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Parshas Yisro - Vol. 7,
Compiled by Oizer Alport
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.
Zachor es yom haShabbos l’kadsho sheishes yamim ta’avod v’asisa kol melachtecha v’yom hashevi’i Shabbos l’Hashem Elokecha lo sa’aseh kol melacha atah u’vincha u’vitecha avdecha v’amascha uv’hemtecha v’geircha asher bisharecha (20:8-10)
In the list of people who are prohibited from working on Shabbos, the Vilna Gaon notes that each of them begins with a connecting letter “vov” except for the servant. He therefore suggests a brilliant and original way of re-reading our verses based on a Gemora in Berachos (35b). The Gemora teaches that when a Jew does Hashem’s will, his work will be done for him by others, but when he transgresses Hashem’s will, he will have to do his own work.
We can now interpret as follows: a person who only remembers Shabbos in his mind (Zachor es yom haShabbos l’kadsho) but doesn’t observe its laws in action will have to work hard, as the verse continues: Sheishes yamim ta’avod v’asisa kol melachtecha – six days he shall work and do all of his labor.
On the other hand, if a person doesn’t merely think about Shabbos but actually keeps its laws and makes it Holy (V’yom hashevi’i Shabbos l’Hashem Elokecha), he and his family members won’t even have to work during the week – lo sa’aseh kol melacha atah u’vincha u’vitecha. If so, one may ask, how will he possibly live and who will take care of him if he and his family never do any work? To allay that concern, the Torah replies that there will be others – such as servants and foreigners – to do his work for him, as the connecting “vov” is left out to indicate that this is a new list and a separate category – avdecha v’amascha uv’hemtecha v’geircha asher bisharecha.
V'lo sa'aleh b'ma'alos al mizbechi (20:23)
Parshas Yisro is one of the most well-known and dramatic portions in the Torah. It contains the details of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, which cemented our relationship as Hashem's chosen nation. While one would expect the parsha containing such an important and lofty event in Jewish history to end on an inspirational note, it instead ends anticlimactically with the seemingly mundane commandment to build the Altar in the Temple using a ramp instead of steps. Why was this mitzvah selected to conclude the parsha of the giving of the Torah, and what deeper lesson does it convey?
A number of commentators answer by pointing out that the difference between ascending a ramp and climbing up stairs is that it is possible to for an object which is placed on the steps to rest and stand still, whereas doing so on the ramp will cause it to fall down. In other words, the Torah concludes the parsha by symbolically teaching us that the key to climbing in our service of Hashem is to view spiritual growth as a continual process from which we can never take a break, as doing so will result in an immediate decline in our spiritual level.
Parshas Re'eh begins, "See, I place before you today a blessing and a curse" (Devorim 11:26). The Seforno points out that there is no neutral middle option, only the two extremes of blessing and curse. He explains that the Jewish people are not like the other nations of the world, who are often content with mediocrity. The Torah tells us that if at any time we are not actively choosing to do mitzvos to earn Hashem's blessings, we will automatically be in the category of curses, as there is no middle ground.
The yetzer hara (evil inclination) tries to prevent us from learning Torah and doing mitzvos. After it has failed, one of its tactics is to try to convince us that we have already accomplished so much that we can take it easy and rest on our laurels. Therefore, the parsha in which we received the Torah ends by reminding us that we can never become stagnant and complacent in our service of Hashem, which will cause us to fall down the ramp and wipe out our good accomplishments, an insight which should strengthen and encourage us to consistently strive to grow higher and higher.
Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Moshe named his first son Gershom to commemorate the fact that he was a sojourner in Midian, a strange land (18:3). He called his second son Eliezer to express his gratitude to Hashem for rescuing him from Pharaoh’s sword (18:4). As he fled to Midian only after being saved from Pharaoh, wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to reverse the names to reflect the order in which the events occurred? (Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, Darash Moshe)
2) Upon encountering Yisro, Moshe related to him the miracles which Hashem performed in smiting Pharaoh and the Egyptians (18:8). What was Moshe’s purpose in doing so when Yisro had already heard of their punishments (18:1), and this was actually his motivation for coming to convert? (Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, Darkei Mussar, Nesivos Rabboseinu, Ayeles HaShachar)
3) Rashi writes (19:3) that Hashem instructed Moshe to speak to the women about accepting the Torah before the men. Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to discuss it first with the men? (Shemos Rabbah 28:2, Beis HaLevi, Mishmeres Ariel)
4) The Rambam (Hilchos Geneivah 1:3) explains that while there are two words to describe a thief, a ganav is one who steals without the knowledge of the owner and a gazlan is a person who brazenly steals in the presence of the owner. Rashi writes (20:13) that the prohibition in the 10 Commandments against stealing refers to the theft of another person. As kidnapping is generally done with the knowledge of the person being taken, wouldn’t it have been more accurate to write "lo sigzol: instead of "lo signov"? (Shu”t Rav Betzalel Ashkenazi 39, M’rafsin Igri, Eebay’ei L’hu)
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