashi cites the Gemara (Zevachim 116a), which states that Yitro heard about the splitting of the sea and the war against Amalek. My Rebbe Rav Nissan Alpert zt”l asked: if the entire world heard about the saga of Yetziat Mitzrayim, why does the Torah record that only Yitro heard?

Rav Alpert answered that there are two types of hearing. There are times when “hearing” is solely intellectual, not affected by emotion, while there are other times when hearing is primarily emotional and visceral. For the former, the failure to process and internalize what one “hears” often causes a reaction in which sound seams to pass “through one ear and out the other.” On the other hand, while the people who hear emotionally are initially moved by what they have heard, they often fail to put it into proper perspective. Yitro was the only individual who truly internalized what he heard. Rav Alpert quotes a Midrash that explains that both Yitro and Amalek advised Paroh in Egypt, a civilization renowned for its wisdom. Yitro, after leaving to Midyan, turned to the wisdom of what he understood to be a higher power, idolatry. Yitro, though, soon realized that idolatry was rooted in the human imagination: for example, jealous idols needed appeasement because they lacked mercy and so became vengeful. Yitro then turned to Moshe who tutored him in the ways of Hashem, the One who truly benefits mankind; Hashem creates justice in the world by reciprocating in accordance to man’s deeds. However, it seemed to Yitro that the political situation between Hashem and the Jews showed the opposite. Paroh, an evil ruler, was persecuting the Jews, an innocent nation. Nonetheless, Yitro joined the Jewish nation by understanding that Hashem freed His people from Paroh and ultimately punished the Egyptians.

Rav Alpert explained that someone truly hears when he reexamines his previously held feelings, changes the direction of his life, and accepts the consequences of his new realization.

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 98a) relates a story about Rabi Yehoshua ben Levi who found Eliyahu HaNavi and asked him when Mashiach would come. Eliyahu HaNavi answered, “Go ask him yourself,” and Eliyahu described where Mashiach could be found and how to identify him. When Mashaich was asked when he would come, he answered, “Today.” Rabi Yehoshua ben Levi was very excited, but when Mashiach didn’t come, Rabi Yehoshua ben Levi told Eliyahu that Mashiach was a liar. Eliyahu explained that Rabi Yehoshua heard only what he wanted to hear; if Rabi Yehoshuah had stayed another minute, he would have heard Mashiach say, “Today, if they listen to my voice (Tehillim 95:7).”

We must hear as Yitro did by listening to what is taking place and internalizing events to draw us closer to Hashem. We shouldn’t hear only what we want to hear, as Rabi Yehoshua ben Levi did.

May we become better listeners to realize that Mashiach will come today if only we could all listen to Hashem's voice and fulfill His commandments.

Preparations for Matan Torah

by Tzvi Atkin

When Bnei Yisrael first arrived in Midbar Sinai, the Sinai Desert, to accept the Torah, the Torah states, “BaChodesh HaShlishi LaTzeit Bnei Yisrael MeEretz Mitzrayim BaYom HaZeh Ba’u Midbar Sinai,” “In the third month from the Exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt, on this day, they arrived at the Sinai Desert” (19:1). What is very perplexing is the Pasuk that follows, “VaYisu MeRefidim VaYavou Midbar Sinai VaYachanu BaMidbar VaYichan Sham Yisrael Neged HaHar,” “They journeyed from Rephidim and arrived at the Sinai Desert and encamped in the Desert; and Israel encamped there, opposite the mountain” (19:2). The question arises: if the second Pasuk mentions where Bnei Yisrael left from, shouldn’t it precede the first Pasuk, which mentions where they arrived? Is it not it more logical to state the starting location before the end location?

The Ohr HaChaim offers a profound insight into Matan Torah to answer this question. He explains that the reason the Torah first records Bnei Yisrael’s arrival at the Midbar and their leaving Refidim in the second Pasuk is in accordance with Chazal’s teaching, “love ruins the regular order, [it reorganizes events] to record earlier the events that occur later” (BeReishit Rabbah 55:8). Namely, when someone is in love, he becomes so utterly oblivious to the concept of time. Therefore, because Bnei Yisrael so loved Hashem and were so excited to receive His Torah, it is as if they lost track of time to such an extent that the Torah mixes up the logical order of events.

I heard a similar idea from Rabbi Josh Kahn of TABC who asked, why is it that so many people stay up all night on Shavuot to learn, as would it not be more productive for them to get a sufficient amount of sleep during the night to enable them to learn with their full strength and with better concentration the next day? Furthermore, we are told to stay up all night to atone for Bnei Yisrael’s sin of sleeping the night before Matan Torah, but were they not doing so to optimize their focus for one of the most critical events in the history of the world, Matan Torah? Rabbi Kahn answers that we stay awake on Shavuot night to show our intense love for the Torah. When one is “head over heals” for God and his Torah, he ignores the possibly more rational idea of sleeping a sufficient amount in favor of remaining awake learning all night. Although the rest of the year we need to get a proper amount of sleep to remain healthy, on Shavuot night we stay up learning just to show the intensity of our love for Torah. Therefore, we can understand why Bnei Yisrael were held accountable for sleeping before Matan Torah. Since they had attained such a high level of love and excitement, it was only appropriate that they defy logic and stay up all night to demonstrate their intense love for God and his Torah.

