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Parshas Yisro - Vol. 10, Issue 17
Compiled by Oizer Alport


Vayishma Yisro chohein Midyan (18:1)

Parshas Yisro 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 a pivotal and lofty event in Jewish history to open on an inspirational note, it instead begins by discussing the arrival of Yisro to join the Jewish people in the wilderness. Why was this event selected to serve as the introduction to the giving of the Torah? Further, in introducing us to Yisro, the Torah refers to him as a priest for idol-worship in Midian. After Yisro abandoned his idolatrous past and displayed great self-sacrifice in coming to convert and join the Jewish people, why would the Torah denigrate him by emphasizing his ignoble history? Moreover, Rashi writes (18:11) that Yisro was able to say with certainty that Hashem is superior to all other gods because he had previously served every idol in the world. What is this pejorative statement intended to teach us?

Rav Yosef Elefant explains that Yisro was a truth-seeker, and in his quest for emes (truth), he relentlessly explored and experimented with every idolatrous practice and religion in the world. After recognizing the falsehood of one idol, he would move on to the next, leaving no stone unturned in his pursuit of meaning and answers. No matter how many wrong turns he took, Yisro never despaired in his search for the truth, and he maintained his intellectual honesty and integrity to acknowledge when yet another attempt was in vain.

One of the names by which the Torah refers to Yisro is Putiel (6:25), which Rashi explains is a reference to the fact that he used to fatten calves to sacrifice them as a form of idol-worship. The Torah's allusion to Yisro's heathen past, along with the fact that he formerly served as an idolatrous priest in Midian, is not a contradiction to the concept that one should not remind a sinner who has repented of his earlier ways. This information is conveyed as a way of praising Yisro for his relentless determination in his quest. The Torah tells us that when Yisro explored a new belief system, he didn't do it half-heartedly. His integrity obligated him to go all-in in his service of each idol in his ongoing pursuit of emes. Rav Ephraim Wachsman explains that for this reason, the Torah emphasizes that there was something unique about Yisro's hearing, as even after serving every idol in the world, his ears and mind remained open to hearing and discovering the truth.

Rav Elefant notes that Yisro's pursuit of the truth didn't cease when he arrived in the wilderness to join the Jewish people and finally found the answers he had been desperately seeking for so long. Shortly after his arrival, he approached Moshe and rebuked him (18:13-26) regarding his system for judging and resolving disputes, which Yisro felt was unsustainable in the long-term. Although one would expect a newcomer to refrain from offering an unsolicited opinion, and certainly not to the leader of the entire nation, Yisro's dedication to emes mandated that when he saw something that needed to be changed, he felt compelled to speak up about it.

With this introduction, we can now appreciate why Yisro's arrival, which demonstrates a burning passion for truth, was selected as an appropriate introduction to the giving of the Torah, which is the epitome of emes. The Gemora (Shabbos 55a) teaches that the seal of Hashem is emes, and the giving of the Torah enables us to access the world of Divine wisdom and unadulterated truth. The paradigm for reaching that level is Yisro, who serves as a role model for us in his unquenchable desire for truth, which enabled him to repeatedly reexamine his beliefs until he ultimately discovered the one and only Truth.

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 seven 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 famous and renowned for his concern for the poor and downtrodden, and stories of his compassion on their behalf abound. He was once asked by his good 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.

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) 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) 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)

3) Is the obligation to honor one's parents (20:12) considered a mitzvah between man and Hashem or a mitzvah between man and his fellow man? (Ramban, Minchas Chinuch 33:3, Shu"t Maharam Schick Yoreh Deah 218, Birkas Shmuel Yevamos 3:3, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

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)

  2014 by Oizer Alport. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute as long as credit is given. To receive weekly via email or to send comments or suggestions, write to parshapotpourri@optonline.net


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