Vol. 9 No. 17
This issue is sponsored l'iluy zecher Nishmas
Yonah ben Elchonon Moshe z"l.
May he be a meilitz yosher for his family
and for all of Klal Yisroel.
Although the Torah mentions Yisro for the first time in Parshas Sh'mos, following Moshe's escape from Par'oh and his flight to Midyan, that is by no means his first encounter with Moshe and with Yisrael. In fact, the Medrash informs us, he had already had dealings with him/them on two earlier occasions, both of which display him in a favorable light.
The first time was when little Moshe, playing on Par'oh's lap, removed the latter's crown and placed it on his own head. The majority of Par'oh's wise men saw this as a bad omen and advised the king to have Moshe killed. And it was Yisro who attributed Moshe's actions to playfulness (even he could not have appreciated Moshe's greatness and prophetic vision already at that early age), and suggested that they put it to the test. The ensuing test saved the life of the child who was destined many years later, to become his son-in-law.
Incidentally, this episode puts Yisro's age at least at twenty years older than Moshe, in which case he must have been around a hundred when he adopted monotheism. This in itself, places a feather in Yisro's cap, and teaches us that it is never too late to change a faulty life-style (as the old saying goes 'Better late than never!').
Yisro's second encounter with Moshe (or at least, with Moshe's people), took place at the time of Par'oh's infamous decree 'Come, let us deal with them wisely'. There, the Medrash relates, when Par'oh considered enslaving Yisrael, he had three key advisors, one of whom was Yisro. And it was Yisro who appealed to Par'oh, to show deference to the G-d of the Jews and to recall how his own father had rescued Yosef from prison, and that it was Yosef who had in turn, saved Egypt from starvation.
Yes, Yisro was an idolater, but already from an early age, he possessed a streak of goodness (which we might refer to as menshlichkeit), and was an advocate of fair play. The Beis ha'Levi explains why it was that Avraham preferred Yitzchak to take a wife from his family, in spite of their idolatrous practices, rather than from the Cana'anim He ascribes it to the good Midos that, to a certain degree, was the hallmark of all of Avraham's family. And it is due to similar inherent good Midos that Yisro ultimately relinquished idol-worship for monotheism.
Interestingly, Yisro like Besuel (Rifkah's father), was from the family of Avraham (since Midyan was a son of Avraham from Keturah [who some say, was Hagar]).
Indeed, even as Yisro practiced idolatry, he was searching for the truth, for so Chazal have taught us, there was not a form of idol- worship that he did not investigate before adopting 'Judaism'. A person cannot be blamed for a bad upbringing and for evil influences that lead him astray. But he can be blamed for not searching for the truth (which he is bound to find, if only he searches genuinely). Yisro searched, and Yisro found!
When Moshe arrived for the first time in Midyan, he found Yisro's daughters in distress. The Midianites, Rashi points out, had placed Yisro in Cherem (a ban) for having given up his former faith. Clearly, Yisro's conviction was total. Here was an old man who had made it to the top. Yet, without anyone's example to follow, and without any external encouragement, he was willing to give up a life of comfort and honor. He was willing to be treated as an outcast, together with his family, for the sake of his belief in the one and only G-d whom he had now adopted. Another lesson that we can learn from this great man - the first of the Geirei Tzedek to join the ranks of K'lal Yisrael.
(adapted from the Ba'al ha'Turim)
From Priest to Sage
The numerical value of Yisro is the equivalent to both that of 'Komer hoyoh la'avodah-zarah (he was a priest to idolatry)' and to that of 'ha'Torah'. The message is clear enough. Yisro switched from being a priest to idolatry to accepting the Torah (Ba'al ha'Turim, quoting his father, the Rosh).
Which Son Was It?
"The Name of the (first) one was Gershom, because he said, I was a stranger in a foreign land. And the name of the (other) one was Eliezer, because the G-d of my father was with me, and He saved me from the sword of Par'oh" (18:4).
Interestingly, the Torah omits "because he said" from Moshe's statement with regard to Eliezer. Clearly, the "because he said" mentioned by Gershom extends to Eliezer, too, the Ba'al ha'Turim explains.