Bnei Yisrael had such a strong love for Hashem and his Torah at the time of Matan Torah that they lost all concepts of reality. Although in our generation, which is so spiritually distant from Har Sinai, we often have trouble feeling such a close connection to Hashem and his Torah, it is important to aspire to reach such a level of closeness. As the Gemara states, “HaBa’ah LeTaheir Mesayin Oto” “One who seeks to do Teshuvah, Hashem will help him”. Therefore, if one tries to reach this level of love for Hashem and his Torah, we are guaranteed by Chazal that Hashem will help us come closer to this goal.

Editor’s Note: Please see the Ohr Hachaim’s comments on Shemot 19:2 for another profound insight into Bnei Yisrael’s preparation for Matan Torah.

Proper Preparation

by Ilan Griboff

The record of Bnei Yisrael’s arrival in Midbar Sinai contains a very strange repetition. In one Pasuk, “BaChodesh HaShlishi…Ba’u Midbar Sinai” “In the third month...the came to Midbar Sinai” (19:1), yet the next Pasuk states “VaYisu MeRefidim VaYavo’u Midbar Sinai…” “And they traveled from Refidim and they came to Midbar Sinai” (19:2). Rashi, noting that the second mention of the arrival includes Bnei Yisrael’s previous encampment, asks, why it was necessary to repeat that they entered Midbar Sinai with the place that they came from? The Torah previously relayed that Bnei Yisrael encamped in Refidim, so would it not be logical to infer that the location they traveled from to arrive in Midbar Sinai was Refidim? Rashi explains that it was necessary to state the departure from Refidim along with the arrival at Midbar Sinai to create a connection between the two. Just as when they entered Midbar Sinai, they were performing Teshuva to prepare for Matan Torah, so too when they left Refidim, they were preparing for Matan Torah. The Mechilta offers a similar explanation: just as they entered Midbar Sinai in order to receive the Torah, so too when they left Refidim, they left with the intentions of receiving the Torah.

This information teaches us a valuable lesson. Whenever we prepare for a spiritual experience we must have proper intent throughout the entire preparation. This is why, when one is performing preparatory actions for the sake of Shabbat, one should have the intent that one is preparing for Shabbat. Another example is when one ties the knots on Tzitzit or prepares the leather for Tefillin, he must bear in mind that the action is being performed for the sake of a Mitzvah. A notable example of an individual’s intense intent during his preparation can be found in the Gemara, Bava Metziah 85b, when Rabi Chiya once decided that he wanted to make sure that the Torah wouldn’t be forgotten, so he planted flax. When the flax was grown, he wove the flax into nets to catch deer. When he caught deer, he slaughtered them, gave their meat to the poor, and used their skins to write Sifrei Torah. But with each action, he made sure to have the intent that it was for the sake of a Sefer Torah and its Mitzvot. Why did he need to do this? Because by having every action performed in the creation of a Torah for the sake of a Torah, he caused the Sefer Torah to become even more Kadosh so that it couldn’t possibly be forgotten.

Hearing the Call

by Moe Weiss

The Jewish people as a whole is currently in a time of crisis. Whether because of the Arab/Israeli conflict, the current drought in Israel, or the economic situation in America, we as a people are in some way feeling pained. While it would be inappropriate to assign the blame for these issues on any single person or event, we must internalize the messages learned from these hard times, and attempt to increase our closeness to the Almighty, removing ourselves from anything which is believed to be detrimental to our spirituality. We must hear the call from God and answer it with our sincerest Teshuvah.

A very similar notion can be found in this week’s Parashah. God revealed himself in an unsurpassed manner. Beginning with Moshe’s revelation of God at the burning bush, leading to the awe-inspiring Kriat Yam Suf, splitting of the Red Sea, God has shown His mighty hand in our world. One would logically speculate that the queues of individuals waiting to be converted would be endless due to the amazing exposure of God’s might; however, only one man, Yitro, heard God’s call and converted. Yitro instantly became a man of fame and power within the Jewish circles, and even instituted the process for the Jewish judicial system in the desert. Yitro transformed from a Nochri leader to a position of great respect within the Jewish community.

If Yitro was capable of rising from the bottom to the top of Jewish hierarchy, than the same can be true of any Jew who simply hears God’s calling. Therefore, whenever we hear of the troubles throughout the world, we must see the hand of God in the bigger picture of the world, and with that knowledge, rise to the honorable and venerable position of our leader, Yitro.

Adapted from thoughts of Dr. Joel Berman

Staff at time of publication:

Editors-in-Chief: Yitzchak Richmond, Doniel Sherman

Executive Editor: Shlomo Klapper

Publication Editors: Yakir Forman, Ben Notis, Shua Katz, Danny Shlian, Leead Staller

Business Manager: Charlie Wollman

Webmasters: Sruli Farkas, Shaul Yaakov Morrison, Michael Rosenthal

Publishing Manager: David Bodner, Yonah Rossman

Staff: Eli Auman, Josh Blachorsky, Ilan Griboff, Jonathan Hertzfeld, Yanky Krinsky, Elazar Lloyd, Avi Rosalimsky, Aryeh Stiefel, Daniel Weintraub