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 Parshas Yisro - Vol. 4, Issue 17
Compiled by Oizer Alport


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. 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 explains that while the entire world heard about the miracles and were filled with fear of the Jews, only Yisro 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.


Vayishma Yisro (18:1)

Rashi writes that Yisro was known by seven different names, each of which has a different meaning. One of the names is Yeser, which connotes the fact that he merited having a section added to the Torah as a result of his suggestion to Moshe in our parsha to appoint judges. However, he is universally referred to by the name Yisro, which refers to the fact that by converting to Judaism and accepting the mitzvos upon himself, an additional letter was added to his name. Of all of the 7 names, why is this one specifically the most important? Shouldn’t Yeser, the name which represents the fact that an entire section of the Torah was added as a result of his advice, be considered the most significant?

Rav Shlomo Margolis suggests that the selection of the name Yisro hints that as important as Torah study is and all the more so to add an entire portion to the Torah itself, nevertheless a person’s ultimate purpose in this world is to perfect himself and his character traits. This is reflected by Yisro’s desire to convert and ascend the spiritual ladder.

Rabbeinu Bechaye similarly notes (18:21) that in enumerating the desirable traits that Moshe should seek in judicial candidates, Yisro astoundingly made not a single mention of the importance of wisdom. Rather, he emphasized the importance of honesty and proper character, just as the Torah itself primarily praises Noach, Avrohom, and Yaakov for their righteous character traits.

The following story depicts a contemporary application of this principle. Rav Eliyahu Chaim Meisels was a great Torah scholar who served as the Rav of Lodz in Poland. He was renowned for his concern for the poor and downtrodden, and stories of his compassion on their behalf abound. He was once asked by his friend Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzenski, the Rav of Vilna and leading sage of the generation, why he never published a work of his Talmudic novellae as was common for scholars of his ilk.

Rav Meisels took out an old, tattered notebook and explained that this book, containing a detailed list of all of the charity and interest-free loans he had distributed throughout his lifetime, was the most important book that he could take with him to the next world. Shortly before Rav Chaim Ozer’s death, he commented that although his classic work Achiezer was indeed a masterpiece and worthy of the utmost respect, he now realized that Rav Meisels had been correct. The primary work he looked forward to taking with him to the World to Come wasn’t the book he authored with his pen, but the book he wrote with his deeds of chesed (kindness) for others.

Applying this lesson to ourselves, we realize that the Torah is teaching us a valuable and profound lesson. In our pursuit of personal greatness and maximizing our individual potentials, we certainly recognize the need to study and develop our minds. However, it is important to understand and remember that doing so is only part of a much larger quest to perfect our souls and inner characters.


Vayomer el Moshe ani chosencha Yisro (18:6)

The Arizal writes that Moshe was a gilgul (reincarnation) of Hevel and Yisro was a gilgul of Kayin. His student Rav Chaim Vital notes that this is hinted to by the first letters of the words “Ani chosencha Yisro” – I am your father-in-law Yisro – which spell the word “achi” – my brother.

Part of Yisro’s mission in this world was to atone for Kayin’s sin of killing Hevel, which he did in several ways. He gave his daughter in marriage to a gilgul of Hevel, Moshe, which gave Hevel the descendants that were denied him through his murder (Bereishis 4:10). The sacrifice offered by Kayin did not find favor in Hashem’s eyes (Bereishis 4:5), so Yisro corrected this by bringing proper sacrifices to Hashem (18:12), which were enjoyed not just by him, but also by Aharon and the elders of the generation.

Finally, the Chida writes that while the Torah doesn’t recount the final conversation between Kayin and Hevel prior to the murder, the Targum Yonason ben Uziel (Bereishis 4:8) records that part of it was Kayin’s blasphemous claim that there is no Divine judge or system of justice regarding our actions in this world. His gilgul Yisro rectified this by suggesting to Moshe (18:19-23) the concept of establishing a proper system of courts and judges!


Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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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 t’hei kevuraschem” – there will be your burial place. Wouldn’t it be more grammatically correct to say “poh” – 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)

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