Yet there is a good reason why the Torah chose to mention the phrase directly in connection with the one and not with the other, he continues. And he cites the Medrash that when Yisro gave Tziporah to Moshe, he made him swear that he would dedicate their first son to avodah-zarah (see Targum Yonoson 4:24). And that explains the episode with Moshe in the inn and the Angel of Death (see Parshah Pearls, Parshas Sh'mos, 'Avodah-Zarah Doesn't Pay ... '), when Tziporah circumcised him, foregoing the condition that her father had made with Moshe. That is why the Torah adds "because he said", implying that his stipulation with his father-in-law was forced on him, because, as a stranger in a strange land, he had no option but to comply.
Whereas in the case of Eliezer, there was no such stipulation to reveal the circumstances why he called his second son Eliezer (i.e. Paroh's attempt to execute him and his miraculous escape). Consequently, the Torah omits the words "because he said" from the text.
The problem with this explanation, the Ba'al ha'Turim points out, is that according to this, it was Gershom whom Moshe failed to circumcise until his encounter with the Angel of Death. Whereas from the Gemara, which recounts how that episode took place on his way to Egypt to meet Aharon, it appears that the baby concerned was Eliezer, since there is no indication that Moshe had any more children after he arrived in Egypt.
The Ba'al ha'Turim's is unclear however. Why can Moshe not have circumcized Eliezer (his second son) as soon as he was born (whilst still in Midyan), and it was Gershom, who had not been circumcised earlier, due to the condition that Yisro had imposed on Moshe, was circumcised now, when Tziporah undertook to do so?
The Tents of Tzadikim
"And Yisro came ... to the desert, where he (Moshe) was encamping (choneh) ... " (18:5).
The word "choneh" appears one other time in T'nach, in Tehilim (34:8) "An angel of G-d encamps (choneh) around those who fear Him ... ".
This teaches us, says the Ba'al ha'Turim, that when Yisro arrived in the desert, he did not even need to ask where Moshe's tent was located, because a cloud hovered over it.
"And Yisro rejoiced on account of all the good that G-d had performed with Yisrael" (18:9).
Rashi cites a Medrash explaining that Yisro broke out in goose-pimples when he heard what happened to Par'oh. And we learn from here to take great care not to speak derogatively about a gentile in the presence of a Ger, until ten generations have passed.
The Ba'al ha'Turim explains "va'yichad" as a derivative of to unify; hence the Torah is teaching us that Yisro unified his heart to the One G-d, and converted.
The Following Day
"And it was on the following day, when Moshe sat down to judge the people" (18:13).
Rashi insists that this could not possibly have taken place before Yom-Kipur, so that the Torah can only be referring to the day after Moshe came down from Har Sinai - the day after Yom Kipur.
This clarifies the Ba'al ha'Turim's comment, that the numerical value of "mi'Mocharas" (on the following day) is equivalent to that of 'le'mochor Yom ha'Kipur' (the day after Yom Kipur).
Going From Strength to Strength
"And the tone of the Shofar became stronger and stronger" (19:19).
The same expression is written in Shmuel (II 3:1) in connection with David Ha'melech. The Gemara in Eiruvin explains that David, who taught Torah to others, went from strength to strength, whereas Shaul, who did not, became gradually weaker (regarding his hold on the kingdom).
The Kohen and the Talmid-Chacham
"Fence off the mountain and sanctify it" (19:23).
The same Pasuk occurs in Emor (21:6), in connection with a Kohen; only there, at the beginning of the Pasuk ("And sanctify him, because he sacrifices the bread of his G-d"), whereas here, it appears at the end of the Pasuk. The Ba'al ha'Turim elaborates -
The Kohen's sanctity is manifest at the beginning, he is the first to be called up, the first to Bensch and the first to receive a portion at the table. Whereas that of a Talmid-Chacham asserts itself only at the end, as the Pasuk writes "to the holy ones who are in the ground (after their death, Tehilim 16:3)", the true sanctity of a Talmid-Chacham is only revealed after his death (because that is where he will be called up first ... ), because so it is written in Iyov (15:15) "Behold He does not believe in his holy ones" (who remain potential sinners until their deaths). But in this world, he is called up last, for so Chazal have taught 'the greatest amongst them rolls the Seifer-Torah' - Hagbahah).
