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Haftarah: Yeshayahu 6:1-13

JANUARY 25-26, 2008 19 SHEBAT 5768


"Yitro said, 'Baruch Hashem Who rescued you." (Shemot 18:10)

Jewish conversation is full of the term Baruch Hashem. "I made a good deal this week. My business sense stood me in good stead. I decided I would go for it and Baruch Hashem, I made it." As many of our mussar teachers point out, if you ignore the words "Baruch Hashem" in these types of statements, one hears a person who is quite confident that he is able to succeed at will. At the same time, as a believing Jew, he pays lip service to the fact that Hashem deserves some credit for allowing matters to proceed as planned. Our Sages note that Yitro was the first to say Baruch Hashem. What is so unique about this phrase? Rabbi Avraham Carmell explains that when one says Baruch Hashem in his prayers, he is stating that Hashem is the only source of blessing. So when we turn to Hashem to ask for all of our needs, this clarifies to ourselves that Hashem is the only source of blessing and success. This is what Yitro added to the phrase that the Israelites already said to Hashem.

The Hazon Ish gives a litmus test that demonstrates whether one's Baruch Hashem is real. How does he react when things don't go his way? Does he take it as a sign from Heaven on how Hashem would want him to behave, or does he begin using non-permitted ways to achieve his ends anyway?

A story is told about the first printer in Bnei Brak. After enjoying many years of a monopoly on all the printing needs of the town, a second competing shop opened up. The first printer went into the new shop and shared with the newcomer all the tips of the trade - which suppliers were reliable and which clients could be trusted to pay on time, and so on. When his son asked him why he did that, he explained, "My livelihood is decreed in Heaven. It is in my best interest that he should be successful, because then I will get my income for only half the work, and will have more time for my learning."

When these people say Baruch Hashem, they really mean it, that Hashem is the source of their success. The best way to tap that source is to act the way Hashem would want them to act. The Hidah z"l says in the name of Rab Hai Gaon, that a great, tried and true segulah for a successful week is to draw out his response of "Baruch Hashem Hameborach" on Mosa'ei Shabbat in Arbit. What better way is there to start a week than by internalizing the truth that Hashem is the source of anything we need! Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah

"And you shall not go up the altar on steps so as not to reveal your nakedness." (Shemot 20:23)

The last verse in this perashah tells us that when we construct the ramp leading to the Mizbeah, altar, it should be a flat surface going upwards, not like stairs. The reason is that when one walks up stairs he must take a wider step which might reveal those parts of the body which should be covered. But with a flat ramp, a person can take smaller steps, without having this problem. Rashi points out that in actuality there really was no problem since the Kohanim were very well clothed and there was no possibility of anything being revealed. The Torah is teaching us, however, that this is a sign of disrespect to the ramp to walk that way and therefore we were commanded to build a flat ramp. The real lesson is not limited to the way we treat the stairs. Rather, if we should even be careful with something which has no feeling, like stairs, how much more so with people, who have feelings.

It is instructive that this verse is in the same perashah as the giving of the Torah because it is teaching us the way to be able to receive the Torah. If we treat other people, and even inanimate objects, with respect, then we show that we appreciate the qualities of people and of objects. Then we can learn from them and that is part of the process of receiving the Torah. If, however, we don't have respect for belongings or for people themselves, we will not be able to learn from others, even those who are supposed to be teaching us Torah. It is no wonder that when we see the quality of education dropping in society, the amount of respect for people and for values is dropping proportionally. We would do well to strengthen ourselves and our families in these positive values so that we could properly receive the Torah. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka


"Now I know that Hashem is greater than all the gods" (Shemot 18:11)

Rashi explains Yitro's statement in the following manner: "I knew Him in the past, but now I recognize Him even more intensely." Affirming one's recognition of Hashem is no small statement. Nonetheless, what was so unique about Yitro that an entire perashah in the Torah is dedicated to his name? He became Moshe's confidante and chief advisor. Consequently, the entire Klal Yisrael and its leadership accorded him the greatest honor.

It seems peculiar that all this esteem was directed towards Yitro solely because he recognized Hashem's eminence. Rav Chaim M. Katz z"l explains that Yitro distinguished himself by joining with this amazing people immediately upon hearing of Hashem's miraculous wonders on behalf of Klal Yisrael. Undoubtedly, other people heard about these miracles as well. Indeed, the entire Egyptian nation witnessed Hashem's might. Only Yitro, however, intellectually integrated this awareness into his very essence, so that it transformed him into an entirely new person.

Rav Katz infers that the distinction between a simple person and a great man is not a function of the individual's level of erudition or profundity. Rather, it is commensurate with the degree to which this storehouse of knowledge is assimilated into his character. To what avail is intelligence if it is not applied, or knowledge if one remains a boor? Yitro heard about Hashem's supremacy and immediately recognized his own mandate to change. This is the hallmark of a great man. (Peninim on the Torah)


"And the father-in-law of Moshe saw all that [Moshe] did to the people and he said, 'What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why are you sitting by yourself and the entire people standing nearby from the morning to the evening?'" (Shemot 18:14)

Rashi to verse 13 states that Moshe was sitting like a king and the people were standing. This bothered Yitro because it appeared as if Moshe was not showing respect to the people by treating them in this manner. Therefore Yitro rebuked Moshe for this.

Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz commented that the greatness of Yitro was his powerful critical ability. He was a newcomer to Judaism, and right away he criticized the great leader of the Jewish people. This critical eye of his is how he attained his elevated level. Previously Yitro tried every form of idol worship. Whatever he saw he analyzed with his talent for criticism and became aware of the emptiness of all the false paths. This led him to Hashem. This attribute is what caused him to find fault with Moshe. Definitely, Moshe had good reasons for judging everyone himself. He felt it was preferable that they should hear everything straight from him rather than hearing what he had to say from a second-hand source. But Yitro with his attribute of truth-seeking was correct and Hashem agreed that it was preferable to delegate authority to others in order to increase the efficiency of the legal system.

This trait of criticalness is a means for coming to truth, said Rav Yeruchem. But one must be very careful in using this powerful tool. There is a thin line that makes all the difference in whether criticism is very positive or very negative. Before using your critical faculties on others, make certain to be self-critical. Only if you constantly criticize yourself can you be certain that your criticizing others comes from truth-seeking. Fortunate is the person who has the positive type of criticalness.

A person who has the ability to notice contradictions and inconsistencies of thought and action has a very powerful tool. As with all other powerful tools, just as they can cause much good they can also cause much harm. The key to using this trait wisely is to know when to use it and when not to use it. Note that Yitro did not merely criticize Moshe; he made suggestions on how Moshe could improve the situation. His motivation was only truth and he had the benefit of Moshe in mind. Only be critical when the same attribute can be said about you. (Growth through Torah)

Answer to Pop Quiz: On Rosh Hodesh Sivan.

A quick tip to boost the power of your prayer. Hazal tell us (Masechet Baba Kama Daf 92A) that Hashem loves the tefilot of one Jew for another so much that anyone who prays on behalf of a fellow Jew with similar needs will have his prayer answered first. A special service has now begun to provide people with names of others who find themselves in a similar predicament. You can call with complete anonymity and get the name of someone to pray for and give the name of someone that needs our prayers. The name of the service is Kol Hamitpalel. Categories include: Marriage; Income; Health; To have children etc.

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