The sanctity of a Kohen is inherited; he has done nothing to earn it. That is why his beginning is automatically blessed; as far as his end is concerned, that remains to be seen. The sanctity of a Talmid-Chacham, on the other hand, is entirely the result of his own efforts. Consequently, he is assured of a happy ending.
And G-d Spoke
"Vayedaber Elokim es Kol ha'Devorim ho'eileh leimor" (20:1).
The numerical value of this Pasuk, says the Ba'al ha'Turim, is the equivalent of 'Kol mah she'hoyoh bi'k'sav ve'she'be'al peh' (everything that was in writing and that was said orally)..
Because, as Chazal have taught, the oral Torah, as well as the written Torah, were handed down to Moshe at Har Sinai.
CHRONOLOGICALLY SPEAKING ...
The Chronological order of events in the Chumash
(based mainly on the Seider ha'Doros).
(Rosh Chodesh Iyar) Tz'lofchod gathers wood on Shabbos (the first Shabbos after it is given).
He will later be sentenced to stoning (Parshas Sh'lach-Lecha).
Parshas Yisro and Mishpatim
(Sunday, Rosh Chodesh Sivan): Yisrael arrive in Midbar Sinai. Yisro arrives with Tziporah (Moshe's wife
and her two sons), Gershom and Eliezer (around this time).
(The 2nd of Sivan): Moshe ascends Har Sinai. He descends with news of Matan Torah and their obligations towards G-d. He tells them that they are a treasured nation, a kingdom of Kohanim and a holy people ...
(The 3rd of Sivan): Moshe ascends the Mountain to inform G-d of Yisrael's acceptance ... He descends again to instruct Yisrael to prepare for the giving of the Torah in three days time.
(The 4th of Sivan): G-d tells Moshe that he will approach Him together with Aharon, Nadav, Avihu and the seventy elders, to bow down before Him, though Moshe alone will enter the thick Cloud. Moshe orders the people to fence off the mountain and to separate from their wives (until after Matan Torah). He teaches them the seven Mitzvos of the Noachide code, plus the Mitzvos they were commanded at Marah (Shabbos, Kibud Av va'Eim [Parah Adumah] and Dinim). He also learns with them the Torah from Bereishis until Yisro, which he then transcribes, together with the mitzvos that they were given at Marah.
(The 5th of Sivan): Moshe builds a Mizbei'ach, and twelve Matzeivos, and the Bechoros sacrifice on them. He reads out to the people the Seifer that he wrote on the previous day, and they declare 'Na'aseh ve'Nishma!' He sprinkles the blood of the covenant (of the sacrifices) on the people.
(Shabbos, the 6th of Sivan ): Moshe, Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, together with the seventy elders ascend the mountain. They see a vision, which, according to some opinions, they abuse, thereby earning the death sentence. Moshe approaches the dark cloud and is taught the Ten Commandments ... G-d teaches Moshe the final paragraphs in Yisro and Mishpatim.
(The 7th of Sivan): G-d instructs Moshe to ascend Har Sinai for forty days. Before doing so, he leaves his faithful disciple Yehoshua at the foot of the Mountain, awaiting his return. And he places Aharon, his nephew Chur (whom the people will kill shortly for rebuking them) and the seventy elders, in charge of the camp).
Terumah and Tetzaveh
The command to build the Mishkan and to make the Bigdei Kehunah is issued to Moshe during the (first) forty days that he is on Har Sinai (between the 6th of Sivan and the 17th of Tamuz). Similarly, he is taught the opening Parshiyos of Ki Sisa (the half-shekel, the basin, the anointing-oil, the Ketores, Betzalel and Shabbos.
(The 16th of Tamuz): Yisrael worship the Golden Calf.
(The 17th of Tamuz): Moshe descends with the two Luchos and smashes them.
(The 18th of Tammuz): He grinds the Calf into dust ... and punishes the sinners.
(The 19th of Tamuz): He ascends Har Sinai for the second time to pray on behalf of Yisrael.
(The 29th of Av): He descends the Mountain.
(The 30th of Av): He carves out the second set of Luchos.
(Rosh Chodesh Ellul): He ascends the Mountain for the third time with the Luchos, and G-d inscribes the
Ten Commandments on them. Yisrael blow the Shofar in his absence.
(The tenth of Tishri - Yom Kipur): Moshe descends with the second set of Luchos.
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